Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The High Point of Life

What would you say the high point of your life has been? Maybe it's your wedding day, or the birth of a child. Or maybe winning an award or promotion you worked hard for. Before you keep reading, take a moment to think about it and keep that event in mind.

My High Point

For me, I'd have to say the high point of life has been graduating from college. It was such an emotional day, the culmination of four years of hard work, not just with my studies but also building a life to call my own and cultivating friendships that were supportive and true.

My heart was full on my graduation day. I was ready to go out into the world and build on what I had learned. I had a job lined up far, far away, with just a few weeks to move before starting my new life.

My family was there to support me, and my parents were beaming with pride. I was also very sad to leave behind my friends and the beautiful familiarity of Duke's campus. After packing up the two cars with all my stuff, my family piled in and drove 1,000 miles away. I cried during that car ride...a lot. I clutched to my chest the stuffed animal my boyfriend had given me a few months back and let the weigh of these life changes hit me.

Graduation gave me time to reflect on how far I had come. College was tough. Classes were hard; I was far away from family and friends; new friends were good or bad influences; dance rehearsals, sorority date functions, Catholic events, and weekend parties competed for my time. All-in-all, I grew as a person. For me, graduation didn't just mean that I had completed the course requirements. It also meant I completed four years of constantly pushing myself to learn who I was and grow towards who I wanted to be. I was proud of my accomplishments and grateful for the opportunities Duke had given me.

Jesus' High Point

If we were to ask Jesus what the high point of His life was, what do you think He would say? I'd venture to guess that His answer would be His crucifixion. That day we commemorate each year on Good Friday wasn't the most pleasant...actually, it was the most excruciating. By our human standards, it would be a day we'd want to forget, not hold up as the high point of life.

So I had to ask myself what criteria really makes something a high point.

Jesus' whole life was leading up to those tough hours. The cross was the culmination of all His teaching and the fulfillment of the prophesies. It was a huge trial, one that He didn't shy away from but endured with love.

What makes me see the crucifixion as the high point is the fact that Jesus was living his God-given purpose. He showed the world love in a way no one else could. He was uniquely Himself and used His unique talents/skills/situation to serve God.

Avignon, France

Evaluating our High Point

In light of Jesus' crucifixion, I want us to take a look at our own high point. The reason my graduation was so important to me wasn't the diploma; it was the preparation for life. I had worked hard to set myself up for the future, whatever that ended up being.

My high point and Jesus' both came with trials. Breaking out of our comfort zone may bring pain and tears, but it pushes us to become more uniquely ourselves and grow towards our purpose.

I know my high point will change later in life. College graduation was just a significant stepping stone. As I work with God to understand who He created me to be, I anticipate growing towards the purpose He intended for my life and encountering trials to help me get there. Those trials will be a blessing, whether I recognize it or not. College definitely was. My future path may not be easy, but it will push me to become the person God designed me to be.

Why is the event you chose as the high point of your life? Does it tie back to your purpose? And what does that mean for your life going forward?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Right Kind of Busy

Ask anyone nowadays how things are going, and more often than not you'll get an answer the boils down to one word: busy.

Our society today moves at a faster pace than ever before, and we feel it. We talk about it, commiserate about it, and justify our missteps with it. What bothers me, though, is that we play victim to it. Inherent in that common answer is the understanding that this world moves too fast and we're just trying to hold on.

But it's not.

We decide to be busy.

Yes, there are some instances where making ends meet means taking on more work than we feel we can handle. For most of us though, we choose to fill our days to the brim. We crave busyness as a sign of social status or maybe to distract us from confronting a hardship in life.

When others ask me how things are going, I try to respond with something other than "busy". This Lent, I've found that I'm reverting back to this bad habit as I have more scheduled events to keep track of. I cling to my calendar as if it's my lifeline. When friends asks me about myself, my mind is so wrapped up in what's coming next that I don't slow down to be present with them and give them a more thoughtful answer than "busy".

I'm working on it.

What I've come to find, though, is that I feel the overwhelmed kind of busy when what I'm doing doesn't line up with my priorities. And this is where the "right kind" of busy comes in - the intentional kind of busy.

As an example - when I stay up late to comfort a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on, I may be really tired the next day, but I don't complain about it. Instead, I have a spring in my step, knowing my presence made a difference to that friend, even if it meant sacrificing sleep. For me, the value in comforting a friend far surpasses the value in being well-rested.

If we think about our time the same way, we won't feel victimized by busyness. We won't complain that the world has a hold of us, because we're directing our time towards the things that matter. There's something peaceful about collapsing in bed at the end of the day, knowing we worked our hardest to further something we are passionate about, whether it be our own physical health, the education of the next generation, enriching the lives of the elderly or disabled, or providing for our families.

We should live our lives intentionally.

First we need to take the time to define our priorities and understand our purpose. Then, we can live our lives in a way true to that purpose. We'll be choosing to walk a path rather than allowing our lives to be swept away in the world's stream of busyness.

I challenge you: remove the word "busy" from your vocabulary and focus on directing your time towards what's important. I'll do the same.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Discipline and Basketball

I've watched my share of Duke basketball over the years, and as we enter March Madness, I've been comparing faith and basketball. There are many similarities swirling in my head; the one I'd like to focus on today is discipline.

