Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Mother, My Inspiration

My parents left to drive home yesterday, after a relaxing Christmas full of quick-witted humor, good food, and a beautiful Christmas Eve mass. What really struck me, though, was my mother's dedication. This isn't new - every time I spend time with her, I realize how much the family is her top priority. Some examples:
  • Weeks before the trip, she asked my brother and me multiple times what recipes she should bring. She wanted to make us our favorites and to plan ahead in case she needed to bring specific ingredients or cooking utensils.
  • She brought me my favorite local marinara sauce, without me asking :)
  • She said she would change the sheets on my bed both before and after my parents stayed in it.
  • She spent hours in the grocery store and my kitchen, preparing the perfect Christmas dinner by herself, while serving the rest of us cheese, crackers, and apples to temporarily curb our hunger.
  • After each meal, she went about cleaning dishes and putting leftovers away, without so much as a chiding remark for us to help her. (I did help out! I didn't want her to be in the kitchen by herself while the rest of the family spent time together.)
  • She did laundry while on vacation. If that doesn't show discipline and dedication, I don't know what does!
Needless to say, I love my mother's dedication. She really took on the role of wife and mother wholeheartedly 30 years ago and continues to this day. I only hope that I can put my whole self into something and dedicate the rest of my life to it.

I don't know that I'll ever fill her shoes!

So while I'm inspired by her dedication and have a few days left before returning to work, I thought I'd imitate her just a little. Yesterday, I cleaned the house, changed the sheets on my bed, did three loads of laundry, and picked up the mess that was my post-Christmas apartment :)

Last night I looked through one of my cookbooks, picked out four recipes, and wrote down the ingredients I needed. This morning after mass, I braved the grocery store! (If you don't know, I absolutely HATE grocery shopping, and I don't like cooking either.) I made chicken stir fry for my brother and me for lunch, then put pork chops and cornbread stuffing in the crock pot to be ready for dinner tonight! (AND got all the dishes done!) My hope is that leftovers will last me most of the week, then I'll tackle the other two recipes.

My mom has been my role model in so many ways. Spending time with her reminds me what I have to be thankful for AND what I have to aspire to! I'm newly inspired to put more effort into improving myself, even in the areas I try to brush aside. That's a good way to start the new year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Prayer

Happy birthday, Jesus!

Dear God,
Thank you for the many blessings you've given me, both those I recognize and those I take for granted.
  1. I'm especially grateful in this holiday season for family. My parents drove 16 hours to make it here to celebrate with my brother and me - that's a long drive! I was so excited that they watched me in the Nutcracker yesterday. I danced my best and was radiating joy, knowing they were in the audience.Their love and support through the years hasn't changed, and their dedication to us is humbling.
    French Twist for the Nutcracker!
  2. Thank you for the weather! Although it has been really cold, the timing of snow couldn't have been better. First, the roads were clear Monday for  my parents' drive, despite the big snow storm over the weekend (and the ice last Friday - eek!). It made for an easier trip for them, and also a beautiful, sunny day when they arrived. They were able to see the prettiest part of winter - fresh snow glistening in the sunshine! Second, coming out of mass last night, filled with Christmas joy from the beautiful music and decorations, I was touched that it was snowing again! This is the first White Christmas that I remember, and it's beautiful. Growing up in the South, I would always hope for snow on Christmas, but the closest we ever got was ice. And third, we can enjoy the weather from inside today! We don't have to be anywhere, so we'll settle in to share each others' company, take in the pretty view through the windows, and stay warm!
    Our winter wonderland
  3. Lastly, a wish for all, in honor of Jesus' birth - that the world may know Your love, if not through prayer and personal relationship with you, then through the actions of those around them. May we recognize Your movement through our world and display the joy of Your love to all people, no matter their stage of life, personal beliefs, or life choices. Let us remember the true reason we celebrate today - not the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and preparing for meals and parties, but the silent night that brought our Savior from on high into our world. How wonderful is the love God has poured out upon us! Fill our hearts that we may extend that same love to everyone we meet!
    Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Gift of Tears

I've found myself crying, or near tears, a lot more often recently. But these aren't normal tears - they aren't tears of self-pity or sadness or joy for something happening in my life. They have to do with the transformation going on inside of me. These days, I can't even get through mass without tearing up.

Friday evening, driving home from work, I was reflecting on Jesus' passion. All of a sudden, I was sobbing, moved by how much He must have loved us, even in the midst of our darkest hour - condemning and killing our Savior. It's something I've thought about before, but that night, it hit me hard. I wanted to make it up to Him, but my whole life's work is not even enough. I was reminded of Mother Teresa's vow to refuse nothing to Christ. Really, isn't that the only acceptable response?

This isn't the first time I've been overcome to the point of tears...

I distinctly remember a moment from my confirmation retreat in 8th grade. We were spread out throughout the dimly-lit cathedral, praying individually. The retreat leaders came around to each of us, asked what we'd like to pray for, and then joined us in prayer for a few minutes. When my turn came, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by two things:
  1. As we entered the cathedral for this quiet prayer time, we were handed a small sheet of paper with a letter typed out - something like this (I wish I could find the actual one!). The "letter" was written from Jesus, explaining how much He loves us individually and wants to be with us, even though He reaches out to us a million times and we don't respond.
  2. This stranger wanted to pray for MY intentions. She had never met me before, but she took the time to ask, "What can I pray for?", and then sat with me and prayed for me, for my family, and I don't know what else. To tell the truth, I was so overcome that I couldn't think of anything specific to ask her to pray about!
This was my first real encounter with both Jesus' unique love for me, as described in the letter, and another's openness to pray with and for me. By offering to pray for me, she showed me what Christ's love looks like. It was beautiful! ...and more than I could handle.

Two more teary-eyed moments were during retreats in college (the Awakening retreat I talked about in my post on Aggie Catholics). My freshman year, I was overcome by the sacrifice of the students running the retreat - giving up their weekend to be there for us and welcoming us where we were, with open arms. After the initial excitement of the retreat, we had time for confession and quiet reflection. The only light in the room came from the candles we set in the shape of a cross. I once again saw Jesus' love poured out through others.

