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.

 

 

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.