I have so much respect for Coach Krzyzewksi (Coach K). He has some amazing accomplishments in the college and international basketball worlds, but he's also the type of man you'd want to follow. He is fair and grounded. He is a man of principles and teaches his players to work as a team, win or lose.

He is also Catholic. And not passively Catholics - he attends mass every Sunday, and part of his pre-game routine is to say a rosary. Sometimes you can see him on TV crossing himself right before a game starts. (And, by the way...Coach Cutcliffe, the head football coach who is turning Duke football around is also Catholic. So is Duke's athletic director, Kevin White. Duke may not be perfect, but there are many things that keep me excited to call myself a Dukie.)
Greg Paulus (also Catholic) warming up, way before a game

What has allowed Coach K to be as successful as he is with the Duke basketball program is his discipline. He expects a lot from himself and his team. His expectations aren't unrealistic. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and he talks openly to them about it. He talks openly with the students, too, which is how I've interacted with him. He admits to us when a player is having a rough day and lets us know what we can do to encourage the players during a game. He also chastises us when our jeering of the opposing team becomes spiteful and expects us to keep our chants witty and classy.

And his discipline carries over to those around him. The players know those expectations and respect him enough to strive for them without taking shortcuts. Consequently, the team flourishes. They don't win every time, but they end the season with a good record, having put their best into each game.

This is exactly the discipline we need to follow Christ. There are high expectations. There are many days we don't live up to the ideals of our "coach". Jesus is honest with us, if only we listen to his chastisement and encouragement. Striving each day to follow Him, we'll grow stronger and live our lives better. We won't become perfect, but our track record will improve as we align our expectations and desires to His.

Discipline is hard. You know the saying, "No pain, no gain." In order to see the results, we have to put in the effort. Following Christ is no different. He says
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
That takes work and dedication!

To become a great basketball player, you have to follow the regimen and work hard in practices. You have to strengthen your body and your mind as well as work with your team so you play as one when a game gets tough.

The same goes for becoming a saint. You have to commit to the practices that bring you closer to God as well as pour out your love on those around you to build a community that strives to work together as one.

Our discipline is constantly put to the test, especially during this season of Lent, as we make new commitments that draw us deeper into God's embrace. Yes, it's hard work. We know who we're following, though...and He's a pretty amazing guy! He gave His life for us. Can't we show our gratitude in the way we live our lives?

How can you further welcome this discipline into your life?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Empty Me"

As we begin the beautiful season of Lent, I found a song that encapsulates the sentiment of the next 40 days. It gets back to the heart of why we give up things, reach out to others, break our habits, and push ourselves to live more simply and with more focus on Christ.

This song keeps running through my head and reminding me of the need to be purified, constantly repurposing my life back to God's will.

I hope you find the song as moving as I do!

Holy Fire burn away
My desire for anything
That is not of You
And is of me
I want more of You
And less of me

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dreaming vs. Living

imagination can be good or bad

My imagination gets me in trouble.

Don't get me wrong - imagination can be a really great thing. It's good for visualizing scenarios and preparing for presentations, difficult conversations, and dance performances. I also love envisioning stories from Jesus' life in the style of Ignatian contemplation - it really brings to life the people present at the events.

I took a pretty extensive aptitude test in high school. Overall, it served to confirm a lot of things I already suspected about myself - like the fact that I have poor fine-motor control but good spatial skills (great for engineering!). The one thing that surprised me was my high score in idea flow. This test measures how quickly you come up with ideas. Scoring high is good for jobs like sales, journalism, and teaching - things that require you to be quick to adapt and find new ways to approach situations. I didn't realize it then, but I do this naturally - not necessarily for practical purposes, but my mind is always active and travels from one idea to the next, seeing a situation in a new light or creating a made-up scenario to work my way through.

But there are downsides to having an active imagination.

For one, concentration can be difficult. With wheels constantly in motion, it's hard to stop and deeply consider one idea since the next idea is already tumbling along. I find myself daydreaming or coming up with lots of new projects to do (and forgetting half of them).

The biggest problem I run into is using my imagination (consciously or not) to alter reality.

Have you ever had a dream that was so realistic you can't figure out if it was real or not? And then your perception of a real-life person changes because of what they did your dream? This is the unconscious imagination I'm talking about.

In addition, I start daydreaming and create conversations in my head where my friends say exactly what I want to hear. They do things that make me happy or make me feel special. Usually, it's directed towards my own gratification. In a sense, I'm creating my own reality and changing my friends' personalities to suit me.

And that's not good. It sets unrealistic expectations for my real-life friends and disappoints me when they don't live up to my altered view of them. But it's not their problem - it's mine. I'm the one who isn't fully embracing the unique people I encounter for who they are. I'm the one who is expecting something but not telling them what my expectation is, setting myself up for disappointment. I'm the one trying to change them.

So for Lent, I think I'll give up daydreaming. I'm still fleshing out the idea, but this seems like a long-time habit of mine that isn't doing me good. With God's help, I hope to emerge from Lent able to more fully embrace those around me - not because of what they can do for me or what I can imagine them doing, but because each one is unique and unrepeatable (to use JPII's words). It'll be a hard journey but one that will lead to a deeper appreciation for and connection to the people God has created.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

1st Blogiversary!

