Posts Tagged With: Hope

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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Becoming Aware and Having Hope

Dear Pope Francis,

You may have noticed that I didn’t write you any letters last week. Life happened, and it took me to New York for three days for a reunion and symposium on Professional Ethics with Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics. It was a fantastic trip, but it totally threw off my week.

IMG_20140616_073530

The Freedom Tower when I was in New York in June 2014

One of the highlights of the trip was finally going to Ground Zero, where the World Trade Towers fell in September 2001. I have wanted to visit Ground Zero since my first trip to New York (with Meredith) in March 2012. It was even more powerful because the Freedom Tower that was built near the same site, was my landmark for navigating between the hotel I stayed in and the museum where the symposium met. Every time I went outside, I located the Freedom Tower so that I would know if I was going the right way.

The Twin Towers collapsed when I was eleven years old. That day, and the ones that followed, marked a turning point in my consciousness. Not only did these events have practical implications for travellers around the world, but more personally, it was the first time I remember being aware of current events. It was after this point that I noticed how many car accidents I heard about, or robberies, or poverty. I began to grasp the fact that, while I live in a very safe place where I had enough food, clean water and access to education, not everyone did. I knew that bad things had happened in the past, like World War II and slavery because of stories and books I read, but September 2001 was the first time I remember realizing that bad things were still happening.

Seeing the building foundations, various missing posters, and memorials from the collapse, only served to reemphasize that awful things are still going on. It’s hard to know where to begin, what to think or do in light of these things. It’s overwhelming because I am just one person. No matter how many times I (or others) tell myself (me) that I can do anything, that I can change the world, I must still face the reality that I am still just one person, with the limitations of time, physical abilities and resources. I don’t have the financial means to solve world hunger. I don’t have the luxury of time and language to solve the deep-seated conflicts in the Middle Easter. But I do have something; what I do have is hope.

In X-Men: Days of Future Past, when a young Charles Xavier refuses to use his powers because it means feeling people’s pain, the older Charles Xavier tells his younger self: “it’s the greatest gift we have, to bear their pain without breaking, and it is borne from the most human power – hope”. Having hope doesn’t magically grant me more time, physical abilities or resources, but it does give me perspective. It reminds me that I’m not the only person who is saddened and outraged by what is going on around the world. It also helps me work in my sphere of influence, in my corner of the world, but I’m not alone in that; there are thousands, if not millions, of people working for good in their own spheres of influence. It’s by doing it this way, in a seemly disparate fashion, that we will change the world.

Developing my superhero name,

Lauren

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Faith Seeds and Hope Dirt

Dear Pope Francis,

I was really excited to hear my hands-down-favourite bible verse in the readings at Church on Sunday: the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32)Mustard Seed Faith. Usually when I think of people who love a bible verse, they quote it a lot, or perhaps they have it tattooed somewhere, or written all over their daybooks, notebooks and cellphone case. I have written down lots of bible verses, especially on the inside covers of my prayer journals, but each of those quotes spoke to me in a specific time, while I was going through a particular set of spiritual events in my life.

What makes the Parable of the Mustard Seed different? Well, it’s one of the very few bible passages that pop up randomly, but I immediately connect with it. The first time I heard it was during prayer about four years ago. I was just finishing my first summer working as a camp councillor and realizing that I may be called to ministry. However, at the time I had no idea how that would happen. The response to my prayer was almost immediate: “mustard seed” and, turning to my friends, I quoted that verse almost verbatim, except that I hadn’t thought of it at any recent point before that moment. Since then, it continues to pop up over and over. Most recently it was on Sunday, when I really needed some peace for confusion I’d been feeling.

Another reason why I love this bible verse is that it doesn’t matter when it pops up in my life, it is always relevant. If there is one thing I really struggle with, it’s having faith; it’s the reason why I most frequently relate to Peter when he questions Jesus and Thomas when he asks for proof of the resurrection. This verse always reminds me that having faith isn’t a weakness; it is because of faith that God will do great things through me. It also reassures me that it doesn’t take a lot of faith. When I’ve been feeling unfaithful, it’s really nice to know that I don’t have to come back with a ten-page essay explaining why I doubted and a fifty point action plan for how I will avoid doubt in the future.

SproutFinally, I love this passage because it reminds me that what seems small to me in this moment, can grow into something massive. In that moment four years ago when I first heard this passage in prayer I was teetering on the cusp of where God was calling me. I had ben profoundly impacted by the events of that summer, and knew that God had something in store for me. In the weeks and months that followed, I started my third year of undergrad, switched friend groups, got involved at the UPEI Chaplaincy Centre and began to seriously consider doing my M.Div. Four years later, that little tiny seed of faith that got planted has grown. I moved to go to school, and I’m almost finished of my M.Div. I have done a lot of things that four years ago sounded absolutely impossible – and all because of one little seed of faith.
The most exciting part is that I have a new seed of faith. I have been praying about next steps and discerning where I might be called. This was really stressful for a while. Not that I have any sort of definitive plan or clear knowledge of what is next, but I have hope that God is going to come through, and do something awesome. Now, I need to plant this faith seed, as tiny as it is, in hope, water it with prayer and let it grow, because I know that as it grows it will surprise and challenge me, but when it’s fully grown, it will be beautiful.

