Posts Tagged With: christian lifestyle

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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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

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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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Settling into Ordinary

Dear Pope Francis,

The last few weeks have been very energetic, with the holidays, travelling, seeing my friends again and starting new classes. It’s now almost the middle of January. School is back in full swing, complete with reading to do, papers to write, and extra-curricular meetings and events to attend. I have swapped holiday stories with my friends, and now the opening question is ‘how are your classes?’ or ‘did you finish the reading?’Ordinary Time

While school can be stressful, and there are a lot of different tasks to get done, there is something comforting about being back in my routine. As much as the break I had during the holidays was much needed and relaxing, I began to miss the ordinary things in my regular life, like my friends, my apartment and – to some degree – the structure that school gives my week.

This time at the beginning of the semester is what I consider ‘ordinary’. It is the quiet period after the busyness of the holidays, but before the stressful times of the semester. It’s the time when I can work at my own pace, or linger in a conversation without feeling guilty. It’s also the time when I forget to pay attention because everything seems so far away. The paper isn’t due until February, and from here, that seems like an eon, so I don’t start it right away, even though I have the time now.

It’s not just school where lack of attention can be problematic. This is often the reality in my faith life.

There is no big feast or liturgical season coming right away; we’re in ordinary time. I attend the regular liturgies, I pray in the evening like I usually do, and, as terrible as it sounds, I can forget to look for God in my life. As a professor once reminded me, this ordinary time, both in the liturgical sense and in day to day life, is time that is meant for God, just as much as any liturgical season, feast day, or exam period. God will come and be with me just as much in this time of low-stress school work and socializing, as He is when I am on edge with deadlines.

Finding Him now is no different than finding him in those big moments; I need to be quiet and attuned to the Spirit, perhaps even quieter and more attuned, because God will speak, I need to be paying attention.

Enjoying the ordinary,

Lauren

Seek Kingdom

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Cheering for the Underdog

Dear Pope Francis,

The World Junior Hockey Tournament is wrapping up in Toronto tonight with the Gold medal game between Canada and Russia

Watching the World Juniors is a holiday tradition in my family. Without fail, regardless of where we are and what’s going on, my dad and I are keeping tabs on how the tournament is going. This generally includes watching the opening game on Boxing Day (December 26) and the game on New Year’s Eve. As I have mentioned before, and perhaps it goes without saying, I cheer for the Canadians from beginning to end.

This year, I was surprised to find myself also cheering for Denmark. They were truly an underdog team in the tournament, having never won a game before they beat Switzerland in the preliminary round. They surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, by making it to the medal round. As I watched them play Canada in the quarter-finals, I still couldn’t help but cheer them on. Everyone was saying how lopsided the match was, in Canada’s favour, but the Denmark team played hard anyway.

It’s easy to cheer for the top teams and players, those who dominate in their chosen sport, just like, in everyday life, it’s easy to cheer for the people that we like. When our friends are up for awards or coveted positions, we support them by cheering and praying for them. Of course we want them to succeed, they’re our friends.

But, just like in sports, there are underdogs in everyday life, the people who perhaps had a tough start in life, are a little rough around the edges, have some additional challenges to overcome, or simply grate on your nerves. I can think of several people who fit that description for me. But that doesn’t mean I can treat them any differently.

I may not admire these people, the way I admire the Denmark hockey team, but I still need to support the everyday underdogs as best as I can, whether that’s praying for them, helping them out when they need a hand, or simply accepting them as they are. I know from personal experience, this is easier said than done. I struggle a lot when I have to work with people that I may not get along with. It is in those moments, I strive to remember that Jesus commands us to love the unloved, loving our neighbour as ourselves. So I will root for these everyday underdogs, I will pray for patience and understanding when working with people that I may not enjoy working with, because at the end of the day, I want to know that I tried my best to be Christ in the world.

Gearing up for the gold medal game,

Lauren

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Making New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Pope Francis,

Happy New Year! There have been lots of reflection about 2014, and wishes for 2015. One big part of New Year’s rituals that receives a lot of attention is the New Year’s Resolutions. There are memes and articles offering advice about the resolutions to make (or not), humour and practical tips about how to make Resolutions stick. Despite reading many different articles in my time, I (like many people) have yet to actually follow through on a New Year’s Resolution.Brace Yourselves

In many ways, I have become disenchanted by the whole idea of New Year’s Resolutions. It puts a lot of pressure on a single time of year and a particular set of goals. Explain ResolutionsInstead I have lots of smaller times throughout the year when I focus on different goals because they make sense at that point in time. For instance, this semester in school is going to be crazy, so I want to focus on being proactive, and setting (and keeping) boundaries for the time I spend doing different things. While these are both good things, they won’t be necessary in the same way when I finish my school work. Come the spring, when I’m (hopefully) finished of my degree, I’ll take some time and re-evaluate goals then.

All of that being said, New Year’s is always a time to reflect on what has happened in the last twelve months, and there is a sense of optimism that comes from the fresh start. What I have been reflecting on this year is the fifteen spiritual maladies you presented to the Curia in your Christmas Address. It seems so appropriate to talk about the challenges to living a life of faith as illnesses, when you described the Church as a field hospital (“Big Heart Open to God”, interview with Anthony SpaOne Does Not Simplydaro).

I can think of times when I have fallen with each of the maladies you mention. What gives me hope is that you opened the list by mentioning the normalcy of catching these ailments – we all fall victim to them. You don’t leave us there, you remind us that we are always called to “grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom”. This isn’t just a reminder for when the year changes, it is a continual call every day to resist these illness and actively take care of our spiritual lives so that we can grow.

So, while I’m spending the next few months being proactive and keeping tabs on boundaries, I am also going to work to keep myself spiritually healthy. This isn’t necessarily a New Year’s Resolution, because it’s something that I should be doing regardless, and the very faith I profess continually calls me deeper, with the changing liturgical season, with receiving the Sacraments and daily prayer.

Wishing you health, joy and peace in the New Year,

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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Here’s to a New Year

Dear Pope Francis,

One of the things I love about Advent is that it’s a time of new beginnings. Yes, its primary importance is that it is a time of waiting and hoping, but it is also the beginning of a new liturgical year. And there’s something so refreshing about a new beginning. While I enjoy the regular New Year celebrations, I find an added layer of depth in the beginning of a new liturgical year.

While the season of Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, there is something so apt in that we are waiting and preparing for the beginning of something new, the earthly life of Jesus, the Messiah. It is the introduction of something new into the world of the mundane, average and ordinary. It is the injection of something totally different, that humanity simply wasn’t expecting, and as time progressed, continued to surprise.

It’s safe to say that I didn’t expect what happened to me over the last liturgical year – the hurt, the pruning, my trip, and now the new growth. It was a massive injection of spiritual growth formula that I wasn’t anticipating and didn’t feel at all equipped to handle when it first came. With the beginning of this liturgical year, it feels easier to close the book of last year, and move forward. It’s easier to share my story with new friends, and to hear their stories with an open heart.

I’m not great at making New Year’s resolutions, but I am good at hoping, even when it’s bleak and dark. So I will hope. I will hope for continued growth, for opportunities, and for courage and strength to follow the path wherever it may lead.

Checking my map

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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