Goal Check In--43 days into 2019

I can’t believe it’s already February.

We’re 43 days into 2019 and I feel like I’m already falling behind on my goals. Moving has been hard since my back is messed up. I’m seeing a chiropractor tomorrow, so hopefully that will make it possible for me to catch up on my walking goals. Texan bureaucracy is slowing down my name change paperwork (what millennial keeps a copy of their birth certificate?) and the sheer amount of time I spend asleep (even though I’m supposedly better from the mono…) is killing my writing game. The goals I made for the first quarter aren’t even close to done.

First Quarter Goals (due by March 31):

  • Defend Prospectus

  • Complete Chapter 1

  • LLC Formed (this definitely isn’t going to happen this quarter)

  • Finish Life Coaching Certification

  • Complete a Lenten Spending Fast (this one will go into the beginning of quarter 2)

  • Get my TX License

  • Name change paperwork

  • Get another TX license with the proper name

  • Get my passport with my new name

  • Interview Dad

  • Get my tattoo

  • Birthday Celebration

  • Galentines

  • Spring Equinox.

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So far I have the tattoo (photo above), have celebrated my birthday and galentines, and have shown up to the DMV only to be told I didn’t have the right forms of id (see above comment about birth certificates). My prospectus is almost done, I think, though really are prospecti ever done? Who knows anymore. I feel like I’m stuck in a timeloop with my research and I’ll never get out.

At least my hair is purple again.

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How are you doing on your 2019 goals?

Coffee Shop Check-In

Photo by  wu yi  on  Unsplash

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

I can’t believe it’s February already. When I told my kids (and by that, I mean the college students I teach) that the year was 1/12th over, they all groaned. It’s like they don’t recognize the passing of time in the same way. They’re anxious already for Spring Break to come. I would prefer that it stayed away. There isn’t enough time in a day for all the work I need to do

My days are packed right now, with lesson prep, grading, reading, designing stickers (have you checked out my etsy shop yet), snuggling Gary, and spending time with friends. Research and writing are crammed into the moments that I can spare from my students and social circle. How on earth does a human finish a dissertation? I watched my friend, H, one of the best humans I know, finish hers somehow while also being an extraordinary professor, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. I have decided she must have some sort of superpowers or Hermoine-like ability to stop/turn back time. I can’t accomplish half of what she does and I don’t have a child, spouse, or family locally to take care of.

I spend most of my time at a local coffee shop here in Denton that is run by volunteers. It’s my perfect place: big tables, kind and friendly staff, and my money is going towards something that I can support (a home that helps men overcome addiction and get back on their feet). Gary and I have befriended other regulars who often come up to us and say hello, check in, and are generally good people. If my beloved Jupiter House ever reopens, it will take a while to readjust—the setting is so different. But both allow me to accomplish far more than I can at home or in my office. Here, there are no dishes to distract, no craft projects to tempt me. I am anonymous and can function without the anxiety that comes from being in an office filled with people whose primary way of coping with the anxieties of the PhD is to gossip about each other.

There are some difficulties in working here. I can be distracted by cute children, observing awkward first dates, and people who, upon realizing that I have a service dog, generally look and point and talk about how cute he is (they’re right, he is). But, overall, coffee shops are my new houses of productivity. Plus, they have coffee.

The new semester has presented new challenges, but also has allowed me to embrace new adventures. I’m teaching my first technical communication class, which has my class schedule even more full. I honestly don’t think that teaching three classes is any worse than teaching two, especially given the nature of the course. It’s a lot of learning new genres of writing and styles of teaching. I took it on because I needed money and sold it to others as a “good learning experience,” but honestly, it’s turned out to be just a lot of fun.

Teaching Ethnic Literature has been by far the most rewarding part of the semester. I am excited to go to class each Wednesday night and talk about things that matter to me with my kiddos. At the request of my last literature class, I have changed up my curriculum design so that the conversation is more guided by me and less by them. It’s more work, but I think they might be learning more. Plus, it’s so much fun thinking about what we can discuss in each of my favored texts.

 

Teaching comp is about the same as always. I have another good class of kids who could probably use a grammar class before comp to give them confidence and knowledge they missed out on in the test-driven education system, but instead I’m just going to have to help them gain that confidence myself. I’m one of the few people I know who genuinely loves teaching comp. It’s fun to talk about writing and help students gain confidence in their writing. The theme for this year is talking about writing through the lens of race and we are preparing for a visit from Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout, in March.

Anyways, I just thought it was about time for a life update. There is more to come this week, so come back and check in!

On New Years Goals, My Birthday, and the start of a year that I’m planning to rock!

Photo by  NordWood Themes  on  Unsplash

2018 Goals

So, it’s January 16th. Yes, people, that means that we are halfway through the first month of 2018. Stressed yet?

I haven’t written yet about my 2018 goals, but I do want to share those with you. 2018 is going to be a big year for me and I’m planning to rock this year so well that it makes up for the absolute disaster that was 2017. Good riddance, year of awfulness.

So, 2018.

My word for 2018 is FOCUS. I want to focus on the things most important to me: my family and friends, research, teaching, self-care, and creativity.

My goals this year fall into three categories: Adventures I want to have, Projects I want to finish, and ongoing goals that I want to work on.

Photo by  Matthew Sleeper  on  Unsplash

 

Adventures:

  • See family in Rolla
  • Attend SP meeting in June
  • Attend Go Wild 2018
  • Go to a museum
  • Go to zoo with H, M, and V
  • Go to one non-ALR reading
  • Volunteer 6 times

 

Projects:

  • Interview dad
  • Read 10 nonfiction, non academic books this year
  • Etsy
  • Submit article for publication
  • Apply to a job
  • Finish a draft of my dissertation
  • Digitalize all my files
  • Declutter my apartment
  • Get rid of 300 things in 2018
  • Curate a capsule wardrobe
  • Supplement regimen
  • Stamp inventory
  • Books organized and database updated
Photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Ongoing goals:

  • Keep up with grading and teaching work
  • Find a spiritual community
  • Become a budgeting badass
  • Master the art of Meal prep
  • Re-immerse myself into the liturgical year
  • Year-long spending fast (oh, yes, I will write about this in another post)

In addition to these, I have a few daily, weekly, and monthly rituals I’m trying to turn into habits, most notably a Bible reading plan with my soul-sister, B.

Operation: Birthday Reclamation

Photo by  Luca Upper  on  Unsplash

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash

Given that it’s January 16th, most people who know me know that it’s the day after my birthday. And this was an important one for me, given that it was one year ago on my birthday that someone I really trusted said something awful to me—the worst thing I could imagine and the worst she could probably have said at that time. So this year, I set out with a few good humans to reclaim my birthday.

First, I went to Starbucks with my friend, M. Then, my close friends and I celebrated by going to a favorite restaurant, walking around favorite shops, and sharing gluten free crepes at a new favorite place recommended by my dear friend and adopted brother, T. It might sound like such a simple thing, but for me it was a huge blessing. At one point during the meal, I looked around and saw the faces of my beloved friends and thought—these people care enough about me to sacrifice their last day off before the semester, drive 30 minutes, pay for an expensive meal, and walk around a stationery shop all just to celebrate my birthday. It’s humbling to be loved so much and I’m so grateful.

Genuinely the best friends I could ask for. So sad B. wasn't able to make it! (Photo by random lady at Daiso.)

