Monthly Archives: April 2014

Picking at Scabs

Dear Pope Francis,

I have been reminded lately of the power of words, both to build people up or tear people down. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve the power of wordsbeen reminded that I’m not immune to their power. Not only can I use my words to build others up, or tear them down, but I can also use my words to build myself up or tear myself down.

Words are important to me. When something big happens, good or bad, I like being able to talk it through or write it out. Both of these methods help me to process what happens in my life and make sense of how God is working. However there also comes a time when I just need to stop talking about things and let them go, whether or not I think they’ve been resolved.

I have been doing a lot of soul searching, while things in my life have been changing, and, while some of it has been positive, other parts have created a lot of pain and hurt in the last couple of months. I’m grateful for the people who’ve helped me in many different ways, chief among them letting me vent and offering words of wisdom. However, I’ve reached a point where talking doesn’t help anymore. It just stirs up the hurt and leaves me feeling worse. I need to let the past be the past and move on.

Continuing to talk about everything now would be like picking at a scab. Scabs get itchy and irritating as they heal, and I have a scrapped kneehard time resisting the urge to scratch. Many times I will scratch and pick, which only opens the cut, and ultimately means that it will take longer to heal and is more likely to scar. Continuing to talk about the hurt and pain of the last couple of months is like scratching at a scab. I want to talk about it, but all it does is open the hurt up, meaning that it takes longer to heal and is more likely to leave me with a scar on my heart.

Not only do picking at scabs mean that it takes longer to heal, depending on how close the cut was to healing, it will hurt to pick at it. Continuing to talk about the hurt just stirs it all up and makes me feel the hurt all over again. In many ways, I am reliving the hurt feelings by talking about them, and I am using my own words to inflict the hurt on myself by choosing to continue talking about it. Instead, I need to stop talking about it, and let it go (cue Frozen soundtrack)

Maybe there will come a day in the future when I can talk about everything objectively, and look back on this time as a necessary growing pain, a hard time that I got through that ultimately made me stronger. However, for now, I need to stop scratching, stop talking about what happened and the importance of moving on, and actually start the process of getting on with my life. I can’t think of a better time to start, since it’s finally starting to feel like spring, and tomorrow is the beginning of a new month.

Sitting on my hands so I won’t scratch any more,

Lauren

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It’s like a crazy trust exercise

Dear Pope Francis,

trusting god is an actionAbout a month ago, I made the decision to move back to Ontario over the Victoria Day weekend for a job I didn’t (and still don’t) know if I would get or not. Making the decision brought a sense of relief and sureness just from knowing what I was doing next, even though I had no idea if the whole plan would work or not.

Since then, it’s been a combination of excitement and trepidation about the move. I’m really excited to go home and to do whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing in the Toronto area. I don’t know if that job is what it is or not, but I feel the most sure about WHERE I’m supposed to be than I’ve felt about anything since I handed in my application for the journalism program four years ago.

I’m looking forward to being near family again, to reconnecting with old friends, and to making some new ones. I’m pumped that for the first time in our three years as friends Lauren and I are going to live in the same province AND within an hour of each other.

It’s also really nerve-wracking to be tying up all my loose ends in Fredericton. I leave in three weeks and haven’t found a sub-letter for my apartment. I’ve given notice at my jobs and started bringing home boxes at the end of every shift so in theory I can start packing. (Nothing is packed yet.)

I have a lot of friends here I want to make sure I see before I leave, and there’s a few I’m especially close with who I’m going to miss seeing every few days.

A lot of people have been asking me what I’ll do if I don’t get this job at my home parish, and frankly I have no sweet clue. Not having a backup plan is the scariest part about this. The only other time in my life I’ve not had a backup plan was when I applied for the journalism program. It was terrifying then, and it’s terrifying now.

anna and kristoff crazy trust exerciseBoth times it feels like a crazy trust exercise. I know God’s going to catch me, but the edge of the cliff is shaped funny so I can’t see him at the bottom and I just have to jump.