Today marks one full year of my blog - woo hoo! To commemorate my small victory, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I've learned through blogging my faith.

reflections on blogging

  1. Blogging is hard work!
    You read these eloquently-worded posts that seem effortless, but there's really a lot that goes into it. I sometimes feel like I'm watching someone toting her baby while wearing heels with perfect makeup who brings homemade baked goods to every gathering...while I merely show up with my hair in a ponytail, sporting a sweatshirt. Blogging may come easier to some than others, but it's still a lot of work (and comparing to others isn't good). It takes time to determine an idea for a post, then put that thought into coherent sentences, find images to support it, and proofread for content. I do get to use my programming background to do a little more advanced formatting - see, parents, that education isn't going to waste! For me, a post ends up taking about two hours to create.

  2. I've come to know myself and my faith better.
    Since blogging makes me encounter what's going on in my head and translate it into words, I've been able to understand where I am and where I want to be. I absolutely love spending late nights talking to friends for exactly this reason (as well as to get to know the friend better) - as I've gotten older and started sleeping more regularly, I've transitioned into other ways of pouring out my heart and learning about others. My blog has been one outlet, and I'm always excited when a friend, new or old, comments on a post or talks to me in person/e-mail/text about their thoughts on what I've written. Together we'll keep growing into better people.

  3. I'm more open in sharing my faith.
    It made me laugh the other day - a friend I've known for about a year now was surprised when I told her my blog was forcing me to be more vocal about what I believe. Since we've been in a Catholic women's group together for a while, she is used to hearing me talk about my faith. I haven't always been comfortable with it though. Growing up, we didn't discuss matters of faith - we went to mass each Sunday and said a blessing before family dinners, but that was it. The first time I led a Bible study in college, I was so nervous to be in charge of the opening prayer! It was really tough to open up, and it's still something I'm working on. Writing posts makes me uncomfortable, too, but that's a good thing!

  4. I tie things back to the big picture more, resulting in a more meaningful year.
    As I'm going through my day, I think a lot about what I'm encountering in terms of how I would write about it. This keeps things in perspective, makes me focus on God, and gives me a sense of how my mindset has changed over time. In management, one mantra I've heard is, "If it can't be measured, it can't be improved." By taking snapshots of where I am, I'm able to look back and somewhat quantify my spiritual growth. There have been substantial changes since I started this blog. I'm happy with who I've become this year, but I know there's a lot of growth ahead!
It has been a really good year for me spiritually, and as I review my original purpose in writing, I'm renewing that same objective as I move forward. I'm excited to see where God takes my life!

I'll leave you with a few of my modest stats as my own benchmark of where I am. Numbers aren't really my purpose - it's the quality of the interaction that matters to me, but here they are anyway.
  • 920 total pageviews (it may break 1000 this month!)
  • 34 published posts
  • 4 followers (6 months ago there was 1)
  • 6 e-mail subscribers (6 months ago there was 1)
  • 252 pageviews already for February (highest month by far)
  • 35 views of my top post - Single, and Loving It (6 months ago it was 12 for Aggie Catholics)
I look forward to more great interactions, both online and off. With that, taken from Archbishop Fulton Sheen...
Bye now! God love you!

Monday, February 17, 2014

10 Ideas for Your Lenten Journey

With Ash Wednesday a mere two weeks away, I'm looking for a good Lenten sacrifice or devotion to deepen my faith - something that speaks to where I am in my spiritual journey. I love that we have a season to reflect on humbling and improving ourselves in anticipation of Easter. We enter Lent as a slightly different person from who we were the year before, so our sacrifice should reflect our current shortcomings.

I've put together some ideas that I've done or heard of. Thanks to those who contributed! Please share your own in the comments.

10 ideas for Lent

  1. Spend 10 minutes a day in silence, listening to God. I did this in college one year and learned a lot from stopping my day to focus on God. I never had an agenda - no petitions or recited prayers. Instead, I took the approach of, "So, God - what do you want to talk about today?" Through these 10 minutes, I learned a lot about where I was falling short as well as why the Church stuck to specific teachings.
  2. Participate in 40 hours of service. A friend just told me she wanted to do this - and I think it's a great idea! It would take a lot of advanced planning to complete all 40 hours in 8 weeks, but it's doable.
  3. Limit self-indulgent time. This could be watching mindless TV, checking Facebook, or reading novels. For me last year, it was long showers. I cut down my shower time from half an hour to 15 minutes. That may still seem like a long time, but it was hard for me. I love taking a long time to wake up in the morning and relax in a hot shower.
  4. Say the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary every day. Can you imagine how powerful Holy Week and Easter would be if you took the time to reflect on Christ's passion so often?
  5. Write and mail 40 letters - each to a different friend or family member. Sharing our appreciation for others can help to put our lives in perspective.
  6. Listen only to Christian music. Switch that radio to a Christian station in the car as a daily reminder of what's important. I did this one year for Lent and rarely listen to regular radio anymore!
  7. Read Fr. Robert Barron's daily Lenten reflection. This I am definitely doing! He's such an inspiring speaker. You can sign up here: http://www.lentreflections.com/#.Uvtpsi1mgNA.facebook.
  8. Meditate on the gospels 20 minutes a day. I know I keep talking about this, but it bears repeating - it has been great for my spiritual journey. Read more about the benefits I've discovered here.
  9. Stop snoozing the alarm. Get up the first time the alarm goes off. It's supposed to be better for your energy level, and it'll build self-discipline.
  10. Attend daily mass. How can we go wrong gathering together to receive Jesus each day?! Or you could go to Stations of the Cross every Friday.

