Posts Tagged With: changing life

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!

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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!

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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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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

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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

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A Year Later

Dear Pope Francis,

Meredith and I have been writing letters to you for a whole year. It was exactly one year ago today that Meredith published our joint letter. I have to admit, I’m a little surprised that we’re still going.

It’s hard to say who was more nervous about this blogging endeavour, Meredith or I. I was shocked when I had seriously suggested starting a joint blog to Meredith in January 2014, and more than a little relieved when she didn’t mention it for a few weeks. When it did come up again, I was surprised and worried about writing letters to you every week. I didn’t actually think I’d be able to find things to write a letter about every week.

But, a year later, I’ve found tons of things to write letters about (I’ve included links to some of my favourites throughout this letter). And the ideas keep on coming.

By no means have we been perfect about getting our letters posted on time. There have been typos and grammar errors along the way. But I have learned a lot by writing these letters. Sometimes it has been cathartic; other times, it helped me to figure out what I think about big issues. It gave me something concrete to focus on when I felt like I was losing my grip on life. Most surprising it helped me get comfortable with the idea of other people reading my thoughts and words. Finally, and most importantly, this blog is a fun project between friends that has brought us closer together.

Where will the next year take Meredith and I? Quite literally, God only knows. A lot has already changed for each of us, and I suspect the next year will be no different. My hope is that the letters will continue, that we can continue sharing our thoughts on being young, independent Catholic women in this fast-paced world, and that our thoughts and ideas will trigger conversations with our readers (either online or in person). Personally, I hope that this blog continues to be an opportunity for growth, development, and something to keep me writing even when I’m swamped with other things.

As we set out on our second year, Pope Francis, pray for us, for wisdom, clarity and courage to follow the narrow path that God calls us to walk.

Praying for you,

Lauren

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Waiting with Baited Breath – Lauren’s Christmas Letter

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s very late to be writing my Christmas letter. I wanted to write it sooner, but the time wasn’t right, and I needed to let the ideas percolate a little bit more. In many ways that encapsulates my year. It was a time of intense waiting to see what was going to unfold, of waiting to see how I would grow and change, of waiting for opportunities to present themselves.

That being said, 2014 had some definite highlights. In February, Meredith and I launched Letters to the Pope, which has been huge in helping me get comfortable with the idea of sharing my writing with other people (which terrified me before). In June I participated in the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics seminary stream, which took me to New York, Berlin and Poland to study professional ethics and the Holocaust. It’s safe to say that this trip was one of the most life changing events I have ever had. In September, I started my final year of my Master of Divinity degree. It was a bittersweet moment, but definitely more sweet than bitter.

As 2014 comes to a close, I know there is a lot of change on the horizon. I will finish my master’s degree this spring, which means that the twenty year education streak is coming to an end. I haven’t ruled out going back someday, but right now, I need a break. Finishing school also means that I will be looking for a job, and aside from being a paid position in my field, preferably with youth or young adults, I really don’t know what that will look like, or where it will take me.

Usually all of these unknowns would leave me curled up in a corner hyperventilating. Not this time! Instead, I’m ready to see where life takes me.

Both Luke and Matthew’s Gospels include Jesus’ genealogy to show that he was in fact from the House of David. They also show that there was a pattern in the history, a particular number of generations passed between the great patriarchs, which brought some sort of change to the status quo, and Jesus was coming at the time of the next great change.

In a similar way, I’m at a junction, and regardless of the options presented to me, what I ultimately choose or where I go, there is going to be a great change. Like the birth of the infant Jesus, I suspect that whatever comes will be something I’m not expecting, but that it will be life changing, probably challenging, and ultimately life giving.

In the meantime, I will wait with baited breath to see what comes next. I will study hard so I can finish this school chapter of my life strong. And I will continue to explore the world around me.

Wishing you peace, joy and love in this Christmas season, and all the best in 2015,

Lauren

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 64:4

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Living in the Aftermath

Dear Pope Francis,

My reading week just wrapped up, and usually it’s an uneventful week, filled with school work and sleep. But not this time.

In the space of three days, Canada experienced the death of two men serving their country in separate attacks, one in Quebec and the other on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. We’ve also seen a surge of anti-Muslim hate, including a Mosque being vandalised in Alberta. And I really wish that I could say that I’m surprised and shocked. – but I’m not. I am sad and confused, but not shocked. It really was a matter of time until the terror came close to home.

This is not to say that Canadians deserved what happened or to belittle the heroes of the events. But, it is to point out that we have a natural tendency to assume that no one will hurt us. We’re Canadian, everyone loves us; we’re the peacekeepers, the friendly people. This was the basic message everyone gave me after the events of 9/11; those kinds of things happen in America, but no one will come and hurt us.

I’ve spent the days since the attack on Parliament Hill thinking about all the different ways that someone with malicious intent could cripple Toronto, and how that would impact so many millions of people. These thoughts haven’t stopped me from going about my daily life, but it’s sobering to hear announcements on the subway asking passengers to report suspicious activity to the authorities.

