Monthly Archives: May 2014

#100GratefulDays

Dear Pope Francis,

One of the biggest pitfalls I face on a regular basis is the poor-little-me’s. It’s a terrible condition when I focus on all the things in my life that I perceive to be horrible. It’s like when I stub my toe or hurt a finger. Even though I have ten fingers and ten toes, all I do is focus on the one that is hurt, not the nine that are fine. Practically, this means that I am focusing on all the reading that I have to do, rather than the fact that the reading is in preparation for a trip to Europe (which I leave for in two weeks!).

At a Theology on Tap talk last Monday, I was challenged to get out of this mindset. The speaker, Mary Jo Leddy, talked about the importance of being intentionally grateful, what she calls ‘radical gratitude’ (which is also the title of her book). She suggested that we focus on being grateful for the day as soon as it begins, from the moment we wake up, instead of waiting until the end.

To-Do-ListThis idea struck a chord for me. Usually when I wait until the end of the day to be grateful, my gratitude is contingent on how much I accomplished. There is a problem with this: when I wait until the end of the day I never actually get to the gratitude. Like the sore finger and toe, I focus only on the things I didn’t get done, like painting my nails, straightening my desk or reading, rather than celebrating everything I did accomplish, like submitting job applications, writing a couple blog posts and cleaning the kitchen. The things I didn’t get done are smaller details, but it shouldn’t completely derail my day that I didn’t have time to get to them, whereas I should celebrate the fact that I was able to focus and accomplish some bigger, time consuming projects.

grateful heartIn the last few months there has been a trend on Facebook called 100 Happy Days (#100HappyDays). Every day for one hundred days people post a picture of something that made them happy. The hope is that at the end of the hundred days the people will have developed a habit of looking for the happy things in their lives. There is nothing wrong with finding the happy things, but I feel like I need to be more grateful – no more poor-little-me’s!

My remedy? Starting tomorrow, June 1, I want to start 100 Grateful Days. For me it will probably be posted on my personal Facebook page, but I don’t know whether it will be pictures or words, or both. We’ll see!Grateful for

I invite you, Pope Francis and readers of LTP, to join me in 100 Grateful Days. I encourage you to make it your own: If you’re not comfortable sharing on Facebook, then start a gratitude journal; maybe one hundred days is too daunting, so start with fifty, or twenty-one. Try writing a haiku about what you are grateful for, or maybe drawing is more your style. Get as creative as you want. Want some company for the adventure? Share the idea with your friends (Mary Jo recommended that we build a community of grateful people)! If you do want to share your journey with us at LTP, tag us on Facebook (@Letterstothepope, and #100GratefulDays) or use #LTP and #100GratefulDays on Twitter, or just let us know in the comment section below.

I’ll make sure to check in regularly about how this project is going!

Gratefully yours,

Lauren

#100GratefulDays

 

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Do you wanna be a sister?

Dear Pope Francis,

Earlier this week, I came across a link to the video “Do you wanna be a sister?” on twitter. It’s a cute parody of the “Do you wanna build a snowman?” song from Frozen, which as we’ve already established is currently one of my favourite movies and may even surpass Monsters Inc. in my regard for it.

Watching the video of Sr. Marianette trying to reach out to the young woman thinking about religious life reminded me of my own experience discerning with the Daughters of Saint Paul. I remember how totally freaked out my friends and family were by the news that I was planning to go to a weekend discernment retreat with them in Alexandria, Virginia over the American Thanksgiving weekend in 2012.

Meredith-DCAfter I got back, Jan (one of my journalism professors), really pushed me to write about the weekend with the sisters but I never did. Not because I was on board with Sr. Margaret Michael’s prescient suggestion I take a step back from writing all the time and focus on taking care of myself, but because I honestly just didn’t know where to begin.

When you’re discerning anything, religious life, marriage, a big move or a career change, it’s not something done quickly or in a vacuum from the rest of your life. You don’t get to the discernment weekend, the end of relationship conversation, loading the truck or quitting the job without spending a lot of time thinking about it and questioning the sanity of your thought process. Maybe it’s a recurring thought over weeks or months, or maybe it’s something you stay up all night trying to figure out.