The other time, I was a sophomore, giving a talk during the retreat. The support I got from the other students, in hand-written notes, small gifts, and a group prayer over me before I spoke really did me in. They showered me with thoughts and prayers, again revealing the depths of Jesus' love. (I'll post my talk some other time!)

These moments were some of the most poignant of my faith journey. They occurred when I was being transformed, renewing my dedication to know, love, and serve God. I've always had a relationship with God the Father, but I tend to keep Jesus at a distance. I can't fathom how much He endured, and sometimes I don't feel like our salvation was worth it.

But in these moments that bring me to tears, I can't escape His love. He chose to die for us, freely. That's a gift I'm trying to accept. As much as I don't like crying, I'm drawn to these encounters, both feeling Christ's love through others and being Christ to others. I can't back away, because I'd really be missing out. My tears mean I'm growing in love.

So...hi Jesus, and thank You!

St. John Lateran - Rome, Italy

Friday, December 6, 2013

Management to Motherhood: Creating and Maintaining Culture

After three years as a manager, I have grown to have a great appreciation for creating culture - an intangible, yet essential, element to business.

Each company has its own unique culture, as does each family. What I've realized more and more is that culture is deliberate and powerful. The executives/parents sat down and determined what they wanted the company/family to look like, and they set up structure to make it happen. They put rules in place to make their ideas into a persistent reality. Those established values have far-reaching impact, both in the way the organization functions and in the way others view it.

Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night, beginning with a prayer. We went to mass each Sunday, without fail. These rules showed us that both family and faith were important, and the consistency of routine taught us discipline.

I know a couple who determined their family would keep Sunday holy in a deliberate way. They not only refrain from working; they also place no expectations on each other or their children. No errands are run; meals are simple. It's the only day of the week their kids don't have to do chores. They wanted Sunday to be a special day, and they set the expectations and uphold them, week after week.

These were intentional decisions by the parents to create a culture within the family. Over time, that culture can morph - intentionally or incidentally - because of a dip in discipline, changing values, or a subversive element creeping in.

Maintaining culture is then a deliberate and difficult job. As a manager, it's my responsibility to be a consistent voice of the company's values to my team members. It requires discipline to stick to the rules that make us the company we are. I'm always watching what I say and how I act so that no one misinterprets me - if they think I don't agree with the company, they will start to voice dissent and slowly degrade the culture, following my perceived bad example. Culture can degrade easily, but it takes a lot to hold up the established values. My adherence to our values is extremely important in maintaining culture among my team members.

Children are even more susceptible to outside influence and need a consistent message, in word and action. A friend told me one time that my mannerisms are exactly like my mom's. I had no idea that I'd picked up her traits and still had them 4 years after I moved out of my parents' house. (Don't worry, Mom - I take it as a compliment!) Our parents imprint a lot on us, whether we like it or not.

What's even more challenging is changing culture. Once a culture is established, it takes a lot to redirect everyone's focus and values. It takes a strong leader who is respected and trusted by the organization. (I wouldn't suggest trying to establish a new culture with teenagers...) Without the right people, enough buy-in, or adequate effort, these attempts fail. Culture has a force of its own. Creating a good culture in the first place saves a lot of headache down the road.

So I challenge you - be deliberate about creating a positive, loving culture in your household, and consistently uphold the values you hold most dear.

Slight side note - I loved being in Europe and experiencing the culture across the pond. I'm starting to plan a trip back! This picture is a tribute to the original Sound of Music, after the remake yesterday. The wedding scene was filmed in this church.

Basilica St. Michael - Mondsee, Austria

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Anticipating and Preparing...

Happy New Liturgical Year!!

Today marks the beginning of Advent - a great season, and not just because the liturgical color is purple. Advent is a time of anticipating Jesus' coming - both His first coming 2,000 years ago which we relive each year, and His second coming when the earth and time cease to exist.

Let's not let Christmas overtake Advent. Christmas has its own time. The anticipation, the waiting, the hoping, the preparation - that's what makes Advent special. By jumping straight to Christmas, we miss that build-up and the reflection on what we need to do to ready ourselves for Christ.

We have a lot to prepare before Christmas - decorating, buying gifts, arranging travel plans, cooking, and the list goes on. And while these can be good things, they can also distract us from the more important preparation: readying our souls to meet Christ.

I love these short, dedicated seasons where we can make a conscious effort to go beyond our normal self and grow closer to God. In short bursts of effort, it's easy to form good habits, especially when the underlying reason for them is to deepen faith. For the 40 Days for Life that occurred throughout October, I committed myself to saying a daily rosary. After a breakup this summer, I told God I wouldn't think of dating another guy for 40 days. Both of these commitments have strengthened my relationship with Christ and brought me closer to the person I want to be.

40 days seems to be the perfect length of time for a dedicated effort. It's long enough to be difficult but short enough that it's still energizing and do-able. 40 days doesn't feel so overwhelming (like with a New Year's Resolution), so it's easier to stick with. And it forms habits.

For Advent this year, I'm undertaking the St. Andrew Christmas Novena which started yesterday. I'm praying this 26-day prayer to understand my vocation. Whether I arrive at Christmas with a definite answer on my calling or not, I'll be a better person for the reflection and devotion. I'm excited to spend my Advent longing for a more perfect union with Christ.

So let's look forward to Christmas, joyfully anticipating, preparing, and waiting for Jesus' birth in this season of Advent.

Mall of America

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Management to Motherhood: Tough Love

I'd consider myself a nice person. While that generally makes me pleasant to be around (I hope!), it can get in the way of giving feedback effectively. For the sake of my team members' feelings, I can sugarcoat how they are doing, and then they don't have a clear sense of what they are doing well or not so well.

Every person receives feedback differently.
I know some who jump to change at the first mention of the possibility they are doing something sub-par. I know others who rationalize all critical feedback - they blame the situation and won't admit that they are less than perfect. It's important to keep in mind how the individual will respond when crafting your not-so-happy message.

