My Big Catholic Love Story

Earlier this year, I ended a relationship that was on its last leg. It was traumatic, I felt lost and alone. Most importantly, this relationship was supposed to be My Big Catholic Love Story (BCLS).

If you’re Catholic, you know the BCLS: A boy and a girl meet, probably at Mass, at the campus Newman Center, or in an Adoration chapel. Boy leads the girl closer to Jesus through his very mature spiritual leadership, they get engaged in 6 months, married within 6 months, have a baby right away. She stays at home and writes books about the joy of Natural Family Planning. He’s a lawyer or doctor, and they live in some intentional Catholic community. Or a suburb. Their social media presence is flawless, they go to daily Mass, homeschool, and all of their kids have some obscure saint’s name. Their third son says he wants to be a priest. They’re what can happen to you if you do everything right and just trust in Jesus. 

Whether you’re Catholic or Protestant – I think we’re all sold some version of the BCLS. What’s peddled to young folks is something along the lines of if you do all the right things (don’t have sex with people you’re not married to, settle for nothing but the absolute best, enjoy your singleness because God will use that time to turn you into a better person), eventually Mr. and Mrs. Right will materialize when you least expect it.

Of course, it’s totally unfair to say that all churches everywhere have laid down these types of “rules” for dating. Some narratives are more strict than others. While standards and “rules” aren’t misguided – they can leave someone wondering, “Where did I go wrong?” when things don’t go as planned.

And if you’re wondering, that someone is me.

For the better part of a decade, I wanted to convert to Catholicism. It just made sense to me. When I entered my last relationship with a Catholic, I was convinced that this person was my future spouse, and after a year, I enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at a local parish. I was thrilled to finally make the religious move that was, for me, spiritually and intellectually honest. I was also excited that I had someone to “do Catholicism” with and that eventually, I’d have my own BCLS to tell.

I absorbed all of the social media, listened to the podcasts, wrote blog posts about my love for the Faith, evangelized as many as I could. I fawned over Catholic relationship books, attended talks, downloaded Catholic podcasts where single 27-year-old women talked about waiting for The One, but loved Jesus without abandon in the meantime. I wrote for Catholic publications, argued on Catholic Twitter, lived a vibrant Catholic life.

After a while (coupled with some unfortunate doses of reality) I realized that my BCLS, as I imagined, wasn’t going to happen.

As a result, I grew tired and irritable with Catholic culture. The engaged woman who talked about praying the daily Rosary with her fiancé? I unfollowed her from Instagram. The podcaster who is a professional Catholic and gets to do creative work from home while her husband pulls down a lucrative salary? Unsubscribed. The Catholic YouTube family that extolls the virtue of going to *only* the Latin Mass? I haven’t watched them in months.

If the truth is known, sometimes it’s all I can do is to sit through Mass.

Long-story-short: I am tired. I am still fully Catholic and intend to remain as such, but I am tired.

I am tired from well-intentioned Catholic culture that sometimes glosses over the reality: Your BCLS may not work out. Ever. Even if you follow all of the rules.

I am tired from constantly seeing images of perfection and botique hardship touted across Catholic media.

I am tired from being told over and over that suffering leads to holiness – especially after your relationship falls apart and everything you ever had or looked forward to was canceled due to a virus. And yes, I know St. Mother Teresa went through a 50-year dark night of the soul, but last time I checked, she died in 1997 and I ain’t in Calcutta.

Y’all, I’m tired of Big Catholic Love Stories. Or just unrealistic ones.

Perhaps, though, maybe the grace to get sick and tired is what makes Catholicism so beautiful in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any Other Easter

If this was any other April, any other Sunday, and other Easter, I would be in Port-au-Prince, Haiti right now. My flight would have left JFK in the morning, and right about now, the wheels of the plane would be touching the runway in the Caribbean.   If this was any other day, this evening I would receive information about the English language clinic I was to teach at a local Haitian high school.

But, this is no ordinary April, no ordinary Sunday, no ordinary Easter.

One month ago today, my mom came to visit me in Manhattan. She landed in Queens, and we hopped the M60 bus back to the Upper West Side – to my tiny apartment near Columbia University. As we ate dinner a local burger joint, New York City declared a state of emergency regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. Not knowing what to expect, we hopped the second plane to Kentucky from LaGuardia Aiport less than 12 hours after my mom arrived.

There would be no venture to Brooklyn to eat a plate of Swedish meatballs at IKEA, no trip on the 1 train to Penn Station to visit Macy’s. In seconds, any plans – and my life in New York City on West 114th Street – evaporated. That same afternoon, all classes for the remainder of the semester were transitioned to online delivery, all campus events canceled. The city was now covered with a heavy blanket, a different vibe.

I am glad that, the next morning, when we flew out of LaGuardia airport, there was a heavy fog. I didn’t have to see the city disappear beneath me. When we pushed back from the gate, I held back tears. A pathetic, first-world conundrum.