Getting my hands dirty,

Lauren

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Hope in the Christian Life

apples and oranges Dear Pope Francis,
I’m always intrigued when people tell me that life with Christ is easier than life without Christ. In fact, I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, and it really started to irritate me. I don’t want to compare which one is easier or harder, because I think that it’s like comparing apples and oranges, each have their highs and their lows. I do think it’s a mistake to say that a Christian life is flat out easier.

Believe it or not, there was a period of about two years during my BA when I more or less fell away from the Church. The fact that I didn’t turn into a wild party girl during that time probably had a lot more to do with my personality rather than the unconscious presence of Catholic guilt. By pop culture standards, I was still pretty tame, but I was decidedly not practicing my faith. I wasn’t going to Mass at all, and not really praying. I wouldn’t say that I felt lost or unsure about what I was doing with my life. Sure, I was a little self-conscious and unsure of myself, but who isn’t at twenty-years-old. I worried about boys, how I looked and my plans for the upcoming weekend. For the most part, I thought I knew exactly who I was and where I was going with my life, and things were good. Based on the conversations I’ve had with other people around the same age, I was pretty normal. Then, the summer between my second and third year of my BA, I had a bumpy patch in my life. I realized that the things that I thought were making me happy, weren’t actually helpful, and I needed to fix it. It was at this point that I realized that I needed my faith in God.

Fast-forward four years, as I finish up the second year of my M.Div. I am practicing my faith more regularly than I ever have in my life. I go to Mass at least once a week, and usually twice per week. I pray almost daily, and get spiritual direction monthly. For the most part, I still enjoy the same genres of movies, books, jokes and music that I did four years ago. I still worry about mostly the same things: boys, how I look and what my plans are for the weekend. I have more confidence in myself. While that confidence could arguably come from an increase in maturity, there are still many days when I am self-conscious. And despite actively practicing my faith, the last few months have been very rocky, comparable to the summer between my second and third year of my BA. I am realizing that there are things in my life that simply aren’t life-giving anymore, and they need to be pruned, either cut back or dropped entirely, in order to make space for new things in my life.Don't let go

I still struggle with very much the same problems now that I am practicing my faith again as I did when I wasn’t really practicing. The key difference is how I talk about and handle the problems. Four years ago, I didn’t have a faith language that let me really get at the heart of what was going on in my life, that God was pruning the things that were no longer giving me life. I also didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it either. As a result of my faith, I am using that language to describe the events of the last two months, and I have several trusted people who I talk to about it regularly. But being able to name what’s happening doesn’t make the process any easier! It still hurts (a lot!) and there are many days when I’m anxious and worried because I don’t know what’s coming next. The emotional highs and lows are comparable. Surprisingly, how I deal with them is about the same as well: I dig deep inside myself to find inner strength, while simultaneously reaching out for support. Now that support comes from prayer and spiritual conversations with friends and my spiritual director. Before, it came from venting and camaraderie with my friends.

So, my problems aren’t necessarily any easier, and how I cope isn’t much different, which begs the question: what does faith have to do with any of this? Aside from the fact that it gives me a way to make sense of and talk about my struggles, the most important thing my faith gives me is hope. I cling to hope for dear life sometimes, as it sputters and flickers and slips through my fingers. Sometimes, I can’t explain how I manage to hang on, except that it is pure grace. It never fixes the problems or any easier to bear, but it helps me make sense of them.

Hanging on to hope,
Lauren

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Faith, Hope and Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Dear Pope Francis,

I have been really on edge for the few weeks or so. I am still looking for a summer job, and so far having very little luck. I was thinking about how stressed I was feeling this morning, because I have to wait for the different places I applied to review my application and (hopefully) call me for an interview. The waiting was the root of my anxiety. This reminded me of a scene in one of my favourite movies as a teenager, A Cinderella Story (2004) staring Hilary Duff.A Cinderella Story

The movie follows the basic Cinderella plot line, but is set in modern day California and the Cinderella character is named Sam. The specific scene that came to mind was when Sam supposed to be working on one of her step-sister’s essays, and the step-sister comes by to see how it’s going. When Sam said that she’s working on it, the step-sister replies “it makes me really nervous to have to wait for it…” Sam, who is on edge because she was just about to tell her online Prince Charming who she really is, snaps back: “imagine if you had to write it yourself!” This makes the step-sister pause for a second.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself falling into the character of the step-sister, at least in some areas of my life. She is anxious because she doesn’t want to do the work, but still wants to pass in her homework. She also doesn’t want to wait while Sam writes the essay for her. This girl just can’t win, she’s either going to wait and be able to pass it in, or she’s going do it herself. In terms of doing the work to apply for jobs, I have done it, the applications are in, but I am still impatient for a phone call.

