Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Create in Me: Lent 2015

I am having one of my lamer Mardi Gras' this evening.

In the past, I have met up with friends at bars or hosted gatherings at my house. Last year, I even made my own "King Cake":

Yeah, I know...not a real "king cake." But I got the colors right! And there were beads!

Today we had a (legitimate!) snow day, so I've hunkered down in true shut in style. I worked out, did a little art, read a little, and then I took to my journal and my rosary for some pre-Lent reflection. Definitely wasn't doing that a couple of years ago out at the bar.

But every year, it seems, I am "ready" for Lent. Like it or not. I took the time to look at the last SIX YEARS of Ash Wednesday posts on this blog and nearly every time, I was preparing myself. (Last year and 2013 were particularly well-written years should you care to take a look yourselves ;)

I went to Spiritual Direction a few days ago in order to prepare myself for Lent once again. As, I've said many a time before, Father encourages me to give up something that I can indulge in on Easter, but also (obvi) do things that will bring me closer to Jesus. So here is the plan:

Fasting: In looking back on previous Lents, I've done some pretty standard (but good!) things: Facebook, alcohol, music in my car, meat...this year I'm a little embarrassed but the thing that I've discerned that would be actually good for me to give up and would be a sacrifice is (drumroll!)
CHEESE.

Every woman I have told this to has been horrified. I can't explain what the connection between women and cheese is, but it is real and it is strong. I seriously have cheese and crackers as meals more often than I can count or would like to admit. Also, things to consider: all the things that cheese is on! Pizza, cream cheese on bagels/desserts, feta cheese on salads, cheese flavored snacks! So many cheese things! I think this may be harder than I think.

But giving up cheese isn't going to necessarily bring me closer to God. And so, we have prayer and almsgiving as well. Father always gives me really creative ideas for prayer, especially during Lent. Lately in the liturgical readings, the Creation stories have been recounted. I have also been teaching them to my students. Father encouraged me to look at myself and my relationship with God as His creation. And maybe even reflect on that, er "Creation" creatively, like through my art. Then, as we progress towards the Paschal Mystery, I should think of my own "salvation history" just as we do through Scripture in Lent.

I actually wrote my own "salvation history" (because of course I did) while with the Daughters in the convent. But that was nearly 8 years ago. I, no doubt, have a different perspective on my history of salvation and relationship with the Lord.

The readings today- the day before Lent begins- feature the story of Noah and Mark's account of Jesus rebuking the disciples for not understanding the feeding of the 5,000. When I teach my students Scripture, I make them pay attention to numbers. If they learn nothing else in my class, they understand that numbers in Scripture are symbolic. In today's readings, the number 7 was all over them. (7 being the "covenant" number, symbolizing a promise).

I was glad to get this reminder of God's promises as I begin to delve into my own salvation history this Lent. The challenge is going to be to really let the Holy Spirit take over as I work on it towards the Triduum. Father emphasized that I shouldn't plan it out (which is so against my nature!), but rather, see where the story takes me.

The only time that I really dive into something without a plan is with my art. I think that it is why it is so therapeutic for me. I LOVE plans. But with art, I find that my work is better (probably because I don't really know how to paint ;) when I experiment and let the materials just come together to make something aesthetically pleasing.

It's not Lent quite yet, but as has become my snow day tradition, here is what I made today:

 This stuff never looks like much, but takes a lot longer than you might think!

I saw Degas' Little Dancer at the National Gallery last month...here is my own "Tiny Dancer"

I look forward to where this Lent will take me!

Today also is the 9 month anniversary of Dan's death. 9 months is kind of a weird amount of time, as we all know that a child can be ready to enter the world at this point. It's once again no coincidence that we remember Dan on a day of JOY before a day of solemnity. I'm grateful that he encouraged us to say the rosary and that my friends and I have committed to doing this every month on his anniversary.

A rosary and some reflection is probably one of my best spent Mardi Gras' after all.

Peace,
Julia

Friday, February 13, 2015

Encountering God and Others in the Present Moment

I feel like I have been fighting time lately. January has already come and gone. It is mid-February. I had made the new year's resolution to continue my Advent and Christmas promise: to stay positive in the present moment. Like many new year's resolutions, I have already most certainly failed. But I never surrender. And so, like I said, I feel like I am fighting time. Trying to hold onto it so that I can keep my resolution.

