Friday, February 14, 2014

Faith 'N' Love

So I'm blogging twice in one week which rarely ever happens anymore. But we have had the winter from hell and I've been alone with my time and thoughts for over a month now! Despite my best efforts to sign up for classes and make plans with friends, we cannot beat the elements. The devil or God or the universe or somebody is really trying to test my ability to stay positive when I have already expressed difficulty with these snow days and have had nothing but time on my hands.

But I know that if this is my lot in life right now, it could be so much worse. And while I don't think comparing our situations to one another's is healthy, I think it is a good reality check once in a while. A lot of close friends and relatives have experienced death recently. Like, freakish, out of the blue, incomprehensible death. Which only adds to the sadness and starkness of this already harsh, harsh winter.

I have been discussing the story of Noah with my freshmen and usually this is one of those Old Testament stories that gets people confused: "why is God so angry? Why would He wipe out His creation?" These are valid questions and I don't always have the best answers to them. But this year, for the first time, my students seem to get the positive messages from this story. Noah was faithful. He was chosen to "save" creation. God protected he and his family and rewarded him for his faithfulness. God gave creation a second chance and new life.

Today is Valentine's Day (but the running Catholic joke is that it is technically the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius:

 some of my Byzantine peeps that were missionaries to my Eastern European brethren. Holla!)

and it seems to be one of those holidays we put a lot of stock in. You either have something special to do for it or not. You are either "loved" by someone or not. It's so polarizing when we look at it this way! But I really think it shows our DEEP need and desire in all of us to be loved.

Since we have had these two snow days this week, I've been taking my prayer time in the morning (usually I have to do it in the evenings when I am working) and yesterday I really focused on the theological virtue of FAITH. When my students and I were discussing the Noah story, we tried to relate the story to our own lives. Has there ever been I time where we just had to trust and have faith? Wouldn't it be so much easier if God just spelled out His plan for us and gave us everything we needed?

I was once again amazed that the majority of students who spoke up seemed to understand what it takes many of us so long to realize: if God gave us everything, we wouldn't get to exercise our free will. We wouldn't need to have faith. And ultimately, we wouldn't truly love. Because LOVE is a choice and that's what makes it special.

It's like you've either got someone asking you this or you don't. And that's just silly. You guys can all be mine, okay? 

That's why we all want to be loved so much. We know that it is a choice and we fight so hard to have people "choose" to love us. And some of us feel that if people haven't "chosen" us, that we aren't loved.

But alllllllll of our needs and thoughts on Love come back to God. For as it says in Scripture:

"We love because He first loved us." - 1 John 4:19

And I know that might sound so cheezy (but isn't all love a little cheezy at times?) but humans are imperfect. We mess up and distort love all the time. We will never do it perfectly. God is the one who IS love and He loves us all unconditionally. He has already chosen each and every one of us.

It has been my faith that has led me to know that I am loved. When I was 16, I was going through perhaps typical teenage issues, and it was then that I turned my life to God and my started pursuing my faith. I turned to God because I didn't know what else to do and was looking for something to fill my need. So many of us turn to other things to fill this need we feel in our lives. I don't know what prompted me to do it, but this is perhaps why I enjoy working with teenagers- they are just open at that age. They are searching and usually open to anything that will fill their aching need to feel chosen and loved. At some point, we have to go past these feelings and really learn to exercise our faith when don't "feel" it.

We all still feel this aching and need to be loved as I mentioned already. It really and truly is our faith- that belief and hope in something we don't always see or feel- that leads us to the confidence and knowledge that we are loved.

I pray for all those who are in need of the knowledge that they are loved today (and everyday!). And I'm grateful for those who have helped me realize and know that I am loved.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Oh and just because Catholics are creepy and weird- here's the skull of the actual St. Valentine. This is the real origin of St. Valentine's Day- honoring the saint who came before us, right? Right.


Monday, February 10, 2014

The Goal of Confidence

I have been wanting to write a blog post for a couple of weeks now and it's not that I didn't have the time. I have had nothing but time these days, unfortunately. Ugh. Sigh.

I know, I know. I should be grateful for this extra time because some of you are busy moms or students or have a job that requires 60+ hours a week! But  I have never been good at just sitting. It comes from my immigrant, hard working, Eastern European farmer ancestors or something. I constantly need to have a plan or some kind of goal that I'm working diligently on. Without those things, I often can feel lost and without any worth or purpose. And that a sad Julia makes.

