Monthly Archives: August 2014

Creating a New Normal

Dear Pope Francis,

As I’m sure you (and perhaps other readers) have noticed, both Meredith and I have become increasingly sporadic in writing our letters. It’s not necessarily because we’ve run out of things to say. Speaking for myself, I have lots of thoughts and ideas that I would love to put into words. However, life happens. Meredith has shared good news Summer Vacationrecently about opportunities taking her closer to her goals. I’ve been home soaking up all the goodness that comes from time at home with family and old friends, and taking a bit of a break.

The arrival of September next week (where did the summer go?!) brings with it more new changes.

There has been some major upheaval in my life, and I hope to be able to share some of that in another letter in the coming weeks. For now it’s enough to say that I am going through a long period of transition, which will likely stretch into the coming academic year.  In the last month, since I’ve been home, I have been very intentional about praying and discerning this period of change.

One of the keys to navigating this change has been to develop a new standard of ‘normal’ for my life. This has involved doing some soul searching and reality-checking to realize that some things really aren’t helpful, and trying to replace them with healthier habits. So far I’ve been having some success.

Case in point, one of the habits I’ve very intentionally been developing is exercising most days of the week. In order to do that, I started following a program consisting of daily 30-minute exercise routines on DVD. At first I had to force myself to show up and do my best, considering it a success if I stuck around for the whole workout. Within the first week, I was pushing myself to do more. I added more exercise by biking with my parents or walking with my friends. Thanks to the exercise and eating right, I had more energy, was sleeping better, and was feeling really good about myself.

junk foodLast night, my mother and I had a junk food binge, enjoying all our favourite treats and watching the last two episodes of Once Upon a Time, season 3. Within an hour of eating the junk food, I felt disgusting. I was sluggish, thirsty and uncomfortably full. All I wanted to do was get my bike out and go for a bike ride to clear my head. In the last three weeks, established a new normal, because even two months ago, I would have napped off the food coma, rather than trying to figure out if I could get a decent bike ride in before dark.bike riding

I have always struggled with change, but focusing on making these healthy habits a new norm has helped me to realize that I can in fact navigate change. I can let go of the bad habits, the junk food of my life, and replace it new habits, the wholesome foods that keep me going.

Going forward into September brings a host of changes: a new job, a new school year (complete with a new role), and new adventures to be had. I’m excited for all of it, but I am so grateful that I have this time of transition, where I am a part-time student with a foot in the world of employment. I have the time to focus on making changes and using those changes to structure the rest of my life. What I hope is that developing some of these healthy habits now as a young adult allows me to carry them into my adult life and whatever changes that will bring with it.

 

Soaking up the last of the summer sun,

Lauren

 

PS: As a result of the changes that are going on, Meredith and I have agreed to a new posting schedule. Watch for letters from me on Mondays and Fridays, and letters from Meredith on Wednesdays.

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To be consoled as to console,

Dear Pope Francis,

I don’t know about you, but when my grandfathers died, being told they were in paradise didn’t do much to alleviate the fact that I missed them terribly here on earth. When my cousin Emma died the weekend before my university graduation, it didn’t make it less of a tragedy.

Yesterday afternoon, I read about the car crash in Argentina, and the loss of your nephew’s wife and children. I am so sorry for your loss. I am praying for you and all your family.

When someone dies, saying ‘I’m sorry’ feels like so little, but often it’s the only thing we can say. All the other words get stuck on the way out.

The other night, Mark Loggie, one of my friends from school said “You don’t have political beliefs, you just have theories on how not to starve. You don’t have religious beliefs, you simply have philosophies concerning death,” in a post on Facebook.

On the one hand I can see where he’s coming from. A significant part of most faith traditions is how they respond to death.

But how we respond to life is more important. In John’s gospel we read about how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We’re told Jesus loved Lazarus, but it is not his love for Lazarus that causes him to raise him up, it is concern for the living left behind.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.”

Jesus then goes to the tomb and raises Lazarus up. It was the grief of the living which troubled him.

When we have funerals, they’re an opportunity to celebrate the life of the deceased and remember them. But I think their real purpose is to provide closure and consolation to the living. To create that space for the bereaved to express their grief and for friends and family to come together to support the widow, the parents, the siblings, and the children.

I’m so sorry for your loss, and I pray you and all your family find consolation.

Meredith

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Love and Talking about Controversial Topics

Dear Pope Francis,

Lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence of negative energy around the abortion debate. This topic always stirs up conflict in me. I’m not conflicted about Church teaching, as I firmly believe in the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death. I feel conflicted because I worry about how that message is being taught and received.