Genuinely the best friends I could ask for. So sad B. wasn't able to make it! (Photo by random lady at Daiso.)

It is also a reminder to me that we can never know what God has in store for us. A year ago, I thought my life would never get better, that I would never heal or be able to trust again. A year ago, I did not even know three of those friends. All three of them were brought into my life during 2017—and our friendships cemented largely because of Gary. And the rest--even though I knew them—have become so much more important to me in the last year. It’s been a long, hard road and there were many times that I wasn’t sure I would make it (and neither were they), but I’ve finally hit a stride where I feel strong and healthy and—dare I say it?—happy. There are still many struggles ahead and I still have rough days, but I just keep thinking about that saying—it’s a bad day, not a bad life.

2018 will be my year

Photo by  Garrhet Sampson  on  Unsplash

This is what I keep saying. When my friends and I are stressed, I repeat it over and over. 2018 will be our year. I’ve seen that celebrities have claimed it will be the year of women. I’m not sure about that, but I fully believe that something is going to change for the better for me and for my close friends. And it’s going to change because we’re going to work hard.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve become a lot more into planning and the planner community. In case you didn’t know, I even founded the Denton Planner Girls group on facebook! We have regular meet ups and it’s so much fun. I’m really getting back into my creative side and I’m finding bullet journaling to be particularly therapeutic. I definitely think that getting into planning has made me more confident—and for good reason! When I’m constantly seeing words like “Hustle,” “Boss Babe,” and “Goal Digger,” it’s hard not to start thinking in those terms. This led me to invite M. to join me in the Wild Sisterhood—my first year back since I came to Denton. I have a lot of plans for this year beyond me goals above, including starting my own business, and I think that becoming a Wild Sister will help me with those goals. You’ll hear more about that in the future. But for now, just know—2018 is going to be my year. I hope it’s yours, too. 

 

And, in case you missed it on my social media:

Photo by Heidi Cephus. 

Photo by Heidi Cephus. 

I Unite with All my Sisters and all Who Share the Charism of Providence...

I can hardly believe that it is March. Today we saw the sun for the first time in weeks. I find myself getting everything ready for my Spring Break trip home, my first Spring Break not spent on Mission since that fateful Spring Break where I got the call from Echo, offering me a full ride to Notre Dame...

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Organizing, Paring Down, and a Try for Simplicity

If you read my article in Spiritual Uprising Magazine this month, then you already know that my word for the year is “simplicity.” It’s not just my word for the year, but one of my cornerstones that I’ve had for some time and something that I think about a lot. For me, one part of living in simplicity is being organized and living with less....

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2014: A Year in Review

I came home tonight from an afternoon and evening spent with my best friend in Dallas, Mark, cherishing time together and reflecting over the last (couple of) years, the things that have changed, the things that are the same, and how we feel about a number of different things. When I got home, I found numerous Christmas cards filled with letters from friends, updating me on their lives. I don’t usually send those kinds of cards and I’m writing this blog in place of that.

Every New Year’s, I spend time in reflection over the last year and thinking about where I want to go in the new year. Since last year, I have added using Leonie Dawson’s amazing books to my New Year’s retreat (thanks, Hannah Bagnall, for introducing me to that!). The time in reflection is good for me. Usually, I keep that private, but this year so many things have happened and changed that I want to share some of them with my friends.

This time last year, I was actually in Irving, visiting dear friends and family over my Christmas break. I knew then what I had told very few people, that I would probably be leaving Indianapolis. I had just finished my application to UNT and after such precious time with loved ones, I found myself praying that I would end up at UNT over any of the other places I had applied to.

My last semester at Butler was complicated, but beautiful. I enjoyed a Nun Night where my beloved sisters came to visit my girls and we played board games. I took several students to the Woods for Alternative Spring Break to work at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (where I lived as a volunteer for five months in 2013 while preparing for my exams at Notre Dame) and they fell in love so much that we went back for the Earth Day celebrations. I told Father that I would be leaving Indiana and I faced his disappointment. I told my students that I was leaving and my heart ached as I watched some of them grieve. I dealt with the frustration of working with the Archdiocese to find my replacement—they were slow to move and Father and I lived in fear that the community we had built would be left without support. I was included in interviews and listened to students talk about their fears for the future. It was a true practice in humility and detachment, and I am grateful for the growing experience of leaving a ministry that I continue to love and miss very much.

I know some have heard me talk about the negative aspects of my ministry at Butler and I want to take the chance to explain some of that. If you already know all this or simply don’t care about why I left Butler, you can skip the next few paragraphs.  While there were many parts of my life in Indianapolis that I hated, my students were never one of them. I loved them immensely and continue to love them and pray for them, but I am glad to know that they are under the wings of someone much more suited to that life than I am right now. In Indianapolis, I struggled to make friends because of my crazy ministry schedule, my need for introvert time with an extremely extroverted job, and my inability to find many people outside of my sisters and friends from Echo that had similar interests. I am infinitely grateful for the friends I did have—my sisters, friends from Echo, and ministry friends at Butler as well as St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. I never could have made it through that last year without them—and not only did I survive, I enjoyed moments of great happiness. Please do not think I lived my whole time there miserable and alone in the world.

My last year in Indianapolis, I lived alone. That was a great decision, because I was coming out of a very negative and hurtful community experience and needed space to heal. Sometimes I was lonely, but fortunately I had the community of the Retreat in Daily Life that I was participating through Providence Center at St. Mary of the  Woods (which included two sisters, one who is 92(!), and two other young women about my age). My friend Annie, who was brave enough to embark on this 30 week retreat with me, would come to my office and together we would skype the other women. I treasured the time we would spend after the meeting, talking and dreaming together.

The diocese of Indianapolis, while it succeeds with some social justice issues and the larger parishes work to address poverty, is an overwhelmingly conservative diocese. Because every person who works for the diocese signs a paper stating that we will not “promote or support any ideas contrary to Church teaching,” I found it hard to be myself and be open, even with my friends outside of the office. My first two years in Indianapolis, I lived in fear of my community because the members of my community had expressed disapproval of my spirituality (including not only my prayer style, but my relationship with the Sisters of Providence) and “concern for my soul” on a regular basis. My last year, I lived in fear because if someone took something I said offhand and reported it to the diocese I could lose my job and have no recourse. So, when I wasn’t with my sisters or the limited number of friends that I felt completely at home with, I was generally living with a mask. I loved my students and I enjoyed and appreciated my ministry friends, but I needed something else to add stability to my life. I am an introvert and can thrive on my own, but I am also a community-centered person. While loneliness is an inherent part of the human condition, it was the degree of my loneliness (and the depression I started to experience) that made me realize I needed to make a change. Added to this was the added strain of maintaining my diocese-approved mask, which made me feel like I was being dishonest and lacking integrity.

It wasn’t all like that, though. During my time in Indianapolis, my sisters were my saving grace. Their support and love through my times of confusion and pain were my source of strength. Their constant reminder to trust in Providence and meet with people where they are (as Jesus did), made me a better minister, person, and friend. In answer to the ever-popular question, yes, I have on many occasions thought about applying to become a Sister of Providence. I love being an associate and my relationship to that community is the most important in my life. The idea of growing old with my friends, living in community, and taking on a greater role in the community I love so dearly is certainly appealing. However, student loans and a predisposition to need autonomy (I would struggle greatly with a vow of obedience at this point in my life—we will all see what comes in the future) made it evident that path is not right for me, at least now.  I am not certain it will ever be my path, but only time will tell. I am happy with my life.