What ideas would you add?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Single, and Loving It

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

I'll be single this Valentine's Day, and for the first time, I'm genuinely happy about it. No, it was not my plan to be on my own 5 years after graduating college. In the life I designed for myself, I was married with a kid or two by now.

God had other plans for me. 

It has taken quite a while to come to terms with where I am today. I've been disappointed time and again when what I really wanted didn't worked out. I worked so hard in school, with late nights to turn in my best work. I always thought my engineering background would be a great segue into motherhood - always new challenges, not much sleep, and new developments to keep up with. But that transition didn't happen. I dated guys and put lots of effort into making things work, when really I wasn't being true to myself. Obviously, those relationships didn't last...and I'm thankful for that.

In these struggles, I was going against what God wanted for me. Over time, I started to accept the fact that I'm not in control - God is. And the more I let go and follow His lead, the happier I become.

As I reflect on my current state in life, I realize that I'm right where I'm supposed to be

Everything has fallen into place, but in ways I never expected. All I had to do was say yes to the opportunities that came along. My various talents and interests are all being put to use, not as a mother, but as a manager and a friend:
  • I'm leading a large, undefined project at work. Five years ago, I would have been intimidated to be in complete control, without someone else showing me which direction to go. Today, it's an exciting challenge - I define my own scope, pull in the resources I need, and set my own timelines. I set my own vision and lead others to carry it out. That engineering background really has put me in a position to make an impact.
  • I'm learning about my faith and helping others grow through two Young Adult Groups. I straddle two parishes, so I'm making friends in both. I just started co-leading a weekly women's fellowship group, discussing Archbishop Fulton Sheen's TV series from the '60s - Life is Worth Living
  • I just danced 4 shows of the Nutcracker in December and am now learning ballroom. My passion for dancing keeps me active and introduces me to some great people I wouldn't have otherwise met. I especially enjoyed sharing my experience and "wisdom" with the high school girls in the Nutcracker. I found out how much I enjoy mentoring younger girls as they figure life out.
  • I'm getting to crochet baby blankets, toys, and clothes for all my friends who are having their first babies! This year has been ripe with new life. I once would have been jealous that they have what I want, but now I'm just excited to share in their new phase of life, helping out as I can and learning along the way. I'm putting my crochet skills to great use!
If I had continued striving for my ideal life, I would have missed out on all these things. Taken together, these really define the things I love about life. Each one of them makes me feel more alive.

Despite my best efforts, God has put me exactly where I need to be. So no, I'm not married with kids like I wanted, but I'm more than satisfied with life, and I'm excited for where God leads me next. So God - now it's Your move!

Are there things you're so focused on that you're letting the joys of life slip by?

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord -Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, February 10, 2014

"If We are the Body"

Location: Baton Rouge, LA, USA
If we are the body,
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?

Jesus, help us to be You to the world. Help us to show others Your love through our actions, pouring out unconditional acceptance and offering assistance.

We have a tendency to stick to our own and look down upon others who don't share our views. Break us of the habit.

We like to help when we receive recognition or know we will be paid back. Give us hearts that love without expecting anything in return.

Our actions and words are what draw others to You or push them away. Remind us to speak kindly and act sincerely.

We fail daily to follow Your example. Forgive us.

We're part of a huge body of believers - those on earth and those who have gone before us. Join our prayer with those faithful departed, as they continue to help us out. Saints, named and unnamed, thank you for your example and your intercession. You have shown us a multitude of ways to be Jesus to others.

What more can we do? Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, set in our hearts a desire to follow Your example. Pull us towards our calling, that we may complete the personalized work that You want from us. No one else can fulfill the role You have called us to - make clear to us what that role is and guide us as we pursue it each day.

Keep our hearts fixed on You - Your teaching, Your love, Your suffering, and Your defeat over darkness. You are our perfect role model, and we must strive to emulate the way You lived. Give us empathy, strength, wisdom, and courage to live lives radically altered by our knowledge of You.

go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature Mark 16:15
St. Joseph's Cathedral - Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Living by Law or by Love

Pope Francis troubles me, but in a way that challenges and grows me.

My personality is more like Pope Benedict XVI's style - I want to lay down the law and stick to it, no matter who challenges it or breaks it. I want a set of rules to live by, knowing that if I follow them, I can't go wrong. If others choose not to follow, that's ok - I'll just hold fast on my own and keep myself pointed down the right path.

But that's not everything.

On New Years, my friend and I wrote down our spiritual retreat questions (read them here to have your own mini-retreat), then we picked out the hardest one to answer and focused on it during our discussion and prayer. For me, that question was "What are you avoiding talking about with God?"