For nearly two weeks after coming back to Kentucky, I left my suitcase packed up on the hope chest at the foot of my bed. I suspected, that if I left everything bundled up (which was furiously shoved into the same suitcase days earlier), then I could go back to Manhattan. Unpacking my Tiffany-blue suitcase meant that I was back in Kentucky for the long haul – something I wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge. Don’t get it twisted – I love Kentucky, I love my family. But, New York City is home and where my life has finally found rest after the post-college years of bouncing between apartments.

Yet, two weeks later, I stared at the suitcase – clothes hanging out, books stacked haphazardly inside – and started unpacking. I resigned myself that I would be in Kentucky for a while. I would go to class online, stay inside, take an occasional walk, come back inside, take a nap, repeat. My summer teaching trip to China has now evaporated, my summer mission to return to Jamaica – also teetering in the balance. I’ve lost a lot this year, and like many, I didn’t anticipate ever giving up this much.

Frankly, I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if Columbia will return us to campus in the fall. I don’t know what New York City will look like in the next few months. I don’t know how long I’ll be in Kentucky and what will happen after all of this is over. I don’t know when I’ll get to attend another Mass that isn’t streamed online. This is the test of time, and most days, I’m not so sure I’ll pass the task at hand.

But, I do know one thing for certain: Jesus is alive, God is not dead, and Easter will reign in the hearts of everyone.

Happy Easter

 

 

What A Mission Trip Isn’t

I am a natural skeptic. 

Two days ago at 6:00 AM, my JetBlue flight from Kingston, Jamaica arrived at JFK International Airport. I was worn and tired, having gone without sleep since 6:00 AM the day before. After nearly a week, my stint as a short term missionary in the Carribean was over.

Before departure the Monday before, I expected nothing from the week that awaited me. I thought I would see some kids, plant some flowers, maybe paint a wall – but I knew I wouldn’t experience a great spiritual impact in any way.

Why?

Because I was skeptical of short term mission trips. 

My primary exposure to short-term missions (STM) was this: College girl goes on an STM, paints a wall that a local person could do (for steady pay), takes some pictures with local kids (posts on Instagram, of course), returns home, gushes about how “This trip changed me, not the people I went to serve.”

Okay, sweetie.

So, when I signed up with a local Catholic young adult group to go to Jamaica on a short term mission trip, more than one person expressed their surprise at my decision. After all, I’ve spent many breaths decrying the expenses associated with STMs that could be used to directly benefit career missionaries as well as the local poor in many destination countries.

To me, at least, spending $2500 to go to Central America just so you can dig up dirt and build a fence seemed foolish. Just send the $2500 instead. Also, don’t forget the number of unskilled people that travel on STMs to perform skilled labor. Never built a house while living in suburbia? Never worked on a construction site? Surprise! You still can’t do it in Guatemala. It’s not a skill handed out after passing through immigration.

Yet, I signed up because something told me it was the right thing to do. Despite my intellectual qualms and hesitations regarding STMs, I took a chance that just didn’t make sense. Also, as a recent convert to Catholicism, the lack of Catholic evangelization deeply troubles me. I wanted to help remedy this, so I took the step, paid my fees, and booked my flight. I asked God to show me why I was doing this, and He showed up.

My week in Jamaica wrecked me in a way I never expected. 

When you ask Jesus to show up, He will without hesitation. It was humbling, as I asked for this divine show and expected only a paltry response from the King of the Universe. (Perhaps this is something I will write about later).

And while this past week positively wrecked my soul for the Lord, I still haven’t thrown overboard all of my hesitations for STMs. There are many things that an STM is, and there are at least three things an STM isn’t.

Let’s take a look at what it isn’t. 

1. A short term mission isn’t an opportunity for you to romanticize the poor and/or poverty. I get it. It’s humbling to see how the majority of the world lives without access to the luxuries we consider everyday necessities. It’s tempting to say, “These people have nothing, yet their faith is so strong,” and then assume that poverty is equal to righteousness. Yes, the Sacred Scriptures tell us time-after-time that we are to care for the poor in our midst and to store our treasures in Heaven. But…

we fail to remember that poverty is not a virtue. 

No one gets to Heaven faster because they are poor. It doesn’t work that way.

Poverty, coupled with a lack of access to healthy food, water, and quality education, makes life very difficult. It often shortens lifespans and causes grief, whether it’s here in the United States or abroad. Again, it’s tempting for us to see enthusiastic Christians in poorer countries and to assume that “Well, it can’t be that bad, look how happy they are for the Lord!”

Life is tough, and it’s tougher when you lack access to basic needs. When serving on a short term mission, take care to realize that poverty is not a pastoral, idyllic condition. It’s hard, it’s tough, it’s real.