In the last few years, society has become increasingly focused having ‘it all’: a big house, nice car, high paying job, freedom to travel. What I find very interesting is that I don’t very often hear about the people talk about how they got to the point of having it all. For instance, did they breeze through high school and university, and network with all the right people? (Did they have a whip-smart step-sister write their essays for them, perhaps?) Maybe they did, but I’m willing to bet that at least some people had to work very hard for many years, to get to the point where they are today. hard workThey logged long hours in the library studying and writing papers, or maybe they practiced until their throat hurt or their fingers bled. Regardless, they all set their, big hairy audacious goal (BHAG), and then worked audaciously hard to get there.

Meredith and I recently did some planning for LTP, and set our own BHAG. We are both committed to LTP, and our BHAG includes ideas about how to continue grow, both in terms of reaching people, what we offer on the blog, and improving our skills. Our plans are not going to materialize magically right in front of us. It will take consistency and dedication. However, more importantly, I think it will take faith and hope. Like the step sister who hopes that Sam will get the essay done quickly, and faith that she’ll get a passing grade, BHAGs require that we have faith that it will work out and hope that we can actually achieve what we have set out to do. For my job hunt, I have faith in my work experience and skills, and I hope that that employers will see that I can contribute meaningfully to their organization. For LTP, Meredith and I have to have faith that we are doing what God has called us to, and hope that in our dedication we will accomplish our BHAG.

Resting on faith and hope (and consistently working hard),

Lauren

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Swearing at God

Dear Pope Francis,

Thank you for sharing the message (in his homily on April 3, 2014) that it’s okay to be angry with God, to tell him when we think He’s not coming through for us and remind Him of His promises. This was very timely, because I swore at God on Tuesday night. Put simply, I ran out of words that were strong enough to express the hurt and anger that I had inside, and I said a few choice words because it was all I had left.

As a writer, I process a lot linguistically, whether that’s talking it through or writing it out. After I swore, I felt ashamed that my words had failed me so profoundly that I resorted to cursing. But I did feel much better for being able to share my feelings so candidly. There’s something cathartic about being able to find one strong word to let out your feelings, even if that word is a curse word.

I was talking with a friend about your homily and my experience. My friend suggested that while we can swear at God, we also need to be prepared for the times when God will swear back at us. This is interesting, since I don’t necessarily ‘hear’ God speaking to me in prayer; God’s responses are generally a physical feeling rather than a spoken response.

In response to my outburst on Tuesday night, I received nothing but compassion and soothing words and hugs from God the following day. The hugs came in the form of my friends who knew something was wrong, and the compassion and soothing words came from the first reading of the daily liturgy and the homily. The reading came from Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (49:15). The homily celebrated and expressed gratitude for the contribution that different people had made to the school community this year. It all felt soothing, like rubbing aloe vera on a sunburn. It didn’t solve anything, but it acknowledged my hurt and frustration, and most importantly, it gave me hope.

This reminds me of the best friendships that I’ve had in my life, the ones where I can be frustrated and hurt by what a friend says (or I cause the hurt and frustration), but with time we can patch it up. The friendship is so important to both of us that we can forgive each other for the hurt, and be friends again. God is big enough for me to hurl all my hurt, doubts, fear and frustrations at Him, even if that includes swearing. Instead of getting angry at me, he just holds me in patience and love, until I’ve cried and raged myself into silence, and then he reassures me. Only when I’m silent will he tell me that everything will be okay, that I just need to hang on, because He’s got awesome plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11-13). He knows to wait until the silence, because I won’t listen otherwise. And this leaves me speechless with gratitude: that God will wait and speak me to me in a way that I will respond to, even though I was so incredibly angry. The last thing I deserve is that kind of patience and love, and yet there He is, pouring it out.

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

As we come closer to the Easter season, I am reminded of Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:32-42, Lk 22:39-46, Mt 26:36-46), when he questioned God and felt abandoned. This moment resonates with me, because in it I relate to Jesus’ total humanity. Jesus went on to endure the most painful and humiliating death. But we can’t have the resurrection unless the Passion came first. So while I cry out  my rage, frustration and hurt in my own Gethsemane moments, I trust that God is big enough to take it all, and will be with me, ready to show me a new life in the silence that inevitably follows the outburst.

Feeling grateful,

Lauren

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