Giving feedback on specific incidents that happened is only the start. If they take it well and are more careful in the future, you'll never have to mention it again. If, on the other hand, they don't get the message and continue with the same behavior, (first, you've gotta make sure you tell them clearly what you expect without sugar coating!) then it may be time for some tough love.

If they mess up once in a while, you correct and continue on. Once the behavior is repeated over and over though, it becomes a pattern which will need a harder stance to break. Tough love is the method of showing how much you care for a person by holding them to a standard that they haven't consistently reached in the past. It's not being mean. You can coach them through it. You need to be unrelenting though - leave no allowance for slipping back to old behavior. Continue to bring up the mistake every time you see it happen, as soon as you see it happen. It'll be somewhat of a Pavlov's dogs thing - instead of hearing the feedback directly from you afterwards, they will start to remember it beforehand and will (hopefully!) correct themselves.

Tough love takes work...
both on your part and on the part of the person you're helping improve. It's called "tough" for a reason.  You have to be watchful and outspoken with the feedback, even if it's uncomfortable to give. The person may not like you for it as they are constantly being told they are doing things wrong, but if they have respect for you and understand the negative impact their behavior has on others, overall they should be able to see that you're looking out for their best interest and trying to help them grow.

It's like being a personal trainer.
There's lots of struggle to motivate the trainee to put in the effort, but ultimately there's a goal, and it's your job to help them reach it despite their groans and complaints. You're by their side, holding them to the number of reps they need to do, encouraging them to keep going, but never coddling or lowering your expectations. They may feel exhausted and inadequate, but they know it'll help them achieve that goal. At the end, they will be so much stronger and self-confident - precisely because it wasn't easy but they made it anyway.

Being the nice person I am, I have a tendency to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Unless they show signs of struggling or the problem really starts to affect others, I let it go. But the key to NOT having to give tough love is to address and correct things right away. I get myself in situations where I'm responding to a raging fire because I didn't pay attention when it was just a small flame.

The first time I had to use tough love, I was a camp counselor for a cabin of 9-year-olds.
First, I was surprised at how caddy and cliquey the girls were already - I didn't realize I'd have to deal with almost-teenagers! There were three girls in particular who decided they were the "popular girls." They always sat together, excluded others from their group, and whispered about and laughed at other girls. One day, I finally had enough. I was angry at the way another girl was put done by their comments, so I told them (a little forcefully) they were not allowed to sit together at meals anymore. Their smiles quickly melted as they tried to hold back tears. My heart was breaking for these three - I didn't like to see them hurt, but I also knew how much they were hurting others and would continue to hurt them if I didn't intervene.

That night, the whole camp got together to watch a movie. Walking over to the big cabin, all three of these girls wanted to walk beside me and hold my hand. When we settled in for the movie, they really looked like lost puppies hoping I would give them a smile - no caddiness, just a desire to please at any opportunity. I had one of these girl sitting on each side of me, and the third on my lap. This was definitely not the reaction I was expecting. Instead of becoming sullen or resentful, they were more willing to listen and wanted to be good.

The next morning at breakfast, they took seats next to each other, slyly glancing me to see if I'd notice. I restated that they were not to sit together, and they moved to be interspersed among the rest of the girls. That meal was a little awkward, since they had to talk to girls outside their "clique", but I had a profound sense of relief. I could also tell that the other girls were glad of the change. Those three girls continued to hang out in their group, but they were much nicer to the other girls, and I never had problems again.

Summer camp was a great experience for me as a counselor, and I think it did wonders for the girls who attended. They learn and grow in new ways - some overcome a fear of swimming or heights, others find their stride caring for and riding horses, and they all interact with new friends and adult supervisors. Although I didn't go to a typical summer camp when I was growing up, I definitely recommend it!

Camp canoe formation

Tough love in the workplace isn't much different.
By the time someone enters the workplace, they should know basic courtesy and work ethic. But work is very different from school, which is all they may know. Some make the transition smoothly, while others don't pick up on the "obvious" behaviors you're need in an office. One of the main things I see new workers struggle to understand is setting deadlines for themselves. In school, a teacher or professor clearly states the expectations for a paper, homework assignment, or test, and gives a due date for each one. In the workplace, there aren't always hard deadlines - a lot of things are "as you have time" or "get it done soon".

I had one particular team member who didn't take these seriously, and after 6 months, he had delayed other people from completing their work and didn't have much to show for himself. We had a hard conversation about when people expect those things to get done and what the consequences of putting them off were. He drastically changed the way he approached each new nebulous assignment, and a year later, he is a star employee. By resetting that expectation and forcing him to track each task in a spreadsheet along with his own due dates for each, he got into the habit of approaching each timeline by thinking about when other people needed him to finish his task. It took additional time for him to keep a spreadsheet of all his responsibilities, and it took time out of my day reviewing it and talking through it with him.

After a month of this detailed management, I had confidence that he had turned things around, and I quit overseeing his spreadsheet. He kept using it, as he found it to be a great tool to manage his tasks. Over time, he changed the format of the spreadsheet and implemented a different system, but he hasn't had problems with deadlines since. As a side consequence, he trusts me more because I helped him overcome a stumbling block and didn't mince words as I gave feedback and tracked his progress. He has much more confidence in his work and shows amazing drive to complete every task that comes his way in a timely manner.

Tough love works, whether for employees, weight-loss attendees, friends, or children.
It relies on an already-established relationship of trust, and it helps improve problem areas and more firmly establishes that trust. It's hard work for both people, but the payoff is outstanding! God won't relent in His ideals for us, but He never stops showing us love. Shouldn't we do the same for each other?

St. Peter's Basilica

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Complex Moral Formulas

While pursuing an engineer degree, I took a lot of courses where we derived mathematical formulas. We took simple pieces of information that we knew were true and put them together in a new way that revealed a new fact. Looking at this complicated formula on its own, you couldn't intuitively tell it was true. We only knew for sure because we had just spent half an hour stepping through it logically.