Now, if the question had been, "What have you avoided talking about with God in the past", it would have been a cinch! I know the things that used to hold me back, and I know how much I grew as I started to let go, be open with God, and listen to His will instead. On New Years, I was ready to tackle that same honesty and growth once again.

As I reflected, I realized that I wasn't fully embracing Pope Francis as the Church's leader. And until that night, I hadn't given it a second thought. He was getting a lot of publicity and changing the world's view on this "stuffy" organization, which is pretty cool. But he also "went against the rules." He washed the feet of women and non-Catholics during his first two weeks as pope. He decided not to live in the papal apartments. When asked about homosexuality, he said, "Who am I to judge?". These actions didn't make sense to me - why would he go against tradition and not stick up for "the rules"? I worried that he was giving the wrong impression, showing that the Church as open to change and not sticking up for the long-held tradition. He was making me nervous and uncomfortable - I even hesitantly called him a "loose canon", as we can't assume he'll do what we expect.

But as I'm reading through Matthew, I'm beginning to realize how much Pope Francis is like Jesus. Yes, there are rules, but love is the greatest rule.

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.  -Matthew 22:37-38

Pope Francis lives this every day. His action and words show his love for God through his care for everyone, not just loyal Catholics. Jesus did the same thing - He died for everyone, not just for those who stood by His side.

Pope Francis is shifting the focus of the Church back to its original purpose and to the basic teachings of Jesus. Multiple times throughout the gospel, Jesus or his disciples do something that is "against the rules". They pick heads of grain on the sabbath; they don't fast on the appointed days; Jesus eats with those who are unclean; and He allows the blind and lame to come to Him in the temple, where they were forbidden. I didn't realize how strongly He stuck up for these actions until I started my daily meditation.

Jesus consistently put love first, above rules. The rules are serve as a guide to support us in that love. Are they important? Absolutely. But they are secondary, and if throwing them in the face of others goes against love, then we aren't really following the number one rule.

I love Pope Benedict and his care in teaching and passing on Tradition. Now I'm starting to love Pope Francis for displaying the reason behind Tradition.

Through this deeper understanding of Jesus, God has begun to open my heart to fully embrace Pope Francis and his unorthodox methods, because really...well...he's right.

So I want you to consider: what are you avoiding talking about with God?

Hosea 6:6 for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Candlemas and Nerdiness

Ha! In my apartment, you'd never know that today was Super Bowl Sunday. You WOULD know that we're a little nerdy around here...

Did I mention that I live with my brother? And did I mention that we're both engineers?

While I took ornaments and lights off the Christmas tree, my brother was engrossed in a task too nerdy/fun not to share. But first - Candlemas and the tree.

Candlemas/Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

I went to mass yesterday evening and loved all the extra candles lighting the church! I'm excited that I got to take home a blessed candle that I can use to help my devotion and concentration in prayer and meditation (I'm still doing 20 minutes a day!). Even though the Christmas season officially ended a few weeks ago with the Baptism of Jesus (which actually didn't take place until he was 30 years old), today is really the day we finish talking about Jesus as an infant. Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, where two more people recognize that this baby is the one long-awaited.

I was relieved to find out that the Vatican doesn't take down Christmas decorations or their Nativity until today...which lets me rationalize that I haven't procrastinated for TOO long. I'm just following the Pope's lead, right?? Anyway, taking down the tree turns out to be kind of therapeutic, especially when you're spending time with a family member. Once my brother's "project" was complete, he helped out, too.

Ultimate Nerdiness

Have you heard of Buckyballs? They are so much fun!! I'm not talking about the geodesic dome made up of 60 Carbon atoms (although that's pretty cool too...). I'm talking about the little magnetic toys - the ultimate desk toy - that the US government forced into non-existence a year ago. These tiny, very strong magnets were banned due to severe digestive issues if you swallow them - definitely a valid concern when children are around. My engineer mother was quick to buy quite a few sets before the company shut down, which made for fun afternoons at Christmas last year! (My brother and I never have children in the apartment, and we know how dangerous Buckyballs can be, so we'd absolutely get them out of reach before little ones came over.)

Ok...back to today.

Since we were taking down all the Christmas stuff, I thought it would be good to have more St. Valentine's Day decorations to replace them. I saw our colorful assortment of Buckyballs on the counter and asked my brother to make a heart.

He wasn't so thrilled with the idea (you know - boys and hearts and stuff), but he decided to create a companion cube since it has hearts on it and was more-or-less the colors we had. (If your nerdiness, or lack thereof, doesn't cover knowledge of Portal and companion cubes, take a look here for some background.)

And so it began...

Magnets are difficult to work with, and it takes quite a series of steps to get them into the formation you want. On top of that, trying to get the colors in the right place requires lots of visualization and advanced planning. Here was the process:

  1. Decide the arrangement of colors for each side of the cube.
  2. Determine how to "deconstruct" that final image into lines of Buckyballs all connected together.
  3. Put the magnets into a long line.
  4. Fold the line back and forth against itself to form a sheet of magnets.
  5. Fold the sheet back and forth on top of itself to build up the 3D cube shape.
Here's how it went (excuse the Christmas tablecloth - he started before I had a chance to put it away):

Got the line of Buckyballs...