But that was the plan. Move to Fredericton for a program I couldn’t be accepted to until I was done a year and a half of school and at no point feel good enough about another discipline to want to finish the degree if I didn’t get in.

In a stroke of genius or stupidity, I specifically asked my 16 year old sister to fly down to keep me company on the drive home. We haven’t kept in touch as much as my other siblings and my parents and I have, so I’m ensuring four days of bonding over heavy lifting and errands, at least 18 hours on the road with only each other for company, and a lot of meals in restaurants.

I’m feeling really good about my planning for getting from Fredericton to Toronto. But while I’m landing safe at home, it feels like I’ll be entering into a whole new kind of free-fall at the same time.

Please please please please please.

Meredith

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Reducing Screen Time

Dear Pope Francis,

Last weekend I went on a self-imposed phone fast. I was visiting a friend and decided that I would disconnect from Facebook and texting for the weekend. In the vein of fasting in the Catholic Church, I allowed myself two short opportunities to check my phone and Facebook each day from Thursday evening to Monday morning. I had to stay in my room to check my phone because it had to stay there. I found the fast easier than I had anticipated, but that may have to do with the fact that I stayed busy with Mass and visiting with my friend.people texting

The fast got me thinking about how much I check my phone, which includes Facebook and my email, and how it impacts me, especially in light of my focus on self-care and trying not to compare myself to others. I realized that while there are definitely benefits to having a smartphone (like being able to write posts on the go, stay connected with my friends from across the country or keep my calendar up to date), the excessive connectivity really isn’t helpful.

I find it very disrespectful when people are on their phones when I’m hanging out with them, especially one on one. It’s as though spending time with me is somehow not enough, that I’m not entertaining enough. It really hurts. I know there are times when people need to be connected, maybe they’re expecting a really important phone call or email, but I doubt that’s the case every time.

A solution to all of this isn’t as easy as saying ‘put your phone away.’ There’s a whole mentality around popularity and phone use, although much of it is unconscious. People feel good when they receive texts and Facebook notifications. It means others are thinking about them, and that’s not a bad thing. But it can develop into a bad thing. In my case I was becoming way too concerned about what was being posted on Facebook, and how many texts I was sending and receiving. In some subconscious way, I had tied my self-worth to those numbers, instead of the overall quality of the relationships they were contributing to. I was comparing my whole life to the my friends’ highlights, the snapshots they gave into their lives on social media, which made it seem as though their lives were fantastic and perfect, while mine has been far from. Instead of making me feel closer to my friends, I feel more distant and isolated.

textingSince the phone fast, I have been mostly successful at continuing to limit my phone use. It’s usually around somewhere, maybe on the dining room table or in my bag, but very rarely is it within easy access 24/7, as it was in the past. I am still limiting my Facebook use, and actually went so far as to change my settings so that I wasn’t getting updates as frequently. It’s not that I want to be anti-social, or that I think that social media is detrimental, but as the saying goes, “where your treasure is, there your heart is as well.” If I substitute ‘time’ for ‘treasure’ then it applies perfectly to this situation. If I spend all my time on Facebook, rather than on the things that are really important to me, like practicing my German, prayer, spending quality time with people, or writing, then it suggests that those things maybe aren’t as important to me as they first appeared, and that the newest Facebook post or text is more important than it really is.

When all is said and done, I am not planning to give up my phone or deactivate my Facebook profile anytime soon, but I do plan to continue with the reduced screen time. For the most part, I am happier, and I have more time to do other things that really are important to me. Technology use is a habit, and as with any habit, I want to make sure that it is helping me, not hurting me.

Powering down,

Lauren

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Easter committments

lenten successDear Pope Francis,

Earlier this week, Millennial posted about how as a church we do Lent really well, but don’t continue the spiritual probing and growth through the Easter season.