Once we established the formula, we then used it to solve complicated problems. These formulas became the basic building blocks upon which we learned more and more complex information. They helped us to understand the world better and then to take the next step and make the world better, through new inventions, more efficient systems, better designs, and whole new fields of study. This is the role of the engineer: to creatively apply current knowledge to new situations, improving the world as we go.

As we continued in our studies, we took for granted the formulas we were using. We relied on them heavily but didn't give a second thought to their validity. The improvements we were able to make wouldn't have been possible without them, and yet we didn't pay much attention to where they originated.

Aren't the formulas of our faith the same way?

We know what the Church says about lots of moral topics, our formulas or "rules" of our faith. But where did they originate?

Deep thought has been put into each moral area, all originating from simple truths that we can understand. Over centuries, many people have thought through these truths, building upon them to come up with the moral standards that we live by (or know the Church says and yet choose not to live by). Understanding the background and basic facts that go into these teachings help give meaning to the formulas.

For example:
  • All human being have dignity and worth.
  • Depriving an innocent person of life is a crime against their dignity and worth.
  • A new person comes into existence at the time of conception, when they possess a soul and all the genetic material needed to be an individual.
These simple statements were considered together and resulted in the Church's teaching that abortion is wrong. The Church will not waiver because the facts combine logically to give us this formula.

Taking a step back to consider the thought and logic that went into each complex teaching, we can come to understand the formulas better. Once we internalize them, along with their derivation, we can use them with increased appreciation, sharing the Church's truths with more conviction. We will not only understand our faith better, but also make our faith stronger and the world better. We can apply these truths to the situations around us, leaving the world a better place.

We can all be engineers for the Church.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Prayer for Peace

(Taken from prayer journal, written 9/7/13 during Adoration)
On the International Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace...

Jesus, we desperately need you. Your world is destroying itself with anger and discord. Tragedies happen every day, and no one is moved to tears. Your people suffer; scandal and immorality surround us.

We need Your message of love - recognizing the dignity of all people and serving them, loving all. We need to be reminded of Your example, caring for the sick, reaching out to the broken, and showing others what it means to be neighbor to all.

Help us preserve life in all stages, in all countries. Give us Your Spirit to guide our words and actions, and open the hearts of all to hear and respond.

We unite our suffering to Yours; You are the supreme example of loving fully, without holding anything back. Give us the courage to follow Your lead, to listen to the yearnings of our hearts, and to ever strive to grow closer to You.

Mother Mary, join our prayer for unity and peace throughout the world.

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Stairs to Perfect Love

St. Catherine of Siena is one of thirty-three Doctors of the Church. She lived in 14th century Italy, and although her writing is quite prolific, she died at the young age of 33 and couldn't write without a secretary transcribing her words until her last three years. I have been reading her book, The Dialogue, for at least 6 years. It's quite dense, so a few pages at a time is all I can digest. Every time I pick it up, though, it speaks to me - seemingly as if I'm being given advice about my current situation.

One part of her dialogue with God that keeps coming back to me is the idea of climbing stairs out of a river to reach perfect love of God. I wanted to summarize the analogy so others could read a slimmed down version (and so I could have my own Cliff Notes!).

God explains to St. Catherine that there is a river of selfishness and pleasure which has three stairs leading out of it up to the bridge that is Christ's teaching.

To climb the stairs...
  1. You have to be thirsty for God's love. If you don't have enough perseverance to overcome suffering and adversity, you'll turn back and won't make it to the ultimate goal.
  2. You can't do it alone. God is present when two or more are gathered together. There's a lot to be said about the support of a community, not to mention that you can't show love if you have no one to show it to. Love of neighbor is intimately linked with love of God.

The River... This is where sinners are suffering and chasing sensual pleasures, but not turning to virtue or considering their future - punishment or purpose. Eventually, if they don't climb out, they will drown in their selfishness.

The First Stair... Once they realize there may be punishment for their actions, they decide to change their ways. This is born out of fear of suffering, and is described as imperfect or "mercenary" love. It's still selfish, but there is some thought to consequences.

The Second Stair... Once they get a taste for virtue, they start to follow because of their love of virtue instead of fear of punishment. This is a more perfect love, described as the love of a "faithful servant". They begin to love God and neighbor and to keep commandments. It's still selfish, as they are focused on delighting in their own profit because of virtue. The way you know it's still imperfect love is to see what they do when they are troubled by adversity - do they keep up their commitment or waiver because they aren't getting the reward for their goodness? A specific example is Peter's denial - when the going got tough, he ran away. That's not to say he was a bad disciple; he just wasn't there yet.

The Third Stair... Through perseverance and growing in self-knowledge, they can grow to perfect love. This love is described as "filial", where they have become more than friends to God but children of God, showing love free of selfish interest. There is a unity with God, where they strive for his will, aligning their own with it completely. They don't just follow the commandments but also understand its wider context and live according to the spirit of the law. No matter what adversity may come, they do not waiver from their steadfast love of God and neighbor. They treat all with love to reflect their love for God, not expecting anything in return and not growing weary or agitated when others do not act in kind. The example of this type of love was when the disciples emerged from the upper room after the Holy Spirit descended upon them; they went out, fearlessly proclaiming Christ's resurrection and glorifying in their suffering for their faith.

The Bridge... At the top of the third stair is the bridge that is Christ's teaching. This is more an extension of the third stair, as the two go hand-in-hand. A perfect union with God brings about a unity with the Word.

Each time I think back to this analogy, I try to determine where I am along the journey and what is holding me back from reaching the next stair. What keeps you from advancing toward God's love?

Sioux Falls, SD

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Aggie Catholics...there's something in the water

I am amazed by the Catholic community at Texas A&M and in the surrounding area. I've personally met a few of their members years ago, and although I was far away from my normal surroundings, I felt right at home due to their genuine love and earnest desire to lift up others. They were individuals, each striving to build a Christ-centered life and to share that joy with everyone they met. We became fast friends, and I was really sad to see them go when we said our good byes. I haven't kept in touch with them as I'd like, but every time I think about them and the weekend we shared, I smile and feel their joy once again.