When I was growing up, my Dad liked to tease me about how as his eldest child I had to be a nun to a) make sure he got into heaven and b) make up for the fact that he discerned out of entering seminary for the priesthood shortly before or after meeting my mother. It’s been a while since he bemoaned how he could have been a priest, so I’m a little fuzzy on the timeline of his journey. I can remember being really stubborn that I wasn’t going to be a nun from the first time he suggested it, and whether by rote or obstinacy, joining a religious order was just not on my radar until after I finished SERVE in the spring of 2011.

A big part of my experience volunteering that summer was living in community with the seven other young adults in the program. After it ended I had a really hard time transitioning into life with my family for the rest of the summer. Even though I felt like I had a hard time fitting in when I was doing it, I really missed my four brothers and three sisters and the routine of morning and afternoon prayer before our meals.

About a month into school my third year I sat with Fr. John Jennings in the chapel and cried all over him about how I was starting to think I was called to be a nun and how I had no idea what to do or how to tell if it was the real deal or not. To his credit, Fr. John told me I didn’t have to figure it out right away and shared his own discernment in the seminary and the experience of just taking it a year, a month, a week, or a day at a time. He also suggested I start researching some of the religious orders to better inform myself of different charisms and missions. (By extension this lead to a very well stocked shelf of pamphlets on religious life while I worked in the campus ministry office.)

Somewhere along the line I filled out one of those “send me more information about vocations” cards from a poster outside the chapel, and received a really thoughtful response from a vocations director in Toronto who included some information about the Daughters of St. Paul and suggested I might like to start there given my journalism major. I wish I could find the note so I could quote it here and say which vocations director it was because the priest who sent it was super sweet, but it’s in a box somewhere and I’m not digging into anymore of those today.

When I read the information about the Daughters of St. Paul, I got really excited because I felt like if I was being called to be a sister, this was definitely the order for me. The euphoria then changed to terror, because “Oh God, what if I’m being called to be a sister?!”

DSCN1094During the summer of 2012 I struck up an e-mail conversation with Sr. Marie Paul from their Toronto house. We e-mailed a little bit and talked on the phone a few times which was really helpful because she didn’t go nuts pushing me to come to the discernment weekend right away. The invitation was extended, but she made it really clear the decision was mine and that there would be other weekends in the future if I didn’t want to go to one that fall. She met me where I was and let me come to her which took a lot of the pressure I was putting on myself regarding discernment off. I ended up going to the discernment weekend in Virginia because I had something going on at school the weekend of the Toronto one. I forget what.

When I told my parents over Canadian Thanksgiving that I was planning to go to discernment weekend the next month, they were a little freaked out. Dad got really concerned with making sure I knew he really was just teasing me about being a nun for the last 23 years, he didn’t really expect me to be one and I didn’t have to join a religious order to make him happy. It was like the prospect of me actually becoming a sister made it very not funny all of a sudden.

(Point of clarity, a nun is a sister in a cloistered religious order whereas a sister is a woman who has taken the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in a religious order. In popular culture we tend to use the words interchangeably as meaning any woman who wears a religious habit or belongs to an order of women religious.)

So I went to visit the Daughters of St. Paul in Alexandria, Virginia.

My room mate got up at the crack of dawn to drive me across the border to the bus station in Houlton, Maine and I took a bus from there to Portland. I stayed in a hotel painting my toes and watching a Breaking Amish marathon on TLC until I fell asleep at 8 or 9 and then left for the airport early the next morning. I flew to Washington, DC and Sr. Margaret Michael met me there when my plane landed around lunchtime. We drove to the house where I dropped off my things and then much unencumbered I took the subway back into DC to do some sightseeing for a few hours before the retreat started.

I really enjoyed the retreat. It was good to have time with the sisters and the other young women and I enjoyed learning more about their ministry. I really liked praying the news with the sisters, because it gave me a new way of approaching my consumption of newspapers, radio and television. I also really enjoyed just hanging out with everyone in the evening and laughing.

The day we spent in silence was hard, but moreso because I was feeling guilty for struggling to stay awake than any dislike of quietude. Becoming aware of just how tired I was at that point was a valuable takeaway for me, as was the recognition that I probably wasn’t being called to be a sister, just called to have a deeper relationship with Christ.

Discerning with the Daughters of St. Paul was a really good experience for me because while it was stressful and scary year getting there, I have a deeper confidence that I’m going to get married and be a mother and a foster mother one day. Another thing I started to learn while I was there was how a traditional newsroom of breaking stories and deadlines and always needing to be plugged in isn’t something good for me, no matter how good I might be at it.