On the one hand, we are told to preach the Gospel, to go and make disciples of all the world (Matthew 28:19). When we look to the Gospels for examples of how Jesus did this, we see there are a few examples in his ministry. Jesus got angry, he flipped tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12). He told it straight, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). He is “the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13-14). But, there are many other instances where Jesus was a little more pastoral. He healed the sick and brought the dead to life. He taught in parables using common analogies so his followers might be able to understand something.

Often times in the Church, especially when it comes to issues around abortion and human dignity, I see people using Jesus’ first tactic, the in-your-face, highly emotional strategy. They might wave signs or chant or distribute pamphlets. I realize that some people might respond to this, and the average passerby could experience a moment of grace and openness to God.

However, more often than not, I see people become defensive and angry. The conversation shuts down. No matter how many times the person waving the banner or passing out pamphlets might say, “I respect you”, it falls on deaf ears because there person receiving the message sees a disconnect.. Pictures like the one here point out seemingly weak spots in the pr8622654_origo-life rhetoric. The conversation becomes an argument, often played out in newspapers, social media and blogs, where both sides seem to try to drown the other out in order to prove their point.

This bothers me, so much so that I very rarely wade into conversations about abortion, even with other Catholics. The whole issue is so polarizing, that it seems almost impossible to have a genuine conversation about it, and especially with someone I hardly know. What makes it even harder is when the conversation is done electronically and you lose the non-verbal communication.

I’m not saying that we need to stop all advocacy and public displays. I do think that some people will respond, and that some Catholics are genuinely called to this work. However, in the spirit of the New Evangelization, I think we need to focus on building real relationships and witnessing to the Gospel  with our very lives.

When I talk to many people, especially who aren’t  Catholic or Catholics who don’t practice, they tell  me that they think you, Pope Francis, are doing great work, because you are living the Gospel in every way. You show compassion and mercy and humility. You don’t just preach a gospel of love and forgiveness; you live it in your life. You show people an authentic witness, and tackle problems head on. You are true to your word.

I wonder how many people we could reach if all Catholics lived like that. If we all genuinely entered into relationships with people, whether or not they were Catholic, without the intention to convert, but to love them and meet them where they’re at. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek and not fight back. The literal meaning of this sounds painful. Really, who wants to get slapped twice? But, what about figuratively? I think to turn the other cheek figuratively is to love. It is to know the other person, and even when we disagree with them, to love and accept them anyway.

A relationship based on love needs to be respectful and genuine. This is known by our actions as much as our words. When there is mutual trust and respect, there can be conversation. It is in these relationships  built on trust, respect, and most importantly love, that controversial issues can be brought up effectively. Again, these conversations can’t be about converting the other person, only God’s grace can do that, but we can talk about our beliefs without forcing them down the other person’s throat.

This takes time, and lots of different Catholics, but Jesus didn’t just tell a few people to preach Gospel, he told everyone to preach the Gospel. In order to do that effectively, we need live genuine lives and have genuine relationships. Yes, we might need to challenge someone, or encourage them to think in a new way, which can be painful and strain the relationship. But when challenge comes from a friend, a parent, a respected teacher or church leader, then there can be more receptivity to the new idea. When it is done in a way that demonstrates care and concern, and in the context of a relationship where there has been respect and love, then the Gospel can be passed on more effectively.

In Christ,

Lauren

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Discerning the Puzzle

Dear Pope Francis,

As I’m sure you’ve figured out from my last few letters, I’ve been discerning a lot lately. I think of discernment like building a puzzle. God has given me the pieces that I need, but I need to discern in order to understand how they fit together. Sometimes I need to discern in order to find a new piece, or to know when a piece doesn’t actually belong to my puzzle. The puzzle that I’m building is my corner of the Kingdom of God, and I don’t actually know how it will look on its own, or how it contributes to the larger puzzle, but I know that it does.Building the Puzzle

Then there are the times that God throws a piece in, and I have no idea where it goes. An example of this it LTP. I hadn’t written anything outside of school essays since 2005, and then in 2012, after I moved to Toronto, the words started gushing, like someone had turned a tap on in my head. I did more creative writing in six weeks than I had in six years. I shared some of it with people and received positive feedback. I had no idea why I was writing again, but I knew it was for a purpose. As 2013 progressed, I continued writing and realized that I needed a purpose for my writing to keep me motivated, and the idea of writing regularly for a blog came. When I worried about how I would juggle writing for a blog with school and other activities, God suggested I talk to Meredith (at this point, Meredith and I really hadn’t talked much about writing). It took us a little longer, but finally we did chat and LTP became a reality.

I don’t think LTP is the only reason why I started writing again. I believe that God is lining up lots puzzle pieces to make the grand design a reality, but He’s doing a lot of it behind the scenes. He gives me glimpses every once in a while, but it’s never enough to get a sense of the whole. I can feel it happening though, and I trust that He’s working on it.