It was a really excellent post because it made me think about my own Lenten commitment this year. My goal was to try and say the rosary or attend mass every day to deepen my prayer life as opposed to giving something up as I’ve done in previous years. Lent is finished, but if the goal of the season is a degree of self-improvement through making or breaking habits, why should the improvement stop when Lent is over?

Praying the rosary over Lent this year has brought a new understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection and the role Mary and other women played throughout them. I didn’t succeed at my goal of praying it every day, but I made the time a few nights each week which was a big improvement.

My angst over the missing beads on my rosaries prompted me to learn how to tie barrel knots so I could repair them and make one special for a friend I’d been feeling a need to pray for a lot. (Side note on barrel knots, they’re fiddly enough to require the patience of several saints.)

easter is more than one dayThe post on Millennial also had me think about ways of feasting beyond food and drink. What better feast could there be than the Word?

One issue I came back to a lot in my reflections during Lent was the epistles in the New Testament. Historically, St. Paul and I have had a rocky relationship. He says some great things in his epistles, but there’s also passages which have completely rubbed me the wrong way and made me rather dislike him.

What I’ve been thinking about recently has been whether it might be a good idea for me to take the time to re-read all of the epistles and re-evaluate my opinions on them.

I need to put aside the frustration I’ve felt over the way the letters are used to justify oppression and read them with a heart open to seeing what they really say. I might still disagree, but I suspect the disagreement will be more with the interpretation of the letters than with the content itself.

Trying to keep growing,

Meredith

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Soul Care

Dear Pope Francis,

My school year is over, and it’s been crazy one. There’s been a lot of new book knowledge an even more new personal insights. In fact, I was hazard a guess that there have been more personal insights this year than ever before. This is very exciting, but it also means that I need time to figure out what exactly I learned from the insight and what it means for my life. When I don’t take time to do this, I feel anxious and overwhelmed by everything in my head.

I find that studying theology requires a unique brand of self-care. Not only do I need to unwind from the stress of finishing papers and readings, but I need time to process and appropriate what I’ve learning in class, and from my personal life. Most importantly I am discovering how imperative it is to take care of my soul by finding those things that genuinely feed me and give me life. That is going to look different for everyone.

For me, quite often, this kind of soul care is taking my notebook and my favourite pen (or two – in case the first one runs out) and Coffee and notebookgoing for a walk. I find a place to sit, maybe in a coffee shop or on a bench or anywhere that looks suitably comfortable, and pour out everything onto the page. Today, that’s a letter to you, sometimes it’s fiction, other times it’s prayer, and sometimes it’s just dumping all of the details that have been floating around in my head (like dialogue or character traits). With this kind of soul care, it doesn’t matter what I write, the result is the same: there is a fresh, light feeling in my chest and my head is refreshingly empty. I feel like I’m a real human being again and not a ball of stress and pent up thoughts. It’s a fantastic feeling.

In some ways writing like this is like going on a mini retreat, even though I’m typically in a high traffic area. Writing allows me to shut out the world, even for an hour, and figure out what I’m thinking. This reminds me of the times that Jesus went out into the desert or off by himself to pray. I can imagine him wandering around and thinking, trying to sort what his Father wanted, and recharging for the next round of ministry. Writing lets me wander, both physically and mentally, and to be alone with my thoughts. It also lets me share those thoughts, if I chose to do so, in a way that is meaningful. I think that’s pretty cool.

Writing away,

Lauren

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When the Lights Come On

Dear Pope Francis,

Last night was the first time I went to the Easter Vigil in English. The only other time I went was in 2007 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. It was a powerful cultural experience, but I missed a lot because of the language difference.Pascal Candle

The Vigil was loaded with symbolism, which I loved. What impacted me the most was the light and darkness. We began in almost complete darkness. We lit our candles from the Paschal candle. The lady sitting beside me had told me that after we blew out the candles, the lights would come on. The priest invited us to blow out the candles and listen to God’s action in history. The congregation sat down to listen, but the lights didn’t come one. The first reading was from the first creation account from Genesis. I figured that the lights would come on when God created light and dark – except they didn’t. All of the readings and Psalms were done by flashlight, while the rest of the congregation sat in darkness.