Finally, I just want to say to any of the people reading this that I think it’s important to be open to the possibility of religious life as a vocation. While you’re discerning if it’s going to be a thing or not, I think it’s also important to be aware of the things going on in your life that might be scaring you towards the church that way. Family drama, difficulties with friends, a rough breakup. It’s good to seek comfort in God, but not so much to make radical life decisions trying to escape the realities of your life. Trust God to get you where you need to be. Maybe he facepalms a little bit if you’re being really thick, but he’ll work around it.

Love always,

Meredith

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(Spiritual) Mother-Daughter Time

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s hard to believe that this is my last letter for the month of May! Where has the time gone? I would be remiss if I had let the entire month pass and didn’t write a post about Mary, since this is a Marian month and all. When Meredith and I first talked about what we wanted to write about this month, Mary was one of the first, and most obvious, ideas.

My relationship to Mary has been mostly non-existent for the bulk of my life. I never really understood why she was so central to the faith when we had the Trinity already. I would prayer the “Hail Mary” when my catechism class or youth group did so, but the Rosary was not an integral part of my prayer life. However, over the last couple of years, primarily since I moved, I have found myself turning to Mary more often in my prayer.

I began to relate more readily to her Fiat in Luke’s Gospel, when, at Gabriel’s news that she would bear a son, she says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). In this moment, Mary was confused. Mary's FiatShe didn’t understand what exactly was going to happen, other than God wanted her to bear His son, and she still said yes. This idea of saying yes resonated with me, because I spent much of my first year of the M.Div. not really understanding why God wanted me to study. I knew that he had led me to this school and more specifically this program, but I couldn’t (and still can’t) see exactly what He’s got planned for me. In those moments of doubt, I tried to have the simple faith of Mary, the faith that could be content in saying ‘yes’ to God, and then letting His will be done. I am far from exercising this simplicity regularly in my faith. I question God all the time, but Mary continues to be a role model for me.

In the last few months, when I have been really stressed or upset, I have found myself turning to Mary in prayer as often as I have been turning to God. It’s not that I worship Mary, it’s more that I have a conversation with her, very much like the kinds of conversations I would have with my own mom. The conversations are telling Mary what’s going on, what’s stressing me out or why I’m feeling terrible, and then I ask her to pray for me, in much the same way I would ask my mom, or any of my other close friends to pray for me. It is interesting that in the moments when God seems furthest away, I turn to Mary. There is something about her, I think of it as her gentle presence, which allows me to open up and let her in when praying to God just isn’t working for me.

Does this mean that I’m going to start praying the Rosary every single day? I don’t really know. I appreciate the prayers of the Rosary, especially the “Hail Mary”, when I don’t have my own words for prayer, but I still need to pray in my own way. My prayer life tends to grow and develop spontaneously. It’s one of the few places in my life that I don’t have strict goals that I try to meet. If at some point, praying the Rosary becomes something I need to do on a regular basis, then I will pick up then. Until that point, I will continue to relish in the wonderful mother-daughter time I have with my Spiritual Mother now.

Enjoying the (Spiritual) Mother-daughter time

Lauren

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The difference between being home and feeling at home

Dear Pope Francis,

As I’ve mentioned in my last couple of letters, there were some big changes in my life this month. For starters, I moved half way across the country and back in with my parents. Settling in to my new room at Mom and Dad’s has had me thinking a fair bit about what home means.

It’s often said “home is where the heart is” and living in New Brunswick this past year it was definitely true. I was so homesick, not so much for Ontario but for my family because they’re such an important part of my life. But since I pulled in to the driveway of the house I lived in as a teenager on Monday afternoon, I’ve been missing my home in New Brunswick.

More than anything, I think it’s this sense of being home but not feeling at home that has me missing the province lived in for the better part of the last five years. I haven’t lived with my parents for more than a few weeks in two years now, and I’ve lived primarily outside their home for the last seven.

The last few times I’ve been home, I’ve shared a room with different sisters as siblings have moved out and family dynamics have changed. Now I’m moved back in for the foreseeable future, and I have my own room, but I have a really hard time thinking of it as my room.