But my resolution wasn't to hold on to the present moment, necessarily. It was to simply be present. I do still need to let go when the moments pass by. But like most letting go, it is difficult to do. It is difficult to realize that I may not have lived that moment fully, that the moment will and does pass.

I have come to realize that this is what I apparently do in February- think a lot. We are stuck inside with not a lot to do, it is cold, and the cold somehow paralyzes us. We are just waiting and praying for winter to be over and totally bitching about it in the meantime.

I was totally prepared to come to my prayer tonight and complain. Why does it seem like time is passing me by, Lord? Why are we all seemingly stuck inside just letting it pass us by?!

But, like what often happens to me when I go to God to bitch, He doesn't let me do it for long. Mainly because He often reminds me of His goodness and how the darkness has not and will not overcome it.

Tonight, when I went to my journal to unleash my wrath, I first took a look back at some entries from earlier this year. Probably because I couldn't truly believe that so much time has already passed.

Let me catch you all up on what the past six weeks or so have looked like:

I have taken a part time job at a winery. I think I knew from previous experience that I tend to get bored in the winter, so I was looking at Craigslist and pursued a couple of opportunities posted at some local wineries. I really enjoyed my interview (and the wine) at the winery that I am now working at, so I took the job and have been working off and on more a less once a week there. It's been good to get me out of the house, meet new people, and a generally just enjoy that part of VA and, oh yeah, the wine!


So that has been good for me and so far a very positive experience. But it probably has added to the fact that I have not had much time for reflection.

At my last women's group meeting in December, we had decided to bring back our annual retreat that we used to do with my spiritual director (see 2010, 2011, and 2012!). Instead of an overnight as we had done in the past, we made it a day retreat as now many people have kids and it is hard to get away for more than a few hours.

The morning of the retreat, my friend from my women's group sent me an email reminder that it was the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. HOW DID I FORGET (see posts from Jan. 25 from like every year since 2008!) I can't believe that I hadn't planned it that way, but of course, it was confirmation that God did. (If you didn't already know, I love the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul!)

I also just realized this year that the Feast of St. Francis de Sales- the patron of the school that I work at- is Jan 24: the day right before my man, St. Paul's. It is so interesting how God brings these saints into my life...

 Above: St. Francis de Sales; Below: St. Paul

Apparently, I have a thing for dude saints with beards who like to write.

A couple of days before the retreat with my spiritual director, the staff at school had a Salesian retreat with an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. He gave us the message: Live Jesus- How? Love Now. He had a lot of good things to say, but there was that theme of LOVE and theme of the present moment.

I am still processing the retreat that we had on the Conversion of St. Paul with my spiritual director. In many ways, it was similar to retreats we had done in the past, but in many ways it was different. It was a day retreat, so it was much shorter, and the messages that Father had for us were multi-faceted, but in a different way than they had been before. He focused much on our culture and also on gender- specifically on the roles of Mary and Joseph.

The topic of gender is a complicated one, it seems. I very much identify myself as a feminist. And I don't know why that is such a hot button word. It just means that I believe men and women should be treated equally and given equal opportunities and rights. I know that men and women are different. But it doesn't mean that we aren't equal.

When I teach the Creation stories from Genesis, we talk about the figurative language and the symbol of God creating woman from man. It doesn't mean that woman is lesser. The symbol represents that we are equal and meant to be in relationship. Men and women compliment one another because we are different and balance each other out.

Father spoke about how women tend to be stronger in suffering and that we need to be mindful of the virtue of courage. Mary, of course, is the model of this courage in suffering. But I think we all know that I struggle with Mary and her quiet strength. Both Mary and Joseph possess qualities that men and women alike need. We all should look to both of them for inspiration and guidance- namely because they encountered Jesus in a special and real way.

And that is what it came down to [the retreat and just life in general] for me: once again it is about our encounter with Jesus; just like Paul's encounter with Christ changed him. And the second part of that is how we let that encounter shape our encounter(s) with others.