After the fourth reading, from the prophet Ezekiel, the lights came on. Special prayers announcing the Resurrection were said, as lights were turned on. Most were turned on all at once, but as we sang the Gloria for the first time since Ash Wednesday, a few other smaller lights around the Church were turned on.

This Lent has been challenging, with a lot of darkness. Holding onto that one lit candle in the darkness struck me. That was how I felt for much of Lent, I could see what was immediately in front of me by the small light, and I could see shapes in the darkness but I didn’t know what they were. Expecting the lights to turn at certain points is like all of those times I made a plan and expected that God was going to act according to that plan, except He didn’t and I was left waiting in the darkness a little bit longer.

Finally, when I didn’t know what to expect any more, the light came on, and it was more overwhelming than I had expected. I could see everything now, and it was all beautiful: the prayers, the Gloria, the Church itself. As we sang the Gloria, a few other lights were turned on. These were smaller lights, and I didn’t notice they were missing, but when they were turned on, they still added more light to the Church. This is what happened at the end of Lent, when things started to fall into place in unexpected ways. God poured out love and good things into my life. Even after I thought He had poured everything, like all the lights being turned on, there were a few more things for him to share. Like those last few lights to be turned on, I didn’t realize these little good things were there, but when I did, they made everything brighter.

Empty TombI’ve heard it said many times that we are an ‘Easter people’, and I didn’t quite understand what exactly that meant. Now I’m starting to understand. We are a people of hope, even in the darkness. We wait and hope to meet the Risen Christ at the Tomb or the Upper Room. We may have our doubts or not recognize Jesus, but we keep looking because that is who we are, a hopeful people eagerly anticipating Christ’s return.

Celebrating in the light,

Lauren

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Giving and Receiving

Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve been thinking a lot about the passion story and service the last couple of days. About how best to use my gifts to serve God and to serve others, and about telling the difference between when I’m really serving others and when I’m serving myself.

Wednesday night, I stayed up until almost 3am agonizing about whether or not I would show up at the Legislature on Thursday in counter protest to the pro-choice rally planned. I thought about what I would do and what I would say if I was the only pro-lifer there, and I thought about the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” when Pilate tried to release Jesus. I thought a lot about Peter’s denial of Christ and for a while, I felt like not going to the rally would be akin to denying Jesus.

the_washing_of_feetWhen I thought about what I would do and what I would say, I also thought about how people would react, and about the publicity of being the only person there in opposition. I imagined sitting in a chair and knitting all day, with a Bristol board sign stating my opinion. And I decided not to go.

I sat at my desk, and over the course of an hour, wrote by hand the very personal story I had planned to share. It was the first time I had ever committed the entire thing to paper, and when the three sides of loose leaf were covered, I folded them up, sealed them in an envelope and went to bed.

I prayed for the hearts and minds of the people at the rally and for the politicians in the Legislature while I went about my day Thursday, but I did not go downtown until it was time for mass.

At mass, I was struck by Peter’s reluctance over Christ washing his feet. It made me think about how easy it is for me to try and serve others through a phone call to someone I know is lonely, or by knitting another square for charity, or by inviting someone over for supper. But it’s much harder to accept service from others, like rides to church or letting a friend pick up my tab when we go out for a beer and wings, or even just accepting compliments when they’re given (more on that next month).

I try to live to give, but I need to be more open to receiving what others are giving.

Part of that is also being more open to receiving what Christ has to give – forgiveness and grace, unconditional love, and redemption for the whole world. Jesus allowed himself to be tortured and then died in agony on the cross this afternoon to pay the price for my sins. How can I give his love to the people around me if I don’t permit myself to receive his love and his grace?