Naively, I wish there were simple answers to the hate that fueled these attacks and that moving on was a matter of deciding to do so. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a process of accepting the reality that the world of today is different than the world of yesterday. Lives have been lost, horrible things have happened, but the world continues to turn. The challenge of living in the aftermath is how we can continue to live our lives without forgetting the past; how can we honour those events and heroes by the very lives we live?

While, this is true in Canada right now, this is the ongoing challenge issued after every tragedy.

In Christ,

Lauren

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Living in Martha-Mode

Dear Pope Francis,

Martha and Martha

Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42

Last week, neither Meredith or I posted a single thing, and I’m already a day late in posting this. We’ve both been MIA over the last couple of weeks. When we finally got a chance to catch up last week, the one thing I realized is just how busy we both are! I am currently holding down a few odd jobs while going to school full time. Last night, as I looked at my to do list, I had this overwhelming sense that I am turning into Martha (from the Gospel of Luke, 10:38-42).

I have a natural Martha-disposition. I do things for people. I take great pride in the fact that people can ask me to do things because they know I will get it done. One of the clichéd responses I get when I tell people everything I’m doing is that I need to learn how to say ‘no’. That’s true, sometimes.

Deeper than learning to say ‘no’, is a challenge. Martha’s sister Mary issues me a challenge every time I identify with Martha. Mary challenges me to sit and listen, not only to God in prayer, but to everyone around me. Mary challenges me to sit and be with people, whether I am at school socializing at lunchtime, or whether I am waiting for the slower person to get off the subway ahead of me. I don’t have to talk to people, but to be with them is to be patient with them, to listen to them if they want to talk, and most simply, to realize that crossing things off my to-do list does not trump everything else.

When I fall into this Martha-state I feel as though my soul is being sucked out. Focusing too much on my to-do list prevents me from being with people the way I want to be: being able to listen when someone is struggling, being able to enjoy myself at a community gathering, or simply taking the time to hold the door for the person walking behind me. Focusing too much on my to-do list leaves me cranky, and focused on what everyone is doing to me. This is not generally the way I am, or how I strive to live me life.

Nevertheless, living this way sucks the very joy from my soul, it sucks out the optimism and sometimes, when I’m really in Martha-mode, I lose sight of the big picture, why I’m actually studying, working the odd jobs, and volunteering. These things become the end in themselves: finish the reading as fast as I can so I can get on to the next thing, write this post quickly, so I can get started on Friday’s. Instead, Mary’s challenge asks me to find a new goal, which really isn’t new at all. Mary challenges me to sit and be with God in everything I do, and to realize that being with Him is the goal, whether that’s being patient with the people He created, or offering my study and volunteering as prayer. When I choose this, I know I’m choosing the better thing.

Trying to live this challenge,

Lauren

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End of the Challenge: Benefits of Radical Gratitude

pruningDear Pope Francis,

Yesterday marked the end of my 100 Days of Gratitude Challenge. In all honesty, while I was home I didn’t consciously think about the challenge. Getting back to Toronto, I realized how close I was to the end, because I had counted the days on my calendar. I’ve spent the last week reflecting both on my time at home and the challenge.

I was so grateful for my time at home. I didn’t realize just how burnt out I was until I stopped for a while. I saw the people I wanted to see, went where I needed to go and did the things I wanted to do. It’s easy to be grateful when things are good and I’m in a good space, both physically and mentally.

What is more difficult is to be grateful when things aren’t going well, when money is tight, when things are changing faster than you can keep up, when deadlines are looming. It is in these times I need to hang on tight and rely on God. Keeping faith can be hard. I’ve had my fair share of Doubting Thomas moments where I ask for proof of God’s love.

In hindsight, I realized that I did hang on through some tough stuff, and that radical gratitude helped me to hang on. It had to be radical gratitude though, because I am grateful for everything, including the pruning, challenges and change. I’m not grateful for the hard stuff because it made the good stuff even sweeter. I’m grateful for the hard stuff because it makes me stronger. I wouldn’t say that I relish suffering, necessarily, but I am grateful that I was strong enough to persevere, and continue to persevere, in faith.

My time at home was a bit of a reprieve from the stress and general hectic life I have when I’m in the city and in school. It gave me the space both physically and mentally to be able to see the last eight months for what they were, a rough patch in my life, and to name the lessons I learned in that time. I had the opportunity to get new perspectives from friends and family, and to start seriously looking forward.

I had to have an open disposition in order to receive these things, and having a radically grateful outlook helped create this disposition as well. If I had gone home with a chip on my shoulder, and spent the time at home allowing that chip to get deeper, then I would have received something very different from my time there. Instead, having a grateful outlook allowed me to have the openness to listen and learn, both to God in prayer, and the people around me.

Ultimately, this radical gratitude is not something I do for myself. It really is a grace from God. If I had tried to force myself to have the outlook I did, or do the things I do in order to heal, I likely would have ended up jaded and cynical. Instead, I can acknowledge that some things hurt and there was change, but that it was truly God’s plan. He gave me the grace and wisdom to see this. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Enjoying the sunshine,

Lauren

 

PS: For those who also kept up with the challenge, what did you learn? Let us know in the comments below.

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