2. A short term mission isn’t an opportunity for you to project your standards on to another population. The group I traveled with was, and is, amazing. We worked well together, helped those we came to serve, and knew the work would be tough.

Not at one time during the week did I hear anyone complain about how different our temporary standard of living was. It was refreshing to work with a positive, upbeat crew of young adults.

At the same time, it’s tempting as humans, when removed from our “normal” situation to view the differences of our new settings as inconvenient, or even bad. Lights go out for most of the day? What kind of horrid place is this? The locals don’t show up on time for an event with a clear starting time? Don’t they know it’s rude to be late? Children clamor to hold your hand? Do these kids know anything about personal space? 

Mission trips tend to slay, or at least temper, our perceptions about how we should live our lives. As it turns out, there’s more than one way to exist on our blue planet. As a short term missionary, it’s not yours, or my, job to think we’re there to change the local group’s perception of time, personal space, or standard of living. Service, and not necessarily change, is paramount. Which leads to the fact that…

3. A short term mission isn’t an opportunity for you to change the world. Those of us who go on STMs are the type that believe we can be a force for good, and frankly, many of us are dreamers. Since my youth, I knew I wanted to “change the world” in some way, shape, form or fashion. I suspect that many who sign up, and serve, on STMs are the same way. We believe that change in the name of the Lord Jesus is possible for anyone, anywhere.

Yet, an STM isn’t an opportunity for you to leave your mark on the world.

Let’s be honest: Those you come in contact with probably won’t remember what you said, or even what you did, but they will remember your presence. They will remember that you showed up in a place that is far from your own home and probably very unfamiliar.

For example, during my time in Jamaica, I performed in a skit about the life of St. Francis around seven times – and six of those times in the classroom for young school children. Will the kids remember what we said about St. Francis? Probably not. Will they remember that we came to their school, sang some songs, and played some games out on the school lawn? Absolutely.

Working for God is a task in accepting small, incremental change. Your STM team will probably not see the fruit of your labor immediately. Don’t expect mass conversions and convictions on the spot because you were there for four days and put up a fence. Can it happen? Yep. Will it happen? Probably not.

As short-term missionaries, our job is to plant the seed, water the existing seeds, and let the Holy Spirit do His work. It’s critical that first, we put aside any grandiose expectations for change and second, get out of God’s way. He’ll do the work in His time. We just have to be willing. 

***

Finally, before this trip, I would have discouraged anyone from going on an STM. As stated, I thought missions were wasteful, vacation-like ventures that served as little more than Instagram fodder for doe-eyed Christians seeking out a feel-good experience.

Thankfully, I was wrong. 

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to seek out and actually go on a short-term mission trip where your skills and talents will be used to the maximum. Pray about it, ask God to show you what’s up, and go with it.

Despite my inhibitions, I listened and followed. I was happy and blessed during my time in Jamaica. However, will your experience be like mine? Maybe, maybe not. You may go and return from your mission and feel nothing. In fact, you may have a terrible experience. But, there is always a good chance you won’t have a terrible experience and your life will be marked forever.

I know that my time in Jamaica will stay with me for the rest of my life. And, in the words of every female on social media who’s ever gone on an STM, “This trip changed me, not the people I went to serve.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Our Lady, Patron of Jamaica, pray for us.

*****

If you’ve ever gone on a short term mission trip, what was your experience? 

What are some other things a short-term mission trip isn’t? 

Are you skeptical like I was (and still am, a little) about the value of short-term missions? Why or why not?

Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020: Enough (or Grace for the Smartest Person in the Room)

In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve 2019, many of my Facebook friends began sharing their “Word of the Year,” (WOY, from now on) For the uninitiated, a WOY is a single word, even phrase, that someone chooses to live by in the upcoming year. This practice is most popular perhaps among women and gives them the opportunity to focus their energy on a single aspect of their lives. Some of the words included, Love, Hope, and Energy. In a sense, the practice of choosing a WOY can prey on a woman’s insecurities: Maybe she doesn’t feel loved, hopeful, or energetic. Maybe she needs an outward motivation to affirm that she is indeed loved, hopeful, and energetic. On the other hand, a WOY can be encouraging and uplifting.

When finding one’s WOY, a single word, selected at random typically by a computer-generated system, can offer a woman enough hope to pull through on her long-forgotten dream and desires. Religious companies like DaySpring offer a Christian-based WOY quiz, while secular outlets like Buzzfeed cater to a more relaxed audience with its 2020 WOY quiz. Regardless, finding out one’s WOY could be akin to skimming the newspaper horoscope for a sign of hope and permission to live out a good life.

In fact, for years, I believed that fellow women who participated in WOY random selection were the same ones who consulted crystals when they could just talk to the Lord Jesus and didn’t date certain men because they are a Pisces. To me, finding a WOY was nonsense. Why do you need a WOY of the year when you can just derive all wisdom and motivation from the Bible, the Tradition of the Church, the lives of the Saints, and praying a daily rosary?