Receiving,

Meredith

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Settling into Life

Dear Pope Francis,

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly time slips by. It’s already the middle of April already. For the most part the weather is daffodilsbecoming more spring-like (except for yesterday, when it snowed in southern Ontario). I just finished my second year of my M.Div. Lent is coming to an end, and Easter is all but here. I will celebrate my twenty-fourth birthday over the weekend. But it feels like yesterday was Ash Wednesday, my first day of second year and my twenty-third birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to use my time well, and to live a good life – big questions to say the least. One thing I can say for sure, is that there is a lot of conflicting opinions on what it ‘good’

I’ve struggled with trying to understand what makes a life ‘good’ or ‘worthwhile’. These are vague, general concepts, which don’t correspond to any sort of quantitative measurement. I’ve read some articles and posts that suggest that in my twenties I need to take time and explore because I have lots of time to figure it all out. Other people say that this mindset robs me of the urgency that is necessary to get my life started. These conflicting opinions don’t stop people from striving to have it all in life – to live the ‘good life’. I find myself falling into the trap of ‘the good life’ too. As a result, I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep up with the people around me. My friends get into relationships, so I feel like I need to as well. Some of my friends are young professionals, and, after seeing their lives, I begin to feel tired of my grad student life. Everywhere I look, people seem to have lives that are more exciting or more stable and settled than mine.

I see elements of truth in all of the conflicting opinions about living a good life in my twenties, usually around the need to explore options and new places. But some days even this vague concept which puts pressure on me to keep up my peers. Then, I stumbled across a quote that gave me a new perspective on all of this: “We can either demand that we write well or we can settle more comfortably into writing down what seems to want to come through us – good, bad or indifferent” (Julia Cameron, The Right to Write). I’ve used this quote to help me reduce the pressure to write when I’m on a deadline, or when I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts out of my head and into words (like writing this post). The more I think about it, the more I realize that it also applies to my life more generally.

I wonder what would happen if I applied my method for writing to my life. What would happen if I stopped trying to live life ‘well’ or ‘good’, whatever that means, and settled into living comfortably. I don’t mean to say that I want to be indifferent to life, or drift aimlessly, because that’s not who I am; I am driven and goal-orientated, and I don’t want that to change that. But what if instead of meeting the goals I think other people are setting for me, I focused on setting and meeting goals that are mine. Goals like finishing my Master’s and finding a job in ministry wherever that may take me, making self-care a priority, or learning German.

Meredith recently wrote about her faith fitting like a comfy tie-dyed t-shirt. I think of my writing, and my life, like that as well. Button down shirtInstead of a comfy t-shirt, it’s my favourite hoodie sweatshirt, that doesn’t really match anything, but it’s warm and baggy. It’s been to bonfires at the shore and on road trips and toted around when the weather can’t make up its mind about what season it is. When I settle into writing and my life, it’s like pulling on this hoodie; I feel at ease and comfortable in my skin. But, when I try to borrow my friends’ goals and lives, it’s like putting on a collared button-down shirt, which never seem to fit me right. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get the button-down to fit without having buttons pull or constricting my movement.

IMG_7761

On a road trip in 2012, wearing my favourite hoodie

Button-downs just don’t seem to be for me right now, and neither are my friends’ goals and priorities. I’m sure there will come a day when some of those priorities and goals, like relationships and careers, will come into my life. When they do, I will figure out how it all fits together, but until then I can’t get caught up in trying to fit someone else’s mold. This is my life, and I can choose to get bogged down in what everyone around expects from me, or I can choose to follow God’s plan for me, which is challenging and pushes me to be a better person, but ultimately fits just right.

 

Living life in my hoodie,

Lauren

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And the new high score for most original penance goes to…  

Dear Pope Francis,

I mentioned last week how I was planning to go to confession on Wednesday night. I did, and it was not at all what I was expecting.

reconciliation-confessionalI think as Catholics we sometimes get stuck thinking of the sacrament of reconciliation in this really stereotypical way. You and a priest in a dark cramped room, listing your sins and failings one by one and the priest keeping a tally to decide how many Hail Marys and Our Fathers you’ll need to say to atone for being such a bad person. Hellfire, brimstone, and judgement everywhere.