At the same time as my loneliness and frustrations were becoming evident to me, I realized something else. With the distance that a year without study (if you ignore the comprehensive exams I took in July 2013, as I did for almost the entire year before I took them) could provide, I realized that I missed being in school. I spent a lot of time in reflection about what I would want to study if I went back. I knew that I didn’t want to deal with another Classics department—I had heard too many stories about the cutthroat attitude in upper-level classics. Besides that, I would only really want to study Greek, but most programs require study of Latin as well. I also knew that theology is not for me. My experience of God is more relational and spiritual than rule based and, after my experiences at Notre Dame, I didn’t want to deal with theology people. This is not to say that I disrespect Theology or people who study it. On the contrary, one of my dear friends in Dallas is a theology professor and I have a lot of friends who are doing continued theology work. I just knew I didn’t have the patience or proper disposition for further study in Theology. I considered a D Min or a PhD in Spirituality, but knew that I would likely encounter the same issues as I did in ministry. I also considered simply applying for another ministry position (and did so), but I came to realize that I need time away from ministry and theology to heal and get myself together. I believe wholeheartedly that I will someday end up back in ministry for the Catholic Church—but I need time.

When I thought about it, I realized that the only thing I could really see myself teaching long term (and as my friend Greg Roper says, a PhD is just vocational school for teaching) is literature. After being prompted from my friend and mentor, Dr. Sommerfeldt, to consider my deepest passions, I realized that what I would really love is to study agrarian literature (think literature about farming and farm culture—The Georgics, Wendell Berry, Faulkner, that sort of stuff). I wasn’t sure that agrarian literature was actually a thing, but I quickly found that environmental literature, which includes agrarian literature and can include literature of the American South, was in fact something one can get a PhD in. And, miracle of miracles, the University of North Texas, only 40 minutes from my community of friends and family back in Irving, offers such a degree.

So, back to 2014. In March of 2014, I received the hoped-for acceptance letter to UNT along with an offer of a fellowship to teach two freshman comp courses each semester. I walked home, my heart pounding, and shared the news with my next door neighbors—the only people at Butler I could really tell until I formally resigned. After discernment and talking it over with my mom, my best friend, and my sisters, I sent back my response: an overwhelming YES.

While on ASB at the Woods, two different sisters let it slip in front of my students that I would be leaving Butler, but the official announcement was saved for April. By that time, most of my (very astute) students had already figured out that I was leaving. Some shed tears, others tried to hide their relief (hey, I never said I was popular with all of them!). All in all, they were supportive. Some even said they wished they could be in my classes.

I left Butler in June and packed up my house, which I had hoped to be living in long term and therefore had brought a lot of childhood mementos and things. My mom and a friend moved my belongings to Missouri while I drove to the Woods. As I drove onto the campus of Saint Mary of the Woods, I felt a huge weight leave my shoulders. I rested with my sisters and enjoyed our Annual meeting. I witnessed my dear friend Arrianne take her first vows and reminisced about how I had met her at a “Come and See” weekend before she even entered. I cherished time with my best friend, Hannah, and was grateful as my sisters, who were sad that I was moving so far away, were also supportive, happy, and excited for me. After the Annual Meeting was over, I left the Woods and drove to Missouri, where I spent an entire month anxious about this big step I had taken. I almost backed out of moving to Denton several times, but fortunately where I lost faith I had friends and family who had enough faith for two. (Besides that, where else would I go?)

I had searched for a roommate or place to live for a couple months while still at Butler and was relieved when a guy in UNT’s Environmental Philosophy PhD program asked me to move in with him. My students obsessively stalked him online (sorry Fabio) and my mother worried about her daughter moving in with a complete stranger. It turns out that her worries were in vain, because Fabio is wonderful and is literally the best roommate I have ever had (no joke). Our problems have been very few and I consider myself blessed. It was truly Providence that we got connected. I’m so grateful. I am also grateful that when I arrived at our tiny little house in August, my family (the Parent/Ponikiewskis) and my bestie, Mark, showed up to unload my car and my mom’s car.  My car was full and my mom’s car had traveled from Rolla, Missouri to Denton, Texas with my bed and mattress strapped to the roof (something I will never do again and don’t recommend). Mark, Mark, and Trevor quickly unloaded, Patty hung up hangers and clothes, Rachel helped everyone, and Randi mostly entertained us with Ranger, her dog (which was more important and necessary than you might think). I don’t know what we would have done without them. My mom stayed with me long enough to help me unpack and shop for the random things I needed. Then, she left and I became a UNT student for real.

Since I moved in, the last six months have been a blur. I went to Orientation with the English department, where I made my first set of friends at UNT. I settled into my desk in the Teaching Fellow office and got into a rhythm of going to class, teaching, grading, and studying. I have found that the people in the English Department are awesome, really without exception. I enjoy the friendly banter in the office and hope to continue to develop friendships with many of the other TFs, PhD candidates, and MA students.

I started going to Mass at UD after I found that the local parish wasn’t comfortable (it’s really big). It turns out that, for me at least, going to Mass at UD includes sitting with the Sommerfeldts, weekly hugs from Dr. Norris, and regular lunches with Anna, Andrew, Joe, and Irene. So, for the few people who would care enough to judge me for going to Mass at my undergrad instead of making a local parish my home, you’re doing it wrong. Be jealous instead.

I spend a lot of time with my UD friends and family, while still getting to develop a community at UNT, and having time alone. I am finding a balance, or as much of a balance as anyone can have.

This year I also started SpiritualUprising Magazine and UP Ministries with Molly and we’ve kept it going through our transitions. This semester I started the habit of walking daily, joined the Tone It Up nutrition plan, walked a 5K, taught my first semester of classes, wrote 2 twenty page papers and cited the Sisters of Providence in both of them, watched multiple movies and spent time with friends, and so many other wonderful things. It’s been a great semester and a great year. Things aren’t perfect—I’ve had bronchitis for 2 months and am still relatively sick, my uncle was just diagnosed with leukemia, and my dad’s health continues to go back and forth. I've struggled to find time to write and do things I want to do and at the beginning of my time in Denton, I was still trying to shake the issues from Indy. But, through it all, I have had people who love me. I had a friend wiling to drive me to the ER when my fever hit 104 and bring me food while I was recovering. I had professors who were supportive and understanding. I have a roof over my head. I am blessed with the opportunity to continue my education and teach truly wonderful college kids, which is more like ministry than you would think. I come home to a roommate who doesn’t steal from, judge, or demean me.

I am happy.  

I hope that you and yours are, too.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2015.

A Quarter of a Century

Written on January 15, 2014

Well… today is the day.

It’s been a quarter century in the making.

25 years ago today, my mom was in the hospital and a very wonderful doctor was fighting to save her life and mine. 25 years ago today, that doctor told my dad that he would take home either a baby or a wife, but not both. And, most importantly, 25 years ago today, my mom and I, with help from the doctor and from God, proved that doctor wrong.

The realization that I am turning 25 has been hitting me slowly for a few weeks now. I’m not the kind of girl to worry about age—I kind of like that my age is slowly increasing, giving some sort of proof that common sense and experience have been my reward for walking the paths life has given me. But this year is different.

