Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some thoughts on 2013

I am sitting alone in a friend’s house writing this. I spent the last few days in Dallas, visiting with friends and family and letting my spirit renew itself. Tomorrow morning, New Year’s Day, I will drive the ten hours back to Rolla just in time to accompany my mother to the doctor’s office (nothing major).

I haven’t taken the time to process yet what I want 2014 to be, but I know that I want it to be BIG. I have so much that I want to accomplish: things to do, projects to finish, books to read, stories to write, and places to go. I know that New Year resolutions are often forgotten by the first week of February, but I am determined to get some things done. It’s time to live my dreams.

2013 wasn’t the worst year, though. I got a promotion and became the Director of the Butler Catholic Community. I finished my MA and graduated from Notre Dame. I interned at the White Violet Center and experienced true healing in my intern community while living with my sisters for a month. I finally became a Providence Associate. I applied for PhD programs, visited Dallas twice, KC once, saw friends who I had long missed, and met a new baby cousin (Teytin). I even started my own Etsy page.

Probably the most extraordinary thing about 2013 is that even though I was given abundant blessings, I know that I was most often unhappy—and seemingly for no reason. But instead of being sad because of depression or grief, I think that I was uncomfortable and felt myself becoming more and more aware that I am not where God wants me to be. And here I am, leaping again into transition.

For those who know me best, you already know that I don’t really make NY Resolutions and instead do these things on my birthday (Jan 15), so for now I will just share this request: please pray for me. I don’t do well in transitions and I think this will be a big year. Only God knows what 2014 will bring.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Doing Grown Up

I should be working on my applications.

I am getting ready to apply for PhD programs. This was top secret until a couple weeks ago when, realizing it was really happening, I started asking advice from everyone I knew. I feel totally unprepared for the realities that are going to come from this: probably getting several rejection letters, but even scarier, getting accepted to a program and moving—again. Making a new life, new community—again.

Lately, I have noticed how settled a lot of people in my life seem to be. It is no longer only that my friends from school are more settled than me, although that is certainly the case. Yesterday I visited a couple of friends from grad school who have bought a house—not just renting their first home, but actually bought a house. They will live in that house for a long time—it’s theirs. They can paint, remodel—do whatever they want. And, when the oven is broken (as it is right now), there’s no landlord who will come fix it. They are homeowners—at 26.  But no, this is not what overwhelms me right now. Instead it’s the fact that two of my past students are homeowners at 23 and, frankly, they are doing grown up life a hell of a lot better than me.  They have a dog that they remember to feed, budget well enough to travel well, have adventures, and just generally rock at life. Supposedly, being their campus minister for a year and given that they said I had a great impact on them, I must have had some something to do with this, but I can’t do that myself. Heck, I forget to take my own medicine and my water kefir is hibernating because I forget to feed it most of the time. And when you can't even keep a bacteria healthy, that's a problem. 

My friend who just bought the house told me yesterday that she feels like she’s playing grown up. So do I. I feel like that a lot. And then, then I have to turn around and help my students grow up and pretend I know everything when, in reality, I’m just about as clueless as they are. I might have six years of ministry experience under my belt, but I’m surrounded by people with more experience than me. I have an MA, but so does everyone else, apparently. I’m living in a house by myself and have been for four months, and I’m still utterly confused about how to do it. I keep wondering when my imaginary roommate will come home. It's terribly lonely and I am 100% responsible for everything-- everything

But, I guess in the long run, I’m doing grown up okay. I mean, it’s still playing pretend, but I’m not totally failing. I pay my bills on time and am getting far better about cooking and living on a budget that is really not big enough for my rent and electric bill. But, alas, in two months the loan payments start. 

Honestly, does this ever get any easier?

And, does writing application essays ever become simple? I mean, seriously. How many times can I come up with clever and effective ways to sell myself when I know that the next person is probably more qualified. 

And then, then when I think, well at least I can articulate how frustrated I am with decent eloquence... then, my students show me up again  (read Alaina's witness). 