While I can’t say I’ve ever actually had an experience even remotely similar to that in a confessional, the idea was still present when I was waiting in line Wednesday night. I was the only person under the age of about 50 present at the penitential mass, except for a boy of about 8 who was there with (I assume) his father.

Seven priests were available for the sacrament, and I ended up towards the back of the line because it took me a few minutes to decide which priest I wanted to go to, plus there were a lot of people there

The dynamics of the lines were really weird. Some moved quicker than others, and every so often someone would leave the line I was in to restart the line for another priest. The man in front of me let a couple of other people behind him go first to those other lines. It seemed like he really wanted to talk specifically to Fr. Bill. Rather than get into some weird confession line stand off with him, when Fr. Dolan’s line was empty I switched.

Other times I’ve been to reconciliation, there’s been a card with a big long prayer which I suspect I’m supposed to have memorized but have never ever remembered the words to. When I had my first reconciliation in the second grade we were taught to say “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been x days/weeks/months/years since my last confession.”

reconciledThis time, there was no cramped confessional, no card, and “God doesn’t care how long it’s been, he’ll forgive you anyways.” Fr. Dolan sat on a chair in a corner to the left of the altar, I sat on a chair beside him. He asked what was bothering me and I told him what was going on. I told him how I knew we weren’t supposed to take communion if we weren’t in a state of grace but I’ve never stopped taking communion. He told me I had probably never really left the state of grace. We talked about some other things, and then instead of giving me a bunch of prayers to say as penance, he absolved me of my sins and told me to “keep growing.”

I’ve been given unique tasks as penance before, but Fr. Dolan definitely holds the new high score for both originality and brevity. Although now I think about it, “keep growing” is probably the most time consuming task I’ll ever be given.

It feels good to be reconciled to God, and I’m glad I went because I feel like it opened me up to being more honest outside of this blog about the role faith plays in my life.

Growing,

Meredith

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Holy Week in the Field Hospital

Dear Pope Francis,

Holy Week is one of my favourite times in the liturgical year. While a large part of it that I’m left awestruck by the immensity of God’s love and overwhelming gratitude for the events of the Passion and Resurrection, it also goes much deeper than that.

I love hearing the Passion narratives because I can relate to the feelings of the different people. In these accounts, I see the true humanity of Jesus, Peter, Judas and the other Apostles. In their actions, I see my own humanity reflected. In Judas’ actions, I see all those times I blatantly betray God, otherwise called sin. In Peter’s denial, I see all the times I boast in my faith and then fail to follow through. In the disciples who fall asleep in the garden, I see those times when I become slack in my faith. In Jesus’ prayer in the garden, I see those times when life gets hard and I don’t either don’t know where God is calling me, or don’t like where He is calling me. Finally, in the Passion, I see those times when things get hard, but I follow through.

What all these snippets of the story tell me is that life won’t be perfect, and perhaps more importantly, that I don’t need to be perfect. There are so many times when I get caught up in the idea that I need to be perfect before God will work in my life to do fantastic things. When I say perfect, I mean perfect: I mistakenly associate my ability to get my school work done, volunteer for everything and be friends with everyone with how much God loves me. Except, that’s not how it works.

God doesn’t wait for me to be perfect before He intervenes in my life. He’s there all the time, whether I mess up or not. I think you put it best, Pope Francis, when you said that the Church is field hospital for sinners, not a museum for the saints (Big Heart Open to God, Interview with Antony Spodaro). So, just like the solely human people in the Passion narratives, I am human and will make mistakes. I need to be in the field hospital, among the other hurting and broken people. But I also need hope that from all the mistakes and wrong turns, God will allow something fantastic to happen in my life.

Hanging out in the hospital,

Lauren

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