ImageIt’s getting easier to recognize as my space now that my wall decorations are up and my bedspread is on the bed, but I remember the room being dark green with a rainforest wallpaper border and zoo animal curtains. That’s how it looked when I last lived at home and it was my brother’s room. Now the wall and carpet are both shades of blue from when my sister redecorated after Michael moved out.

It’s not the colour of the walls or the floor, or the fact that the room is at the front of the house facing the asphalt street instead of the grass in the backyard that makes me not feel at home. It’s not the different furniture or the renovated kitchen. It’s a sensation of being an entirely different person than I was when I last lived in this place and a recognition that my family changed quite a lot while I was away.

I think the difference between being home and feeling at home is that you really can be home anywhere so long as the people you care about are there with you, but without the routines of your life independent of them it’s very hard to feel at home.

What I’ve also been thinking about is how church fits in to my sense of being at home. When my family moved away from Brampton the biggest lack I felt in my spiritual life was not having a group of people I could talk to about my Jesus stuff. I didn’t feel at home in Toronto until I joined the community at Spring Garden Church in North York a year after I moved there, and my primary attachment to my university was in the community I found in the on-campus chapel and the people I met through campus ministry.

I changed churches in my fourth year of university because of some intense personal issues with another member of the community, and something I struggled with was not feeling at home in the church I moved to. Over the last two years I developed a deep appreciation for the pastoral team at St. Dunstan’s and solid friendships with a couple of young women I met there and through people I associated with the church. But I never really got the ‘at home’ sensation I had at Spring Garden and the STU Chapel. I never really developed a group I was comfortable being around like what I had at St. Leonard’s growing up.

I think the at home sensation will eventually come as I integrate myself into the parish community at my new/old church. I’m an adult now, not a teenager, which I think will actually make it easier to get involved in ministries, whether it means joining the choir again or volunteering to be a lector, or asking to be trained as Eucharistic minister to the sick, or finding a way to be involved with the youth ministry.

I have a lot of time and energy on my hands, and I feel like there’s going to be opportunities for me to develop my skills and grow as a person in my church and in continuing to blog about this journey on here.

I’m thinking about going back to school part-time for a Masters of Divinity to better equip myself to work in a ministerial setting. Which is weird, since I’m not really sure what ministry God wants me in I just feel like I’m meandering in more or less the right direction with moving to Toronto and specifically looking for work in Catholic media and ministries. This is also a little weird because it’s a combination I was totally uninterested in as a career when I was planning my post-undergrad life three years ago.

Trying to feel at home now that I’m home,

Meredith

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Long Distance Friendships

Dear Pope Francis,

This letter is going up very late in the day, probably the latest I’ve ever posted and it’s very short. IMG_20140525_150403I promise it’s for a good reason though! For the first time since we have become friends, Meredith and I live in the same province, and she has come to visit for a few days. We spent today exploring the city for Doors Open Toronto. I think the best part of the day was that I had the opportunity to introduce some friends to each other because we all wanted to go exploring. We made a day of it, packing a picnic lunch and wandering wherever we pleased.

Spending this time with Meredith got me thinking about how exactly we managed to establish and maintain a friendship almost entirely long distance for four years. I still don’t really know the answer to that yet, something just clicked and it worked. What I did realize, is how important this friendship has been in my life. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be publishing twice a week on any blog, let alone Letters to the Pope. Some of my memories would also be radically different. My first trip to NYC just wouldn’t have been the same without Meredith’s company.

I have a few friends like this; we have developed and/or maintained friendships over a significant distance, including different continents. When we are together, we talk and laugh as though we have never been apart. When we are apart, we call or Skype as often as we possibly can. In the meantime, we text or write letters or send care packages to each other. Although I don’t see these friends often, I value their friendship, and a have a wall dedicated to the hanging up their postcards, letters and pictures.

Having these friendships helped to maintain some amount of stability in my life when I moved to Toronto, because I had people to talk to while I was developing new friendships in Toronto. They also help me to stay grounded in reality, even when I am stressed out, confused or upset. They are also very important people to celebrate with when good things happen.

I am very grateful for the role that these friend’s play in my life. As much as being away from them is difficult sometimes, it makes seeing them again all the sweeter.