Confidence is something that I have had an interesting relationship with. I feel like my parents did instill it in me and I was blessed to excel at many things that gave me confidence growing up. But man, if I ever did one of those things a little bit less than perfectly, or even worse- did them WRONG- I was crushed.

This has, apparently, carried into my adult life. I have been told that what has gotten me many gigs or jobs in the past was my confidence (even if it was total ruse! Ha! Fooled them!) and that I seem to carry myself with confidence. But since I have been sitting around with lots of time on my hands, I've started to doubt myself and God's plan and lose my confident identity along with all of that.

Enter the feast of the Presentation and a number of books that I have been reading.

Okay, so like I said, I've been wanting to blog ever since the time around the Feast of the Presentation, Feb. 2. This has always been a fun feast for me. It's no Conversion of St. Paul in my book (man, I am SUCH a nerd! Who has favorite fan feast days like this?!) but I LOVE the Gospel reading for the feast and the event itself.

If you aren't familiar with the story, it goes like this (and I'm paraphrasing Luke's Gospel, of course):

It is Jewish custom to present a newborn in the temple before a priest after it is born (similar to our idea of Baptism, but not really). Mary and Joseph show up and this ooollllllddddddddd man Simeon is there. He has been waiting for the Messiah for FOREVER and has been really patient and faithful about it. Anna, an old widow is also there praying as she has done this ever since her husband died like decades ago. Jesus is brought into the temple and both of them just KNOW that this is the Messiah and they tell Mary and Joseph so. They also are super grateful to God for allowing them to be in the presence of the Messiah before they die.

I have always loved the characters of Simeon and Anna. Maybe because they are old and I have a soft spot in my cold, stoney heart for old people (some women love babies or small dogs...I love geriatric people, particularly men. What can I say). But today when I was praying, it hit me: their faithfulness was rewarded. Their years of praying and waiting- fulfilled and totally worth it. And this makes me happy and hopeful for myself.

So many things can shake our confidence and make us want to give up hope because that is almost easier. We go through a break up, so we obviously are going to be single forever and never get to date again. We don't get a job, so we are obviously going to be unemployed and/or in a miserable soul crushing job for the rest of our lives. I mean, it's possible. We can become that self-fulfilling prophecy, if we choose to let those things truly shake our confidence. OR we can be positive and take our destinies in our hands (with the help of the Lord, of course).

The last time I met with my spiritual director, I was mentioning St. Paul (naturally) and the experience that I had with St. John's feast day as well as reading the St. Hildegard book (all of which I blogged about here). He encouraged me to look at the connections I had with each of them and see if they had anything in common. I also decided to throw St. Therese in the mix 'cause she's been my girl in the past and my resurrected women's group is going to be reading and discussing THIS:

I was praying about it and I discovered that all of these saints had complete confidence in God. St. John and St. Therese my students often see as even bordering arrogant with the way they write about themselves: St. John calling himself the "beloved disciple" in his Gospel and Therese often gushing about being God's little flower or little girl.

Paul and Hildegard are a little more humble on the surface, flat out acknowledging that they are weak in their writings but that they have been given a gift from God that they have to share. Both of them also had visions and were preachers and writers.

So, confidence. After a month or so of floundering around questioning my identity and worth, I finally just kicked myself in the butt and told myself STOP IT. DO STUFF YOU LIKE AND QUIT WORRYING.

I was reading yet another book, but this one a very secular self-helpy type. It suggested making lists of things you've always wanted to do and then set goals of things you will do each week, every other week, or once a month.

And so, I have set goals such as calling friends (like actually calling, not just texting) and setting up get togethers more often, TRAVELING more 'cause that made my heart so happy two years ago, re-committing to my women's prayer group, COOKING at LEAST once a week, playing my piano more, reading a book for fun a week, AND ART CLASS:

 Fingerpainting with acrylics part 1 and is clearly a town in Ireland at night reflected off of water and bottom is Barcelona with the Gaudi bridge in the forefront...I think I'm a natural!
I've already found much peace and reward in my faithfulness to these commitments...banking on the confidence coming back as well :)