Folded the line into a sheet...

Folded the sheet into a cube. Ta da!

But we weren't done.

A 5x5x5 cube was great and all, but we actually had 125 of each color to play with, meaning we could make a 7x7x7 cube! This took a lot more planning.

Outlined each row...

Strung the rows together...

Folded the line...

Had a nice sheet!

Folded the sheet. Here the magnets were getting difficult - you can see the bottom row didn't line up correctly. He had to use a card to pry the bottom off without disturbing the rest, then he carefully reattached it and kept going. He had to find something that wasn't a credit card, as the magnets are strong enough to destroy anything magnetically coded!

buckyball companion cube

Finished! And that's the type of projects we engineers do in our spare time. It was fun to work through a complex problem with my like-minded brother. This isn't coming apart for a long time.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Date Night with St. Therese

Location: Madison, WI, USA
I promised St. Therese that tonight would be our catch-up night. I've almost finished her book, The Story of a Soul, but I haven't made progress in the past two weeks. I keep getting pulled away to do other things, so the book has been sitting all alone on my bedside table, in my purse, and on the front seat of my car as I rush off to work, church events, dinner, ballroom class, and bed! I take it with me in case I get a free moment, but apparently the past two weeks have flown by.

That's what happens with friends, too, right? We get caught up in the busy-ness of life, and we don't take a second to call a friend, schedule a coffee date, or just send a text to say hi.

But tonight, I'm setting aside cooking dinner, putting away the Christmas tree (yes, yes, I know I'm very behind!), and finishing a crochet project to spend time with someone I'm privileged to know. She has been a great inspiration to me over the past three months as I've read her story and watched and re-watched the 2004 movie about her life.

statue of St. Therese of Lisieux in France
St. Therese statue in France

St. Therese is such a beautiful person - so sincere and so deeply committed to Jesus. I highly recommend reading The Story of a Soul! You can even find the full text for free online - http://www.storyofasoul.com/. Unlike similar books that I've read, hers is easy to follow and doesn't require re-reading paragraphs to fully comprehend what she's saying. Her writing is simple yet moving.

I'll leave you with a quote that I held onto the other day. Then, I'm blocking off my time to catch up with St. Therese!

Oh! I feel more than ever that Jesus is thirsty. He meets only ungrateful and indifferent people among the disciples of the world, and among His own disciples, He finds, alas! few hearts that give themselves to Him without reserve, who understand all the tenderness of His infinite Love.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who Can I Love Today?

Location: Madison, WI, USA
kindness is contagious

Driving to work this morning, I got this idea...I really like the "Random Acts of Kindness" stories that float around (see this blogger's post for a good cry), but I wanted to incorporate it into daily life instead. So I decided to create a game. I'm calling it, "Who Can I Love Today?"

The premise is simple: as you're going about your day, look for someone who you can help. Then, do it! After you're done, write it down, then repeat.

I was really excited to try it! I started doing nice things and writing them down. My list wasn't about being proud or tallying my "goodness" or competing; it was merely so that at the end of the day, I could reflect on the people whose day I hoped that I had brightened or eased in some way. I wanted to have something to show God, saying, "Here, I did these things for You."

So driving to work, I stopped traffic to let a guy go in front of me at a difficult intersection, knowing he could be waiting for two more lights before the stream of cars gave him a wide enough gap to merge in.

Once I got settled at my desk, I wrote a text to a friend I knew was overwhelmed with her current lot in life, sending encouragement her way.

And then...well...work happened. I said hi to co-workers, thanked the help desk for resetting my password (twice), let my brother eat the leftovers I had my eye on, but I didn't go out of my way to do anymore. My commitment to finding people to help waned, as did my passion for furthering God's will.

And so, I'll try again tomorrow.

I'm still just as excited about playing my new game now as I was this morning, even though I didn't maintain that level of excitement throughout the day. Day-by-day, I'm hoping to get better at my game and focusing more on those around me, since we become fully ourselves when we give ourselves in service to others.

Will you join me?

God, my prayer tonight is that You be with those I tried to reach today and lift their lives to You. Re-energize me with sleep tonight that I may do a better job tomorrow.

(I promise I'll write about the events that led me to this desire...but that's for another day when I have more time!)

Part of SITSgirls' ShareFest

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Right to Life

With yesterday's anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Catholic and pro-life communities mourn the death of so many as a consequence of the decision 41 years ago. The fact that thousands attended the March for Life in DC yesterday, despite the bitter cold, shows that opposition to the ruling isn't going away.

Many write and speak on their views, leaning one way or the other. My favorite from yesterday is this blog by Brandon Vogt. He clearly outlines the inconsistencies in President Obama's statement in an objective way, from the view of one who gives consideration to one side while firmly aligning with the other.

It's that listening and trying to understand the other side that we forget. We get so wrapped up in shouting louder to make ourselves heard that we don't stop to consider why there is another side opposing us.

I try to understand that many people consider abortion to be an end to a woman's problem and the freedom to choose what to do with her body and her life. I've read Unplanned (and you should too!) and discovered that those employed by Planned Parenthood truly believe they are working in the best interest of their clients. They see the uncertainty of these women who regret their condition and don't know how they will live their life caring for a child. The workers want to take the problem away - to help the women get back on their feet and end their fears and anxiety.