In addition to my personal experience, two other things stand out to me that distinguish this group and solidify it in my mind as a vibrant, life-giving community.

Awakening retreats have popped up at more than 40 college campuses across the country. The retreat is generally a weekend away from campus consisting of small group discussion and activities, talks by fellow students, lots of singing, silly costumes, confession, mass, and community-building to deepen participants' love of Christ. It is well-scheduled and well-designed, and each college adds a little of its own flavor.

I had the opportunity to serve as coordinator years ago. There were some stressful moments (as you'd expect when running a 2-night, 100-person event): regulating preparations, keeping speakers on schedule, and discerning successors, but overall it was such a rewarding and humbling experience. Strong, lasting friendships were formed, many tears were shed, and the community dedicated themselves to Christ in a profound way.

My first time on the retreat, I was moved by the outpouring of love by the staffers, even before I had any concept of the hard work and prayers they had contributed to make the weekend happen. After staffing in many different capacities over the subsequent years, I came to understand and appreciate even more what an extraordinary retreat it is. One day I'll post my prayer talk, which I still find relevant to my life today.

The retreat is decentralized, so it only spreads as students talk about their experiences and other colleges reach out to current participants for help setting up their own retreat. Without Texas A&M, this retreat would not have spread across the country like it has. McNeese University started the retreat in 1974, and Texas A&M got a hold of it in 1983. The Aggies have the largest and longest-running Awakening retreat in the country, and they have helped many other colleges set up their own, which is how I met these lovely people!

They drove 700 miles, missing Friday classes and lots of sleep, just to help another college get their retreat off the ground. They were eager to help and didn't complain at all the entire weekend. I don't know how many other colleges they directly contributed to, but their influence is widely felt (whoop!).

40 Days for Life

The campaign against abortion has never been stronger. 40 Days for Life is a prayerful protest of abortion clinics across the US and spreading into other countries. It started in Bryan, TX (where else!) by the Coalition for Life in 2004 to protest the Planned Parenthood clinic down the street. Its first year going national, more than 80 cities joined. Today, there are more than 500 cities (including 19 other countries) contributing to the effort. That's amazing. (Looking back through pictures of my time with my Aggie family in 2007, I noticed that one of them was wearing a 40 Days for Life shirt. More than 5 years later, I am now discovering what a great cause they had already begun!)

I just finishing the book Unplanned, which told me about the role this Texas community has played in the pro-life movement. I'm looking forward to participating in my local 40 Days for Life campaign in the fall. As a result of the community here, a surgery center that approved second trimester abortions in 2009 had many patients cancel there appointments, and the center never performed a single procedure. They abandoned their plans to offer abortions after peaceful protests and questions into the legality of the procedure. What a victory!

These two programs have done great things for the Bryan/College Station community, the US Catholic community, and the world at large. This is a loving group that is making a big impact in such an inspiring way. In the manner of Switch, we need to examine this "bright spot". What makes this Texas community so successful at cultivating a loving environment and launching wide-reaching programs? How can we foster those same qualities in other communities to make their efforts as impactful as they can be? There must be something in the water.

For now, I stand in awe.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mary and the Eucharist

When are we closer to Mary than at the Eucharist?

Mary's whole reason for being (besides, you know, saying yes to God and birthing the savior) is to bring us closer to her son, so the fact that people around the world gather to encounter the physical presence of Jesus provides some fulfillment to her mission. We also know that, like the rest of the saints, Mary is present with us in the mass:
And so we join the angels and the saints in proclaiming your glory as we sing

(I love the Latin! ...and the fact that I have a fair understanding of a language I've never been taught. I can't imagine how much more I would know if I grew up attending mass completely in Latin as in pre-Vatican II!)

What makes Mary unique in the context of the Eucharist is that she was the original tabernacle. We make our receptacles out of precious metal today to show respect for the contents, following God's example: He chose Mary, a woman without sin, to be the perfect vessel that would carry so sacred a body.

In the mass and in the Eucharist, we become like Mary. We are forgiven our venial sins at the beginning of mass and present ourselves as-perfect-as-possible to receive Jesus, body and soul, into our own bodies. Our "amen" echos Mary's "yes" and her total surrender to God's will. If we approach to receive Communion without truly repenting of our sins or without upholding the tenants of the Church God has given us, we disrespect Christ by putting Him in a tainted vessel. No one (save Mary) is spotless, but it is through adherence to Truth and confession of wrong that we become worthy enough to enjoy a physical intimacy with Jesus. Mary carried Jesus inside her for nine months - what joy that must have been. The Eucharist is the closest we can get to her experience.

After receiving the Eucharist and returning to my pew to give thanks for this "communion" with Jesus (because that's what it's called!), I think of Mary. I imagine a veil over my head and bask in the same peace she carried throughout her life. Just for a moment, I feel a deep connection to Mary, as I've become like her - a vessel for Christ.

Give it a try.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Management to Motherhood: Managing Disappointment

As you work to grow others, there are bound to be setbacks and disappointments. No one is perfect, and sometimes we encounter failure. When I find out one of my "kids" (team members) has fallen short, my heart sinks a little. I want them to be successful; I coach them to do their best, but even the best people will disappoint occasionally.