As in most cases when my arrogance sits me on a high horse – I found myself kicked off of the same horse’s back.

This year, I saw many Catholic friends making use of Jen Fulweiler’s WOY Generator. Jen is a popular podcaster, speaker, and blogger in Catholic Internet Land, so it makes sense that her inspirational word generator would take off amongst the faithful – especially women. After being inundated with post after post, I caved and visited the generator.

My WOY? Enough. 

When the word materialized on the screen – I felt a celestial punch to my core. I don’t believe we can manipulate God by asking for specific signs and I don’t think He primarily works through word generators – but perhaps that afternoon He decided to bend my preconceived notions.

You see, this past fall, I went back to graduate school. I was already in possession of a master’s degree, but this was the big time step towards achieving my dream of a doctorate. No more trivial online forum discussions and an invisible, online instructor who never answered her email. This was BIG. SCHOOL.

The one problem with BIG SCHOOL? I never felt like I was enough. More often than not this semester, I felt underprepared and stupid – unworthy of ever being accepted into my program. After all, it’s not like I’m studying biochemical rocket science sheep cloning mechanics – it’s Applied Linguistics, a discipline so obscure most people don’t even know what it is. And yet, I felt like I was playing years of catch-up as week after week rolled by.

In a past life – I was the Smartest Person in the Room. Even if I wasn’t the Smartest Person in the Room – I was always under the impression that I was. Also, everyone was kind enough to not tell me otherwise. Growing up and working in Rural Kentucky, who else would you bump into who graduated at the top of her class in college, was a Fulbrighter in East Asia, spoke enough Mandarin Chinese to impress the casual listener, read social science books for fun, and traveled to places that most people can’t place on a map? Nobody – that’s who.

Then, someone like me, The Smartest Person in the Room, goes to BIG SCHOOL, where everybody else was also a Fulbrighter, speaks more than one language fluently, went to bilingual schools abroad,  and knows more about English grammar and mechanics than you ever will. Just imagine every Smartest Person in the Room you’ve met and put them all at the same BIG SCHOOL and that was my life beginning in September.

Now imagine me, The Smartest Person in the Room, representing Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky sitting in a class and the professor starts talking about language concepts I never knew existed. Also, I have a wonderful housing arrangement with wonderful people who, you guessed it, are also The Smartest Person in the Room. And some of these fine people are next-level Smartest Person in the Room and I’m like, “Did you know that a noun is a person, place, or thing?” Of course they know! They’re the Smartest Person in the Room!

Yikes.

I spent plenty of time reveling in my deficiencies and bemoaning the fact that no, I’m no longer the official Smartest Person in the Room.

But do you know what I am? I’m ENOUGH.

Do I still know how to create a flawless sentence diagram tree? No. Can I still perfectly explain the differences between synthetic, agglutinative, and analytic languages without occasionally confusing an element of one with the other? Also, no. Am I going to become a profound phonetician? A snowball’s chance in the lowest ring of Hades.

Heading into 2020, I’m reminding myself always and at all times that I’m enough. I was enough in September and I’ll be enough in May when the year is over. I’m enough when someone, yet again, asks me where I’m from because I have a “cute” accent. I’m enough when I’m staring out my window, wondering how on earth I got to where I am today. I’ll be enough after I leave BIG SCHOOL, I’ll be enough when I feel that I’m not enough.

Thankfully, God’s grace is enough for me, for you, and for everybody who’s ever been the Smartest Person in the Room.

 

 

Embrace Your Quirk

In less than a week, I head back to graduate school. 11 years ago, I started my undergraduate journey at a small college in Central Kentucky.

To put it politely: I was a basketcase.

I obsessed over things that, in the long run, just didn’t matter. For example, my freshman year in the one credit physical education class, I wrote a nearly 10 page paper about my daily health habits. I showed up 20 minutes early to a weightlifting class that I took at my advisor’s suggestion (just in case I ended up dropping a class and wouldn’t dip below full-time). I once cried because the schedule I planned was ruined because a class I wanted filled up before I could register. As I finished my first master’s degree, I painstakingly sifted through my final paper for a misplaced comma or erroneous data.

Who obsesses like that? I’ll tell you: It’s me. Was my physical ed teacher looking for a 10 page paper? No. Did the coach who taught weightlifting need me there 20 minutes early? No. These things just didn’t matter.

To say that I grew out of this anxiety and hyper-planning would be a lie. It followed me after I graduated and into my career. I worried if I didn’t show up somewhere 20 minutes early (Can’t be late to being early! was the idea), I worried if all my ducks weren’t in a row. I texted people non-stop to keep them posted if my plans slightly changed (I can’t keep them waiting!). The list goes on. Perhaps you recognize this behavior because you too are like me.

My mom, the consummate advice giver, recently said “This time, don’t stress out.”