At least I know that the holy spirit will take care of things. He got me into this mess, right? 

All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things shall be well. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Saints Preserved tells about exactly what the title indicates

When I chose to read Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell, I did so mostly because I tend to think that relics are a little on the weird side. And, since I am a Roman Catholic and I work in ministry, I thought that reading up on this unique tradition in the Catholic Church, perhaps I would be able to relate to it better.

This book, while it doesn’t talk that much about relics in general, did help me to understand this unappreciated tradition a little better. The author reminds us to think about how we relate to our own familial “relics.” For example, is it really so strange to treasure things belonging to a saint when we treasure in our own families the things that belonged to our ancestors: grandma’s china, grandpa’s pipe? And then there are the first class relics—but is it strange to treasure the bodies of saints (or body parts) when there are plenty of families that have their ancestors’ cremated remains in their homes? Or, when we visit graves of deceased friends? Craughwell makes it seem that relics are really a natural part of the human experience. Catholics just seem to talk about them a little more than most.

In addition to giving me a greater appreciation for relics, I think that the real strength of this book is that it gives you an opportunity to learn more about saints. Craughwell writes a little blurb on each saint discussed, tells you why they were thought important enough to honor their remains. Then, he tells the (sometimes humorous) tale of how their remains ended up where they are, or how claims about the remains were made. When talking about one of the many saints that apparently have multiple sets of remains, he gives both accounts, never taking a side.

This book is interesting and is a great opportunity to learn more about both Saints and relics. It is exactly what the title makes it sound like: an encyclopedia of relics. If you’re looking for a more clear theology or better information on why we honor relics, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a little information on relics, a little information about saints, and a few laughs, I highly recommend Thomas J. Craughwell’s Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics.

(This book was provided free of charge by Waterbrook Multnomah for reviewing purposes.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

In love with Autumn

I usually hate it when people ask me what my favorite season is—after all, each one is really beautiful and special and has amazing things that happen. Yet I will entrust my readers with this secret: my favorite season is undoubtedly autumn. I love it all: the colors, the smells, the food (I will eat anything pumpkin!), and the clothes—I love sweaters and scarves and jackets and boots! It’s just the best season: not too cold, not too warm. As a kid, I loved it even more because it meant school was starting (and I got to go back to school shopping—I LOVE OFFICE SUPPLIES!). Now, I love fall also because it brings my duckies back to me and I get to be a campus minister again.

Bringing Fall into my House!

In Dallas, I never really got to appreciate fall. Only some trees changed—mostly it was just green (if we had rain) or dull brown (if not). My first year in Indianapolis, I walked around that whole season in a daze. While I certainly complained about how cold it was (seriously, it was Dallas Christmas weather in September—and still is), I was also marveling at the colors. I remember one day, I actually called my mom because I just could not contain my joy at the colors. All the hues: bright orange, burnt orange, yellow, gold, red… it’s all so beautiful!

Somehow—and I’m not sure how—I forgot all of this recently. I’ve been so busy and exhausted that I actually forgot that God, my favorite artist, was getting ready to bring out again my favorite of all his art shows. And, as usual, I have the sisters of Providence to thank for re-awakening me to my joy.

So, as you might have noticed, I am going to interrupt my re-telling of this past summer to update you about the now. I would never want anyone to think that my only joy came from living in the past. 

This weekend (Friday and Saturday) was my first actual “weekend” since the students got back. They’ve been in classes for a full month now and today (Saturday) is only my third day off in all that time (I’ll probably post this Sunday—I’m writing from home and don’t have internet here at my house). I’ve been busy and while I love my job, I have realized that if I don’t force myself to take time off, not only will I never write for this blog, but I will also soon be committed in an institution or hospitalized. I’ve been “running myself ragged,” as a coworker pointed out two days ago. I’ve become my least favorite kind of person in the world—a workaholic. It’s a bad habit, but at least I come by it honestly (thank you, Willys and Ponzers).

But, I have managed to have some fun and rest in the midst of it.