Paul wrote to individuals and communities encouraging them and lifting them up when people were discouraged. He even did so while he himself was imprisoned. Mary and Joseph were in awe when they watched their Son encounter others. We can only assume that this encouraged them to treat others with the same respect and dignity that they saw their Son exhibit.

Father reminded us on retreat of something that I have been discussing with my students in these Creation stories: we need one another. Man and woman. Friend or foe. Student and Teacher. Parent and child. Man and Wife. Friends and Best Friends. We need one another to grow and reach our full potential ( I totally stole that full potential thing from a Vatican II doc...yay, grad school!)

So as I sit here and examine: "where has my time gone?" I need to think of it more as an examen (heh. See what I did there? If not, look into some St. Ignatius already, will you?):

Have I used my time wisely? When have I encountered Christ? How did I share Christ with others?

On that retreat, I realized how blessed that I was to have been sharing and encountering Christ with some of those people since I was 18. 15 years!!! Again, it makes me wonder: where has the time gone...

But I guess what I learned from my prayer tonight is that I shouldn't be concerned so much with the limits of time, but rather the limitlessness of our encounters with God and what they can produce. I also came up with a kind of cool way of thinking of Mary that might help me a little in my devotion to her: Mary, the Mother of Love. If God is Love, and she is the Mother of God, it makes sense. I like looking at her in this way. That is an attribute that I can always respect and desire.

May we BE present and Love in the present moment And may the present be about our encounters with God and with others.

Peace,
Julia

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas and the New Year: Preserving the Present Moment

Merry Christmas! (Because it still is :) I am still relishing in the light of my (tiny, Charlie Brown-esque) Christmas tree and I hope that you are, too!

And Happy New Year! Even though I begin my year-end reflection around the Feast of Christ the King (the end of the liturgical year), I cannot help but continue that reflection when we get the benefit of being introduced to a new calendar year as well. I love New Years'!!!

When I lived with my 2 roommates in Maryland- right after I returned from the convent- we would come up with themes for the new year. They usually had something to do with our dating (or lack thereof) relationships: "The Year of High Expectations", "The Year of Low Expectations", and "The Year of NO Expectations" (You can see the progression of how one led to another :) were all themes for us at one point in time.

While dating and relationships continue to be a goal and theme in my 30s, it is not necessarily what I want to make as a focus this year. Rather, as I was driving up to Philly on Dec. 31 to ring in the new year with friends, I quickly reflected and prayed on what my own theme for the year might be. It's true that I don't really have any expectations for this year. In 2012, I had so many weddings, I had prayed to be loving to all those I was going to encounter and to make the time in between weddings about taking care of me. That ended up being one of my favorite years. 2013 was the year of finishing grad school and moving out on my own, and I made 2014 the year of BUSY. But I have no idea what 2015 will bring!

I could make it another year of "no expectations", but I do think it important to make some kind of focus or goal if possible. As I look back on 2014, the idea of the "present moment" was huge. My friend Dan had taught us to love in the present moment. My women's group reading Cardinal Van Thuan taught us to hope in the present moment. During Advent, I was focusing on the Joy in the present moment. And being so busy last year, which was great, I regretted not holding onto those moments of 2014 more. So this year will be the year of embracing and preserving each present moment.

I am such a planner by nature. This makes me good teacher and also a good social coordinator for my friends :). However, I am always thinking of the next thing. This has also come up a lot with my spiritual director who also often has to encourage me to just stop and enjoy what the Lord is calling me to do in the present. And so, I think this should be a really good theme and focus for 2015.

I have heard it said that what you spend your time doing on New Year's Day is how you will spend the rest of your year. As I mentioned, this year I went to Philly. I have spent the last several New Year's with the same group (ish) of friends.

We usually find a hotel with an open bar and some kind of package that includes a band or DJ or dancing and then we crash at the hotel for the night. It has been one of my favorite nights of the year for so long, but I love dressing up and sharing the night with these guys.