TranslationIt’s never that deep. Don’t let anxiety over perfect grades and perfect performance ruin your time at Columbia. Think about this as your “second chance.”

She’s not wrong. I blame my anxiety and hyper-controlling/anxious/need for utmost perfection to missing out on a lot of fun experiences in college because I was too worried about perfecting my writing technique on Old Testament theophany. Instead, I could have been out winning mad money at Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day.

As I prepare for the new semester and my new journey, I find myself going back to my default setting: Control.

This time, however, I’m embracing it.

Yes, I’m an anxious control freak and I’ve finally come to terms with this reality. I like perfection, I like my ducks in a row, I like schedules, I like rules, I like order. I crave structure and will do almost anything to maintain it. I’ve tried to rewire my brain to avoid this tendency, I’ve tried to “chill,” I’ve tried to “let it go.”

But, for me, it’s not that easy. What is easy, though, is recognizing that at some point during this semester, I will struggle with anxiety and unrealistic expectations. I will probably call my mom, crying, asking her why I thought this whole thing was a good idea. I’ll stare at my fiancé as he tells me, “Goose, just chill.”

And you know what? I now expect that my anxiety and perfectionism will crop up and I know that at the end of the day, everything will be okay. Nothing is ever that serious in life. 

So this semester, I know I’ll never know how to “chill.” I know it’s just not in my personality or nature. But, what I can do is anticipate my own quirks and go from there.

Perhaps that’s first step to everything else. 


How do you embrace your quirk? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on your favorite social media outlet or emailing to a friend. 

 

 

 

 

 

I Want to Get My Doctorate but I Also Wear a Veil to Mass: Healthy Traditionalism, Anxiety, and Social Media

I’m a regular on Twitter. It’s a fun place to find quirky community – especially if you’re a tech savvy Catholic. In a smattering of characters, I can lament the lack of convenient daily Mass times or praise the joys of the sacrament of confession. I’ve made many wonderful friends on the platform – friends I hope to meet in person someday.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the Internet – especially social media. My summer job included sitting at a desk for the majority of the day, so I would spend my time clicking through Catholic articles and a multitude of tweets from my “friends” to pass the time. However, at one point in the summer, I became filled with such anxiety that I swore off Twitter for about a day before returning. I took the time to examine why I became so anxious and what we can do about our social media anxieties.

Social Media Anxiety

I don’t identify as a feminist, and as a full disclosure, I don’t believe that “Catholic Feminism” is a real thing. There’s just Catholicism – which honors and respect women (though in a much different way than our secular world does). I don’t suspect that true feminism wills faithful Catholic women to join its ranks because of our opposition to many contemporary institutions such as abortion on demand and artificial birth control. I digress.

However, I’ll say this: A lot of people have a lot to say about what women do or don’t do. This is spectacularly evident in religious circles on the Internet – especially social media.

For example, lately I’ve contemplated my decision to return to graduate school and work towards my masters and doctorate in Applied Linguistics. While I am receiving generous financial aid in scholarship and grants, I am still using some student loan assistance to reach my goal. In the back of my mind, there’s this little nagging voice that says: 

“That’s really dumb, you’re not even thinking about your future kids! What if you want to stay home but then you have to work to pay back your debt? Your kids will have to go to daycare and public school and you’ll just have kids that were raised by someone else. You can’t have everything you want.”

Women Shouldn’t Vote and Our Lady Was a Feminist 

This nagging voice was especially exaggerated by some things I’ve read on social media in the past few weeks (in my own paraphrase):

  • College education is a waste of time for women who want to be homemakers. If something happens to your husband, you can live off of his life insurance.
  • Women who want to be truly modest should never own pants because they are made to show off one’s figure.
  • Women who don’t marry young aren’t serious about their families and are only concerned about their career.
  • Women who take out student loans would rather serve an employer instead of serving their husbands with joy.
  • Women shouldn’t vote because they are inherently more liberal – which is why Obama was elected.
  • “I want a traditional, Catholic wife who is a perfect 10, acts like a whore, but is actually a virgin who enjoys washing the dishes and massaging my feet. I, on the other hand, am obese and live in my mom’s basement.
  • If you send your kids to public school, you’re damning them to hell. 

But, don’t despair, here are some more anxiety-inducing quotes from the other side of the coin:

  • You can never, ever tell a woman what to wear to Mass because that forces her to be beholden to men and that’s not cool.
  • Jesus was the original feminist and if you’re not also a feminist – you hate women.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was anything but meek and mild. She did what she wanted and wasn’t submissive.
  • Divorce is a holy thing for women and is often the best choice.
  • It’s [current year] and women can do whatever they want to do without the permission of a man – even in the Church.
  • Women who believe that they should submit to their husbands only do so because they are “taken care of” and don’t have to think for themselves.
  • You’re a total queen who doesn’t need permission from anyone to be who you are (even if “who you are” is destructive to yourself and those around you).