These puzzle pieces work on the large scale across months or years of my life, like doing my M.Div. or knowing that after this it’s time to take a break from school. But building the discernment puzzle also plays into daily life.

I’ve been working to develop certain habits in my daily life, and so far, it’s been going pretty well. It would be super easy (and very in character) for me to simply make a list of all the bad habits I want to break and all the good habits I want to establish and then try to make all the changes all at once. However, experience has taught me that this method doesn’t work very well. Instead of making those lists, I’ve been discerning. I’ve been searching for those tiny, daily puzzle pieces, my habits and routines, that aren’t working, that aren’t helping me grow closer to God and his plan. It’s been a process of determining which pieces don’t fit, even though they may look like they do.waking up For instance, I’m a morning person, and I used to be really good about getting up in the morning and starting my day in prayer.  Over time, I replaced that prayer with sleeping in. I realized that, while sleeping in could be part of my daily puzzle, it’s not. However, prayer is. It’s taken some discipline to get up in the morning to pray, because sleeping seems much nicer in the moment. No amount of sleeping gives me the same outlook on my day as starting with prayer.

As I get closer to September, I become more aware of the real potential for these new habits to be derailed, because there will new puzzle pieces in my life, like classes and homework and extra-curricular activities. That’s okay though, because discerning these daily routines and habits, helps me to know that these are truly life-giving things, and that they need to be incorporated with the new puzzle pieces. Again, how exactly will this new picture look? I don’t know yet. I have an idea since there are some school habits and routines that will continue. I trust that God knows the big picture and if I listen, He’ll show me where the pieces go. 

Building the puzzle,

Lauren

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Exemptions from religion in Catholic schools

Dear Pope Francis,

In today’s newspaper, I read about parents who choose to send their children to the Catholic schools here in Ontario, yet want them exempted from religion classes so they can do courses they feel are more suited to employment and post-secondary education. One mother, Carolyn Borgstadt is quoted saying “it’s 70 minutes every day for an entire semester. Nobody needs that much religion.” Another father thinks religion is going to distract his daughter from her math and science courses.

Cassie and I in the cafeteria.

Cassie and I in the cafeteria.

I am a product of the Catholic school system. Because my family moved several times while I was growing up, I attended four different schools between kindergarten and grade 12. All were Catholic, and all incorporated living the faith into the daily routine outside of religion classes. I do not think I would have absorbed as much meaning from the practice of Morning Prayer and grace before snack and lunch times had I not also received the formal instruction in class.

One of my friends from university often talks about how very few people are concerned with being good people. Yes, people try to do the right thing, but in his opinion hardly anyone spends time thinking about and developing the habits and qualities that make someone good.

When I think about Catholic schools, I think this is where the greatest value in the religion classes is. Learning about the Catholic faith is not being spoon fed points of doctrine from the catechism. In the primary years, what I remember was mainly reading the parables Jesus told in the gospels and then talking about the little things we could do to be like Jesus in our lives. I remember copying the Our Father and the Hail Mary (in English and in French) when we were learning how to write, and the colourful bracelets embroidered with WWJD which we were all given to remind us to do random acts of kindness, and to recognize when others were being kind to us. In grade 7 or 8, we had to learn public speaking, and before we wrote about our own topics and presented on those the test run was reciting our choice of the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

Myself and classmates lined up for a trust walk on a retreat our graduating year.

Myself and classmates lined up for a trust walk on a retreat our graduating year.

Most of the parents kicking up a fuss about their children being required to take religion classes have kids in high school. But high school religion was when we started really talking about the qualities that make someone a good person. We started to learn about the lives of the saints, and talked about the process of making decisions and developing our conscience. We learned about the importance of contributing to the community around us through volunteer work and about how events in the global community affect us. In my grade 12 year, we each picked a moral issue to research and present to the class on, in support of or against the church teaching on that issue.

Praying for intentions as a class creates a bond between students which I’ve mentioned before. Having the priest come and say mass at the school creates an opportunity for people to participate. The choir provides music, the dance club and the drama students often provided a re-enactment or artistic interpretation as the scriptures were read or while people were coming up for communion. Many of the students in Catholic schools come from families who do not regularly attend mass. If you think the faith is important enough to send your child to a school which incorporates it, why would you try to deprive them of the only opportunities they have to experience it?

Learning about the church and participating in the liturgies and sacraments is part of the package when you send your children to Catholic school. If you don’t want the package, then change your tax status and send your kids to the public school. I just don’t think the courts are right about this.