Last weekend, my best friend came to town: S. Hannah Corbin (not to be confused with my other best friend Hannah, Hannah Mugel—who is living a rather fabulous life in Brazil right now). We spent parts of a wonderful weekend together, broken up by a trip to Chicago on Saturday for her and a full day’s work on Saturday for me (but Friday was my FIRST full day off since the kids got back, so yay for that!). Last Friday we spent the day doing all kinds of glorious things— mostly cooking (because when you get two gluten free people together, what else will they do but revel in food? Besides, Hannah is an AMAZING cook). We made granola, gluten free brownies, Edamame salad, and lots of other yummies (the Edamame was with the other girls that evening). Our friends (and sisters) Patty and Arrianne came over and we walked through the woods on campus, then Patty left and our friend Tracey came over, and we basically spent an evening together enjoying what must definitely be a foretaste of heaven—both the company and the food. Our conversations ranged from discussing potential solutions to problems some of us are facing to solving all the world’s problems (the solutions are love and peace for all of creation—you’re welcome). Every time I’m with Arrianne, Tracey, and Hannah (all together or just a couple of us), I am both encouraged and challenged to be a better person, to be more whole, more open, more loving. These women truly make me want to be a better human being—and I think that slowly they’re also helping me become one! Through them, God is truly molding me into a “more loving and human shape” as the prayer goes. I’ll write a lot later about the times we had together this summer, too, but Friday evening last weekend was exactly what the had doctor ordered for me as a cure for the blues and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing. There’s nothing like being loved to make you feel better about life in general!

So, that was last weekend. And I can tell you, I felt like a new person going back to work—and I hope that I was a better minister for it.

This weekend I got to experience even more blessings! I went to the Woods for the first time since I moved back (unless you count the two hour stop my dad and I made back in August to go to the book fair, but I didn’t get to see very many people that time and I didn’t get to stay or relax). It was just so nice to be home and talk with Dawn and discuss my upcoming Associates Commitment, as well as seeing many of my wonderful sisters (and a hug from Sister Denise!). I even got to hang out with Robyn from the White Violet Center (see two posts ago…)!!

Friday afternoon, Dawn and I had a great meeting and chat and then we went to the Fall Equinox prayer service to welcome in fall. I have to say, that hour or so of prayer was really helpful for me to reorient me towards gratefulness. I was able to re-focus myself and see all the wonderful things around me. I loved hearing the wisdom from the older sisters, sharing their own gratefulness. At the beginning of the service, we were all called to “throw the circle” as the Celts would, only instead of drawing a circle around us, we each introduced ourselves and named one thing we loved about fall. Almost everyone mentioned the colors, which reminded me of what an artistic community it is that I have become associated with. But there were  two sisters who brought up the science of the color change in leaves and I learned something new—that the colors have always been there, they were just covered by the green chloroplasts. When the chloroplasts die, the other colors are able to shine vibrantly. One of the sisters said in turn that if we allow our own chloroplasts to die, something even more beautiful can come forward. There is something so wonderful about being with a group of women of varying ages, some of whom are much older and closer to God than I, and hear their wisdom and their world view—more challenging, more encouragement.

At the end of the service, Sister Mo invited each of us to take one of the small pumpkins or gourds from the center table and to offer a prayer of thankfulness. One of my very favorite sisters came forward first and she picked a sweet little pumpkin then sat back down to give her prayer of thanks. Her words were beautiful, thanking God for the beauty of “this little creature,” her little pumpkin. I cannot capture any more of her beautiful words, but I remember too well how sweet and how gentle her prayer of thanks was—more “childlike” in the Gospel sense than any child. This sister in particular always reminds me to be grateful for little things. She’s the same sister who would leave the comic strips outside my door when I lived in the convent. She loves to make people smile and feel special—even little pumpkins.

After such a special day, I was sad this morning to leave the Woods. I’ve grown accustomed to a few tears joining me as I drive back through Terre Haute, down 65 and towards Indianapolis. But today, I was able to redirect my thoughts and bring back my gratefulness from last night, thinking of my next great adventure: a new community!