It’s probably no surprise that many faithful Catholic women, myself included, are in a tizzy about who they are and what they want to be. I often find myself in a thought loop that sounds something like this: Are my desires and goals in my life from God or are they a result of our modern culture? Does God really need a female linguist that could just stay at home instead? Or do I not possess a healthy level of girl power to trust my instincts?

Where is my place in the world as a young woman who believes she should submit to her husband but also wants to study the social impact of language at the doctoral level? Where are the voices that say that for young women, a solid college education is worth the time and effort, but may not be for everyone (and that life insurance isn’t a permanent solution)? Where are the women who believe in the value of motherhood but also know its okay to share your gifts outside of the home (and that it won’t ruin your children for life)?

In short, where are the sensible traditionalists? 

For me, fighting this cycle of anxiety looked like logging off of social media for a day. It meant talking about my concerns with those far wiser than myself and learning how to employ the “mute” function on Twitter. For you, it may look like deleting your profiles completely and stopping the comparison game. But for all of us, if should mean trusting our gut and ultimately the Holy Spirit – our supreme guide.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing with your friends and family via social media and other platforms. I appreciate your support. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiding, basically.

My last activity here was in February. I wrote about finding, igniting, and maintaining your “blue flame.” That is, the passion that makes you feel and become alive – the very thing that makes your heart jump and your soul spark.

Since that day in February, I didn’t write a single word for publication. I thought about it, sure. I started drafts, purchased a nice notebook, tried to take a blogging course, maintained a journal at the turn of the new fiscal year (under the impression that my children would donate my papers to assorted alma maters after I died), and stared at blinking cursors and blank pages. Even when other bloggers offered to feature me on their pages, I hemmed and hawed.

The reason for my silence is that I’m hiding.

I’m hiding in my own frustration at the lack of traction in my own writing – the fact that I feel like I’m just another faith-based blogger shouting into the darkness that we call the Internet.

Nobel Prize or Not at All

I don’t know about you – but when I want to do something, I want to do it well. Very well. I’m a perfectionist of the highest order: neatly written to-do lists, perfectly sequenced strings of a daily Rosary, praying all of the entries of the Liturgy of the Hours, sorting my books by size, straight A’s. It’s no surprise that this bleeds over into my writing habits – a needling sense of perfection. That, if I don’t write the next viral blog post or conceive a memoir worth of the Nobel Prize, then it’s just not worth it.

This is difficult: I want to write. I believe I was made to write, as it’s part of my vocation.

I once read that your occupation is what you’re paid for and your vocation is what you’re made for. If you’re lucky, sometimes the two overlap. In my case – that’s not the reality. I believe I have a way with words, the gift of telling stories that people get. More often than not, my regular readers tell me how much they enjoy my writing and how accessible it is. Yet, to be wholly transparent, I hate how little recognition I receive from my writing. The internet is an information void and I’m one pixel drifting in and out the collective consciousness.

Drive-Thru Writing

When I write, it’s like I’ve prepared this giant, wonderful banquet for my family and friends. Except when they arrive, they tell me that they decided to swing by the McDonald’s drive-thru on their way home and just aren’t hungry right now. It’s deflating to labor on a well-thought out piece, only for it to receive up to 50 separate views on a very good day.

All the while, I see Susan write primarily about her two home-schooled kids and how much those little angels *love* praying the Rosary before breakfast, making paper dolls of the saints and angels, all while her son “plays” the Mass with his toy kit in the well-decorated living room.

“Little Aquinas has discerned a call to the priesthood and he’s only 3 years old!,” says Susan.

I’ve rolled my eyes so hard at these blogs that surely one day my eyes will dislodge from their sockets. Why does Susan gets mega views with her cupcake recipe and I’m over here with 20 views on my post debunking myths believed about Catholicism?

And I get it, Catholic moms are a big audience with many needs. All moms believe that, at some point or another, they’re surely messing up their kids and they want someone, perhaps a friendly blogger, to tell them that everything will be okay. They need a Susan, and for better or worse, I’m not a Susan.

I can’t write about the best homeschool curriculum or the most engaging Advent activities for littles. I can’t tell women that everything will be okay when they’re practicing NFP and found themselves pregnant again. I don’t know how to keep kids quiet in Mass because I don’t have kids to take to Mass.

That’s just not my niche right now.

“Wow Sarah, why do you hate Susans and mommy blogs?” 

I don’t hate women named Susan and I don’t hate mommy blogs. However, I sense that for female writers, especially in religious spheres, she has to tap into the common experience of motherhood and the mundane. Primarily, blogs for moms about sanctifying your time as you wash the dishes or how to pray a chaplet very quickly as your child naps.

