Monthly Archives: November 2015

When Nostalgia is Missing

Dear Pope Francis,

I was in Southern Ontario for my convocation over the weekend. Although celebrating was the goal, I did all the things I did when I was living there: eat sushi, ride the subway, get coffee with friends, and go to lectures. And I loved every minute of it.

There was a sense of returning. It wasn’t like going home (that will always be the East Coast), but there was a sense returning somewhere familiar. As I rode the subway and spent time catching up with friends, I didn’t necessarily have any sense of nostalgia, fondly remembering the adventures of the last three years and wishing I could go back to that time. Maybe it’s because I’ve only been gone for two months, but I think it’s because I know it’s time to move on.

Moving on doesn’t mean I forget, or that I don’t miss people or things (I have yet to find good sushi in Western Canada, and making new friends takes time no matter where you live). But moving on without the sense of longing for the past helps me to know that leaving is the right decision. It also helps me to know that the past has been integrated; many of the changes I underwent and experiences I had while living there are now part of who I am.

A Tree and its Fruit

More than just being part of who I am, the lack of nostalgia helps me to see that these experiences inform who I am, the same way that a good tree is know by good fruit (Lk 6:44; Mt 12:33). But good fruit generally can only come when there is good soil, clean water, and fresh air.

Metaphorically, I am rooted in soil – it is composed of all the experiences that I’ve had. The way plants will absorb nutrients from the soil, I absorb things from the experiences of my life. The quality of the things I absorb shape how I view myself and the world around me. Absorbing positive experiences shapes a positive outlook, and absorbing negative experiences can lead to a negative outlook.

But not all experiences are absorbed right away. Sometimes, they happen and I don’t really pay attention to them. Thankfully those events are generally neutral. They are things like holding the door open for someone else, they happen, but they don’t really register as something important. But there are other things, like some of the personal things I learned while I studied that I can’t ignore.

When I can’t ignore an event, the temptation is to wish that I could go back and relive it over and over again – this is nostalgia. It is wishful, and never going to happen. More importantly, it can get out of hand and be unhealthy because I never get passed it. I am so focused on wishing that I can go back in time, that I’m not open to what is going on right now.

Over the weekend, I felt at peace with all the memories of my time at school. I learned a lot, but they are the lessons that influence my life now. I don’t want to go back and re-live my time in study group, or getting coffee with friends, or eating sushi. It’s not because I don’t miss it, but because I learned important things – like valuing deep conversations, and diversity in my friendships – and I can find these things in new places and ways, with new people. This opens up new possibilities, and that is exciting. The excitement outweighs any nostalgia, and almost balances out the loneliness that inevitably comes with moving somewhere new.

The challenge in the days, months and years ahead is to remember the lessons, and allow them to continue nourishing my life. Let the lessons reveal themselves anew as the seasons of my life change, and I continue to grow and develop as a person. It won’t always be easy, and no doubt the temptation for nostalgia will continue to be present, but focusing on the present helps.

Enjoying the memories,

Lauren

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Colours of the Season

Dear Pope Francis,

A seasonal controversy erupted last week across North America. Starbucks released their traditional seasonal red coffee cups, but this year the cups are solid red. There are a number of vocal people slamming Starbucks for being anti-Christmas because the cups don’t have snowflake and other seasonal designs. Personally, I don’t care what colour the cup is, as long as the contents inside taste good.

There have been lots of responses to these complaints, everything from Ellen DeGeneres devoting one of the monologues on her show to the topic, to social media posts about how this is another example of the disconnect between the first world and the impoverished.

And I agree with these critiques. But this also points to another reality – we don’t know how to wait anymore.

It’s November. Christmas is in approximately six weeks. By the time this is published, the red cups will have been available for about a week. That means that the cups were released before Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day if you’re American), or about a week after Halloween. It feels like yesterday it was August and pumpkin spice lattes were back in stock, and now the Christmas drinks are out.

If we can put down the Skinny Peppermint Mocha for just a second, and think about this. Of the next six weeks, we are going to be spending four weeks in Advent, a liturgical season that is all about waiting. We use candles on a wreath to count those weeks, lighting a new candle each week. As the days and weeks progress we watch the candles get shorter, visibly showing us that time is passing. As a kid, I remember Advent feeling like the longest four weeks of the year, but it made Christmas all the better because I had been actively waiting for it to come.

Maybe, for some people, the launch of Christmas cups, drinks, decorations and carols is how they mark the transition to the holiday season, but I see a gradually shifting emphasis. By focusing on things like seasonal cups and Christmas merchandise in the stores, it cheapens the experience of Advent. The anticipation, waiting with baited breath, that are the hallmarks of the season becomes tedious rather than exciting. We’ve already been bombarded with reminders that Christmas is coming, that we need to be frantically waiting and preparing for the perfect holiday. In the onslaught, we miss Advent’s subtle calls, like the different hymns and prayers in the liturgy, the use of the Advent wreath, and the symbolism of the colours.

So in the coming weeks, maybe we can be less concerned about the colour of cups, or even what kind of seasonal drink options there are to put in those cups, and slow down. Focus on the season when it arrives. Rather than skipping it, let’s give Advent the attention it deserves, one of prayerful waiting, counting the weeks as the wax candles burn.

Skipping the seasonal drinks for a few more weeks,

Lauren

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The Gift of Hope

Dear Pope Francis,

I went to the mall yesterday and met up with some friends. I bought a new dress and some other things. The whole day seemed entirely normal, except that it wasn’t. Anytime I stopped and looked around the mall, I wondered if the people dining at the Parisian cafes had felt like I did, before the shooting erupted.