When I was younger, I always imagined that at 25, I would have a husband, a couple kids, a life with some sort of stability. I’m struggling with the temptation to be disappointed in myself. I am not where I wanted to be, or even where I want to be. I don’t have a husband, or even a significant other to walk through life with. I do, however, have literally a hundred amazing friends who give my life fullness and meaning, but almost all of them are far, far away from the city I live in (and I thank God for the ones who are closer—Annie, Arrianne, Patty, Dina, Meli, and Hannah, though you’re still not close enough!… I am grateful for you all and the wonderful flavor you give to my life). I don’t have any kids, but I have beautiful baby cousins, “nieces” and “nephews” that I borrow, and almost 200 college kids who lovingly call me their Mama Duck. I don’t have a job that I want to have for a long time (or even, really, for more than another year) and that probably adds to the feeling of discontent that I have felt rising slowly inside of me.

A wise friend recently told me that when her daughter was small she was very fussy all of the sudden and the pediatrician told her that meant her daughter was getting ready for a transition—in her case, a transition into crawling. Sometimes, just like when we were children, we start feeling fussy, a sort of discontent, and it is God’s way of showing us that we are preparing in our hearts for a new transition, a new path.

So, here I am at 25, searching. As a kid, the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a mom and a writer. A decade later, the draw to write, to create, has been stirring in my bones. I long to read, to research, to teach, to do some work in literature. I have applied to two PhD programs and I can only pray that against hope that I will be accepted, given funding, and can be able to pursue the dreams that I have had from childhood.

So, today… today, on my 25th birthday, I spent the day fighting anxiety and stress. Work has come back in full swing and I feel myself falling more and more behind, even though I’ve been at work for only two days this semester and surely, I can’t already be behind? But it is the nature of ministry that you fall behind, that students come and want or need to talk, that coworkers bless you with friendship and conversation, that God somehow breaks into your to-do list and brings life along with him. Today, in the midst of this, I keep thinking about my failed expectations and dwelling on how extraordinarily lonely life has become. I am fighting off the winter blues combined with something deeper, something at the heart of my being that involves questions of self-worth and quests for meaning—things that I am supposed to be leading students through, not struggling with myself (although isn’t that how ministry always is?). The realization that I am now 25 and still have not lived up to the dreams I had five years ago at the beginning of college certainly do not help this situation, as I’m sure friends can understand. I know I’m not the only one feeling this—it seems to be an epidemic among my friends from college and other friends besides. But usually, usually I am able to fight it off and that it hit me today of all days, bothers the heck out of me.

Fortunately, I don’t really have time to sit and stew. And, if I did, I would still have the consolation of friends who love me. I was surprised today with a bouquet of flowers from one of my best friends from college who lives on the east coast and text messages from some of my favorite people in the world. That other people remember my birthday means a lot, I’m really big on other people’s birthdays and it’s nice to have that repaid (although, not the point).

Anyways, all this discontent has to be dealt with somehow and I am dealing with it by making a deal with myself: 25 is going to be my best year so far. C.S. Lewis says, “There are far, far greater things ahead than anything we leave behind.” I’m going to take him at his word and make this year the best ever. My friend Hannah (another one, I know, I have FOUR Hannahs in my life… and they are ALL AMAZING) recommended a book called Create Your Amazing Year and I am using that, along with a subscription to Wild Sister magazine (my birthday gift to myself), to motivate me and guide me this year. I’ve watched several friends defeat this mid-twenties depression recently by making a conscious effort to do what they need to do to be healthy and happy. I’m hoping to follow in these women’s footsteps. This year is going to be a good year.

Oh, and a note: I DID  celebrate my birthday. My friends Annie and Arrianne as well as a student went with me to see Frozen in theaters. Annie and Arrianne went for ice cream with me after. It was a great night and I am so grateful for the wonderful women in my life.

Revisiting my Childhood

Every year during the Christmas Holidays, I tend to reread children’s books that I loved when I was a little girl. This year, with my friend having a daughter and my favorite American Girl, Molly, being retired, I have had American Girl on my mind. While I was visiting Half Price during their big after-Christmas sale, I noticed a couple Molly books that I had never read and picked them up. I thought they would give an easy boost to my 2014 challenge of 75 books.

The first of these that I read, The Light in the Cellar by Sarah Masters Buckey, is a mystery based around Molly and her friend, Emily. Molly and Emily get a volunteer job as magazine delivery girls as part of their school’s patriotic efforts (Molly is the American Girl growing up in the Second World War). When they notice that some rationed items have gone missing around town (sugar and tires, for example), they decide that it is up to them to find out who is taking them and why.

This book, in contrast to my past experiences with American Girl books, is actually a longer chapter book. It was, as usual for American Girl, decently well written for the age group it is meant for (ages 8-10). The story deals with complex topics including the racism and ethnic fear that was prevalent during the war.

I enjoyed this trip into the world I had loved as a child. I would certainly recommend this book for any parent of young girls or boys. I would also recommend that parents read it as well in order to discuss certain topics with their children.

The second book, Brave Emily by Valerie Tripp, is a partner to the Molly series that tells the story of Molly’s friend Emily who came to live with Molly’s family all the way from London. Emily’s grandfather gave his dog tags from WWI to Emily before she left for America (a common destination for children during the war, sent away from London for their safety) and told her to be brave for England. Taking his words to heart, Emily searches for a way to be brave for England all the way in the United States. With Molly’s help, Emily finds her chance to be brave and call attention to the dire need of people like her family back in London.

I enjoyed this story as well, perhaps as much for the opportunity to learn more about my childhood favorite’s best friend as for the quality of writing. However, I would definitely recommend Brave Emily to parents of young girls as well.

The Light in the Cellar and Brave Emily continue the longstanding tradition of American Girl books teaching young girls that they are powerful and capable of making great changes in the world. The books also succeed in making a part of history more accessible to children—the original draw of the American Girl series.

Some thoughts on 2013

I am sitting alone in a friend’s house writing this. I spent the last few days in Dallas, visiting with friends and family and letting my spirit renew itself. Tomorrow morning, New Year’s Day, I will drive the ten hours back to Rolla just in time to accompany my mother to the doctor’s office (nothing major).

I haven’t taken the time to process yet what I want 2014 to be, but I know that I want it to be BIG. I have so much that I want to accomplish: things to do, projects to finish, books to read, stories to write, and places to go. I know that New Year resolutions are often forgotten by the first week of February, but I am determined to get some things done. It’s time to live my dreams.

2013 wasn’t the worst year, though. I got a promotion and became the Director of the Butler Catholic Community. I finished my MA and graduated from Notre Dame. I interned at the White Violet Center and experienced true healing in my intern community while living with my sisters for a month. I finally became a Providence Associate. I applied for PhD programs, visited Dallas twice, KC once, saw friends who I had long missed, and met a new baby cousin (Teytin). I even started my own Etsy page.

Probably the most extraordinary thing about 2013 is that even though I was given abundant blessings, I know that I was most often unhappy—and seemingly for no reason. But instead of being sad because of depression or grief, I think that I was uncomfortable and felt myself becoming more and more aware that I am not where God wants me to be. And here I am, leaping again into transition.

For those who know me best, you already know that I don’t really make NY Resolutions and instead do these things on my birthday (Jan 15), so for now I will just share this request: please pray for me. I don’t do well in transitions and I think this will be a big year. Only God knows what 2014 will bring.

In love with Autumn

I usually hate it when people ask me what my favorite season is—after all, each one is really beautiful and special and has amazing things that happen. Yet I will entrust my readers with this secret: my favorite season is undoubtedly autumn. I love it all: the colors, the smells, the food (I will eat

anything

pumpkin!), and the clothes—I love sweaters and scarves and jackets and boots! It’s just the best season: not too cold, not too warm. As a kid, I loved it even more because it meant school was starting (and I got to go back to school shopping—I LOVE OFFICE SUPPLIES!). Now, I love fall also because it brings my duckies back to me and I get to be a campus minister again.

Bringing Fall into my House!

In Dallas, I never really got to appreciate fall. Only some trees changed—mostly it was just green (if we had rain) or dull brown (if not). My first year in Indianapolis, I walked around that whole season in a daze. While I certainly complained about how cold it was (seriously, it was Dallas Christmas weather in September—and still is), I was also marveling at the colors. I remember one day, I actually called my mom because I just could not contain my joy at the colors. All the hues: bright orange, burnt orange, yellow, gold, red… it’s all so beautiful!

Somehow—and I’m not sure how—I forgot all of this recently. I’ve been so busy and exhausted that I actually forgot that God, my favorite artist, was getting ready to bring out again my favorite of all his art shows. And, as usual, I have the sisters of Providence to thank for re-awakening me to my joy.

So, as you might have noticed, I am going to interrupt my re-telling of this past summer to update you about the now. I would never want anyone to think that my only joy came from living in the past. 

This weekend (Friday and Saturday) was my first actual “weekend” since the students got back. They’ve been in classes for a full month now and today (Saturday) is only my third day off in all that time (I’ll probably post this Sunday—I’m writing from home and don’t have internet here at my house). I’ve been busy and while I love my job, I have realized that if I don’t force myself to take time off, not only will I never write for this blog, but I will also soon be committed in an institution or hospitalized. I’ve been “running myself ragged,” as a coworker pointed out two days ago. I’ve become my least favorite kind of person in the world—a workaholic. It’s a bad habit, but at least I come by it honestly (thank you, Willys and Ponzers).

But, I have managed to have some fun and rest in the midst of it.

Last weekend, my best friend came to town: S. Hannah Corbin (not to be confused with my other best friend Hannah, Hannah Mugel—who is living a rather fabulous life in Brazil right now). We spent parts of a wonderful weekend together, broken up by a trip to Chicago on Saturday for her and a full day’s work on Saturday for me (but Friday was my FIRST full day off since the kids got back, so yay for that!). Last Friday we spent the day doing all kinds of glorious things— mostly cooking (because when you get two gluten free people together, what else will they do but revel in food? Besides, Hannah is an AMAZING cook). We made granola, gluten free brownies, Edamame salad, and lots of other yummies (the Edamame was with the other girls that evening). Our friends (and sisters) Patty and Arrianne came over and we walked through the woods on campus, then Patty left and our friend Tracey came over, and we basically spent an evening together enjoying what must definitely be a foretaste of heaven—both the company and the food. Our conversations ranged from discussing potential solutions to problems some of us are facing to solving all the world’s problems (the solutions are love and peace for all of creation—you’re welcome). Every time I’m with Arrianne, Tracey, and Hannah (all together or just a couple of us), I am both encouraged and challenged to be a better person, to be more whole, more open, more loving. These women truly make me want to be a better human being—and I think that slowly they’re also helping me become one! Through them, God is truly molding me into a “more loving and human shape” as the prayer goes. I’ll write a lot later about the times we had together this summer, too, but Friday evening last weekend was exactly what the had doctor ordered for me as a cure for the blues and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing. There’s nothing like being loved to make you feel better about life in general!

So, that was last weekend. And I can tell you, I felt like a new person going back to work—and I hope that I was a better minister for it.

This weekend I got to experience even more blessings! I went to the Woods for the first time since I moved back (unless you count the two hour stop my dad and I made back in August to go to the book fair, but I didn’t get to see very many people that time and I didn’t get to stay or relax). It was just so nice to be home and talk with Dawn and discuss my upcoming Associates Commitment, as well as seeing many of my wonderful sisters (and a hug from Sister Denise!). I even got to hang out with Robyn from the White Violet Center (see two posts ago…)!!

Friday afternoon, Dawn and I had a great meeting and chat and then we went to the Fall Equinox prayer service to welcome in fall. I have to say, that hour or so of prayer was really helpful for me to reorient me towards gratefulness. I was able to re-focus myself and see all the wonderful things around me. I loved hearing the wisdom from the older sisters, sharing their own gratefulness. At the beginning of the service, we were all called to “throw the circle” as the Celts would, only instead of drawing a circle around us, we each introduced ourselves and named one thing we loved about fall. Almost everyone mentioned the colors, which reminded me of what an artistic community it is that I have become associated with. But there were  two sisters who brought up the science of the color change in leaves and I learned something new—that the colors have always been there, they were just covered by the green chloroplasts. When the chloroplasts die, the other colors are able to shine vibrantly. One of the sisters said in turn that if we allow our own chloroplasts to die, something even more beautiful can come forward. There is something so wonderful about being with a group of women of varying ages, some of whom are much older and closer to God than I, and hear their wisdom and their world view—more challenging, more encouragement.

At the end of the service, Sister Mo invited each of us to take one of the small pumpkins or gourds from the center table and to offer a prayer of thankfulness. One of my very favorite sisters came forward first and she picked a sweet little pumpkin then sat back down to give her prayer of thanks. Her words were beautiful, thanking God for the beauty of “this little creature,” her little pumpkin. I cannot capture any more of her beautiful words, but I remember too well how sweet and how gentle her prayer of thanks was—more “childlike” in the Gospel sense than any child. This sister in particular always reminds me to be grateful for little things. She’s the same sister who would leave the comic strips outside my door when I lived in the convent. She loves to make people smile and feel special—even little pumpkins.

After such a special day, I was sad this morning to leave the Woods. I’ve grown accustomed to a few tears joining me as I drive back through Terre Haute, down 65 and towards Indianapolis. But today, I was able to redirect my thoughts and bring back my gratefulness from last night, thinking of my next great adventure: a new community!

Today was the first meeting of my Providence Circle, and while our numbers were lower than expected, we still had a wonderful time (one of our members is traveling in Ireland—lucky duck!—and another had a death in the family—please pray for her and her friends/family). We didn’t spend much time talking about the book we’re discussing, but we talked about everything else! It was just so wonderful to have the support and fellowship of the two women that I was blessed to be with. I can already tell that they are going to be a huge blessing in my life—in fact, I think that they already are. Each of us are in a situation where it’s difficult to find community where we are and I hope that each of us can find community in this circle.

To bring the weekend full circle, I dropped by the store on my way home and while I was there, I noticed that there was a display of fall-scented candles. Now my house smells like fall. With my own little pumpkin, it is bringing my favorite season inside my little house and keeping me company (see picture above).

I’m also working diligently on my projects for the Oktoberfest in Rolla (in two weeks!): crocheted saint dolls. Right now, I have St. Francis of Assisi and Joan of Arc hanging out in my living room. Hopefully, they will soon be joined by St. Patrick, St. Kateri, and OL Guadalupe. I’m also going to try and have some Pope Fracis dolls and a few plain priest dolls (nuns are complicated, but I’m working on a St. Mother Theodore doll—it’s hard to get the habit just right). So, if you’re in Rolla and come to the Oktoberfest, check us out. If it goes well, I’m going to start an etsy shop. Heaven knows I need some extra income with the paycheck I get working in ministry, especially when you figure in those loans I need to be paying off.

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Joan of Arc (with removable sword!)

And, just so that you all don’t think I hate my job: I am loving having my students back and meeting the new freshmen. Women’s Ministry continues to be my favorite program in the BCC—I think it is truly where the women find their own community, their own safe place to be accepted. Our new program—Sol (Saints for Our Lives)—is also going well. And, I am also enjoying working with so many great people—the other campus ministers, mostly, but also a couple people from the Archdiocese who, when they’re not making things difficult for the sake of bureaucracy, are actually really fun to be around.

All in all, things are busy (sorry for the unreturned or long-owed calls, friends), but they are GOOD. And all the discernment I am doing about next year has absolutely nothing to do with how much I do or do not love my job, because I L-O-V-E it. Truly.

More about that later.

Back to last summer…

Away from the Manor and into the Woods

Away from the Manor and into the Woods

So, I realize that other than book-related blogs, I haven’t actually written since last semester. There is SO MUCH to update you all on (if you care—I’m still not really sure who reads this). But, because I know it is a fruitful practice for me to reflect and look back, I will try and update you as best as I can.

Last semester ended quickly, filled with work. Once the students left, I was still working every day (usually on my days off, too) to get ready for the new year. Half of my energy was going into getting ready for my first year as director and the other half was going into studying for my comprehensive exams for my MA at Notre Dame. Hence, I didn’t have much energy left for blogging, personal relationships, or anything else for that matter. Then, at the very end, as I was packing my belongings and preparing to move to the Woods, I got so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. I was dizzy when I stood up and had no energy, no matter how much I slept. Other than sleeping, watching Buffy, and stumbling to the bathroom, I wasn’t up for much—and still, I had to drive myself to the doctor because no one else would. I will say, I was very grateful for the order of fries that one housemate brought home for me. At least I had something in my system.

Finally, during that potentially dangerous doctor’s visit, I found out that it was really just a seriously awful sinus infection (those still bother me frequently) and I got some heavy-duty antibiotics to chase away the yucky. I barely got well in time to pack up and move out. Also, as a result, I probably had significantly more boxes packed way worse than they would have been otherwise because I couldn’t lift anything very heavy. Looking back, I’m really not sure why I didn’t just call one of my many students who were still in town and ask for some help.

Finally, on the penultimate Friday in May, Ι loaded the few things I needed for my summer at the Woods into my car and, leaving the rest in storage at the Churchman house, drove to Terre Haute. I left unceremoniously, without goodbyes from at least half of my housemates, feeling rather morose.  Although it is a short drive to Terre Haute from the south side of Indy, it seemed even shorter because I was so emotional. I certainly did not help that I had been in such a rush to leave that I arrived almost two hours early.

I ended up eating lunch with the other interns—who from this point on will be referred to as my community. Before I even begin to talk about the experience of living at St. Mary of the Woods and working at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, I feel the need to say that, although it was only for five weeks, I think that the community I lived with there was so much closer, deeper, more peaceful, and more accepting than any other community experience I have ever had to this point in my life. My dear friends, if you read this, I am so grateful for the healing love that you showered on me. You are some of the best people that I know.

Shortly after I got unpacked and all settled in, the other new intern arrived—Rebecca, who was mentioned earlier in my reading update as one of my vegan community member.  The other vegan, Michael, was already there but was taking part in the Permaculture Course offered at SMW through IU (I really recommend this to anyone interested in that sort of thing). He joined us in the gardens a week later.

When I mention the gardens, I feel that I must clarify: we’re really not talking a garden. We’re talking about fields. All in all, the gardens that I worked in were about as large as the small field that sits next to my grandmother’s (now Sarah’s) house in Rolla—this will help my family members have some idea what I mean. There were several plots where we grew different wonderfully delicious and beautiful vegetables—chard, lettuce, carrots, kale, turnips, peas, and so much more! Every day, we would either harvest, plant, weed, or mulch. Many days, I would come back to the convent covered in dirt, so exhausted that I would peel off my overalls and have to lay down before I even got showered or dressed. I loved every minute of it.

Who wouldn't love to wake up and see this every day?

For those of you who are friends with me on facebook, you probably saw me write every day that I lived in a magical place. It really was magical. I could go to work, harvest some chard or a handful of peas or any of our other yummy veggies (and rarely, some berries), and get to eat them for dinner. We could have what we wanted from the “seconds”—the produce that for one reason or another (some sort of blemish or damage) wasn’t considered sellable. I think I ate better during those five weeks than the entire rest of my life. I learned to love things I had never tried before (or, never liked before), and it was wonderful. Like I said—magical.

In addition to eating well, I was learning to cook—not bake, cook. Always before, my version of cooking was usually pasta-related or making eggs. Rarely if ever did I actually cook. Now, that has changed. Oh yes, friends, I can now sort of cook (although I am still not to the level of my former “personal chef”—as he called himself—Patrick, nor am I nearly as talented or sure of myself as S. Hannah). And, I like what I cook (very important).

Chard-- my new favorite vegetable!!

When I wasn’t in the gardens working or in the kitchen cooking and eating, I was either in my room or the library studying or hanging out with my community and my sisters.

As a child, I longed for siblings—any siblings at all—but most especially, sisters. Now I have to say, if I had known that all those prayers to God asking for a sister would result in me having 300, not only would I still have prayed them, I might have prayed more. I love my sisters and I miss them every day. I think that much of the sadness (I say sadness because I don’t believe I’m actually depressed, just a little lonely) that I have experienced since I moved back to Indy is the result of not having those wonderful women around to love me (and for me to love back).

Not only was I blessed with the opportunity to deepen my close friendship my dear friend S. Arrianne and deepen my friendships with the other sisters who I already knew (especially my Sister Companion, Dawn), but I was able to form new friendships with the other sisters. I learned a lot about myself as a result and I also grew to have a deeper appreciation for the importance of a truly healthy community. Unlike other communities that I had been a part of, being part of the SP community as both an associate and an intern has helped me to realize my own value and my own gifts rather than only point out my flaws. Living at the Woods was, most of the time, like living inside of a hug—warm, loving, and gentle. On the occasions that it wasn’t, it was filled with learning experiences and kind, constructive criticism. I didn’t hear the word hell used once as a location that I might eventually end up in, nor did I find myself being told that I wasn’t ___ enough—Catholic enough, conservative enough, liberal enough, fun enough, welcoming enough, hospitable enough. We recognized each other’s gifts and each other’s weaknesses and endeavored to make ourselves better and to encourage everyone else. This was the case with both the sisters and my community as well as the other staff at the WVC.

I already said how amazing my community was. It was so good to arrive and find myself with such a variety of souls. First, there was Paul. Paul was like my big brother during my time at the WVC. He has this amazing spirit of gentleness and kindness, he is so generous with his time, his attention, and his strength. He lives a life of simplicity but is also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met—he knows so much about so many things. He also has a beautiful wife and daughter, both of whom I regret not getting to know better before leaving. Along with Paul, there was also Rusty, with whom I have had many wonderful conversations, both serious and comical, and whose friendship was an absolute treasure during my time at the Woods. We enjoyed watching movies, chatting in the fields during work, and just being in the same place with a like-minded soul. I appreciated both Paul and Rusty’s kindness so much during those five weeks—and their encouragement as I tried to study for my exams.