And so, my New Year's Day often consists of brunch with this group and then driving back from wherever we crashed to rest off my hangover :)

Oh, except the year that we were in LA for NYE. That New Year's Day we watched the sunset in Palos Verdes and we all agreed that was one of our favorite New Years' ever:



This year, I awoke in 2015 to this view of Independence Hall in Philly:

Not too shabby!

We had brunch (though I must've paced myself much more sensibly because I was not hungover...yay for finally learning by 30!:) and then since I was in Philly, I drove a few more miles to see my favorite Philly resident and spend my New Year's Day with these two:


Philly Frands!!!

We spent the day chatting about friends, life, and watching a marathon of Portlandia. And then I got in my car satisfied and full up on friendship for 2015.

If there's a theme in any of this...you know I will find it! :)  I think what I can say for these friends that I spent this New Year's with is that all of us have followed our hearts and embraced the "less conventional." None of us are married or in traditional relationships and we have embraced that. We live and love as God has called us uniquely to be and we own it.

I can't speak for these friends, but I know that I have struggled, and I'm guessing that they have too, with having to fit into the mainstream: being married with 2.5 children by this age, owning your own home with a yard, etc. My path was different: I joined a convent and discerned that for much of my 20s instead of dating. I've been called to a full time ministry and my friends have their own stories and paths. We simply don't fall into the traditional, mainstream convention and I don't think that we are fighting that. I think that we have accepted it and are relishing in it!

And so, I wish you all of the self acceptance and living and loving in the present moment that 2015 will offer!

Peace and Happy New Year,
Julia

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I've Got That Joy, Joy, Joy...

Happy 3rd week of Advent!

The theme of joy has been strong for me this Advent. I shared that I am working on being more joyful this Advent season, or as Father helped sort out for me during spiritual direction, really just being more positive overall. See, joy is something that is more deeply rooted. I know that I have shared Aquinas' definition(s) of joy before because everything on this blog is cyclical, and I've been teaching the same course using the same lesson on joy for 4 years now.

But just for good measure (and my own sanity), I'm going to share them again. The Thomistic definitions that I share with my students are: delectatio (delight) vs. gaudium (joy). Delight is something that is sensory. I delight in music. I delight in coffee and chocolate. I delight in my students cracking a joke or a smile in class.

Joy is something deeper. Joy has to do with the attainment of the good. Just like Aquinas' definition of love: "The effective willing of the good of the other." Love and Joy are connected. When we attain the good, or joy, we want to share it, which can grow into love.

I have been focusing on this in my Advent prayer and in class, and I have had some tough reactions from my students this go around with this lesson. In the past, I may have gotten disagreements with the distinction between happiness or joy. There may have been some misunderstandings. But this year, I get...nothing. Almost no reaction to the material. And that startles me. Am I not getting the point across? Am I not being enthusiastic enough? How can these kids not care about JOY?!?!

Our culture, sadly, cares soooooo much about the sensory- what makes us happy. I have also been surprised this year about how many students think that happiness has the long lasting effect, and joy is temporary. The kids all want to be happy. But joy is much harder to understand and perhaps attain. And I make the point of saying that happiness is not always a good. Something can make us happy that isn't necessarily good for us. Joy is always about the good.

But then there is the whole thing about defining the good to begin with. Absolute truth is always hard for people to understand. People think that what is "the good" for one person is different for another. I want to be clear: "the good" is always the truth. And the truth is unchanging. Because God is unchanging.

All hope, however, is not lost. In this joy lesson, we also talk about prayer. And for me, prayer is a gateway to joy. It is an avenue for peace. My students often struggle with "how to pray" but my hope is not lost that they won't understand the importance of it. I know that they know it is important to pray. It's just convincing them to do it.

I wish that I could emphasize even more to them the joy that my friend Dan exhibited. I use with them quotes from Fr. James Martin's book "On Heaven and Mirth" and one of these quotes is "Holy people are joyful...because God is the source of all joy." I tell them that holy people may not always be "happy", but there is always this underlying peace and joy because they understand "the good" which is God.

Dan was holy and he was joyful. His joy came from his understanding of and relationship with God. And that transformed into love. The love and joy he had radiated from his person. Today is the 7th month anniversary of his death. This past weekend- Gaudate Sunday to be exact- was Dan's 34th birthday. It is not a coincidence that his birthday fell on the Sunday when we think about joy. I know that Dan had the most joyful birthday of all this year as he celebrated it with the angels and saints in complete union with our Lord.