Feeling grateful for my friends,

Lauren

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Getting Real: Self-Esteem

Dear Pope Francis,

Today, I’m getting real: I struggle with self-esteem. By no means do I believe that I am the only woman or girl who has struggled with this, but today, I’m feeling brave enough to declare it from the rooftops of LTP.lowself-esteem

I have struggled with my self-esteem for as long as I can remember. I remember being teased for my weight in elementary school, feeling like the odd ball in my friend group for most of junior and senior high, and generally never being sure where exactly I fit during university. I remember that no matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I wore the right clothes, had the right school supplies or hung out with the right people.

The funny part is that I don’t think anyone actually noticed that I was so self-conscious, except perhaps my mom, whose shoulder I’d cry on when I felt left out. I worked very hard to create the façade that I was un-phased by marching to the beat of my own drum, even though deep down I wanted nothing more than to fit in.

If I wanted to fit in so desperately, then why didn’t I start wearing brand names, lose weight, and change my interests? Because, the one thing I had drilled into my head is that I am unique. One of my earliest memories is of my Oma (grandmother), telling me that I was her favourite Lauren because I was exactly that, her Lauren, the one who loved to write on the type-writer and walk in the woods and eat home-made bread with butter and sprinkles. My parents encouraged me to do what I loved, whether that was write stories, dance or go to youth group. My mom taught me to respect my body by dressing modestly and wearing clothes that were comfortable and looked good on me, not simply because everyone else was wearing them.

I think the cruelest part of the self-esteem cycle I went through was that I consistently tied my self-worth to what other people thought of me. The fact that I wrote was awesome when I won an award for it, but on the day of the band concert, I was lame because I couldn’t sing or play an instrument. I had accomplished a personal goal to lose weight before prom, but the fact that I didn’t have a date completely overshadowed my accomplishment. PromIt was cruel because no matter what I did, I would never be able to please the people around me, but I had tricked myself into thinking that being able to sing or having a date would please the people around me and that would make my life infinitely better.

Every woman I have talked to about this, has shared some experience of feeling inadequate and/or a time when she had low self-esteem. When I listen to their stories, I hear echoes of my own struggles, although the events, characters and settings are different. Between my own experiences and listening to others’ stories, I have learned that there is no magic pill or booster shot that ‘fixes’ a self-esteem ‘deficiency’. It is something that I continue to struggle with. I still wish I could have more friends, be thinner, and wear brand name clothes.

But these things are still tying my self-worth to external factors. Self-esteem becomes a numbers game: if my number of friends is greater than your number of friends, then I win, or, you have a boyfriend, well, I have six best friends, so I still win. This isn’t self-esteem though; this is one-upping another person because I am insecure. Self-esteem radiates from inside, it’s not something that I can hold in my hand, smooth on my face, or paint on my nails. cookie_low_self_esteem_2Self-esteem is something that I’ve had to work at, faking it until I made it. I marched to the beat of my own drum, because I didn’t like the beat that other people were playing.

Self-esteem came as I slowly (very slowly!) stopped trying to do things because other people said it was cool, and started genuinely accepting that I was doing the things that I needed to do in order to take care of myself and accomplish my goals, like writing because it’s as natural for me as breathing, or keeping up with diverse groups of friends because I genuinely enjoy their company. When I do these things, I decide my self-worth, it’s not tied to something external, an ideal that is always changing. It is something much deeper than that, it is grounded in the core of who I am, and flows out into all aspects of my life.

I have also come to realize, that self-esteem is not something that I will ever completely possess. No matter how confident I seem, there will always be days when I need to fake it. The trick is to remember that those days will pass, and that there will be days when the self-esteem is genuine.

Feeling pretty good,

Lauren

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Skirt length and respect

Dear Pope Francis,

A few weeks ago I posted about why I choose to wear skirts most of the time and how people respond to me differently when I’m wearing them. An aspect which I deliberately stayed away from in that post was the link between the length and style of the skirt and people’s response.

skirt length adjectives rosea lakeLast winter, Rosea Lake posted this photo (left) to her tumblr demonstrating how people respond to different lengths of skirts on women. The photo really struck a chord with me and got me thinking about my own collection of skirts and whether I buy longer skirts because I genuinely like long skirts or because I don’t like the way I’m treated when I wear shorter skirts.

Which brings me to today’s topic: respect.

In the Catholic Church, we’re really big on teaching people to respect each other’s human dignity. There’s a fair bit written about respect and respecting people who think differently in the catechism. In our Catholic culture, where we fall short at times is in extending that respect to people when they dress differently than we think they ought.

