Confessions of a Former Tomboy

Where I grew up, being a guy had its perks. You could take your shirt off, you had premium dibs on the newest Pokemon card being traded in the neighborhood, you could run faster, jump higher, play football better…the list goes on and on. Being the only girl in my family, plus living in a neighborhood where boys outnumbered girls 4:1, I was a minority. So what’s a girl to do?

Become a tomboy.

Tea parties, doll houses, and playing dress up? How about Nintendo 64, castles, and climbing trees? Being a tomboy was so much fun and taught me some really valuable life lessons: like how to hold my own in SuperSmash Bros. or how to beat up someone Dragon Ball-Z style. Yet there’s one lesson I learned that I’m still trying to reverse…that women are weak.

I looked at my femininity in terms of what I was lacking, how I stacked up in comparison to the guys, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The more I learned about myself though, the more I appreciated my femininity. I think of the women in my life and I see safe harbors where my complex, worried little mind can find support and rest. I’ve found power inside of me that I didn’t have when I was trying to be like the guys. There’s insightfulness about life: an ability to see past the facades of a situation and into the heart of the matter. But more than that…the heart of a woman sees because the heart of a woman can nurture. That softness that I tried to cover up with mud and smack talk is actually my greatest asset.

Don’t get me wrong…that tomboy is still inside me. The ability to beat (some) guys in sports is one of my greatest pleasures in life…along with smack talking. It really is a gift. But I don’t hide behind those things anymore.

Fast forward 15 years and you’ll find a woman who still cringes at the mention of a slumber party, a group hug, a mani/pedi, etc. but whose heart finds freedom in the presence of other women.

You’ll also find new strength that rivals Super Saiyan.

 

super saiyan

But mainly, you’ll find a beautiful mystery that commands respect.

As Fulton Sheen said,

“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, and goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Here’s to being a woman!

-Sharon

 

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Every Season

“For you bestow gifts suited to every season.”

When I heard this line spoken at a Confirmation Mass the other night, I was jerked back to the present moment. My mind had drifted – I was tired, hurting from an injury earlier in the week, and brooding over a frustrating encounter with someone from earlier in the day. But when I heard the bishop speak this line of prayer, something within me clicked.

I don’t know about you, but I can get so caught up in self-pity sometimes. Lately, it’s so hard for me to see past my problems, which honestly are nothing compared to the struggles that so many in this world face. Nevertheless, I find myself avoiding prayer, scared that God won’t give me what I want. Whether it has to do with my relationships, my job, or my dreams – there’s a despairing part of me that figures there’s no use in asking because God won’t give it.

And maybe, in a sense, that’s right.

YES, God will fulfill my desires. YES, God wants good things for me. YES, God sees and knows what I want and He intends to satisfy me.
Psalm 145:15-16 speaks to this promise:

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

There is so much truth and comfort in this promise, but so often, we miss an important part of it – in due season. I can get caught up in this world’s promise of instant gratification and forget that seeing God’s promise ultimately come to light sometimes requires a waiting period. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, Noah braved it out on the ark for 40 days, and Jesus was in the grave for 3 days – why, oh why, do I think that my desires should be instantly granted? Maybe God’s not giving me what I want, how I want, when I want it and maybe that in itself is a gift. It doesn’t mean it’s never coming and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t gifts being given right now.

He bestows gifts suited to every season. This has two parts for me.

1) Receive the gift.

I’ll be honest – at any given point in my life, I have no idea what season I’m in. But naming the season we’re in isn’t the most important part of life. What’s important is that we’re living. I can get so caught up in trying to figure out where I am, what I’m supposed to be doing, and how I’m supposed to get there that I miss out on every opportunity to tangibly discover these things by lived experiences. Don’t get me wrong, these questions of identity and purpose are important, but unfortunately they often intimidate us with fear and uncertainty.

Instead of focusing on these questions and letting fear cripple us, let’s just receive the gifts that the Lord’s giving in whatever season it is that we’re in. Let’s just be in the season where we are. Let’s find the gifts that the Lord has for us here. Not looking down the road to where summer and all its gifts are, but seeing the spring that we’re in and realizing that every gift we need is right here, being given by the hand of the Father. When I stop looking at what I’m lacking, and start looking at what I’ve been given, I realize that it’s exactly what I need.

2) Be the gift. 

I don’t really want to be selfish and I don’t think anyone does. We all have a desire to make gift of ourselves to the world in some way. In a world that tells us to look out for number one, this desire is often snuffed out, but the pursuit of selflessness does exist.

We all have the choice to either wallow in self-pity like some kid who didn’t get what she wanted for her birthday or we can forget about ourselves for a moment and realize that maybe today isn’t about what I need in my season. Maybe today is about being the suited gift bestowed to someone else in their season.

It can be hard to see what God is doing at the present moment, but when I look back and see the faithfulness of the Lord in every step I’ve taken up to this point, why do I fear that the next step will be the exception for Him? Why do I think that this time He’s slipped up and the gifts He’s giving are the wrong ones? So I propose (as much to myself as to anyone reading), that instead of grumbling that this season of my life doesn’t call for this or that desire to be fulfilled, to be thankful for season I’m in and that His grace gives every gift I need.

He’s not leaving me orphaned. He’s not leaving me abandoned. He’s not leaving me to endure the chill of winter alone. He has bestowed the gifts suited for this season – and the best gift in any season of my life is the gift of His very presence.

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

~ Rita

It’s a Love Story, Baby Just Say “I’m scared?”

I found myself in the French Quarter last weekend inviting strangers to come into the Cathedral to pray, light a candle, and just be with God in Adoration. If you know me, you know this is wayyyy out of my comfort zone. On top of that, I was burnt out from a hectic week and just wanted to reunite with my bed, but I sucked it up and went because I already made the plans with my friends.

So there I was, walking back and forth in front of the Cathedral with my friend (Hailey), nervously eyeing our next attempt when I asked her what kind of instrument one of the street performers was playing. She said, “I don’t know, but you should go ask him then tell him about the Cathedral.” Now he was surrounded by other musicians and some others who were talking to them, so my mind screamed “NO! ABORT MISSION! TOO MANY HUMANS!” But being the overly competitive person that I am, I knew I couldn’t turn down this challenge. So instead, I spotted three guys on a bench who were eyeing the lantern I was holding, one with a bottle of liquor. Challenge accepted. We made our way over to them and I gave the usual spiel, “Hey guys, I don’t know if you’re interested, but we have the Cathedral open tonight if you want to light a candle or say some prayers.” Instead, one of them held out his hand for the lantern. Another asked for some food because they were hungry. Everything in me started waving red flags. “Sharon, what are you doing? These are three grown men, it’s dark, and it’s New Orleans. Be smart.” But I couldn’t leave and Hailey wasn’t turning away either.

After talking to them for a little while, the guy with the liquor asked us to pray over him. As we took his hands and started praying, his body started to shake with sobs. Each prayer we said over him resulted in a tear-filled nod. We asked God to remind him of his worth, to be near him, to heal him, to allow him to see himself through God’s eyes. As we finished, he overflowed with fears…he was an evil man, he claimed. He had done terrible things, he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol for 35 years and he knew he was going to die soon…where was he going to go? He feared the answer was hell, but he wanted to be with God. I could see the sincerity in his eyes. My heart ached for this man.

After this, they asked us to pray over the other two guys, and as we were praying, a fourth guy came up and put his hand on mine. When we finished, he began praying over them too, pouring out gratitude to God for this moment. I couldn’t believe that this was my life…I don’t do things like this! I don’t pray over random men in the French Quarter.

But for the rest of the night and every day since then, I’ve come back to this same point: that first man wanted to be with God. I wanted him to be with God. But most of all, the one who ached and wanted this the most was God Himself.

It feels like a bad romantic comedy. The guy and the girl both love each other and want to be together, but they have terrible communication skills, so it never works out. He thinks she hates him because he made some mistakes, but if only he knew how much she forgives him! If only he could see a fraction of the love she has for him. Instead, he keeps looking away, keeps blocking her out.

If only I could tell that man that the only thing standing between him and God is himself. How much would his life change from this simple truth? Maybe he could go to treatment and end his addictions? What if his testimony could save so many other souls? Does he have a family? What if he could reconcile with them? All of these possibilities for his life run through my mind, and suddenly, his fear of God’s mercy seems ridiculous.

If only I could tell myself that the only thing standing between myself and God is myself. How much would my life change from this simple truth? What would my life look like? Where is God calling me?

And suddenly, I realize we’re not that different. We’re both letting fear move our feet. Every day we come up to the two roads diverged in a wood…how long will I let fear stop me from taking the road less traveled?

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-Sharon

Mercy, Even in My Doubt

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday! For those who don’t know about this great day of devotion, let me try to give you a reason to celebrate today.

The Catholic Church has this great devotion called the Divine Mercy. It all started with a young Polish nun named Sr. Faustina, who loved Jesus deeply. She began having visions of Jesus and, obedient to her superiors, wrote down her encounters with Him. The image of the Divine Mercy, which comes straight from Sr. Faustina’s visions of Jesus, depicts two rays shooting out from the heart of Jesus.skemp_1024

When Sr. Faustina asked Jesus what these rays meant, He responded, “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him. (paragraph 299 of “Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska”)

As I’ve journeyed through the Easter season this past week, this scene of the Crucifixion that Jesus mentioned to Sr. Faustina keeps finding its way to the forefront of my heart. After Jesus has died, before His body has been taken down from the Cross, the soldiers are breaking the legs of the others being crucified to ensure a timely death. When they come to Jesus, they see that He’s already dead.

“One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” – John 19:34

Jesus’ body is dead. His apostles (those left at the scene that is) must be heartbroken. This man that they’ve given up everything to follow – He is dead. And they don’t fully understand the words He spoke that would give them hope in this moment – the words that prophesied His rising, that He would “rebuild this temple in three days.”

In the midst of this darkness, when all hope seemed lost, this is when Jesus deemed to show this image of His mercy. Gruesome as it may be to really think about it, the blood and water that came out of the wound in His side poured down to the ground where the apostles were mourning. What was it to be beneath the mercy pouring from His heart?

Let’s move forward a couple verses in John’s Gospel. The apostles (except poor, poor Thomas) are locked in the upper room, full of paralyzing fear. Jesus appears before them, with a message of peace and mission and He breathes the Holy Spirit over them.

When the apostles later tell Thomas about their post-Resurrection encounter with the Lord, he is ever the cynic. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) (*Side note: how many times in my life do I speak these words? If I don’t have all the signs and stars aligned, if all the evidence isn’t in plain sight, I can be so slow to believe.)

But a week later, Jesus comes again and Thomas is there to see it with his own eyes. I imagine being Thomas here. Elated that the news I was skeptical of is actually true, but also ashamed that I didn’t pass some kind of test of faith. In that moment, I would’ve preferred to stay in the background. Just give us your message, Lord, and don’t single me out. But Jesus, after just one statement addressed to the group, comes to Thomas. In the past, I’ve imagined these words that Jesus speaks were filled with sarcasm, a real “they-told-you-so” manner. But that is not the nature of God. It’s the result of my own woundedness.

Instead, these words of Jesus – they come from a place of love for Thomas. The Lord gives Thomas an opportunity to do exactly as he desired. The Lord’s voice doesn’t place shame on Thomas’ doubt; it carries a calm, a peace. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” (John 20:27).

That wound in the Lord’s side. Where blood and water poured out. Where his Mercy poured out. That’s where He wants Thomas to be. He wants Thomas to place his unbelieving there in the place where Mercy can pour over it. Where Mercy can heal it.

My brothers and sisters, that’s where the Lord wants me and you. Even in our doubt, He invites us into that wound in His side. He invites us – and all the baggage and wounds we carry – into His Mercy. Jesus isn’t deterred by our weakness or our doubt; His Mercy is attracted to it.

So on this Divine Mercy Sunday, wherever you’re at this Easter season – be it a season of joy in every instance or a time of wandering or difficulty – bring it all to His pierced side, where His Mercy is waiting to pour out over it and bring it to new life.

~Rita

I Have Seen the Lord…

Tonight as the sisters of the Magdalene House gathered to worship, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Resurrected Jesus in the Gospel of John became our own. After Jesus spoke her name, she recognized Him and then went out proclaiming to the other apostles, “I have seen the Lord!” I wanted to share a song that we prayed with tonight, titled after this great proclamation, written by my good friend John Finch. If you haven’t heard of The Vigil Project, you’re missing out on amazing songs of prayer and worship for the Lent and Easter seasons. Check out the video for this song below and visit http://www.thevigilproject.com to hear more!

~Rita

Easter: Finding Joy in the Suffering

A couple of years ago, I was asked to portray the Blessed Mother in a drama about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Every year at Easter, I always recall that experience to mind. I really threw myself into the acting. I tried to see everything that happened through Mary’s eyes—I prayed that she would give me insight into what she felt and saw and knew in each scene, and through that experience and by the grace of God I gained a little window into the passion of Christ that I could go back to year after year as a great meditation for Holy Week—until last year.

Last year, God gave me a similar yet different experience of the sorrow of his passion and the hope of his resurrection that would leave a mark on my thoughts of Holy Week—one that I never in my wildest dreams expected.

Last Wednesday marked a year since my mom passed away.

I had been serving with a missionary group for about 8 months and we were in Los Angeles at the time. My mom was pregnant with her 8th child. She had had complications with high blood pressure for her last pregnancy, but this time around it was going really well and we weren’t really worried. I got a call around midnight from my mom saying that her blood pressure had gone up and they went to the hospital. She said after they got there, it went back down and they gave her the option of inducing labor or having a C-section. My mom HATED C-sections, so she chose labor.  She said she would keep me updated throughout the day while I was working a retreat for some middle school kids with my missionary team. Then we said a quick “love you” and hung up. After I hung up—something inside me said that that would be the last time I would talk to my mom. I pushed it out of my brain, and went to sleep, but that whole night I had dreams about getting “that phone call” telling me something had happened. I woke up to an update that she was only a few centimeters dilated and still had a ways to go so I carried on with my day. Around 10am I got a text from my dad of a picture of my new little sister, and god-daughter– Jennie Elizabeth—and I was so excited! But something gave me pause—that was a really quick labor. So I called my dad and he told me that my mom’s blood pressure had spiked again while he had gone to grab some food. She had a seizure and after it was over, she woke up and told the nurse that she was in pain. The placenta had ripped from the uterine wall and Jennie was without oxygen. They quickly put my mom under and did an emergency C-section.

Jennie was fine but my mom never fully regained consciousness after that.

What happened to her was essentially the perfect storm of pregnancy complications. My mom had DIC, which only happens to a small subset of women, where your blood loses its ability to clot. There was also a bleed in her abdomen that the doctors could not locate, so my mom began to bleed internally after the C-section. They had to put her on a ventilator because she could not breathe on her own anymore. A few hours after all of this happened, it was decided that I needed to leave my missionary team and fly home. I spent the night in the airport and caught a red-eye flight home. They said that during the afternoon my mom would occasionally open her eyes and was vaguely lucid. She seemed aware that she was in the hospital and would look around the room. I think at one point she tried to move and they had to restrain her arms after that. That night, my mom’s best friend told her I was on a plane home, and my mom squeezed her hand, and just like that she slipped back into unconsciousness.

I arrived early the next morning and the next 48 hours was an emotional roller coaster of life or death medical decisions and helping my dad take  care of a newborn baby for my mom who couldn’t. When I walked into the hospital room, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My mom was normally 115 lbs soaking wet. The woman couldn’t gain weight if she tried, but the woman I saw in the bed with tubes coming out of every possible place was swollen beyond belief with eyes that couldn’t open. She was barely recognizable. They had to do a surgery on her that morning to drain the blood from her abdomen and they decided to pack her and leave her open for the time being with a draining tube. Her kidneys began to fail and they also had to put her on dialysis. The doctors said her blood needed to clot before they could take care of anything else and that the next 24 hours would be critical. I remember praying the entire next night “Jesus, let her blood be your blood.” I said it to myself over and over again and hoped for a miracle.

The following day, nothing had really changed, and my dad and I decided it would be best if I took Jennie home. When I got there, I took a shower, and tried to take a nap while she was napping. Around 3pm, I got a call from my dad. After all the hope and the prayers of those 3 days, it was time. He told me to come back to the hospital, so I left Jennie with family friends and when I got there he explained that my mom’s blood was starting to clot, but it was clotting in the dialysis machine which was making the toxins from my mom’s kidneys rush to her heart. They could thin her blood, but then she would just continue to bleed. They had already revived her twice by the time I got to the hospital. There was no longer anything they could do. Her heart would continue to stop. A few days before, my mom had posted on Facebook:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:26

I don’t think she realized how true that statement would be for her life in just a few days.

My dad then asked me, “Should we let her go? Should we tell them to stop reviving her?”

I can tell you with absolute certainty that what came out of my mouth next was both the easiest and hardest thing I had ever said.

I told him we should let her go, and in that moment I knew it was right and I felt peace for the first time in 3 days.

I was so sad, but I was so at peace because something in me knew for the first time in my life with absolute certainty that this was God’s plan. Sitting around her bed with my family, waiting for her heart to slow to a stop, I began to know, though not completely,  the sorrow, the hope, and the strength the Blessed Mother felt watching her son die on the cross.

Mary watched her son be beaten until he was unrecognizable. She watched him suffer as he walked with the cross up to Calvary. She watched him labor to breathe as he hung there. She felt the sadness and the sorrow for the pain of her son. She wished there was another way, but knew there wasn’t. She knew that she would miss him, but I believe she also knew that the suffering was worth the cost. She knew of her Son’s great love for us and she knew this was necessary in order for Him to gain salvation for those He loved. She knew that there was hope in this. She knew that there was hope, and that gave her strength.

In the same way, I knew of my mom’s great love for her children. I knew that if there was any way that she would want to leave this world—this would be it. Doing something she loved—being a mother– Giving that final piece of her heart to the world. I had hope and strength because my mom’s death was one of the greatest acts of love I’ve ever witnessed.

Bl.Mother Teresa once said

“ Love, to be real, it must cost– it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”

Her self-giving love was such a powerful witness of Christ’s sacrifice for me— and for all of us– one that will leave an indelible mark on my heart for the rest of my life.

After my mom passed, though, I began to feel the same confusion the apostles felt. After Christ died, they didn’t know what to do, so they hid. In the same way, I felt just as lost. My mom was my rock. The one who I turned to for comfort, for faith, for her opinion, and her advice. For the first time, I had to look at my world standing on my own two feet instead of leaning on her. I moved home to help my dad take care of Jennie and the rest of my siblings, and let me tell you— there were a lot of times this year that I hid just like the apostles. I hid from the people in my life that I cared about, from my own emotions, and even from God.  There were a lot of times when I wasn’t strong, when I couldn’t feel the peace that I felt that first night quite as strongly—But God was still there in those moments too. I don’t know what I would do without my brothers, my dad,my family, my friends, my church community. The outpouring of love that I and my family have received from our community in this year has constantly reminded me that I was not lost, and that there was no need to hide. Through the suffering, the doubt, and the pain—the hope of new life breaks through. The promise of the resurrection and salvation of God permeated even my darkest times. All I had to do was grasp it and hold on. When I miss my mom, I always remember that because of the great love and passion of Christ, my mom has found salvation, and that always brings me joy.

Joy—true Easter joy—is not just about being happy.

Joy is the fruit of our faith, hope, and love. It’s knowing that God is working and is close to our hearts in the good and the bad. It’s knowing that God works for the good of those who love Him, and that the trials of this life are nothing compared to the eternity that is waiting for us in heaven.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor she has sorrow, because her hour has come, but when she delivers the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, because of the joy of knowing that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
John 16:20-22

This is my prayer for all of you this Easter—whoever you may be– that you would know the true Easter joy and let NO ONE or NOTHING take that joy from you. Whatever battle you are facing, big or small, be assured that Christ has already won. Know that He is and will always be victorious over suffering and  death. YOU belong to Christ, who has purchased your salvation with His unending love.So when you are suffering, walk with Christ and his mother up to Calvary and share in his cross, but always remember that his suffering leads to the hope of new life and there is always a reason to rejoice!

HE IS RISEN!

Happy Easter!

-Hailey

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In Memory of Gwen DeLaune
Jan 10, 1972- March 23, 2015

Speaking Anxiety’s Language

A little over a year ago, I had a moment where I realized I didn’t recognize myself. There I was: about to start my master’s degree in Counseling and move back to Hammond (where all my friends lived), but I couldn’t make it through a day without bursting into tears. I had anxiety. In fact, I had been having “anxiety attacks” for the past year prior to this moment. But this time, I happened to look in the mirror and saw swollen eyes that were utterly unhappy. I also saw two choices: start taking medicine or change your life.

I was SICK of anxiety and was getting rid of it one way or another.

I’m so happy to tell you this story has a good ending. I sit here typing a year later with renewed strength because I look in the mirror and see laughter, tears, fear, joy, etc. but behind each of those, I see me. I see peace. How did I do it? I started to speak anxiety’s language. Now that I’m beginning to understand how it speaks, I have power over it. So without further ado, here is what my anxiety taught me:

Before I go on, let me clarify something: I’m writing this from the standpoint of someone who is not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I’m talking about those of us who at some points in our lives experience bouts of anxiety, but who can still function relatively normally. 

What is anxiety?

First, we need to look at what anxiety is…according to the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.”

When I was in the midst of anxiety, I would’ve circled, highlighted, bolded, and italicized the word “intrusive.” I saw it as an enemy who was infiltrating my mind and showed no mercy. I felt ravaged. Now, I look at this and focus on the words “emotion” “feelings” and “thoughts.” What is something they all have in common? They can be changed (enter Hallelujah chorus). Emotions, feelings, and thoughts are fickle little things. Seriously. Keep an emotion journal and you’d be amazed at how frequently they change, but the good news is we can use this to our advantage. We can affect our anxiety.

Does anxiety have a purpose?

Go on Facebook and you see so many people sharing articles and pictures about anxiety with the caption “My life.” Or talk to people and hear how so many people deal with anxiety on a daily basis and have just accepted it as a part of their life. I can’t be the only one who sees a problem with this… When did we as a society begin to simply accept anxiety as an unwelcome house guest who has overstayed his welcome? “The Guest House” by Rumi comes to mind as I’m writing this.

guest house

One interpretation of this poem could be that whenever we are visited by anxiety, it comes with a purpose. Not just any purpose, but a good purpose! So often though, anxiety is banished to that spare room we never go in. We know it’s there, and although we think it’s tucked away, others notice. It interferes, so we paint anxiety as a negative. But what if it was a positive? What if anxiety could prompt you to make a life change for the better?

During that bout of anxiety I mentioned above, I would have sworn that I had no idea what was causing it. I was a victim to this faceless fear…a hero, if you will, battling to overcome this cross I had to bear. But I was lying to myself. My anxiety had a purpose, but I was ignoring it.  I knew what was causing it…the relationship I was in. I knew it was time to end it, but I didn’t want to. I was contemplating taking medicine rather than give up that person, that relationship.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of us fall in this category: paralyzed by fear. Fear of pain, fear of failure…whatever your fear is. Although I can list reasons why I hate this fear, the fact of the matter is, it refuses to let me live in a state of deception; rather, it relentlessly reminds me that things are not “fine.” Whether it be an external or internal problem, my anxiety’s purpose is to ultimately lead me to deeper healing and growth. As the poem said, “He may be clearing you out for some new delight.” So far, this has proven true 100% of the time.

If you want to see if this is you, start keeping an anxiety journal. Every time you feel anxious, write down why (what triggered it). After one hour of doing this, I stopped because I had enough evidence to tell me what I knew but didn’t want to hear. Even if you’re not ready to make a change, it’s so important to be able to name where that anxiety is coming from. I’d say it’s a crucial step in overcoming the vicious cycle.

Ok, now what?

Assuming you agree with me that anxiety has a purpose, it isn’t some emotion we’re just meant to live with, you’re probably interested to hear what you can do to get back your life. When I was reading up on it, time and time again, people would suggest simple things that centered around one idea: Get out of your head!

Like the definition mentioned above, anxiety consists of intrusive thoughts and concerns. Have you ever tried to tell yourself to stop thinking something? If you’re like me, it led to even more frustration. That’s why we have to go into battle equipped. Instead of focusing on what we shouldn’t be doing (the absence of thought), focus on a positive. Not focusing on anxiety is going to free up a lot of time…make sure you have something else to fill it. What this came down to for me was an overall rediscovering of who I was: what I enjoy, what I’m good at, what fills me with energy.

Rediscovering myself was the main thing that gave me the strength to do that one thing I was avoiding, and it’s something I continually go back to even today. Self care has been my key to a balanced life, and it starts with the questions of  “what do I want to do?” and “what do I need?” Read books, go on a picnic with your friend, kick butt in soccer, paint, walk your dog(s), listen to loud music, volunteer somewhere, go driving, watch birds…really anything that brings you back to the present moment. Anything that reminds you that beauty exists and that you are capable of creating it. In other words, do something that reminds you of your self-worth. You are worth taking care of.

Be Patient with the Process

While I’m sharing what steps I took to control my anxiety, it’s only fair to tell you that this was one of the hardest things I ever did. I started off by saying that I couldn’t recognize myself when I started, so coming back from that was a long road. Months of fighting with myself, of getting it right then falling on my face, and overall, a sense of weakness and disappointment.

However, within that first week after I decided to start taking back my life from anxiety, I remember I happened to look in a mirror (I guess I do that a lot…) and realized that for the first time in a year, I was proud of myself. I wasn’t “damaged goods!” I think it was the first time that year I genuinely smiled at myself. Even though my eyes were still puffy from crying the day before, and I had spent most of that day drowning in my emotions, I could see something deeper. A breath of relief was starting to emerge in my chest. That thick cloth over my eyes was lifted for a moment. I was on my way to healing. It took time to undo those bad brain habits I had adopted…those obsessive thoughts and triggers. But in the midst of those months, I had little moments like the one above to hold onto. The ones that showed me I was growing and reminded me what I was working towards. It’s a painful process to change your life, or really to change your brain, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Anxiety as an Asset

Some of us are more prone to anxiety, and we live much of our lives viewing it as a cross, a burden. But if we approach it from the way I’m suggesting, it can be used for good. Instead of sticking it in a spare room and blocking out its voice, what if we greeted it at the door and listened to what it has to say? Imagine that for a second: You could stop yourself before you get burnt out from work. You could avoid a painful relationship/break-up. You could break out of the fear and begin to see your true capacity. But most importantly, if you stopped fighting your body and instead worked with it, I think you’d find peace.

One way of looking at living with anxiety is to think of our bodies as being sensitive. Others seem to live in monster trucks that can bulldoze past the “Lane Closed” signs and orange cones, whereas we’re in our Prius taking the detour. I don’t know what it feels like to live in a monster truck, but I’ve come to appreciate my little car that stops me from danger (plus it’s great on gas mileage).

Also, I’ve found that those of us who deal with anxiety are also perceptive to other emotions.  Ever since I’ve begun the healing process, I’ve noticed empathy and compassion come naturally to me because I’m so in touch with emotion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to use these skills for good. Every area of your life could use someone who is more compassionate…more merciful, but if you’re stuck in your head, you miss so many opportunities to reach out. If you haven’t experienced it yet, there’s nothing like being able to BE THERE for someone else. To have someone tell you, “I’ve never told anyone else this before.” To be able to offer understanding. It’s a gift. And if you have anxiety, I bet you have the potential for that gift.

There is so much more to you outside of your anxiety: so many gifts, so many unique thoughts and words to be shared. Let your anxiety push you past this state of living called “it’s fine.” Past the fear and into a world  much deeper that is eagerly waiting to be explored. I know this is starting to sound like a fairy tale, but that’s how GOOD life can be on the other side of anxiety.

My hope is that after reading this, you feel more fluent in anxiety’s language. I know what worked for me won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s time to start speaking out on anxiety. We all carry a different face,a different dialect of it, and if we share how we’re dealing with it, we can broaden the language. Too many people suffer from anxiety instead of thriving with it, but that can change. Anxiety doesn’t have to be a curse. We are not damaged goods!

-Sharon

 

Let’s talk about the D-word!

Ha. No—not that ‘D’ word. The other one.

Discernment.

If you’re Catholic/Christian and in your early to mid 20’s you have probably heard that term ad nauseam. I feel like I hear it on a daily basis but I feel that a lot of us use the term too flippantly.

inigo-montoya_that-word

What I mean by that is, a lot of the time I hear the word used as an excuse to avoid making a decision.

“I can’t really do that right now… eh heh hem… I’m … Discerning…”

Or a lot of times I hear the word only reserved for the use of describing someone’s never ending battle with God  about whether they are going to join the convent, go to seminary, or hold out to see if Mr. or Mrs. Right is ever going to come along.

“Well.. I’m kind of discerning my next step in life righ…”

“WAIT–  You’re going to be a priest?!”

But, I’m here to tell you friends, discernment is not just for those big ticket items on the list of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophesying, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good and abstain from what is evil.”

Test EVERYTHING. Everything in our lives needs discernment. Paul told us not to quench the Spirit who thirsts to be a part of our lives. God wants to be a part of ALL of our decisions. He wants to permeate our lives. I am not saying take an hour to pray about what you’re going to eat for lunch, but we are, on some level, supposed to take our decisions to God and ask him to conform them to HIS will—not the other way around.

But the big question is—how do we discern? There have been tons of books written and many talks given, but I will spell out a few pieces of discernment advice I have found helpful  for all aspects of life.

  1. God is most likely not going to call you up on your cell phone to tell you what college you should go to, who to date, what to give up for lent (Netflix. It’s a struggle, y’all.), how to find a new job, where to live, or how to remove or change a negative relationship in your life. I do not doubt God’s power—He can do whatever He wants, but His preferred mode of communication from the beginning has typically been in ‘the whisper’ and not in ‘the earthquake’ and delaying decisions for long amounts of time while waiting for Him to come down in a big booming voice and hand you the answer is probably not the most practical thing to do.Don’t get me wrong–we can’t discern impulsively either (Applying for a missionary year a few days after your boyfriend breaks up with you—probably not a prudent decision. Lucky for me, God works all things for the good those who love him, am I right?)
  2.  Adopt a spirit of detachment. 

    Imma let my girl St. Teresa of Avila spit some truths on this one–“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can—namely surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.”