My friends and I have committed to praying a rosary on the monthly anniversary of Dan's death. I said mine today reflecting with this little guy as I also reflect on the joy of the season...

Children are joyful because they are innocent and pure. When we start to mess with our knowledge of the truth and the good is when we start to mess with our joy.

So tonight, I'm praying about things that are joyful and meditating on things that bring joy.


I got much joy when I saw the liturgical color of WHITE on my iMissal calendar- Christmas is coming!!!
I received much joy meditating tonight with my Christmas lights on...

And this might be more happiness than joy, but my friends who make me funny memes bring me delight (and their friendship brings me joy).


You're welcome!

I'm going to use that meme forever.

Just an aside: the Pee Wee Christmas Special was one of the best ever recorded. If you can find that on the internetz, you are welcome in advance.

God bless you all! Keep the joy!
Peace,

Julia

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Obligatory Advent Post! "Where are You?"

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Second week of Advent! I have been meaning to formulate an Advent post for a while, but these things require time and inspiration which I've had plenty of the latter, but perhaps not very much of the former! But I'm not complaining. I like to stay busy. Busyness, however, seems to be the age old antagonist for a reflective Advent.

I have always been "that student" that starts projects way in advance so there is plenty of time to complete them. I am not a procrastinator. So in true form, I made sure to start thinking about how I was going to celebrate Advent well in advance. When home in Ohio visiting family, I like to go to a perpetual Adoration chapel on Lake Erie. I probably have posted about it before:


When I was home for Thanksgiving this year, I had a couple of days before the first Sunday of Advent to reflect. My thoughts went to the typical theme of Advent: waiting. I've always found the waiting during Advent to be pretty easy. I do not, however, find waiting in general to be an easy thing to do. So I started to think about this. What makes waiting during Advent so much easier than waiting in  "ordinary time", Lent, or the rest of the year?

I think waiting during Advent is easier because we know the outcome. We know that Christmas is going to come and that it's going to be great. We know that Jesus coming to earth was and is a good thing. So that makes the waiting much easier: we already know the outcome and we know it to be a positive one.

Waiting is much harder when we don't know what will be and we don't know if the outcome will be positive. The only way to make the waiting a little easier is to live in the present moment, not worry, and to trust. Much easier said than done!

So I am trying this Advent to really soak in and live that easy, joyful anticipation for Advent so that I can get good at it and apply it when the waiting isn't as easy. I'm trying to be more joyful in the present moment which hopefully will translate well past the Christmas season.

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. At our school Mass, we went all out with the Marian music today: every song was Mary themed. I, myself, as a music minister usually try to diversify the selection a little more, but it seemed to be effective today, and I got a lot of compliments on the music for the liturgy.

The priest was a visiting priest and gave such an inspiring but simple homily. He examined the first reading for the feast which is the story of Adam and Eve. He brought to our attention that in this story we hear the first question that God ever asks mankind: "Where are you?". I had never thought of that before. The priest went on to apply that question to many aspects of our lives: where are we among the poor? Where are we in helping one another? Where are we with our relationship with God? And he told us to answer that question like Mary's fiat: "here I am."

It was such a beautiful way to connect Eve to Mary and us to the Scripture as well as apply it to the modern day. All in all what a homily should be! And it has given me something else to think about this Advent: Where am I truly in this present moment? Where am I in my commitment to God and joy this season?

It also relates to the book my women's group and I have been reading: Testimony of Hope by Cardinal Van Thuan. We had decided the last time that we met that we all needed to focus a little more on the virtue of Hope. There are many good points that the author makes in this text, but one that stood out for me ties in with these questions of the present moment. The cardinal points out that sometimes we are so focused on the "acts of God" that we miss God Himself. We focus on the results or outcome of our prayer rather than His presence in it. I just think that is another great insight as we contemplate active waiting in this time of Advent. Asking ourselves: "where are we?" and hoping that we can answer: "here I am- I am with my Lord."

