Lauren

Posts written by Lauren

Planting Seeds

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s spring (not that we really had much of a winter by Canadian standards). Everything is turning green, blooming, and generally looking beautiful.The spring bulbs are starting to blossom. But in order for those bulbs to bloom now, they had to be planted last fall.

This is not the first time I’ve used images of plants and seeds to describe the spiritual life, and I’m certainly not the only one in history to do so (For instance, St. Teresa of Avila talked about watering a garden). In the past few years, I’ve often been the growing and tending stage. The seeds of discerning ministry, school, and making friends, had been planted – partly out of necessity and partly by choice. Now, those seeds have bloomed. One year ago, I successfully defended my thesis and finished school. This capped off three years of new friends, new joys and challenges, and discerning where God was asking me to go next.

For a while I simply enjoyed the blooms in my spiritual garden – the joy and relief that came from finishing school, the bliss of being able to relax with friends, and the excitement and healthy dose of nerves about moving to work in ministry. But now, those blooms are fading, their memories recorded in journals and with pictures. It’s time to plant new seeds.

I don’t know exactly what seeds I’m planting; there isn’t a sign or label anywhere saying what these seeds are supposed to grow into. I think I’m planting some friendship seeds, and of course some faith and ongoing discernment seeds. But there are also some new ones, writing being the most prominent. I have no idea what exactly is going to come from any of these seeds. This is equally exciting and nerve-wracking. What if none of them grow?! the nagging voice at the back of my head asks, better to not plant them at all.

But when this voice gets too loud, I return to the mustard seed: the tiniest of the seeds grows into the largest of shrubs and provides a home to birds (Matthew 13:31-32), and having faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to tell a mountain to move (Matthew 17:20). So, ignoring the nagging little voice, I plant and care for all of the seeds, and have faith that the proper ones will grow, because “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-4), and really isn’t that what gardening is as well?

Preparing the soil,

Lauren

PS: Readers, have you either seen the fruit of prayer in your life, or are you planting some new seeds. Share below, and I’ll be sure to pray for your seeds too!

Advertisements
Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Walk on Water

Dear Pope Francis,

It is no secret that the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is one of my favourites, and that I find myself returning to it over and over again. Every time, I see myself in a different part of the story.

This time however, I’m struck by what is missing from the story: after Peter sinks and Jesus catches him, the author simply writes: “when they got back in the boat, the wind ceased” (Mt 14:31). Did Jesus catch Peter and then they got back in the boat right away? Or did Peter try again to see if he could do better the second time? Did Peter give up, and that’s why they got back in the boat?

While I’ll never know that part of Peter’s story, it’s the part I am living right now.

For three years I felt Jesus inviting me to step out of the boat and into the storm of big city living, loneliness, and school stress. The final invitation was to move even further across the country. But since arriving, things have been different.

I no longer feel like I’m being invited somewhere new; I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be: I am standing on the water with Jesus. I can see the waves (the physical differences and distance) and feel the wind (the loneliness), and sometimes they get to me. But for the most part there is peace, and I stay on top of the water.

But now that I’m here, how do I walk on the water? Standing here is great, but I didn’t come all this way just to stand on it.

Unfortunately, Google can’t answer that question (but it can tell me how to walk in heels). The only way to answer the question is to take a step, maybe just a little one, but I need to move forward. Then I need to take another one, maybe a little bigger this time. The answer is to just keep taking steps forward, and as I do, without realizing it, I am walking on the water. I am gaining momentum to keep going.

This is a nice picture, painted with figurative language. But what have the steps actually been? Some of them are quite practical, like getting a desk for my room so I have a comfortable place to work at home. Others are more focused on self-care, like making my days off a priority (a big accomplishment for me), and making new friends. In some cases, I have no idea why I’m taking the step, but it feels right, like making blogging a priority again, and starting some other writing projects.

As with most other steps in my life, I don’t know exactly where these will take me, but as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, it gets easier to trust the process and to keep the momentum going. Patience on the other hand, isn’t always easy, but practice makes perfect (eventually).

Skipping on the waves,

Lauren

PS: These are my steps on the water. Have you been taking steps on the water? Share in the comments!

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Lauren | Leave a comment

Self-Worth and Social Media

Dear Pope Francis,

Increasingly, social media dominates our lives, so it’s not surprising that when you took questions from youth in Sarajevo, someone asked about social media. For better or for worse, ministry will continue to make use of social media. When it comes to things like the New Evangelization, effective use of social media is helpful, because thousands of people can be reached with minimal work; all it takes is a like, a share or a re-tweet.