I have already mentioned Rebecca and Michael. Rebecca is a student at SMWC and is just phenomenal—I think that girl could take on the whole world if she wanted to. I loved talking with her, hearing her stories, and laughing with her. For the first several weeks, we also shopped together—along with Michael—and I enjoyed getting to know them both as we discussed food—an obvious passion in those who work in an organic garden! If Paul is the most intelligent person I know, Michael is in the running for being in possession of the greatest variety of talent that I know. He’s a musician, an artist, an entrepreneur, a farmer, a student—not because he is taking classes but because he is a student of life--,  very knowledgeable about a variety of things, and just a generally all-around great guy. I enjoyed every minute of getting to know him. Between both Michael and Rebecca, I learned a lot! I appreciate more than I can express how open both of them were to shared discussion and how non-judgmental they were about the things we don’t agree on.

In addition to those four, there was another intern—Bree, who arrived shortly after Michael. I must say that I think Bree rather brave. She has big dreams and is seeking out ways of achieving them. She has lived in many different communities and had many amazing volunteer experiences that I think have brought her to where she is now, an amazing woman with a great deal of wisdom yet still desiring to learn more. While I did not get to live in community with her (or Paul, for that matter), I think that Bree is very admirable and her presence was integral to our community.

There were also the staff members at the WVC—Candace, kind and dynamic and with awesome stories to tell, a great mom and an good boss, David, who reminds me more of my uncles than anyone else I have ever met (seriously, he should have been a Willy or a Ponzer!) and who always makes me laugh, Anne, generous and funny and amazing and who was and is a dear friend and who I miss terribly, Nick, who I only worked with a little but who I already know is a kind, generous soul who loves to learn, and Tracey, the alpaca manager, who I barely got to spend time with but who is highly intelligent and very kind—I also enjoy being an associate with her. Lastly, there are Sister Mo and Robyn, our fearless leaders who, even though I didn’t get to work with them very much, made my internship both more enjoyable and more educational. I also enjoyed building friendships with both of them. Sister Mo has a great sense of humor but is very down to earth and wise. Robyn is almost too much like me for me to describe fairly— but I can say that she is a Southern Missouri girl, Truman state grad who later got an MA in Philosophy, an awesome mom, kind, loving, supportive, and a friend whose presence I sorely miss in my life, though at least we keep in touch via facebook!

My small descriptions cannot really do these people justice. Forgive the use of less than adequate words like “kind” and “amazing.” These people healed the hurt of the last two years and did it in five weeks, all the while making food grow out of dirt that they sprinkled seeds in and watered. They’re miracle workers.

So, that was my five weeks at the Woods in a nutshell. I got to spend my days and some evenings with my community, have lunch with my sisters, hang out with Arrianne and go on walks, talk with Joni when she was home, and sometimes, rarely, I got to spend special moments, or even whole evenings, with the sisters I am closest to—gathered around a bonfire or sitting at a table, chatting, sharing, singing, learning, and loving. Each of those evenings is pressed into my heart—a memory that I call on when I need strength.

Thank you, my sisters.

I’ll continue in the next post with tales from the SP Annual Meeting, moving in, and more!

There are no success stories here

14 October 2012

I have been thinking a lot about the term “success” lately. As a child growing up in rural Missouri, success was something to be aspired to. In fact, it was just about the only thing that we aspired to. No one really ever explained what it meant, but it was like a blessing passed on from the older generations: “May you be successful, may you find success.” My own obsession with education and knowledge was linked to (though not merely a result of) my maternal grandfather’s insistence that the only way I could be successful was if I got an education. It was never directly stated, but I was under the impression from a young age that this being successful involved money. My maternal grandmother, who, I must say has only ever wanted the best for us kids, longed for lawyers and doctors in the family. This was not because she wanted legal or medical advice, but because those seemed the most lucrative positions (this was before the technology boom and computers became the money makers). I’m grateful that she doesn’t seem too disappointed about our failure to produce either (although, let’s not give up hope too soon, I have a cousin who would make a great lawyer if he would get through the schooling).

At any rate, looking at my life right now, I’m not sure if I can be considered successful. I certainly don’t have a lot of money. On the contrary, the only material thing I have a lot of is debt. Then there’s the question of success in my field(s) of choice. As a classicist, I must be a failure because I left the field. As a historian, same thing. As a theologian, the fact that I have already admitted to hating theology (/morethanfleshandbone/2012/03/so-heres-why-i-hate-theology.html) probably means I’m not very successful. As a writer, I’m generally too tired to write down the many thoughts in my head and heart. Instead, I lay down and read what other writers have to say.

As a Campus Minister, I’m not really sure how you can define success. Is it quantitative or qualitative? In our conversations with the Archdiocese, we’re always being asked about numbers. Honestly, sometimes there is only one person who shows up to my events. Sometimes there are thirty. But if we have a great conversation about God in which one or both of us grow closer to Him, in which Christ becomes present in a tangible way, isn’t that meeting with the only student who showed up a success?

A couple weeks ago, we had a Leadership meeting on a Saturday morning. Our leadership team is made up of about 16 students and only five showed up. For my boss, this was a failure. And really, as a leadership team meeting, it couldn’t have been much of a success because part of being a team meeting is the team showing up for the meeting. But I don’t think it was a failure, either. I had great conversations with the students, got to know them better in new ways and during our hour together I saw us grow in understanding of what it means to be a Christian and to be in communion with the other. We shared the stories of our “Eli”s (1 Sam 3:1-18), those people who challenge us and invite us to follow our calling, those spiritual leaders who have made us who we are. Sitting there, hearing the stories that these five women had to tell, two of whom are freshmen in college—I don’t think that anything which brings such powerful witnesses together and unites them in prayer could be other than a success, and it was a success brought about by the Holy Spirit.

As we are preparing for a lot of changes and transitions at the BCC, we find ourselves being asked to defend the need for campus ministers at Butler. People ask us for success stories. Fr. Jeff has many—he can tell you about the students who entered into the Catholic Church, the ones who went on to change the world in many ways and who stayed strong in their faith. He considers those to be success stories. Certainly, they are the easiest ones to tell and he tells them which such love and warmth that the hearer is satisfied in the need for ministry to continue here. 

My temptation is always to say that there are no success stories at the Butler Catholic Community. Instead, there are love stories. I’m not sure what success is, but I do know what love is and these kids teach me about it every day.

I can tell you love stories about my love for my students, about how I see God in them and how my own love grows abundantly through them. I can tell you about their love and generosity and patience with me as they teach me so many lessons about life and love. I can tell you about our mutual love for Fr. Jeff, a man with amazing wisdom and kindness and a great power and ability to love that we all benefit from every day. I can tell you about their love for each other: the strength they give each other during tragedies and heartbreak, stress and studying. I can tell you about students who say to me that they wouldn’t have gotten through their breakup, the death of their grandfather, their PCAT, their final exams, their own illnesses without the love of their friends from the BCC.

I can tell you specific stories: the girl who found the ability to love herself through being loved in a way that didn’t demand, didn’t take—only gave; the young woman who finally found a place where God made sense and became the loving creator she needed instead of the judge she had been taught about as a child, how she found this place through the dedication and love of a friend who invited and invited until she came; there’s the one about the young man who carried a girl to her dorm all the way across campus because she was sick and too weak to walk. I look at their faces and see not only college students, but I can see the face of Christ so vividly sometimes that I am perpetually amazed by them.