I hope and pray that everyone is having a blessed Advent and happy "new" liturgical year!

Peace,
Julia

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014: Year in Review

I was at daily Mass yesterday and heard the words: "Today is Friday of the 32nd week in Ordinary Time" and thought to myself: WHAT.

That means, this Sunday is the Sunday of the 33rd week of Ordinary Time (yeah, I'm really good at Math and logic!) and that means soon it will be the Feast of Christ the King and THAT means ADVENT IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER. Which means it is the beginning of a new liturgical year! SOON!

At the risk of sounding incredibly cliche, I seriously have NO idea where 2014 went. And that's 'cause it was really busy. Just the way I like it.

2013 was a little rough. I spent the first chunk of it locked up studying for comps, the summer working another full-time job, and the winter adjusting being in a new place alone for the first time. At the beginning of 2014, I was determined to make 2014 a far superior year. And I think that it was a success.

As has become customary for me in November as the liturgical year comes to a close, I take a look back at the highlights of this year. Of course, this year was also highlighted by my friend Dan passing away, and Monday will mark the six month anniversary of his death. Again, I don't know where the time has gone.

Before I look back at the year, I want to quickly talk about this past weekend as it meant yet another retreat with teenagers for me. And that may sound like I'm being negative, but quite the opposite. Sure, it was a tough weekend. It gets harder to have that much energy for 72 + hours with kids half your age. But for those of you who follow me on social networks, you will have noticed that I discovered Timehop in recent months, and for this analytic girl, I love the app because it shows me where I have been and how far (or not) I have come.

This past weekend, as I was on Kairos V with students, my Timehop app showed a picture of me from my time at St. John's in Youth Ministry 8 years ago. I looked kind of the same, except my hair was much shorter and, though I'm sure you couldn't totally tell, my face looked a little brighter and less weary. The girl in that picture was 25. Singing and playing the guitar in front of a bunch of teenagers (WITH, I may add,  a girl who had been in her ministry for two years and is now also a teacher :) almost exactly like the scene that was occurring that very moment as I had just again, 8 years later, sang and played guitar in front of many teenagers on retreat.

In that picture 8 years ago, I was 25 and totally thrown into my work with the youth. Discerning a religious vocation, thinking that I might enter a convent. 8 years later, I am still totally thrown into my work with the youth, but have discerned religious life, and am still discerning what God's will is for me.

Is this arrested development? Or is this God actually making it clear what I am called to do? Although I am a little tired and worse for the wear, I still find the work that I do so important and still find satisfaction when I hear teenagers pray and give testimony to the work that God is doing in their lives. Is that vocation? Is it weird that I still don't know?!

I also shared this weekend with my students about my friend Dan in a new way. They all said that they were moved by his story. I still can't believe he's gone. But as I realized earlier this year and shared with them on retreat, my relationships that are truly rooted in God have stood the test of time. As I scrolled through pictures from this year and through old text messages, they are filled with friends that have been around and made the cut because they are lovely people and I believe that God has brought them into my life. And my relationships truly rooted in God give depth and meaning to something as sad and heartbreaking as what happened with Dan. I have spent much of my career teaching about the Paschal Mystery, but Dan truly lived it.

2014 is going to be a tough year to beat! But I am super positive right now and the other thing I've learned from this year is to be discerning, but to live in the present moment.

Here's to 2014 and to the (almost) New Year:


 Ringing in 2014 AC style- Atlantic City!

 2014: The Year of Art and 100 days of Happy spearheaded by my friend Nicole:

Turning 33 and celebrating Easter/Dyngus Day in Ohio:

 Saying goodbye to a dear friend...

But knowing that his shining light is still with us....grateful for my CUA friends and this girl this year:

2014 was also the Year of Wine Club with these ladies!

And the summer of the Eastern European Roadtrip with my bestie:

Nannying 2.0 is much better after a little summer travel:

Lots of beach and fun times:

4th official 5k :

And so many shows!!!!
Fall VA fun: 


What a weird, wild, but wonderful year. Like I said, beat that 2015!