But where social media becomes problematic is when we forget that it is a means, not the end in itself. When we treat popularity on social media as the goal, we reduce the events of our lives to the fodder to post and get likes, followers and retweets. We share the updates about how well our lives are going. Perhaps the worst of these is the ‘humble-brag’, when someone brags about a success by trying to hide it behind a complaint. When we turn our lives in the means to achieve social media notoriety, the value of the experience is determined by the online response. Suddenly, my trip to Europe last summer is no longer valuable because I experienced personal growth, thought more deeply about important issues, and accomplished something on my bucket list; it is only valuable for boosting my online persona as someone who is spontaneous and adventurous, and well-travelled as a result. Instead of allowing that event, and other life changing events, to be a spring board, launching me forward, being hung up on the social media response keeps me focused on myself and where I am, creating (perhaps unknowingly) a rut.

Treating social media as the goal leads to doubting my own worth as a person. In the same way that events are valuable insofar as they boost my online persona, I stop treating my self-worth as something inherent, and make it something tied to external factors, how many likes, retweets and followers I have. Social media is just one example of the way people attach their self-worth to externals (think about the people who are obsessed with weighing themselves, the size of their cloths, or how much weight they can lift at the gym).

On this point, I think the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were quite prophetic:

“All who, of their own free choice, make use of these media of communications as readers, viewers or listeners have special obligations. For a proper choice demands that they fully favor those presentations that are outstanding for their moral goodness, their knowledge and their artistic or technical merit. They ought, however, to void those that may be a cause or occasion of spiritual harm to themselves, or that can lead others into danger through base example, or that hinder desirable presentations and promote those that are evil.” (Inter Mirifica: Decree on the Media of Social Communications, 9)

This passage most obviously applies to the classic examples of harmful media, like pornography, and while that it is spiritually harmful, it glosses over the other spiritual harm, like degrading the value of our lives in order to get likes and followers. Perhaps even it is more spiritually harmful when we tie our self-worth so intimately into our social media persona that how we treat ourselves and value our lives is determined by that, because often times we don’t realize we are doing it. We are so used to being to connected via social media that we stop paying attention to how it makes us feel, and the role it has in our lives.

Logging out,

Lauren

PS: Watch for my next letter, when I’ll pick up this topic again, and talk about the importance of mindfulness and social media.

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Discernment is not the New Pixie Dust

Dear Pope Francis,

Discernment has been a recurring topic in many of my letters over the last year (like here, here and here), and for good reason, it’s an ongoing part of my spiritual journey. The fact that it’s a common component doesn’t necessarily mean that it gets easier over time.

Lately, the challenge has been making a decision and sticking to it. It’s not so much that I’m making a decision and then completely reversing the decision, rather I doubt the decision I’ve arrived at through the discernment process. I expect that when I make the ‘right’ decision everything will fall into place effortlessly, with minimal work on my part. If the last few years have been any indication, I know this is crazy talk.

I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favourite TV shows: Once Upon a Time. In “Quite a Common Fairy” the third episode of the third season, Regina, the Evil Queen, is presented with the opportunity to meet her true love and find what has been missing in her life. The catch is that Regina needs to walk into the tavern and introduce herself to the man that Tinker Bell’s pixie dust has identified, a man with Faith Trust & Pixir Dusta lion tattoo. Tinker Bell leaves Regina outside the tavern to follow her heart to true love, but Regina chickens out, and runs away. Despite the use of magic, Regina would still need to do some work in order to win her true love.

In this scene, I am Regina. Not that discernment is magical, but it has helped to illuminate important information for me, the way the magic of the pixie dust led Regina right to her true love. But also like Regina, that doesn’t mean the work is over. Discernment points the way, but I have to walk it, taking whatever the path may bring, be it fun, adventure, or struggle. Like Regina, I feel intimidated by what the discernment has shown me. God, you can’t seriously be asking me to do that? Are you sure you want me? Wouldn’t someone else do a better job?

On the days that I come dangerously close to running away, when things get hard and I’m questioning my discernment, I remember a passage from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will show you the path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Sometimes it takes a lot of coaxing to stay on the path, but so far, so good.

Inching forward,

Lauren

pixie dust trail

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take my Advice: Don’t Settle

Dear Pope Francis,

Don’t settle. It’s quite likely that this is the single most annoying piece of advice that I am given. It’s not that I don’t understand it. It’s actually deceptively simple: don’t settle for something less than what you deserve/can accomplish/etc. The sentiment is generally full of care and concern, and sometimes (oftentimes in my case) it does serve as a helpful reality check from an objective third-party.

What gets me about this phrase is that when it’s tossed out as a helpful piece of advice it usually doesn’t give any indication of what ‘not settling’ looks like. Someone tells me not to settle for a guy or a job or anything else, all they have identified is that the option in question is not meeting expectations, but there is no indication of what would meet those expectations. Social movements, like #GIRLBOSS, have developed around empowering people to set their own expectations for their lives so that they don’t settle for something less than satisfactory. While I generally think that we need to have expectations, trying to always set them on our own can become problematic (but more about that in another letter).