I get that.

And if that were all there was to it, I may agree.

But all my thoughts, prayers, and yes, Catholic upbringing, have led me to believe that we're talking about two people. And once these decisions concern another person, it's not just about a woman's right to her own body. It's about her support or destruction of someone else's life. At that point, we need to defend a baby's right to life above a woman's freedom to choose.

Is there a scientific way to prove that life, by definition, beginning at conception? I don't know.

I know that all the genetic material needed for a new life to grow is present at conception. I know that at conception, a continuous string of development begins that doesn't stop at a defined point in time. I know that medical advances have allowed us to support the life of a preemie born earlier and earlier in this development. I know studies have been done that show a baby feels pain in the womb.

Precious Feet

I believe from my Catholic studies that God fuses the soul with the body at conception. I believe that John the Baptist recognized Jesus when they were both in the womb during the Visitation. I believe that children are a gift and that they have dignity and value, even though they cannot yet contribute to society, even if they never contribute to society through productive work.

Women who find themselves in this tough situation need compassion and support. They find themselves in a difficult situation and don't know where to turn. They need prayers, yes, but they also need emotional and financial help. They need to understand their options besides resorting to the destruction of life. They may need assistance covering medical bills and, if they decide to keep the baby, living expenses.

I've been exposed to multiple groups who provide this support, ready to welcome these women with open hearts to arm them with information and resources. The Sisters of Life's Co-Workers for Life network is a beautiful display of this outpouring of love. There are women's centers popping up across the street from Planned Parenthood facilities. I spent Tuesday evening at a diocesan center, stocking shelves with diapers and sorting heaps of baby clothes donated by the community for mothers who need assistance.

The support is there.

I'm always amazed at the success of the 40 Days for Life (which I wrote about here). This peaceful vigil has so far seen more than 8,000 babies' lives spared, 88 abortion workers quit, and 44 abortion clinics closed during or following a campaign. Beautiful!

Let's continue the fight, but with love and understanding. Let's listen to what the other side has to say, because without listening there will be no dialogue. Others do not see things the same way, so shouting louder will only lead to anger and cause us to be further divided. Our love of all includes the unborn, but it also includes those who disagree.

how can there be too many children or flowers

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"God is Moving"

This is my nightly prayer. Kneeling beside my bed each night, I take a deep breath and close my eyes; I reflect on the day - both my joys and failings, gratitude and contrition; I recite my 5 affirmations mantra, "I love You, I adore You, I worship You, I thank You, I implore You"; I ask for the saints' intercession (a multitude of saints for a multitude of intentions!); and I say a prayer to my guardian angel...Then I end with these words:
Holy Spirit, move through me and teach me to love.
It's that one, simple phrase that resonates with my soul.

At different points along life's journey, we shift focus and need different things. Maybe it's Jesus' mercy, or the Father's protection, or the Holy Spirit's guidance. Maybe it's just love or comfort.

A year ago, my "resonance prayer" was God be with me. I needed His presence, in any form. Generally I addressed the Father, but I wasn't too picky. I didn't really know where to turn, but I knew I wanted Him there, surrounding me and strengthening me, drawing me in even when I wasn't willing to come closer.

Slowly, my focus changed. I no longer need assurance of His presence; I knew He wouldn't leave me. (Thank you, St. Therese, for showing me just what that means!) But knowing that He's here isn't enough. I'm shifting focus outward. Now I want to do something. I want to be an extension of God's love, giving existence to the desires God has for His world. And that can only come through a love of God and an openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit, whispering from deep within.

Twice in the past couple months, I heard something I don't think anyone has said to me before. First a nun and then a priest, after listening to me talk about my faith, said they saw God moving in me. What an awesome thing to hear! The Holy Spirit is moving...I can feel it, and it's great to know others see it too. I want everyone to see that, to see the love God gives me, in my interactions with every person I meet. I want others to know what that movement feels like! It starts with a prayer. So I continue to ask...
Holy Spirit, move through me and teach me to love.

 Hillsong's "God is Moving"
(I like a different version better, but I can't find it on YouTube!)

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Break our hearts for what breaks Yours"

(Taken from prayer journal, written 8/17/12 during Adoration)

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,
Break our hearts for what breaks Yours

We constantly strive to know and do Your will - we fail, but we keep trying.

There are so many sins in this world, and they should appall us and throw us into more fervent prayer. 

We love all creatures, but we can't tolerate the failings of ourselves or others - we must make amends and ask for forgiveness. 

We must speak out for what we believe and not hide from the pointing fingers and ridicule of society, for we know the Truth, and we know the Truth will lead us to You.

You have given us everything - sacrificing Your own life so that we may be saved from our failings in this world. Move use to challenge ourselves and those around us to accept You and receive the love You are constantly showering upon us.

Help us as we lift each other up to You. Our missions are all different but are directed towards the same goal - to serve You and show Your love to all those around us.

You've given us such an example in Mary, who completely surrendered her will to Yours and underwent so much suffering, yet she never turned away from You. We must direct our lives to the service of Your ends and not waver from the calls You have placed in our hearts.