My most hurriedly devoured pieces aren’t about explaining doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or why Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation – it’s the posts about what I’m wearing and where I’m traveling to next. Essentially, lifestyle content. Even more discouraging is when I write for other Catholic outlets, most of my pieces are met with a “That’s nice” or nothing at all, all while others are flooded with inspirational comments.

(Full disclosure: My most popular post on this blog is a reflection on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary).

I cringe at these statistics because I don’t want to be just another female blogger who writes about her hair, her shopping trip, or that time she tanned on a beach in Europe. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing about shopping, shoes, and sunbathing, but I want to write substantial pieces that challenge my readers’ beliefs in a positive way – even if they’re not Catholic and have no desire to become Catholic. Faith matters, and even if you’re a nonbeliever, faith still permeates all parts of our society despite the growing onslaught of secularism.

There is a joke that says once you convert to Catholicism, you automatically receive a book deal and successful podcast, but it looks like the Vatican, after my confirmation, may have lost my address via the Diocese of Lexington. I just want to know that my writing matters and that it’s worth the time and the energy I funnel into it.

Yes, if just one person reads what I’m writing here and finds faith in the Lord Jesus – it’s all worth it. Sure, I don’t need human recognition for anything to matter, but knowing that the big literary meal I’m cooking up will soon be devoured by a hungry audience is a good motivator. I don’t want my blue flame to fizzle, but without a clear purpose, it seems like it might extinguish at any given moment. I don’t want to be salty, but honestly, I’m feeling very salty.

But for now, I’ll linger around, try to pull myself out of hiding, and keep clacking on my keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do What You Love

Earlier this week, I perused the e-book selections from the New York Public Library and checked out One Beautiful Dream by Catholic convert and author, Jennifer Fulwiler.

I was vaguely familiar with Jennifer’s work, as I follow her on Twitter, but that was about it. In the vein of social media, I am a member of a robust women’s group affiliated with the Blessed is She ministry. One day while browsing the group, another member mentioned Fulwiler’s book and the concept of a “blue flame.” Essentially, in Dream, any activity that we love and gives us joy is our “blue flame” – it lights us up and gives us a passion in life.

(Knowing that I also needed a kick in the pants regarding my own passions – I immediately perused the digital book offerings from the NYPL – and became excited when Fulwiler’s book was available).

However, Jennifer goes on to mention how that many women – especially moms – feel guilty for lighting up their “blue flame” and chasing their passions. The reasons are many: women feel like as if they’re neglecting their kids and husbands, they believe that they’ve “moved on” from that phase of their life, or they just can’t make time for it anymore. Us women, we’re very good at becoming our own worst enemies. As I read, one particularly powerful example was that of a mom who was an accomplished musician- yet she gave up her music when she began her family. Fulwiler notes that when speaking of creating music in private, the woman began to cry – perhaps longing for the joy that her craft once brought her.

Myself, though I am not a mother, have fallen to the same mentality that extinguishes my blue flame. I have every excuse in the book – I’m busy, I have to rest, “That’s not who I am any more.” For me, my blue flame is, hands down, writing. In another world, I am a paid writer who has time to hone her craft into something more (preferably more *money*). But, in this present world, writing is a hobby that fills my time between my 12-work days and various other commitments. It’s easy to see where I give up my writing in exchange for a moment of rest that doesn’t truly recharge who I am as a person.

On this lovely Sunday morning, I challenge you dear readers, to light up your blue flame this week. Whether it’s a workout class, reading a book, writing, baking, or just sitting on your back porch, turn on the light that makes you you. Everyone will be better for it.

Settling: Notes on Putting Down Roots

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

As I write this, I am somewhere over the American midwest, headed towards Dallas, Texas. If I had to guess, my plane is cutting across the sky where Tennessee and Missouri meet. Below me, I see a river and patches of farmland.

I am on the road again.

This time, I am flying from Kentucky back to New York City at the conclusion of a much-anticipated winter break. After a delay at my airport of origin, I am experiencing a reroute through Dallas in order to return to the Big Apple. While it’s totally out of the way to travel southwest with a destination in the northeast – I don’t mind. I love travel, especially by air. I love the vibe of airports, the anticipation of boarding a plane, the suspension of everyday life as the aircraft takes off and soars through time. I love the movement, I love the adventure.

Before moving away to college, I lived in the same house for 18 years. For me, moving away to college was an adventure akin to getting on the plane – the vibe was right, the spirit of anticipation was there. As I studied to become a teacher, I thought of all of the school districts in Kentucky where I could teach. From the far Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River – my opportunities were endless. I thought I would find myself teaching in the hills of Eastern Kentucky one year and in the Western Coal Fields another year. The idea of bouncing around the state was met with anticipation –  another sense of adventure.

After graduating from college, my living arrangements shouted “adventure.” I lived in South Korea with a Korean family for a year, taught in two separate school districts in Western Kentucky, and taught for three years in my own home county. My homes included an apartment situated on a busy main street, an apartment nestled between two retirees, my parents basement, and another little house. Now, as a New York City resident, I find myself living in an all-women’s living residence on the west end of the famed 34th Street.