Frustrated with people trying to have their cake and eat it too,

Meredith

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Happiness List

Dear Pope Francis,

I love that lists are becoming so popular. I have loved lists for as long as I can remember. I was really excited by your list of 10 things to do for happiness, and not only because it was a list. I think your ten items make a lot of sense, and apply globally. It got me thinking about what are the ten things that make me happy. In no particular order they are:Praying together

  1. Eating a meal with someone else/other people (even if we’re not eating the same food)
  2. Spending time with my family
  3. Being able to listen when someone needs a friend
  4. Praying with friends
  5. Campfires (add s’mores to make it even better!)
  6. Lying on my back and seeing so many stars that I can’t count them all
  7. Writing purely for the joy of writing
  8. Having a good conversation with friends (preferably over good food and drinks)
  9. Seeing the first buds of the spring
  10. Wading in shallow water at the beach

It was a really hard task because there is a difference between the earthly happiness that comes from more immediate gratification, and t
he peace and joy (that I also call happiness from time to time) that come from God. My list of instant ‘gratification happiness includes things like getting a good grade, eating delicious food (it’s even better when I cooked it myself), or being given a compliment. The list above includes the things that bring me peace and joy. I would enjoy walking in the shallow water or having a good conversation with a friend regardless of what’s going.

While you talk about happiness in your list, I think that what you are really getting at is the feelings of peace and joy, rather than the immediate gratification. If we followed the things on your list, we’d be at peace with our community, the environment and ourselves. These things go much deeper than immediate gratification.

The items on my list nourish my soul. When I’m stressed out, and feel like a weird half-human sleep-walking zombie-monster, doing even one of the things on my list helps me to feel whole. For me, I find myself when I’m in relationship with others, myself and God, and bring all those different elements into balance.Friends eating together

I also think each person’s list of what brings them true happiness is unique. At their core, there might be similarities, the way both mine and yours includes community, the environment and personal components. But how exactly we express them is different. I talk about being able to eat with someone/other people, where you talk about the importance of families eating together with the TV off. I bet there is a similar root for these, but living away from my family means that I have a slightly different way of expressing that because my reality is a little different.Family eating together

Now, LTP Readers, it’s your turn. Pope Francis and I both made a list of what makes us happy. Share with us in the comments what makes you happy.

Smilin’ away,

Lauren

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Showing Up… Then What?

Dear Pope Francis,

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of simply letting things go so that wounds can heal. Letting those wounds heal has resulted in some significant changes in my life and new areas for growth. Thinking back over the last few months (really since Meredith and I started LTP), I have come to realize that all of that change and prunning that was required is finally starting to make room for new things to grow. But this growth requires something from me.

At first, mostly in the last month or so, the changes simply required me to show up, to acknowledge that the change was needed. More importantly, it required me to realize that growth is possible, not only possible, but necessary. So I showed up. I set what I considered a few small goals, among them: remembering to floss every night and to pray every morning. Showing up simply meant making sure that I plunked down with my prayer journal for about thirty minutes, and that I took an extra five minutes in front of the mirror at night.

What I have quickly realized is that while simply showing up is an important step, it is only the first step. It is the launching point. It is the gentle push to get started. So that leaves me wondering what my next step needs to be.

After some reflection I realized what that is. The next step it two-fold: prayer and discipline. Pretty near every call story in the bible I can think of has an initial step, taken by God. The person being called chooses (eventually) to respond, but that person needs to rely on God, which inevitably comes with some doubt. imagesI think of Peter walking on water. When Jesus calls him out of the boat, Peter could have chosen to give up his crazy request, and simply stayed in the boat. Instead he followed Jesus onto the water, and then relied on Jesus to save him from the waves when he doubted and began to sink.

If you look at Peter’s whole life, we can also see the progression. He was called by Jesus. He ‘showed up’ by leaving the fishing nets and following Jesus. That initial call led to Peter being sent out to evangelize, eventually becoming the leader of the Apostles, the rock on which Jesus founded his Church. Peter’s first step built a lot of momentum. Yes there were bumps along the way, like denying that he knew Jesus, but they didn’t stop him.

So simply showing up, like I have been doing for the last few weeks, has been a good first step, but I need to build on that momentum. I need to use these smaller changes as the push to tackle bigger changes that require more drastic alterations to how I live. These changes won’t be easy, especially since there are some big changes coming all at once; it really is a massive overhaul of some bad habits. Every day, I need to choose to show up, but I need to let each day build on the progress I made yesterday, even when that means picking up after a mistake or two.

Building on that momentum comes from prayer and discipline. Prayer helps me to discern the changes that need to be made and where God is calling me. Discipline helps me to stay focused and on track, especially after I have hit a bump.

Keeping my eye on the prize,

Lauren

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