Help us to still our minds enough to listen to You whispering to us. We find it increasingly difficult as the speed of our lives increases.

We need to remember our reason for being.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Meditation: A Valuable Practice

Meditation has been the best addition I've made to my spiritual life in a long time! At the suggestion of a Sister, I started to set aside 20 minutes a day to focus on Jesus' life through the gospels. As I've mentioned before, Jesus is the one person in the Trinity that I'm hesitant around. I thought this would be a great opportunity to tackle my hesitation head-on, freeing myself to encounter Him without reservation.

At first, this meditation was just another thing added to my ever-lengthening nightly routine. Wash face, brush teeth, exercise quickly, say prayers, MEDITATE. Some nights I'm better at planning ahead and leaving enough time for this new addition than others, but nevertheless, I hold those 20 minutes, even if it cuts into my sleep.

Now that it has become habit, I've started to notice the ways it's impacting my life. They may be subtle and seemingly inconsequential, but I can sense a bigger movement in my life that's happening with these small steps.
  1. I'm learning the Bible! It's often joked that Protestants know the Bible backwards and forwards, but Catholics barely open it. I've got to say...although I've theoretically heard the whole Bible every three years from Sunday masses, sitting down with a Bible gives a lot more context that I've been missing.
  2. It's breaking me of my Type A personality. I'm a person of planning and achieving, as efficiently as possible. But with these 20 minutes, I may only get through 10 verses! Stopping to reflect and really read with the intent to understand the context, imagine the scene, and apply it to my life has helped to slow me down. I've begun to realize the importance of the things I'm doing instead of rushing to accomplish them and move on.
  3. I'm less attached to "stuff". With a renewed focus on what's important, my desire for possessions has declined. It was nothing to let my parents take my bed when they came to visit. I gave a friend a wedding planning book that I was excited to look through someday. I donated four bags of clothes to St. Vincent de Paul. I've cut down on the time I spend playing Candy Crush. I even let go of one of my crochet projects, which I'm always very proud of and unnecessarily attached to. But the thing is, none of it mattered to me. I was happy to do it - I mean actually happy, not begrudgingly happy.
  4. I'm open to listening. Although this started before my practice of meditation, the daily routine is further deepening my desire to do God's will, not my own. Starting out the 20 minutes by acknowledging God's presence and requesting the help of the saints humbles me and reminds me that I'm part of this larger community and a larger plan. I ask that I can play my role to the best of my ability.
  5. I carry God with me more actively. In my interactions with others, at work, driving, in the shower, my thoughts turn to God more frequently. What's the opposite of "Out of sight, out of mind"? Because that's what I'm experiencing. Getting to know Jesus makes me more aware of His presence and more comfortable talking to Him.
I don't know where this spiritual growth is leading, but I'm looking forward to it! I highly recommend trying it yourself to see how your life changes.

I'll end with a song, since I haven't included one in a while. This one is so simple and raw - it's one of my favorites during Adoration or after communion.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Truly present in the Holy Eucharist
I place all my trust in You

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

21 Spiritual Retreat Questions

Happy New Year!

Happy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God!

I had a beautifully different New Years this year. Instead of parties with friends, fun drinks, and a TV turned to (the rerun of) the ball dropping in Times Square, I spent the night at a Marian Shrine with a friend. We went to Adoration at 11PM, then participated in mass at midnight. The rest of the day we engaged in prayer and conversation.

Like I said - beautiful. We each wanted to spend some time away for different reasons. Although it wasn't my intention, I'm beginning the new year with a plenary indulgence! How's that for starting out on the right foot?!

In our conversations, my friend and I made a list of retreat-type questions that we thought would fuel good thought and prayer. After completing the list and reflecting on it, we both picked out the question that was hardest for us to answer and focused on that area throughout our "mini-retreat". I feel it was spiritually fruitful for both of us!

Without further ado...here's the list of 21 questions! Use them for your own mini-retreat, even if that just means hiding in a quiet space in your home for a few minutes.
  1. What was the highlight of 2013? What word will define your 2014?
  2. What would God view as your biggest accomplishment?
  3. What's the key area you want to improve in your life? What proactive steps can you take towards it?
  4. What are you grateful for?
  5. Who are you grateful for? Have you told them?
  6. What topic are you avoiding talking about with God?
  7. Who has influenced you in your faith? Who are you influencing?
  8. Who is your role model in faith? How can you be more like him/her?
  9. When is it easy to trust God? When is it more difficult?
  10. How does God want you to improve your prayer life?
  11. How do you maintain active participation in mass?
  12. What's your biggest hurdle to loving God? How can you start to overcome it?
  13. Would others say your actions are an extension of God's love?
  14. Do you turn to prayer in times of desolation AND consolation?
  15. How can you grow closer to God this year? (ie. focus on increasing your faith, hope, or love?)
  16. Loving and serving God comes only after knowing Him. How can you deepen your understanding of God?
  17. Who can you purposefully be Christ for? How?
  18. What visible reminders do you have of your faith?
  19. "He is always with you, be always with Him." How?
  20. How do you show mercy?
  21. What are your top three priorities? Do you spend your time accordingly?

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (who is making her way into my life), pray for us!