Here are my 10 tips on managing disappointment:
  1. Set clear expectations from the beginning. If kids clearly know what they should or should not do, you know their failure wasn't due to miscommunication
  2. Communicate the "why". If they buy in to the reasons for rules or processes, they are more likely to follow along. Coupled with setting expectations, this goes a long way towards keeping them from doing something wrong.
  3. Gain respect before an incident occurs. Others are more likely to listen to you if they respect you. You can do this through getting to know them, establishing mutual goals for their future, and practicing what you preach - living by the advice you give to them.
  4. Show that you care for them, no matter what. Conditional love doesn't help anyone. Accepting and celebrating their unique gifts while caring for their well-being gives your relationship a foundation of trust. They will be less likely to question your motives if they know you're on their team and committed to helping them succeed.
  5. Confront them as soon as possible. Delaying a response to a problem gives them the wrong message - they may think what they did was ok. Talking directly to them about the incident shows that you won't let them slip by. Although it may be an uncomfortable conversation, it displays your care for their success.
  6. Don't jump to conclusions. Tell them what happened and how it didn't match the expectations you laid out. Then, ask them what happened. Give them a chance to speak their mind and explain the circumstances. There may be lots of excuses which you'll have to tackle, but there may be more to the story than you know. Being allowed to speak helps build that trust.
  7. Say you're disappointed. Disappointment from a respected coach is highly motivating, and it lasts. I still remember the sunken feeling I got every time my parents were disappointed in me. I looked up to them so much and worked really hard to make them proud.
  8. Turn it into a growth opportunity. Communicate what your expectations are going forward and how they can correct what happened. This makes a confrontation constructive and gives it a positive note in the end.
  9. Establish appropriate consequences. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. If one of my team members displays poor communication skills, I explain the opportunities they could have had but won't because their skills aren't there yet. I don't like taking away TV or grounding kids - those punishments are generic and don't reinforce the specific behaviors you're targeting. A teenager not making it home by curfew? Set curfew an hour earlier - once they show they can be responsible enough to make it home on time, they can "earn back" that hour...and your trust.
  10. And finally...don't take it personally! There will be slip-ups from time to time. At some point it's up to them to live their own life. You can only coach and correct, not steer. Ultimately their success is in their own hands.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"Lord of All Creation"

(Taken from prayer journal, written 4/20/12)

Lord of all creation
Of water, earth, and sky
The heavens are Your tabernacle
Glory to the Lord on high

You're above every thought I could ever have. The immensity of the world and what You have created is astounding. I can never comprehend how You had (and have) so much love for us that You created all this.

You have given me so many blessings that I have a hard time realizing and appreciating - family, friends, talents, Your love and guidance, amazing opportunities to learn and work, and other gifts that can be used for Your will. Help me to realize how blessed I am and give back to You. I could never adequately repay You for the sacrifice and love You have given for me, but with each day, I hope to know You better so I can better align my will with Yours so that the gifts You have given me are used for the purposes You intended. Help me find the path; light my way, that I may cease to stumble in the dark. Show me my failings so I may admit them and reject them.

You made all things, yet You have enough to love to share with all. Give me the strength to love as You love, and to accept Your love. I can't believe Your care for me and the willingness with which You welcome me into Your arms. Continue to shower me with love, that I may come to understand and accept the reality of Your constant presence and unconditional love. God, I love you and ask that You be patient with me as I attempt to listen and follow you. I have no doubt that You are truly present; help me to recognize what that means and act accordingly.

Bless me, shower down Your love on me, and correct my ways, that I may fulfill the goals You have put me here to accomplish. I love You, I adore You, I worship You, I thank You, and I implore you - give me the grace to live the life You have given me to the fullest, ever aware of Your presence and allowing Your love to radiate through me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Management to Motherhood: Introduction

Ultimately, I feel I am called to motherhood, but I'm still a long way from it! I've always been ambitious and ready to move on to the next stage of life: in sixth grade, I was ready for high school; junior year of high school, I was ready for college; junior year of college, I was ready to be married. I'm not sure I was actually ready, but I had a strong desire to leave behind the current situation and embark on a new journey with new challenges.

My past ambitions have just required more time before they inevitably happened, but that marriage thing still eludes me. Instead (out of necessity and a refusal to be supported by my parents who had already done so much for me) I got a job and have shifted my ambitions towards something I can more directly control: my career.

Although I never really wanted to be a working woman, it does have its benefits:
  1. I get to use the problem-solving skills from my years of schooling. My parents paid lots of money (and I ended up with lots of debt) to give me a top-notch education. Without an outlet to employ those skills (ha! literally), all the years, hard work, and expenses wouldn't amount to much.
  2. I contribute to the greater good of society. It's satisfying to see my effort pay off in improving the efficiencies of my team and my company as well as contributing to the success, happiness, and relationship of the clients with whom I directly interact. I never intended to impact an organization, as the contribution I've wanted to make was along the lines of raising kids who would improve the world, but it has been a fulfilling detour.
  3. I get paid! Having a paycheck every month and job security in a growing industry gives me the freedom to live comfortably and without worry. I paid back the above-mentioned debt (something I considered my responsibility and not that of my future husband). My thoughts have turned towards questions like, "Which causes do I want to support?", "How do I effectively tithe?", "How much do I put away for retirement?", "What can I do for my friends?", and "What trips/adventures are up next?". (If  you have thoughts on any of these, send them my way!)
  4. I bill my university for the work I do now. (This is a small satisfaction, but a satisfaction none-the-less.) One of my clients is my alma mater, so each month they get an invoice for my help. After spending so much money going to school there, I enjoy seeing them contribute to my salary now, even though I live a thousand miles away. We may just come out even one day! (Side note: I really enjoyed my time in school and am appreciative of all the learning and opportunities while I was there. I don't have a vendetta of any sort. From a purely financial standpoint, it was just a lot of money!)
  5. I get to travel the country for free. Business trips take me to many locations: some exciting, others mundane. My favorite series of trips was to Hawaii, Alaska, and Las Vegas within a three-month period. I have seen cultural stereotypes first-hand (a fun experience for me) and have gotten a chance to catch up with friends scattered across the states. Most recently, trips to New York and DC have included work-free weekends spent in the company of holy women who I am honored to call my close friends. Work travel gives me an excuse to visit friends I otherwise may not have the time to see.
  6. I learn new things all the time. Through my interactions with smart and knowledgeable people, I've encountered so many new concepts that have challenged me to become a better professional, a better person, and a better world-citizen. I've taken an interest in various business topics, have read numerous books and articles on wide-ranging subjects, and have analyzed how others' experiences could improve my immediate surroundings.
  7. Management prepares me for motherhood (or so I hope). I manage five employees, who I think of as my "kids". They all came straight out of college, so I do a lot of initial expectation-setting in the working world. I help set their direction, find their passion, build their discipline, and put them on a path to make good decisions, much as I see mothers do for their own children. Management has its ups and downs, as I am passionate about mentoring others to grow them into their best selves and I also feel their pain as they struggle. There are great rewards when I can sit back and watch what they accomplish on their own after working closely with them over a year or two.
This last benefit, which I'm calling the concept of "Management to Motherhood", is the part of my career that I want to analyze, share, hear thoughts from others, and remember later in life. I've always heard you're never really ready to be a mother, but I'm going to do what I can to prepare myself through today's lessons. To that end, I'll be writing new posts about my adventures with team members and analyzing how they relate to motherhood. Ideally, I'd have a separate thread of these posts, but I haven't figured out how to separate/catalog them without creating a whole new blog. If you have ideas, let me know!

In the spirit of sharing insight, I found this blog post to be a positive influence on my outlook for the "not-yet married" life. Enjoy! Single, Satisfied, and Sent: Mission for the Not-Yet Married

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Your love is extravagant"

(Taken from prayer journal, written 9/23/11)

Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate

It's so difficult to understand unconditional love when I don't think about it nearly enough. It's just a catchphrase until I sit still and actually consider what it means.

Maybe I don't recognize it even when I see it in the world - it makes me reconsider my priorities, which is uncomfortable when I'm around other people. I want to feel the reality of God's love, not just for me, but through me to others. I want to see people as God sees them - as beautiful creations with human dignity that entitles them to respect, love, and the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is so different, and we were created individually as we are.

I also need to love myself - not in a selfish way, but as a fallible human who also has dignity and deserves respect. In accepting myself and struggling with my weaknesses, I can better love others by being open to their world, not being absorbed in my own. It will take time sitting quietly to understand myself enough.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

"The Feast of Victory"

This is the feast of victory for our God
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk on the battle that's raging in our world - not the battles in the Middle East or in political circles, but the battle for souls. The priest related our task on earth to that of soldiers on a battlefield, fighting for life and pulling our fallen friends back to safety, building up an army for good and for God. There's no doubt in my mind that we're in the midst of a struggle and that we need to have courage to fight against evil. Although I agreed with the points he was making (and he had pretty powerful examples), I wasn't moved to action, so I spent a lot of time analyzing why not.

What I decided is that beauty is a much more powerful image to me than battle. I long for beauty and take comfort in finding it, whereas I shy away from confrontation. In a battle, I would be the nurse taking care of the soldiers, not one of the infantry. My mission is to take care of those around me and win over others through compassion and rational dialogue, which, in a sense, is still fighting the battle.

Another priest gave a homily the other day on his time in the Middle East as an air force chaplain. Each morning he spent time sitting on a picnic table, staring at the beautiful mountains in the distance. An officer walked by many mornings and one day stopped to ask what he was doing. The officer started sitting with him each morning in silence, staring at the mountains. To me that was a great reminder that even amidst war, there is still beauty, and we need to take time to recognize and appreciate it.

Jesus' death was a terrible event in history. He battled not just pain from scourgings, thorns, and nails, but also from scorn, abandonment, and despair. He was alone fighting for what was true, pouring out His blood for the souls of those who killed Him. What passion, what love! The road to the cross was painful and difficult, but it was beautiful, just as it's beautiful when a mother sacrifices sleep to sooth her baby, night after night, without complaint or recognition for her dedication.

Jesus fought the war against death and won. What a victory that is for the whole world - not just for one nation or one people, but for all. We're on the winning side. Although we know the outcome of the war, battles are still raging all around. On this Easter day, with the hymn "This is the Feast of Victory" still ringing in my ears from mass, the battle is real. The hymn has such power behind it with an organ and a whole congregation proclaiming Jesus' triumph over death. This is what we believe, and we're witnesses in the way we live our lives. Beauty and battle both have a role in the world today, as they did on the cross. How are we contributing?


Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Step By Step"

Step by step, You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

I got to attend a parish mission talk tonight, the end of a three-day event. There were lots of good points made, but the one that really stuck with me didn't have much to do with the speaker's main objective. His topic was tithing, wealth, and giving, and I took a lot from his comments on the culture's lack of giving and how debt keeps us from giving.

What got me thinking was a small comment he made, about taking one step at a time towards God. I have such grand plans in my head for what will become of my life in the future, but right now I don't have the means to get there. I keep waiting until barriers are removed so I can finally start living for a purpose.

What I forget, though, is that life happens now. My plans may never work out, even if I feel they are my calling and purpose. What I'm doing now is who I am in God's eyes and in the eyes of those around me. I can't wait until the stars align - I've gotta live today and become the person I was meant to be, even if I can't fulfill the purpose that is on my heart.

So no more waiting. It's time to take one step at a time, not worrying about how each step furthers my "purpose" but keeping in mind how they will bring me closer to God and to who He wants me to be. I know those steps will lead me where I'm supposed to be, and really, following that path will ultimately lead to a deeper joy than I could have imagined for myself.

A quote from tonight that made me smile was
God loves you just the way you are...and He loves you too much to let you stay that way.
There's always more to do in our quest towards heaven. God keeps talking to us and pushing us; we just have to give in and follow along.

Good luck with your steps! Keep in mind: the view from the top has got to be spectacular, but you can only get there one step at a time.

Bell tower climb at Holy Hill - Hubertus, Wisconsin

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"In the Light"

(Taken from prayer journal, written 2/8/10 during Adoration)

All I want is to be in the light.

I want to feel exposed to God - bearing everything to Him, allowing Him to know me completely (because He does anyway). I don't want to feel I can hide anything, because I can't. God sees all and knows all. My heart is an open book, and if I can accept that, I can listen to His response - His love for me no matter what and His whisperings of what I should be doing and who I should become. Only by accepting His omniscience and His unconditional love can I then feel His peace in my life.

By making friends whose goals are the same as mine, I am hoping to be pushed into this more. By going to a Bible study and actively participating in discussions, I am bringing my faith back to the forefront of my thoughts - which will in tern translate to actions.

I want this - I want You, God. Guide me, strengthen me, chastise me, love me, be patient with me. I will continue to follow, listen, and accept my exposure.