Regardless of whose expectations I am trying to live up to, listening and following through on the advice to not settle ultimately requires me to take a leap of faith. I need to believe that there is in fact something better beyond what is right in front of me, and usually there is. That doesn’t change the irritation and confusion of being told ‘don’t settle’ when presented with a really appealing option, or when I want what my friends have.

Taking that leap of faith to not settle requires me to keep searching, praying and probing to see if I really am where God wants me to be. That can be uncomfortable because often it calls for change, growth and uncertainty. It’s those times when it’s more helpful to remember Pope Emeritus Benedict’s line: “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Settling brings comfort at the expense of growth. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when I’m feeling good because I’m right where I need to be, and when I’m comfortable because I’m settling. Precisely when I’m caught in a period of settling and thinking things feel easy because I’m where I need to be, is when I need to hear the dreaded reminder all the more:

Don’t settle.

In Christ,

Lauren

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding the Growth

Dear Pope Francis,

Things on the blog have been quiet for a very long time! It’s been two months since my last letter. In that time, I wrote and successfully defended my thesis, which means that I am now done of school. When I had first finished I was ecstatic. I was relieved that all the months of studying and stress had been worth it.

When the relief faded and the celebrations were over, I was left in a vacuum. My whole life had been caught up in my identity as a student for a long time. Spending time with friends happened naturally around class, my jobs had to be a little bit flexible to fit my school schedule, and between school, jobs and extra-circulars there was always something pressing that I needed to do. But the end of school brought lots of free time that I’m still not entirely sure what to do with.

JourneyI doubt I’m alone in dreading the end of things. Endings bring change, and change can be difficult to navigate. Over the last few years, I have come to appreciate endings for two, related, reasons. The first reason is that the end of something gives you a perspective that you didn’t (and couldn’t) have at the beginning. When I started my Masters, there was no way I could know the twists and turns my journey would take, but standing at the end, I can look back, reflecting on the things that I’ve learned, with a clearer perspective of what happened because I can see the whole.pruning

The second reason I appreciate endings is because they show me growth edges. A ‘growth edge’ is a place for growth in my life, and usually come only after some pruning. The pruning can come in a variety of ways, perhaps jarring, as in a sudden death, or more gradual, like childhood friends growing up and growing apart, or some combination of the two. Regardless of how something ends, the pruning that comes with the end leaves space for something new to grow. In my case, I have the time to explore new areas of interest, like social media and writing, because I don’t have to spend all my time doing school work.

We discover growth edges only when we can step back and look the whole, which is why we often find them when something has ended. In reflecting back on my time in school, I realized how much I love writing, and that it is no longer sufficient for me to simply write for myself, so I want to spend my free time honing my writing and communicating skills. Figuring out growth edges is not necessarily as simple as arbitrarily deciding that I want to work on something; it needs to be part of a larger reflection and discernment about where God may be calling me in the future. So I’ve spent time talking with people, and discerning and praying on my own, trying to get a sense of what my growth edges are. It’s been a surprisingly fun process.

Ultimately, the change that is happening is going to push me, but change always does. Focusing on the growth edges helps me frame the end of school, and the changes that go with it, as something positive and life-giving, rather than something overwhelming and life-draining.

Embracing the growth

Lauren

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Embracing the Season

Dear Pope Francis,

Things have been oddly quiet on the blog for much longer than usual. That’s more indicative of what’s been going on in my life, rather than not having anything to say. All of the words that I’ve been writing and reading over the last month went into my thesis. I’m happy to say that the draft is done and submitted, although there will be some last minute tweaking and polishing from my supervisor. In the meantime, it’s all about writing the final papers for my classes and studying for the thesis defense in May.Winter wonderland

Lately, I’ve been acutely aware of the saying, “for everything there is a season” because the seasons of my life are changing. I repeat this line to myself frequently: there’s a season for being single, a season for school, a season for working. What I’m realizing now is that each of those seasons comes with certain things, the same way winter comes with snow and spring comes with rain, being single comes with times of loneliness and being in school comes with times of stress.

When I felt lonely or stressed, I thought there was something wrong. Yes, I’m in the seasons of being single and a student, but in my mind, that meant that I should only feel the good things: empowered and free as a single, and enriched and growing as a student. But winter isn’t only gently falling snow and skating, and spring isn’t all flowers and sunshine, so neither will the seasons of my life be only rosy, even when those seasons seem good.

Spring flowersEvery season comes with good and bad. As a single person I love my independence and freedom, but there are times when I feel incredibly alone, and I long for someone. It’s the reality of being single. But being in a relationship brings its own good and bad. As a student, I’ve been able to learn and experience some incredible things about myself and the world around me, but I have worked very hard and been very stressed in the process. I’m looking forward to being done of school, but I know from watching my friends that being a young professional will come with its own rewards and challenges.

So, for everything there is a season. I am wrapping some very long seasons in my life, and it feels good. I’m looking forward to what is next, the good and the not-so-good.

Embracing the change,

Lauren

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: