HELLO!!! It's been so long. I think about this blog often and have 5 different post ideas sitting in my iPhone notes at any given time, but no time to sit and write! I took a minute to update my favorite blogs, websites, and Instagram profiles on the 'Resources' tab, so check it out.
It is the second week of Advent, and I have only forgotten to do my advent devotional twice. *insert sarcastic thumbs up here* I've also been engaged for 8 months! There is less than 300 days to go until our September 2019 wedding.
Even though it feels like the longest waiting period of my life, I'm also aware of how short and unique a season it is for me and Patrick. We will be a married couple for 60+ years, God willing, but this year and a half is the only time we will be an engaged couple. That is crazy!
Let me be, hopefully not the first, to wish you a Happy Advent! I love this season. Luckily, my current roommates love it, too. We have at least 8 nativity scenes around our house, an Advent wreath, a Christmas tree, garlands, lights, you name it. I really don't like the color purple (sorry JMU friends... the truth had to come out sometime), but seeing our church decked out in its richness alongside boughs of dark winter greenery is amazing.
A little background-- Advent is the season of 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, as well as the "Catholic New Year." And no, we don't actually think that Jesus was born on December 25th, it's just the day chosen to celebrate that event. Advent shares some characteristics with the liturgical season of Lent, the waiting period of 40 days for Easter that happens in early spring.
Lenten waiting has a sadness and a dread that Advent does not. In Lent, we know we are receiving the greatest gift of all in Jesus' resurrection, but only after 40 days of suffering and two intense days of fasting, not to mention the emotional pain that is Good Friday. However, spiritual growth is huge during this time. The color purple is used in Lent to symbolize suffering and penance.
On the flip side, Advent is a joyful period of preparation and waiting. We experience the wonder of what is unfolding through Jesus' birth through scripture and festive traditions. Though Lent and Advent have very different feels and intentions, they both are waiting periods for a bigger holiday, and they share the liturgical color purple, something I've always found interesting.
During Advent, purple represents the royalty that is coming in Christ the King, sometimes swapped out for royal blue. We are preparing for the miracle of life, the joy of salvation, the wonder of universal royalty, the glorious mystery of God's plan for the Holy Family revealed, and ultimately His plan for us. It's the simultaneous celebration of the divine and the humanity here on Earth.
I am realizing more and more the parallels between engagement and Advent this year. Patrick and I are making preparations of house and self, waiting joyfully and childlike (and, sure, a little nervously) for the mystery and wonder of the moments to come. It's not unlike the preparations I am now making for Christmas. We hope that God will work miracles of life and love through the offerings of these two ordinary people as He did through His servants Mary and Joseph.
In September, Patrick and I will give our consent and make vows to God and each other, and then there will be one moment in the Mass when we will miraculously go from engaged to married. Our new life together starts in that one moment. When the Gabriel the Archangel appeared to Mary, she gave her fiat, her consent, and then there is one moment of immaculate conception, changing her path and the path of the world forever. A life came to be in that one moment.
In another miraculous moment, Patrick and I will receive Jesus for the first time as one flesh, instead of individually (Mark 10: 7-9). On the first Christmas, there was one moment when Mary receives Jesus in her arms for the first time, instead of in her womb.
Mary had little else beside her pregnant belly to remind her of what was to come. She only knew she would give birth to God's son and name Him Jesus. I have my engagement ring, sparkling against my ordinariness, constantly a reminder of something beautiful coming in the way of marriage. These visible signs of hope are on my heart this season.
It's a hard thing to accept, that only God knows what is to come. He knew when I met Patrick 4 years ago at our campus ministry that he would end up proposing to me. On a mountain. Before he graduated college. Like a crazy person. God also knew that I would accept the proposal from the heart to my head at age 22, fellow crazy person, and here we are. Who knows what else is already in place, and what our hearts are being softened and shaped for?
It's not that Patrick and I anticipate everything to be easy or perfect, but that our future will be filled with the four words of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love.
I am in awe of God's timing, my unexpected future spouse, this sweet season of being engaged, the season of Advent, the mystery of to whom we belong, the miracle of life, the bravery of a 15 year old girl and her spouse over 2000 years ago, and everyone who has chosen Jesus since his birth.
So, thank you, Lord! Thank you for my new life in you, for the new life the Patrick and i will share together, and for this new year. Most of all, thank you for the gift of working in ways that I don't understand. It makes this all-too-practical gal pause in childlike wonder.
“Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited." ~ Thomas Merton
If you know me, it's pretty hard to miss the fact that I used to be a competitive Irish dancer. Whether you've seen the embarrassing old Facebook pictures, or you knew me in high school, or you've see me rush off to teach dance downtown in Harrisonburg, it's always been a big part of my life. Before college, though, it's a little hard to explain exactly how much of my life it was. Really, dance was my life for over 11 years. Between student-teaching classes, taking classes, teaching private or small group lessons, performing at shows around DC, and traveling to competitions, it was easy to put in over 20 hours a week in high school. Sometimes the schedule got tiring, but I never got tired of dance itself. I was always looking for more way to be involved, to work with more students, to train better, and I have never experienced the same passion and drive with anything else except my faith. It's a blessing to have found something that was so mine, something that I so naturally loved and was good at and that loved me back.
Knowing this about me, my sweet boyfriend Patrick gave me tickets to see an Irish dance show for Christmas. I mean, could there be a better present?! He planned a whole day out, took me to a special place for lunch where his parents went when they were dating, we hung out with my family, and finally landed at the show that evening. The music starts up, and the live uilleann pipes tug at my heart immediately. The air I'm breathing changes, and suddenly I'm back in hundreds of places I've been before. The dancers come out, and I'm just in tears. Not one cute tear falling down my cheek for old time's sake, there are just silent waterfalls worth of water pouring down my face. Poor Patrick is so confused and worried and I can't explain myself because I can't even talk. Every time the dancers did a step or a move that I used to do, it was a fresh punch to the gut.
I really wish I could say that I was crying happy tears or that I was being sentimental because that would make so much more sense than the pure grief I felt. The thing is, I have taught dance at least once a week for the last 5 years. It's not like this was my first time seeing Irish dance since I graduated high school. But, it was my first time seeing people Irish dance the way I used to dance. In Harrisonburg I teach beginner-prizewinner level, and these performers were real, competitive dancers who had routines very similar to my old performances. I was looking at myself, in a way, because I know exactly what it is to do what they were doing. The sad reality is that version of myself is gone and she will never be able to come back.
After 11 years of dance, I reached all of my goals except one. I missed qualifying for the world championships by two placements and half a point at my senior-year regional qualifiers (Oireachtas). Shortly after that, I injured my left ankle and I was not able to compete for the rest of the year. Between that injury and going off to college, I was not able to train the way I had overeagerly (and unrealistically) planned to do through my undergrad career. I missed dance incredibly and an opportunity came up for me to teach a class of beginners at a local dance studio by JMU! I took that job for my own sanity and, of course, the extra cash. My old dance school had an issue with me teaching somewhere else, so I was not and still am not welcome back.
I do not bear ill-will toward anyone there, but I do have real grief from this part of my story. I had known these people since I was 8 years old. They were people I imagined would be invited to my wedding someday, who cried with me and celebrated with me for 11 years, who I saw at least 3 days a week, and whose children I've seen grow up. It's also through this Irish dance school that I encountered people truly living out the way of the Church for the first time, and while that alone did not cause my conversion it did play a big part in it. Now my heart is broken twice over. Not only for losing the person I was, but for losing the people who made me who I am now. I still have so much love for everyone there and their families and their business. I remain grateful for all they did for me, both dance-wise and personally.
So, yes, I cried at an Irish dance show. The grief of losing my past life surprised me all this time later. Eventually the singer hit a weird note and that took me out of my head and into a normal audience member. I genuinely enjoyed the show, and I'm so touched that Patrick thought to bring me there and that he got to experience something that means so much to me. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading this long post. It's really good to have worked this out in writing. I should end by adding that getting to know Jesus has changed my priorities significantly. He is the greatest news that is and ever will be, add that is where my joy comes from now.
"I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. | I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. | Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress." -Philippians 4: 11-14
Out of the 5 love languages, words of affirmation are not in my top two, (I'm quality time and acts of service) but a while back there was a day where someone's words took over my brain-space. I'm unwilling to admit it, but I am a sensitive person. I have a rock-hard exterior that doesn't crack when faced with multiple strong hits, but smashes to dust with the right hit.
Now, I brought it upon myself... I confronted someone over social media. *GASP*. The post I found disagreeable enough to comment on put the Vatican City coat of arms (where the Pope of the Catholic Church lives) onto another flag that a lot of people find a distasteful reminder of a sad time in U.S. history. See, I don't care for personal creativity when it comes to representation of The Church. Putting that coat of arms, which includes a depiction of the Keys to Heaven and the Papal tiara, on anything other than something directly related to The Church or its teaching is at least disrespectful. You don't put the keys to Heaven on something lightly, folks. I feel like I'm not crazy for thinking this.
And while I was definitely angry at this false depiction of the Catholic church, I tried my gosh-darndest to control myself in order to recognize the dignity of the person on the other side. This person, unfortunately, was not interested in recognizing mine back. I was called a host of things in a poor show of conversation, starting off with the basics like "ignorant" and "stupid," but then she graduated to using words like "evil." Im not quite sure where this next part came from, maybe because I asked her not to continue being rude, but from our online conversation about her graphic art she somehow gathered that I am a "snowflaked, butt-hurt Pope Francis, Vatican2 worshipping Modernist."
Reaction phase 1: MAN. I mean, I shock-laughed at first because what else can you really do? Reaction phase 2: Did I just get loving Pope Francis thrown at me as a holiness-insult by another Catholic person?
Reaction phase 3: This isn't even the first time this has happened.
Reaction phase 4: Sadness.
I'm not a "Modernist," and I'm not a "Traddie," (short for 'traditional') and i hate those terms. All I want to call myself is a Catholic. Receiving that identity included me joining His church and vowing obedience to its law in front of my universal catholic family. So when someone within that same Church tells me that I am an "evil Modernist" for admiring the Pope who the Church appointed as our spiritual leader, I'm at a loss for words.
Humor me and let's say Pope Francis is evil after all. What does he do at almost every publicized event? No matter who he is with, he asks for prayers. You think he's evil? Pray for him. He's always asking, so you might as well. You think I'm evil? Pray for me. I always need it.
Finstagram, aka "Finsta," stands for "Fun Instagram."
Sounds great, right?
You have your normal Instagram account with pictures of food, selfies, birthday shoutouts, and cool hike shots. Then, you have your Finsta with silly pictures of you and your friends, purposefully ugly pics, and hilarious dance videos taken at 2 a.m. in the library during finals week.
I wish that's what Finstas were really for.
Finstas are being used by college students and high schoolers to showcase a different kind of "fun." Mostly binge drinking and all that comes with it. Anything illegal goes, and people get applauded by their followers for the craziest drunk adventures out there.
So, who are their followers? Definitely not the same people following the regular accounts.
For those who aren't tech-savvy, Instagram makes it very easy to swap between accounts, so with a single tap you can switch to your Finsta, follow your friends' Finstas, and then have two separate worlds on Instagram. The result is all the normal accounts following each other, and then all of the Finstas following each other.
The problem with Finstagram accounts is not that they exist, or even the illegal or immoral acts being done on them. I mean I'm not a huge fan of those from a Catholic (or even logical) frame of mind, but it's the hiding and the duplicity of Finstas that strike me.
Why hide this Finsta side of you from certain people? Maybe it's your parents, your campus priest, or your siblings. Maybe it's a certain set of friends.
If you are proud of and happy with your life, why hide it?
I don't think Finstagram existed my freshman year at JMU, but I definitely filtered my social media occasionally, convincing myself that my church friends would "judge" me. It took me a while to realize what was actually happening.
I wasn't afraid of others' disapproval. I was ashamed of myself. Sorry for the confusing sentence that follows, but: I knew that my church friends knew that I knew better.
They knew the real me, and I was afraid of being called out on my double life. (Usually I'm the tough love friend.) They and I both knew that the party lifestyle wasn't good for me or my soul, and wouldn't satisfy me in the end.
So, what was I looking for? Validation from peers, for starters. Acceptance, Freedom, Fun. I was excited to go to my first college party because I thought that literally every college student goes and has fun. It was the part-of-the-college-experience garbage rhetoric I had been spoon-fed for years. If everyone recommends partying, it must be fun right?
Turns out parties aren't actually fun, unless I was drunk enough to escape the reality of it all. People making out everywhere, every other guy grabbing your butt as you walk by, music so loud you can't talk to anyone, and people throwing up off the porch didn't appeal to me. But, I'd still post a picture of me there to prove that college was great and I was having fun the "normal" way.
So, friends, for a long time I settled. I settled for an inauthentic life. I would be "fun Hope" on Saturday nights, and then have to recreate that personality the next morning to make sure I was still accepted by my squad. Actively trying to be the "fun Hope" was exhausting.
I just wanted friends who would accept me sober, in sweatpants, and laugh at dumb youtube videos until our abs hurt. I wanted friends who would challenge me to be a better person, not help me excuse what I did the night before like it didn't matter. I wanted friends who enjoyed the real me, no additives. When I found those people, I dumped my old life pretty easily.
Give yourself the gift of ONE authentic life. I really cannot tell you how much of a difference this lesson made to my happiness and peace.
Let's erase the duplicity that comes with being a college student these days. Make your Finsta actually fun, find friends who will call you out when necessary, and get those Confession graces whenever you need them.
Don't stifle yourself into ordinariness in college. God offers us an adventure of a life.
"If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness." -St Therese
St. Therese, Pray For Us!
The biggest lie I've been told in college is that I can be two people and "be fine."
Freshman year I was told that Sunday through Wednesday I can pursue my faith, and Thursday through Saturday I can forget anything I might have gained the first half of the week. And then "be fine."
Now, can I literally do that? Of course. God gave us free will, yo. So what's the lie?
The lie here is the "be fine." The lie is that I can live two lives and be able to feel like one person. The lie is that I can pray for God never to abandon me, and then feel comfortable abandoning Him every Saturday night.
Trust me when I say that I tried to "be fine." I tried to be okay with praying and partying in the same day. I tried to be His beloved daughter one moment and a distant cousin the next. I tried to force my two selves into a cohesive being, and I tried to settle for an average college life AND and average spiritual life.
Guess what, peeps? It didn't work. Betcha didn't see that one coming. ;)
Brothers and sisters, God doesn't take breaks from us. Why do we purposefully take breaks from Him? I have never seen this happen more than in college.
In college we picture our life as bookends, we have who we are now, and who we want to be in 20 years. But, we don't really think about how we will get there.
We feel invincible, which I believe is the cancer of youth. We brush off our actions because "it's college" and these four-ish years will be wiped off our soul and our conscience like a mark on a whiteboard. It's the ultimate excuse these days.
God doesn't just care about you sometimes. If you only care about Him sometimes, that's something to reflect on. It's a duplicity I find in myself over and over again.
St. Therese, Pray For Us.
My desk is clean today, and I'm sitting at it. Yup, just me. Sitting at my desk working. Casual.
Anyone who knows me knows that this doesn't happen. The clean-desk part or the using-the-desk part. I usually work in the midst of library background noise, or in the comfort of my own bed.
But today isn't an ordinary day, is it?
Today, Christian and Catholic brothers and sisters, I. am. appalled.
I'm not talking about who you may or may not have voted for. The election is over, and we have a new leader we need to pray for. I can't remember a single Mass without prayer for our leaders.
My problem, today, is that someone posts on Facebook saying they are afraid for their future, and you respond with "stop overreacting" or "stop whining."
Or my favorite today, "Republicans would never act like this." Right, because no one threatened to move to Canada if Obama became President. I know two families who went on an overseas vacation during the 2008 inauguration out of protest.
And this title I just scrolled past TWO TIMES: "Open Letter to All Of the Whiny Safe Space Liberals Crying Over Our 'Racist' and 'Sexist' Country"
We are not called to brush off the hurting of other humans.
If someone is afraid, ask them why. Listen to them. Try to bring them some hope and comfort in what is a dark moment for them.
Better yet, show them through your love and logic that they don't need to be afraid. Let them know that you are pro-life and their life is included in that. Let them know that you will stand up for their rights, too.
Maybe they aren't upset that "their woman didn't win." Maybe they really are scared, or will you not let yourself entertain that thought?
People think half the country doesn't care about their wellbeing. If you think that is false, show them that.
There are people who believe Trump voters voted in spite of black, Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ+, or female Americans. Call me crazy, but they might really need to know that you didn't vote for him for those reasons.
Don't call someone a liar, ask them about their truth. Don't cry "overreacting!" but offer them your support.
And let me clear: Today, there is nothing to celebrate. This is not a victory for Jesus, our church, or our country. We had two imperfect choices, and we made one.
We should be as conflicted as ever, sinners.
"Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." ~Luke 23:24