Peace, Julia






Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Something More

I meet with my spiritual director about once a month. It is usually just a check in: I tell him what is going on in my life and he suggest how I might best approach prayer in regards to wherever I am at in my life.

Tonight, before I went in, I thought to myself: I'm not sure what I'm going to tell him or talk about. Everything in my life right now is really good, stable. My prayer is somewhat consistent and fruitful, work always has its moments, but it is ultimately going well, and I have been traveling and keeping busy building relationships in my social life with people I care about.

So, I started to think about it, and I have been seeing this particular spiritual director for 5-6 years now. I started meeting with him a few months after I returned from the convent, and he has been a constant in my life since. He has helped me get back on my feet when my faith was a little bit shaken after my plans turned out to be different than what I thought. But for the past year or two at least, I wondered if I had really grown at all or made much progress spiritually as life has kind of "settled" (as we put it).

Father told me that whenever we meet, the idea of "more" comes to mind. What more can I give? What more does Christ want to give me? This is always my mode of thinking, too, as I am a natural born over achiever :) I always want to know what more I could be doing to improve myself...but this is less about self improvement and "more" (heh) about my relationship with Christ.

It's true that it took me a while to realize after leaving the convent that Christ still wanted to have a unique relationship with me; that He was still calling me to be His "beloved", just in a different way. It's interesting that St. John the Apostle has kind of followed me around in one way or another through his many titles over the past 10 years or so: St. John the Apostle, St. John the Evangelist, and St. John the Beloved are all titles of churches that I have been registered at and all titles for the same friend, evangelist, and follower of Christ.

I, too, have shared many of the same titles: friend, beloved, evangelist, and follower of Christ. And working with my spiritual director has helped me to continue to grow in these roles, even as the single, independent woman I am today.

To kind of hammer home this idea of "more" and what "more" Christ could be asking or trying to give, Father brought up the story from Mark's Gospel about the blind Bartimaeus. The story is somewhat familiar: blind beggar calls out to Jesus for help, Jesus asks him what he wants. The man says: "I want to see", Jesus heals him for his faith. Done and done. But going home tonight and re-reading the story, I picked up some nuances that gave me so much insight:

- the beggar calls out despite being rebuked. In fact, it makes him call out all the more.
- when the beggar hears that Jesus is coming by, he cries out all the more and louder. More. Hmmm.
- when Jesus finally tells the apostles to bring the blind beggar to him, they tell Bartimaeus to "take courage."
- Jesus asks what Bartimaeus wants, even though the answer might seem obvious. As if maybe there is something else that the blind man wants or that Jesus wants to give.

Anyways, this passage tonight really made me think and I hope to continue meditating on it and all that it could mean in that "more" that I am looking for with Jesus.

Finally, though everything is going well and things are "settled' as we called it, I could always use improvement when it comes to my tendency to dwell on the negative instead of the positive in certain situations. For this, we turned to OF COURSE St. Paul.

St. Paul, despite persecution and trial, was always able to look at the good and find the joy and meaning even in suffering. He was realistic, which is why I like him, but ultimately positive and CONFIDENT that good would come from suffering. I will also continue to look to Paul for inspiration of the more that I could get from being positive in negative situations, while still being realistic.

Tonight, I am grateful for many things, but mainly God's Word and for blessings like spiritual direction in my life!

I also had an incredible weekend of traveling over the holiday (Columbus Day) weekend to see some amazing friends that I do not see nearly often enough. Saturday, I drove up to Philly which has now become a fall tradition to spend time with a dear college friend who always inspires me with hope, peace, and joy. We always find random shops or pieces of art around Philly to inspire us. Here are some pics from last fall and this fall with said inspiration:
 My taking in a "fall flower"

My friend serving up some peanut butter, antique-store-shopping style...

And from this year's trip...You can't blame the Youth (but I often find a way ;)

I also drove up (after my Philly trip) to CT with some friends to see our mutual friend give a beautiful recital for his doctoral program at Yale. The recital was two pieces: one instrumental and one choral, and both beautiful! I am so in awe of the people God has placed and continues to place in my life

Besties after the recital!

Again, so grateful for so many things tonight. Can't wait to see what "more" God has in store!

Peace,
Julia