    We have to know ourselves as children of God and we have to surrender our will to the father who loves us.I heard from someone once about a father who wanted to give his 3 year old son a cookie, and how instead of having his hands open to receive what the father was going to give– he jumped up and down and grasped at the cookie jar.

    When it comes to our plans, why are we so hell bent on grabbing the cookie jar for ourselves? God wants to give us every gift possible in this life and for eternity but how can we receive that if we are trying to grasp at the things we only think will make us happy? — because let’s be honest, we never really know for sure. We have to detach from what we want and trust that our Father in heaven will give us what we need.

    In discernment, we have to take to prayer the intention of conforming our will to God’s and also for the grace that we need to detach from what we may think is right and stop grasping at it. If you’re still holding on to something tightly in your life, you are not ready to discern what God wants for you because you have already made your decision.

    Detachment takes trust. We have to trust that God isn’t going to force us into something that we absolutely do not want to do. He doesn’t want to fill his seminaries and convents with people who hate the idea of that vocation just for the sake of filling them. He’s not trying to trick you into doing his bidding at the expense of your happiness. We just need to take our blinders off to allow God to bring clarity into our lives. His clarity won’t affect us if we’re not going to see past our own plans. We have to detach first to be able to discern anything.

  3. Once we detach, we have to move.God can’t guide someone who is standing still.
    For those of us who are in/have gone to college – you know that you have to walk through the door to figure out if you’re in the right class or not on the first day. Sometimes, you have to sit through the whole thing before you realize…). I can’t give you an exact blow by blow of discernment because it is different for everyone—but I can say that once you move, God is better able to open doors for you or shut them. You will begin to either have a sense of peace or a sense of discontentment or anxiety. You may see where God is leading you after a few hypothetical steps forward, or you may need to go even farther than that before you realize, but be assured that God has you where you are for a purpose, even if He doesn’t allow you to see it all the way through.

    At the end of my junior year of college, I began to work on getting into Grad school for counseling. That was always the plan. I registered for the GRE, bought the practice book, and then a few months later realized I had absolutely no desire to do it and it wasn’t just senioritis kicking in. I took it to prayer and realized I was filled with this huge anxiety—I was trying to shove my life into this little tiny box labeled “My plan” and I didn’t want to let any of it go, but it was exhausting to hold on to it all. It took me a while but I eventually realized that God’s plan for me was a lot more freeing than my tiny little box. I could look back on it from where I am now, and say that I wasted my time getting a bachelors in Psych only to become a youth minister with no plans of pursuing counseling, but I know that God brought me through that stage of my life for a purpose. It was necessary.

  4.  Take a step back and analyze what is happening. Do you have peace, or not? Is what you are doing bringing you closer to God, or not? If it doesn’t feel right, chances are you need to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments. But eventually, as you detach from your will, and move, and pray, and reflect – God will get you where you need to be. In His time. Not yours.
  5. Whatever you are discerning, big things or little things, do not fear making the wrong decision. Fear is not of God. 

    “The goal of all of our undertakings should be not so much a task perfectly completed as the accomplishment of the will of God.” – St. Therese of the child Jesus and the Holy Face 

    If we place Christ at the center of our lives, we no longer have to rely on our imperfect nature but Christ’s perfection, and His perfect love casts out all fear and doubt.If we bring Christ into the center of our decisions and act WITH him rather than without him, we don’t need to worry— He WILL make straight our paths.

 

Happy Discerning!

— Hailey

Lenten Angst

Five days ago, Jesus sent us all a personal invitation to join him in the desert for 40 days. (If you haven’t gotten it, check your spam folder.) 40 days of temptation, fasting, suffering… I said thanks, but no thanks. I like my spot over here on the edge of the desert. However, after five days, I wish I would’ve said yes. 

If I’m honest with myself, I said no because I’m scared of suffering. So imagine my surprise when I realized I was still suffering on the edge of the desert! And this suffering was worse in a way. It was, as St. Paul says, “worldly grief” as opposed to the “godly grief” Jesus was offering.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

In other words, I’m now staring down 40 days of suffering that will leave me worse off than I started, and I can already tell this is true. I gave up something easy and vague so that I could find loopholes and be happier…but I’m not happy. If I’m going to suffer, I want that suffering that leads to salvation. That leaves me better than it found me. I want to join Jesus in the desert.

Here’s the good news: We still can.

So if you find yourself full of angst like me, rethink that invitation. It’s still open. And while you’re doing that, pray for me that I have the strength to say yes this time. I’ll be doing the same for you.

-Sharon