I’ll be 25 in August. When I’m going out and about in my daily life, I favour a business casual style. Most of my skirts fall somewhere between proper and old-fashioned on Lake’s photo. But I also have several in the cheeky-flirty range, including my current favourite dress.

There is an argument to be made for self-respect and dressing modestly as a way of respecting our own bodies. I can honestly say at one point in my life the shorter skirts and dresses I favoured were present because of a lack of self-respect on my part. But that’s not the case now, and my wearing a cheeky skirt doesn’t make it okay for a man at Tim Horton’s to comment on my legs or for a car full of guys to holler at me when  my at the time boyfriend is walking me home from foosball on a Tuesday night.

When I show up at church in leopard print leggings and a denim tunic-blouse I shouldn’t hear the older men harrumph and their wives tut. I should be hearing them say hello and making me feel welcome at mass.

Part of growing up and wandering back to the church has been seeing some aspects of my style change. I show less boob than I used to and don’t wear super form-fitting skirts as often. But part of being me is challenging the notion that people who wear short skirts or leggings aren’t interested in God. God loves me whether I’m wearing  a habit or stark naked.

When I wear high heels and dresses – whatever their length, I feel good about myself because I feel like I look like the free woman I am. No matter how devout a Christian or a Catholic a man might be, if he respects me more or less based on the length of my skirt or how I dress, he’s not respecting me much at all.

In Christ,

Meredith

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Modesty and the Rape Culture

Dear Pope Francis,

There seems to be an ever increasing litany of stories of women being told that it is their responsibility to dress modestly so that they won’t be objectified by men. rape cultureThe logic behind the rape culture, that the women who are raped were asking for it, is being applied to objectification. According to the rape culture, it is a woman’s responsibility as to whether or not she dresses in a way that encourages someone to rape her. Applied to objectification, it is a woman’s responsibility to dress modestly so that men won’t be tempted to objectify her. I think this logic is ridiculous for a couple of reasons

One reason this is ridiculous is that this logic takes the responsibility away from the guys. It assumes that guys can’t control themselves, or find it very difficult to do so, and women should help them. Some guys might struggle with objectifying women, and if they do, then yes, we should help them, but how I dress is not necessarily going to fix the problem. His wandering eyes are not solely my problem. He ultimately needs to work towards a long term solution. This logic also takes all the responsibility away from men, and says that men can look at women however they want because it’s not their fault, it’s the woman’s.

Another reason that this is ridiculous is that this also assumes that there is one standard of modesty that everyone agrees on, which is certainly not the case. I would never wear what some other women wear every day. It also assumes that there is a certain type of clothing that arouses men, which is also not true.

I don’t necessarily think that we need to throw modesty out the window when we’re talking about objectification and the rape culture, but I don’t think that modesty is the only answer. Instead, I think modesty needs to be a choice that women make for themselves, not something that is forced on them because guys can’t control themselves.

I generally choose to dress modestly, because those are the clothes I’m the most comfortable and confident in. I was taught that there should be an inch or two of overlap between my shirt and jeans, and that skirts and shorts need to go past my fingertips. Finger tip ruleThese became my norms for finding clothes. As I became more aware of how I looked in clothes and fashion trends, I learned to dress for my body type, rather than solely for fashion. This means that I usually have to recycle old pairs of jeans to make shorts because I have a hard time finding shorts that are the right length for me, and that I have lots of tank tops for layering under t-shirts.

Most importantly for me, dressing modestly is a way that I show self-respect. I choose to dress in clothes that make me feel good as a way to love myself and show respect for the way that God created me. It isn’t something that I do for anyone else. It is purely a personal choice. Sure, I do wish that other women would see the beauty of covering up a little more, especially in the summer, and I work very hard to not judge women when I disagree with their fashion choices, especially for modesty reasons, but I think that dressing modestly is a very personal choice. It is something that women need to choose for themselves because it makes them feel good or confident or helps them express something about themselves. It can’t be forced on them, especially not because it is their responsibility to keep men from objectifying them.

Getting ready to make some new shorts,

Lauren

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Masculinity and Femininity and Complementarity! Oh My!