However, between the movements, I found myself growing weary of the constant moves and change in jobs. Some changes were not my own choices, while some were. Yet, I longed for the days when I lived in the same little house on the same little farm. The adventure was fine, but it was beginning to grow old.

After moving to Manhattan, I started to make an effort to establish more roots in my local community. By nature (or social construction), New York City is an ever-changing place. One doesn’t move to Manhattan to settle down and raise a family – he or she moves there to say they lived in the heart of one of the best cities on the planet. It’s not a place of permanence for most people who live there. Instead, it’s a constant revolving door of people and ideas.

Despite the built-in opposition, I wanted to make Manhattan a home – if but for a little while. For example, many Catholic young adults who take their faith seriously want to find a parish in which they can connect. This can be tough for a myriad of reasons. I am no exemption, and in college, I was a notorious church hopper. However, after my first few weeks in my new home, I made an effort to register at a nearby parish. This was one small step to creating a home, to establish roots.

Finally, in big cities, the temptation to “wonder” is at an all-time high. I would wonder what it would be like if I lived in another borough of the city, if I had another job, if I could go and do so many other things. Yet, as I wrap up my first six months living in New York City, I found this “wonder” mentality detrimental – I couldn’t enjoy my blessings without wondering about everything else around me. This tiny shift in mindset alone helped me root my mind and heart in my current location – instead of allowing my mind to wander. Day-by-day, I root myself in my own reality and enjoy the city as it bustles and grows. The city is more vibrant, the world becomes a lovelier place to live.

Rootedness in our own culture is tough – we are always promised that something bigger and better is around the corner. We are encouraged to move around – to find what’s out there. Ambition is the new king of our hearts.

I encourage you, especially if you are making a move to a new city or new home – think about how you can cultivate rootedness – even if it is temporary. Maybe this looks like registering at a local parish or church, joining a social group, or intentionally making friends with your neighbors. For each of us, this looks different. However, I recommend that we all be still, if but for a moment, and reflect on how we can create homes and sanctuaries, right where we are.

A Roadmap for Prayer

One of the beauties of Catholicism is the embrace of rhythm.

The Church boasts a robust liturgical year filled with silence, celebration, mourning, and remembrance. The Liturgy of the Hours marks the days with the reading of Psalms and the calm punctuation of prayer. The Rosary reminds us to be still for twenty-ish minutes at a time, while the Angelus beckons us to remember the Incarnation of Christ at 6 AM and Noon. Rhythm is everywhere, the order of time surrounds Catholics in an ever-present embrace.

Still, though, our lives outside of Mass are often disordered, or distorted, by time. We struggle to find time to pray (and forget trying to find time to read the daily Mass readings). Often, it just doesn’t seem possible to be as devout as many of us would like. This probably applies to you, as it very much applies to me.

Before moving to New York City, my life was fairly leisurely. I usually didn’t leave for work until 8:00 AM and returned around 3:30 PM. Now, I leave for work at 5:30 AM and return around the same time in the evening. The morning Rosary I once treasured has taken a back seat in favor of more sleep and the Mass readings have slipped to a place before bed. My devotional life has been in a tizzy, and frankly, I just don’t like it.

While I am adverse to New Year’s resolutions, I am not adverse to new beginnings that just happen to take place in the first weeks of a new month. This month (and for the rest of the year), I want to commit to a more ordered devotional life. For example, when I first converted to Catholicism, I wanted to do all the the devotions: prayers, rosaries, novenas, journaling. You name it, I wanted in. Yet, I found myself easily overwhelmed and giving up. Almost two years into my life as a Catholic, I discovered the value of order (and not doing all the things all the time) – much like the liturgical year that orders our own devotional lives.

To make things easier, I decided to pursue one devotion per day of the week and retain some devotions on a daily basis. For example, everyday I want to pray two entries in the Liturgy of the Hours (typically the 6AM and 6PM hours), read the daily Mass readings, and pray the Angelus. For me, this is manageable and can be done almost anywhere, including the subway or as I walk down the streets of New York. For other days, I have selected various prayers and litanies to order, and not overwhelm, my life as a praying Catholic.

A Roadmap for Prayer in 2019

Sunday: Recitation of Holy Rosary

Monday: Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

Tuesday: Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Wednesday: Litany of Humility

Thursday: Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

Friday: Divine Mercy Chaplet 

Saturday: Prayer for the Intercession of the Chinese Martyr Saints

As I am merely human, I will not fulfill my desires everyday of the week. But, I believe this is a great start to more ordered devotional life in 2019. Do you have certain days that you say certain prayers? Which are your favorite? Feel free to let me know in the comments, as I always love to hear suggestions. Happy New Year!