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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Myths About NYC Living

Often, when I tell others that I live in Manhattan, I am met with wide-eyed amazement. For many, the New York borough of Manhattan is the place where dreams are made. If you think about it, most television shows we watch are centered in Manhattan. Random photos of city scapes we see in magazines are from New York City. Everyone can recognize the New York skyline in any given moment.

Yet – some people know about visiting The Big Apple – but few people know about living in The Big Apple. As a New York City resident for nearly four months, I’d like to address a few myths that many have about those of us dwelling in the mystical New York metropolitan area.

  1. We do New York “stuff” all the time. The average New York resident does NOT do New York stuff. You know – visiting the Empire State Building, journeying to the Statue of Liberty, or going to Times Square (avoid at all costs). If you were born in the tri-state area, odds are, you’ve probably been to these places once, twice, or three times at the most. It’s just not what city dwellers do. We usually leave those sites for the tourists. Oh, and visiting Times Square on New Year’s Eve? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
  2. Life is always glamorous in the city. Watch any television show or movie about New York City – and you’re presented a glittery, and cozy, image of Manhattan. Every window has a skyline view, people always eat leisurely brunches in sidewalk cafes, and Central Park is never crowded. Alas, New York is like any other city on the planet. Once you cut through the tourist-y veneer, New York is found to be dirty and crowded. At the same time, it’s an amazing city in which I feel instantly at home.
  3. New Yorkers are rude. It’s a common misconception that that New Yorkers are rude, crass, and will run you over without a moment of hesitation. I, however, have found this to be largely false. In many moments, New Yorkers have helped me find my way around a crowded subway system or have pointed me the way to the right city bus. Sure, if someone bumps into you, they won’t say “Excuse me,” but that’s normal here.
  4. It’s expensive. Sure, lots of places in the city are pricy – thanks to tourist demands. But, if you know where to look – you can find $1 pizza slices and $1 hot dogs on the same street. You don’t have to break the bank eating in NYC, and it’s easy to find cheap eats. Likewise, you’ll find that many museums have pay-as-you wish or totally free admission. Entertainment in the city is often cheap, but you just need to know where to go. With a little research, NYC can be done well.

It’s not just New York City that has it’s myths. If you live in a rural area, there are many misconceptions about those places as well. Do you live in NYC or a major metro area? What are some common misconceptions you’ve experienced? If you live in a more suburban or rural area, what are your experiences? Let me know below.

As always, may God bless you and thank you for reading.

10 Quotes from St. Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women”

Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Pope John Paul II. Like many young Catholics, my first experiences with the papacy included this dearly beloved saint. Though I was not Catholic during John Paul’s pontificate, I did appreciate the impact he had on the world around him. Now as a Catholic, I have admired his Letter to Womenpublished on June 29, 1995, prior to the Fourth World Conference on Women.

For those who argue that the Church is behind the times in matters of gender and sexuality, they would be hard-pressed to find any signs of the oppression of women in this historical document. Rather, the Letter to Women is a vibrant celebration of women from all walks and stations of life. In honor of St. Pope John Paul II, here are ten great quotes from his monumental letter (bold text mine):

  1. “Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.
  2. “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a womanThrough the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”
  3. “Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?”
  4. “We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift.”
  5. “The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.”
  6. “Were I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless.”
  7. “It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the ‘genius of women‘, not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.”
  8. “The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth.”
  9. “…from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.”
  10. “Necessary emphasis should be placed on the “genius of women”, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives.”

St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.