Dear Pope Francis,

Welcome to another theme week. This week, in keeping in line with our month-long theme, it’s our Week of Women. Meredith and I will be posting every day, so make sure to check back!men and women

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my struggles with the traditional femininity. The word had a childish connotation for me (and it still does to some extent), whereas I wanted an understanding of femininity that incorporated strength and independence. Another struggle that grew out of grappling with femininity was the fact that, generally, we describe something as ‘feminine’ to differentiate it from something that is ‘masculine’, which creates this opposition between the two words. Something that is feminine is very rarely described as masculine as well. This also creates the challenge of which attributes are given to masculinity and femininity.

To add another piece to this puzzle, no one person is completely masculine or completely feminine. scaleAs my friend pointed out, there is very often an unspoken scale of femininity and masculinity. Meredith and I have both talked about instances of this scale: Meredith when she talked about tools and skirts, and I talked about it when in terms of being independent and the gentleman culture. In both cases, there is something that is something traditionally feminine, for Meredith it’s wearing skirts and for me its letting guys open doors for me, that is juxtaposed against a more masculine thing, fixing things with tools and being independent.

My theology student solution to these questions is ‘complementarity’, which suggests that when God created men and women they would complement each other. complementarityBoth the masculine and the feminine need the other to complete it. The differences between men and women call them to go beyond themselves because they are not complete in and of themselves. They can be surprised by the other, because the other is something different from them. In complementarity, the emphasis is on inherent nature of men and women, but we still use the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to describe them.

For me this doesn’t really address my question: what do we do with the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’? How do we represent a spectrum of people in these words? At this point, I don’t know if I will ever get a satisfactory answer to my questions. Maybe this is one of those times when I need to leave the question alone, chalking it up to ‘that’s just the way it is’. Inherently, men and women will complement each other, but how their natures will be represented in their lives will be different. It is these representations that we can describe as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, and these words will always be imperfect when trying to capture to diversity of expressions.

This answer may not satisfy me entirely (and it may not satisfy you either), it won’t stop me from asking other big questions that probably won’t have satisfying answers.

Still asking big questions,

Lauren

 

PS: For the information on complementarity in this post, I used Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by Carl Anderson and José Granados (New York: Image, 2009).

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Spending time with my sister

Dear Pope Francis,

What a crazy week. I had my last shift at the inn Monday, watched some dear friends graduate from university on Tuesday, and finally got started packing for the move on Wednesday. After the March for Life yesterday I heard some fabulous news from another friend and then went to meet my sister at the airport. She’s still asleep, but we’re due to pick up the U-Haul in an hour and a half so I’m trying to get the posts for today and Monday done while I have a chance.

Relationships with family, but especially with sisters is what I wanted to write about today. When Kathleen and I were at dinner yesterday night I was struck by a few things, not the least of which was how tall my “little” sister has gotten. Mom wasn’t kidding when she said they were all on track to be taller than I am. Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just strange realizing I need to start saying younger sisters instead of little sisters with all of them for accuracy. My baby brother is over 6’ tall and has towered over me since we were teenagers.

It was really good to listen to Kathleen talk over supper about high school (it seems to have changed a lot since I was there) and hear about her plans for early completion and photography school next year. She’s gotten a lot better at using an indoor voice which was a pleasant surprise. Thankfully, she is still naturally loud enough I could easily hear her over the din of the restaurant.

We pretty much just covered what she’s been up to academically and at work last night, but it made me glad I asked Mom and Dad to fly her down to keep me company on the road instead of coming down themselves. I’ll be doing all the driving myself, but Kathleen is the one I’ve had the hardest time staying in touch with since moving out six years ago. She’s still Katie, but she seems like there’s a lot more to her than when we were kids. I think there must be less of a knowledge and maturity gap between 17 and 24 than between 11 and 18.

I think it’ll be really good for us to have this weekend together catching up, and I hope also getting to know each other a lot better.

DSC04712It can be easy to get caught up in the things that make a sister annoying to share space with and difficult to work with. When most of your time together is spent being frustrated over those things they can become more of what you think of when you think of your sister than the things that really matter like what she’s interested in and her desires and goals for her life.

Describing my sister to friends shouldn’t be a laundry list of things she does or doesn’t do that annoy me. It should be things like how brilliant and driven she is, her superb book recommendations, and how she’s doing in soccer this year.

Trying to see my sister for her gifts more than her gaffs,

Meredith

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