I’ve felt sad, with just a twinge of fear since I first heard about the shootings in Paris on Friday, and it’s only been compounded by reading about the other terrorists actions around the world. I’ve been thinking about how many violent attacks there have been in the last few years: terrorists, depressed individuals shooting at schools, martyrs, and full-scale war. There is so much, and part of me just wants to hide from it all. My heart wants to shrink away from all of the pain of the world, because that would hurt less.

I imagine that hearing about each of these horrific tragedies dims the metaphorical light in my heart just a little bit. If it keeps dimming, eventually the light will be gone, and with it my ability to hope that peace will eventually come.

This reminds me of a scene in season four of the show Once Upon a Time (caution: spoiler alert – in case you haven’t caught up). In the second half of the season, Rumpelstiltskin, the Dark One, is experiencing heart trouble. All of the bad deeds he has committed are literally turning his heart black and snuffing out the good magic. In the season finale, the Apprentice saves Rumpelstiltskin by casting the darkness out of his heart, leaving him with a clean white heart.

Every time I hear about a violent attack, my heart is blackened, dimmed a little bit. It’s not that I’m turning evil, like Rumpelstiltskin, but I loose my ability to hope. Like Rumpelstiltskin, when my heart gets too close to becoming entirely black, it can be restored. God clears out all of the gunk, all of the fear and worry, and gives me a clean heart, ready to hope again. The Apprentice used magic to clean Rumpelstiltskin’s heart, but God uses something event better – He uses grace.

God pours out grace to clean us in lots of ways, but they are not always tangible. But I can tell when God has used grace to clean my heart, and allow me to hope for the best, despite seeing awful things in our world.

Praying for the world,

Lauren

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Stay Inspired

Dear Pope Francis,

How to get beyond the mundane? That’s the question I asked at the very end of my last letter. It was a question that I had been asking myself for weeks before I posted that letter. More than merely ask the question, I was wrestling with it, grappling with it. Fighting with myself as I proposed solutions and ways to move forward.

I could get up early everyday and exercise. I could focus on getting more sleep. I could take a cooking class. I could experiment with new recipes at home. I could start volunteering. I could read for fun. I could write solely for the joy of it. I could look for publishing opportunities. I could start watching a new series.

As soon as I decided on any one course of action, I’d change my mind. I’d fall asleep resolving to get up early, work out and pray before going to work. In the morning, I’d decide to lounge in bed and read a book instead. On the weekend I’d resolve that this would be the week that I would finally post a new letter. But when the next weekend rolled around, I hadn’t even come up with a topic. I did however, try making curry for the first time, and made an excellent apple crisp.

None of these things are bad. I’ve rediscovered my love of reading and cooking solely for enjoyment. i’m devouring books, and I love Sunday afternoons because that’s cooking day.

But none of these answers really satisfied me. They didn’t get to the heart of the problem. And the problem was that in spite of all of the wonderful things I want to do – exercise, volunteer, read, pray, cook, write – I feel overwhelmed by the freedom of having the time to do these things. Instead, I get lost in the mundane because that is easier. I get lost in details at work, in stressing about finances, in figuring out exactly what to do with my time to make the most of it. Focusing on the mundane makes me feel busy. When I’m busy, there is no free time anyway, so I don’t need to worry about squandering it.

Except that stressing about the mundane, trying to get all the details perfect, is exactly what is squandering my free time. Worse than that, it makes me feel listless and uninspired.

“To be inspiring, you constantly need to be inspired”

That was the line that snapped everything into perspective. I heard it during the very last session of a conference I was at. It was the concluding remarks given during an informal Q&A session. It was like a spark, a jolt, a really cold wave of reality.

All that busyness created by worrying about the mundane things was sapping my inspiration. All those things that felt indulgent, that were expressions of my freedom, were things that inspired me. They helped me feel human and whole. Instead of trying to limit them: forcing myself to slow down when I read, or not exercise because I might not have a full hour afterwards to get ready, or whatever other excuse I was making, I should be soaking them in. I can always go back and re-read the book. Being a couple minutes later than I’d like to be or having damp hair is not the end of the world.

While I don’t wake up everyday and plan to inspire people, I need to be inspired for my own well being. So here’s to a weekend of socializing and reading and cooking.

In Christ,

Lauren

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This Is It

Dear Pope Francis,

Things have been quiet on the blog for a while. There have been some big life changes that I needed to work through before I was ready to share them. As I think about all of the changes that have happened over the last six months, one phrase comes to mind: “This is it”.

That phrase is an expression in Newfoundland, usually a response to the question “whattaya at?” (what are you doing). Taken literally, “this is it” suggests that whatever the person is doing is simple, without deeper meaning. What you see is what you get.

So what am I doing? Well, I moved, again. I took a job as a full time youth minister in Western Canada. I’m working, I’m (mostly) settled in a new, smaller city, slowly making new friends. This is it. I’ve moved on my own before, and by contrast, this move has been much easier. It all feels normal, and without deeper meaning.

Except that I know there is something deeper here. The decision to move again was not one that I made quickly, although the realization that I was stuck and needed to leave Southern Ontario felt like a cold wave overwhelming me unexpectedly.The story of how I stumbled into this job has God’s fingerprints all over it. And God’s grace has been gushing since I arrived.

So this isn’t it. There is a reason that I am here, no matter how mundane things may be feeling right now. Which begs the question: how to get beyond the mundane?

In Christ,

Lauren

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