Today was the first meeting of my Providence Circle, and while our numbers were lower than expected, we still had a wonderful time (one of our members is traveling in Ireland—lucky duck!—and another had a death in the family—please pray for her and her friends/family). We didn’t spend much time talking about the book we’re discussing, but we talked about everything else! It was just so wonderful to have the support and fellowship of the two women that I was blessed to be with. I can already tell that they are going to be a huge blessing in my life—in fact, I think that they already are. Each of us are in a situation where it’s difficult to find community where we are and I hope that each of us can find community in this circle.

To bring the weekend full circle, I dropped by the store on my way home and while I was there, I noticed that there was a display of fall-scented candles. Now my house smells like fall. With my own little pumpkin, it is bringing my favorite season inside my little house and keeping me company (see picture above).

I’m also working diligently on my projects for the Oktoberfest in Rolla (in two weeks!): crocheted saint dolls. Right now, I have St. Francis of Assisi and Joan of Arc hanging out in my living room. Hopefully, they will soon be joined by St. Patrick, St. Kateri, and OL Guadalupe. I’m also going to try and have some Pope Fracis dolls and a few plain priest dolls (nuns are complicated, but I’m working on a St. Mother Theodore doll—it’s hard to get the habit just right). So, if you’re in Rolla and come to the Oktoberfest, check us out. If it goes well, I’m going to start an etsy shop. Heaven knows I need some extra income with the paycheck I get working in ministry, especially when you figure in those loans I need to be paying off.

St. Francis of Assisi 

St. Joan of Arc (with removable sword!)

And, just so that you all don’t think I hate my job: I am loving having my students back and meeting the new freshmen. Women’s Ministry continues to be my favorite program in the BCC—I think it is truly where the women find their own community, their own safe place to be accepted. Our new program—Sol (Saints for Our Lives)—is also going well. And, I am also enjoying working with so many great people—the other campus ministers, mostly, but also a couple people from the Archdiocese who, when they’re not making things difficult for the sake of bureaucracy, are actually really fun to be around.

All in all, things are busy (sorry for the unreturned or long-owed calls, friends), but they are GOOD. And all the discernment I am doing about next year has absolutely nothing to do with how much I do or do not love my job, because I L-O-V-E it. Truly.

More about that later.

Back to last summer…

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Away from the Manor and into the Woods

Away from the Manor and into the Woods

So, I realize that other than book-related blogs, I haven’t actually written since last semester. There is SO MUCH to update you all on (if you care—I’m still not really sure who reads this). But, because I know it is a fruitful practice for me to reflect and look back, I will try and update you as best as I can.

Last semester ended quickly, filled with work. Once the students left, I was still working every day (usually on my days off, too) to get ready for the new year. Half of my energy was going into getting ready for my first year as director and the other half was going into studying for my comprehensive exams for my MA at Notre Dame. Hence, I didn’t have much energy left for blogging, personal relationships, or anything else for that matter. Then, at the very end, as I was packing my belongings and preparing to move to the Woods, I got so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. I was dizzy when I stood up and had no energy, no matter how much I slept. Other than sleeping, watching Buffy, and stumbling to the bathroom, I wasn’t up for much—and still, I had to drive myself to the doctor because no one else would. I will say, I was very grateful for the order of fries that one housemate brought home for me. At least I had something in my system.

Finally, during that potentially dangerous doctor’s visit, I found out that it was really just a seriously awful sinus infection (those still bother me frequently) and I got some heavy-duty antibiotics to chase away the yucky. I barely got well in time to pack up and move out. Also, as a result, I probably had significantly more boxes packed way worse than they would have been otherwise because I couldn’t lift anything very heavy. Looking back, I’m really not sure why I didn’t just call one of my many students who were still in town and ask for some help.

Finally, on the penultimate Friday in May, Ι loaded the few things I needed for my summer at the Woods into my car and, leaving the rest in storage at the Churchman house, drove to Terre Haute. I left unceremoniously, without goodbyes from at least half of my housemates, feeling rather morose.  Although it is a short drive to Terre Haute from the south side of Indy, it seemed even shorter because I was so emotional. I certainly did not help that I had been in such a rush to leave that I arrived almost two hours early.