Corn maze

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Holiness is what I long for"

(Taken from prayer journal, written 1/25/10 during Adoration)

Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom

These words keep repeating over and over in my head. The phrase/plea captures the unworthiness of self and the reliance on God's mercy. The other phrase/lyrics that keeps running through my head is
Holiness is what I long for; holiness is what I need.
Holiness is what You want from me.

We are called to become perfect like Christ, even though we will never attain perfection. Although this should seem hopeless and disheartening, to know that others have been striving for the same thing, succeeding as much as humanly possible, and providing an example to follow is invigorating. If the saints could do it, why can't I?

This could mean changing a lot in my daily life, but what do I lose by it? Maybe some "fun" times with friends, but that is only momentary and not usually fulfilling. To know my friends better and help them out when they are struggling would provide so  much more joy than enjoying an evening where my heart tells me I'm not being me.

I want to know You and see You in the face of others. I cannot be perfect, but I can desperately try to become like You every minute of the day. At one point I began writing down things I had done for others each day, and I hope I can do that again. It gave me such a sense of peace to know I could touch someone else and make his/her day a little brighter.

I need to love without restraint, without regard to consequences or pain; to accept others and love them as they are, for who God made them to be. Their flaws were intentional. If God loves them anyway, why can't I? God, surround me with people who will help me on my journey, who will be supportive yet resolute, and who will hold me accountable.

Sadly, I can't always push myself, but that's why this journey was not meant to be taken alone. Without a community, faith struggles and new ideas are difficult to come by. On the other hand, blindly listening to a group can also be a hindrance to faith. Differing opinions are essential to a healthy and growing faith. I want to be like the phrase I have heard before:
Be in the world but not of the world.
I want to relate to all people, regardless of background, religious practice, or values. It may be difficult to accept these things, but I will continue to strive for it. The saints are such a source of inspiration, and I should read more about their works and lives.

Jesus, make me Your Hands - doing Your work in the world. Help me to find peace and share it with those around me every day, taking the time to reflect and recenter so I can continue going on whatever path You have set out for me. Your will be done.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Prayer through music

Music speaks to me. I've always been around music and always have some tune in the back of my mind. I even chose St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, as my confirmation saint in 8th grade. An extensive aptitude test that I took in high school told me I need to have music in my life, whether as a hobby or a profession. Since my main hobby is dance (and I actually dance for work on occasion), that's not too difficult. :)

Dance has been my passion since I was 10 years old...well probably longer, as I have evidence of my balletic tendencies in a picture from 2nd grade. Sometimes I've just gotta dance (like Gene Kelly exclaims in Singin' in the Rain). Every once in a while I'll put on Pandora and just let myself move through the space, to express whatever it is my heart decides. There's such freedom in movement without objective or structure, feeling the rhythm of the song and responding to it naturally. It's when I become fully me, fully alive. I relish those moments, and they energize me to take initiative or persevere through trials.

I get the same feeling from singing hymns or Praise & Worship music, not all the time, but when I'm truly present and conscious of the words I'm singing. I smile at St. Augustine's quote:
 Those who sing pray twice.
I believe it. Praying through song not only lifts your thoughts to God; it also lifts your voice to Him. There are so many different hymns and Christian songs out there, and I've always found one that resonates with my feelings-of-the-moment, whatever those happen to be.

Songs can move me to tears, like Steven Curtis Chapman's "Cinderella". Every time.

Other songs pull at my heart each time I hear them. The two that always touch me, no matter where I am in life, are Casting Crown's "Who Am I" and Jeremy Camp's "Walk By Faith".

I will forever be Dad's little girl, so "Cinderella" reminds me of how I've grown up with his constant love and support, no matter how busy our lives have become or how far away from home I've moved.

The other two songs are so powerful because they get back to the core of life and faith. They give me that sense of freedom like dancing around my living room. They speak to my heart and my very being. If everything else goes wrong, those are still solid: belonging to God and walking in faith.

At least three other songs have popped into my head and branched into separate streams of thought while I've been writing this, but I'll save the details for another day. I don't want my writing to be a jumbled mess like my mind can be. Because songs evoke such strong emotional reactions and complex thoughts from me, I draw inspiration from them. That's why most of my prayer journal is based on song lyrics; I'll have something in my head and need to express what it says to me.

All of this is just a long-winded way of saying two things: that I chose to base my blog title on St. Augustine's quote because of my attachment to music, and that most of my posts will probably be named after the lyrics of a song and will contain the thoughts sparked by those songs repeating themselves in my head. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Introduction and Purpose

I've done a lot of reading recently and consequently have been considering what I'm doing in life that is meaningful. After reading about Viktor Frankl (article here) as well as finishing the last chapter of Style, Sex, & Substance (written by Catholic women bloggers), I got to thinking about creating my own blog. I've kept a prayer journal off and on in the past few years, and although the pages are full of my most private musings, I'm starting to think they should be accessible to others. Mostly, I want to give food for thought to my group of Catholic women who sustain me and who already know me better than most. If others read this and find inspiration, I will be overjoyed that the faith I've been given has made a difference to someone else.

Meaning. I know life's purpose is "to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy forever with Him in the next". Yes, that is directly from the criticized Baltimore Catechism, but it really sums things up well and provides an easy phrase to remember and refer back to. I may be a cradle Catholic, but I didn't learn from the Baltimore Catechism growing up. I still find value in the truths it contains, even if the methods were questioned. So there's a clear purpose to life, but it can be difficult to translate that into career choices, daily chores, and every day decisions.

One quote that has been sticking in my mind recently is from C.S. Lewis:
How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.
 In our quest for purpose, the saints provide examples but not a step-by-step guide to life. They each carried out different missions and bettered the world using their unique talents. It sounds like there's a clearly laid out path to becoming a tyrant (I wouldn't try it though!)'s much more difficult to determine how to be a saint. We're left to our own devices to figure out how our uniqueness can be used to further life's purpose. No two people were created to do the same work; we each have a role to play, and it's up to each of us to fulfill our own destiny...with help from others along the way!