I ended up eating lunch with the other interns—who from this point on will be referred to as my community. Before I even begin to talk about the experience of living at St. Mary of the Woods and working at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, I feel the need to say that, although it was only for five weeks, I think that the community I lived with there was so much closer, deeper, more peaceful, and more accepting than any other community experience I have ever had to this point in my life. My dear friends, if you read this, I am so grateful for the healing love that you showered on me. You are some of the best people that I know.

Shortly after I got unpacked and all settled in, the other new intern arrived—Rebecca, who was mentioned earlier in my reading update as one of my vegan community member.  The other vegan, Michael, was already there but was taking part in the Permaculture Course offered at SMW through IU (I really recommend this to anyone interested in that sort of thing). He joined us in the gardens a week later.

When I mention the gardens, I feel that I must clarify: we’re really not talking a garden. We’re talking about fields. All in all, the gardens that I worked in were about as large as the small field that sits next to my grandmother’s (now Sarah’s) house in Rolla—this will help my family members have some idea what I mean. There were several plots where we grew different wonderfully delicious and beautiful vegetables—chard, lettuce, carrots, kale, turnips, peas, and so much more! Every day, we would either harvest, plant, weed, or mulch. Many days, I would come back to the convent covered in dirt, so exhausted that I would peel off my overalls and have to lay down before I even got showered or dressed. I loved every minute of it.

Who wouldn't love to wake up and see this every day?

For those of you who are friends with me on facebook, you probably saw me write every day that I lived in a magical place. It really was magical. I could go to work, harvest some chard or a handful of peas or any of our other yummy veggies (and rarely, some berries), and get to eat them for dinner. We could have what we wanted from the “seconds”—the produce that for one reason or another (some sort of blemish or damage) wasn’t considered sellable. I think I ate better during those five weeks than the entire rest of my life. I learned to love things I had never tried before (or, never liked before), and it was wonderful. Like I said—magical.

In addition to eating well, I was learning to cook—not bake, cook. Always before, my version of cooking was usually pasta-related or making eggs. Rarely if ever did I actually cook. Now, that has changed. Oh yes, friends, I can now sort of cook (although I am still not to the level of my former “personal chef”—as he called himself—Patrick, nor am I nearly as talented or sure of myself as S. Hannah). And, I like what I cook (very important).

Chard-- my new favorite vegetable!!

When I wasn’t in the gardens working or in the kitchen cooking and eating, I was either in my room or the library studying or hanging out with my community and my sisters.

As a child, I longed for siblings—any siblings at all—but most especially, sisters. Now I have to say, if I had known that all those prayers to God asking for a sister would result in me having 300, not only would I still have prayed them, I might have prayed more. I love my sisters and I miss them every day. I think that much of the sadness (I say sadness because I don’t believe I’m actually depressed, just a little lonely) that I have experienced since I moved back to Indy is the result of not having those wonderful women around to love me (and for me to love back).

Not only was I blessed with the opportunity to deepen my close friendship my dear friend S. Arrianne and deepen my friendships with the other sisters who I already knew (especially my Sister Companion, Dawn), but I was able to form new friendships with the other sisters. I learned a lot about myself as a result and I also grew to have a deeper appreciation for the importance of a truly healthy community. Unlike other communities that I had been a part of, being part of the SP community as both an associate and an intern has helped me to realize my own value and my own gifts rather than only point out my flaws. Living at the Woods was, most of the time, like living inside of a hug—warm, loving, and gentle. On the occasions that it wasn’t, it was filled with learning experiences and kind, constructive criticism. I didn’t hear the word hell used once as a location that I might eventually end up in, nor did I find myself being told that I wasn’t ___ enough—Catholic enough, conservative enough, liberal enough, fun enough, welcoming enough, hospitable enough. We recognized each other’s gifts and each other’s weaknesses and endeavored to make ourselves better and to encourage everyone else. This was the case with both the sisters and my community as well as the other staff at the WVC.

I already said how amazing my community was. It was so good to arrive and find myself with such a variety of souls. First, there was Paul. Paul was like my big brother during my time at the WVC. He has this amazing spirit of gentleness and kindness, he is so generous with his time, his attention, and his strength. He lives a life of simplicity but is also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met—he knows so much about so many things. He also has a beautiful wife and daughter, both of whom I regret not getting to know better before leaving. Along with Paul, there was also Rusty, with whom I have had many wonderful conversations, both serious and comical, and whose friendship was an absolute treasure during my time at the Woods. We enjoyed watching movies, chatting in the fields during work, and just being in the same place with a like-minded soul. I appreciated both Paul and Rusty’s kindness so much during those five weeks—and their encouragement as I tried to study for my exams.

I have already mentioned Rebecca and Michael. Rebecca is a student at SMWC and is just phenomenal—I think that girl could take on the whole world if she wanted to. I loved talking with her, hearing her stories, and laughing with her. For the first several weeks, we also shopped together—along with Michael—and I enjoyed getting to know them both as we discussed food—an obvious passion in those who work in an organic garden! If Paul is the most intelligent person I know, Michael is in the running for being in possession of the greatest variety of talent that I know. He’s a musician, an artist, an entrepreneur, a farmer, a student—not because he is taking classes but because he is a student of life--,  very knowledgeable about a variety of things, and just a generally all-around great guy. I enjoyed every minute of getting to know him. Between both Michael and Rebecca, I learned a lot! I appreciate more than I can express how open both of them were to shared discussion and how non-judgmental they were about the things we don’t agree on.

In addition to those four, there was another intern—Bree, who arrived shortly after Michael. I must say that I think Bree rather brave. She has big dreams and is seeking out ways of achieving them. She has lived in many different communities and had many amazing volunteer experiences that I think have brought her to where she is now, an amazing woman with a great deal of wisdom yet still desiring to learn more. While I did not get to live in community with her (or Paul, for that matter), I think that Bree is very admirable and her presence was integral to our community.

There were also the staff members at the WVC—Candace, kind and dynamic and with awesome stories to tell, a great mom and an good boss, David, who reminds me more of my uncles than anyone else I have ever met (seriously, he should have been a Willy or a Ponzer!) and who always makes me laugh, Anne, generous and funny and amazing and who was and is a dear friend and who I miss terribly, Nick, who I only worked with a little but who I already know is a kind, generous soul who loves to learn, and Tracey, the alpaca manager, who I barely got to spend time with but who is highly intelligent and very kind—I also enjoy being an associate with her. Lastly, there are Sister Mo and Robyn, our fearless leaders who, even though I didn’t get to work with them very much, made my internship both more enjoyable and more educational. I also enjoyed building friendships with both of them. Sister Mo has a great sense of humor but is very down to earth and wise. Robyn is almost too much like me for me to describe fairly— but I can say that she is a Southern Missouri girl, Truman state grad who later got an MA in Philosophy, an awesome mom, kind, loving, supportive, and a friend whose presence I sorely miss in my life, though at least we keep in touch via facebook!

My small descriptions cannot really do these people justice. Forgive the use of less than adequate words like “kind” and “amazing.” These people healed the hurt of the last two years and did it in five weeks, all the while making food grow out of dirt that they sprinkled seeds in and watered. They’re miracle workers.

So, that was my five weeks at the Woods in a nutshell. I got to spend my days and some evenings with my community, have lunch with my sisters, hang out with Arrianne and go on walks, talk with Joni when she was home, and sometimes, rarely, I got to spend special moments, or even whole evenings, with the sisters I am closest to—gathered around a bonfire or sitting at a table, chatting, sharing, singing, learning, and loving. Each of those evenings is pressed into my heart—a memory that I call on when I need strength.

Thank you, my sisters.

I’ll continue in the next post with tales from the SP Annual Meeting, moving in, and more!