The most important love stories are the love stories of these college students and their Creator. There are the love stories of their love for God: their trust, their faith so strong that it makes mine pale in comparison. There is the girl who just came back from studying abroad where she had a conversion experience and now is bravely facing the knowledge that the five year plan she had so carefully crafted and protected in her heart since high school isn’t God’s plan for her. She is going forward with far more grace than I did when I had a similar experience. She is one of my heroes and I am blessed to know her, much less to serve her.

Far more beautiful are the love stories that I witness quietly, the ones of the love of a passionately loving creator who so obviously cherishes these college students in spite of anything that they might do to deter his love. I have seen Him come back again and again to pursue them, to work miracles in their lives only to be recognized after with some mystified disbelief. I have seen men and women grow into something far greater than what they were before and while some might call these “success stories,” I am painfully aware that I had nothing at all to do with it. I just sat with them at the Blue House or in Starbucks or walked around campus with them, watching the changes take place.

I have been praised before for the love that I so obviously have for these mischievous college kids, the frat boys and sorority girls, the seemingly frustrating and narcissistic kids who really just want to be loved and don’t know how to love themselves, the socially awkward kids who are still trying to figure out who they are. But really, it’s nothing to love them. I am not Mother Theresa, saving the poor of Calcutta. I’m not Fr. Greg Boyle, loving the homeboys in LA. Like Oscar Romero, I am blessed to say that it is easy to do my job well when I have such great students. The trick is not in loving them; it’s in not letting my heart break because I love them so much. I challenge any person to know these amazing men and women, to spend even a couple days with them, and not love them. It’s not possible, I promise you.

Last weekend, I went home for the Oktoberfest. It was a well-needed and wonderful rest. Going back to Rolla for things like that is like walking into a big, warm hug. I felt wrapped up in love and was reinvigorated to continue my ministry. The only downside of the trip was the immense number of people who asked what my plan is for after I graduate Notre Dame. The frustrating answer is that I don’t know, but like my student who so bravely is letting God guide her future, I am trying to trust that He has a plan and that his plan, unlike my own half-dozen batch of half baked plans for next year, will rise up and give me the answer I need.

On the drive down and part of the drive back, I listened to the audiobook of Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Greg Boyle. This is an awesome book and everyone should read it (thanks to Sarah Hallett and Fr. Jeff separately for the recommendations to read it). He quotes Mother Theresa saying that we are not called to success but to faithfulness. As I look forward to this next step into the great unknown, I try to hold onto this. I am not called to success, only faithfulness. So, let us all faithfully move forward out of the darkness and into the light, listening to our call. 

Libraries...

So, each month I have been giving myself a set of goals. This month, one of the big ones was to get a library card. Now, for most people this sounds simple and doesn’t seem like a big deal, but most people didn’t grow up in Rolla, Missouri. My parents’ house is outside of town and we can’t get a free library card in Rolla. When I was a kid, my dad had one and I could check out books, but usually we just bought books. So, I had to really want to read a book (enough to ask Dad to buy it, or later, to buy it myself) in order to get my hands on it. The idea of a library that isn’t connected to a school is kind of novel to me.

So, on Tuesday when I walked into the College Avenue branch of the Indianapolis city library (located right next to Joan of Arc, so pretty close to Butler), I was pretty excited. The woman behind the counter very nicely helped me fill out the application for a library card and then handed it to me right there. Unaware of the fact that she was TOTALLY CHANGING MY LIFE, she was nice, but I think she might have thought I was a little strange for being so excited. Then, I had an adventure walking around the library and found two books (a large selection of the works of WH Auden and a short fiction novel called The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas—I haven’t read it yet) to check out. The library is apparently considered small, about the size of the Barnes and Noble at the Dove Mall in St. Louis, but to me it was super exciting that I could take any book I wanted and not have to pay for it, so long as I was willing to bring it back.

I decided later that day that I would rather have a short collection of Auden instead of the huge one I had picked up (the only one they had)  because I wanted to be able to read the whole thing to count as a book. For April, part of my goals include reading Auden, Flannery O’Connor, and Samuel Johnson, so I wanted to start on Auden first. Since there are 22 branches of the Indy Library, I thought I would look up online where I could get a shorter version. Fr. Jeff had mentioned to me that I might like the Central Library, so when I noticed that they had a couple shorter collections of Auden, I decided to go by and grab a couple before community night on Wednesday.

Now, to preface all of this, it should be known that Patrick had gotten his library card last semester and mentioned that the Central Library was “nice.” Well, I sometimes forget that Patrick dear grew up on Long Island and is used to the New York City library and has no understanding of the tiny institution that is the Rolla Public Library. So, when he said “nice,” I was thinking it would be similar to the College Ave branch and I could get in and out in half an hour. I should have known when I got there and there was an underground parking garage that I was mistaken, but I’m a small town country girl and when I think library, I’m thinking small town library or College Ave. Not a SIX STORY CATHEDRAL DEVOTED TO BOOKS! I’m not kidding. I felt like I was in a Church honoring the god of literature. It is SOOOOOOOOO BEATIFUL. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life, at least nothing that was man made. Needless to say, I have finally found one thing that I love in Indianapolis. And boy, do I love it!

I ended up coming home with seven books (two books of Auden’s poetry, one of his plays, a couple C.S. Lewis books, a book on Tolkien and Lewis’ friendship, and Farming: A Handbook by Wendell Berry), all of which were very exciting finds. I’m still trying to figure out the system for the library, because things weren’t shelved where I expected them to be. But it was fun. Of course, I was running late for community night because it took over an hour before I was willing to leave. So fun!

If you ever come to Indy, go to the Library. It’s the best place in town. I’m hoping to spend lots of time there in the future.

Oh, and I yelled at Pat for not telling me about the awesomeness sooner. He just doesn’t understand why it’s so exciting—I’ll have to take him to the Rolla Public Library if he ever visits Rolla. Then he’ll understand.

(For more information and to be impressed by the building, here’s the building page: http://www.imcpl.org/central/building/index.html)

Winter Retreat and Reflections on "Home"

This last week was so BEAUTIFUL! My community and I left on Wednesday for La Porte, Indiana for the Echo Winter Retreat. It was so wonderful to be back with all my friends from this summer and our wonderful and fearless leaders: Colleen, Luke, and Aimee. The theme of the retreat was “The Wounded Healer,” and we had some very helpful and wonderful reflections. It was definitely fruitful to meditate on my own wounds and to reflect on how those wounds, both the healed and the still open (and sometimes festering) affect those around me.

I’m not sure which was the most important thing for me, the retreat itself or the time spent with my wonderful friends. I got to talk to Sarah, my roommate from the summer who is so talented at keeping me grounded and whom I can always be real with without fear! I got to hug Patrick Hagan, whose hugs cure everything (seriously)! I spent time talking with several other dear friends and I wish they weren’t so far away. I wish I had more time to talk with them and I know I didn’t talk with everyone that I wanted to.

It’s funny how God plans things so well. At the BCC the weekend before I left, we did a reflection on the idea of “home.” Lately instead of Rolla, I’ve come to think of home as Dallas (or, more accurately, Irving). That’s not an insult to my parents or my family and friends in Rolla, but just an acknowledgement that I’m growing up and making my own way for myself—I have no intention of losing those roots (or those precious people) in Rolla. My students reflected that home was either their parents’ house or a place where the people they love are—that home is really people and not a place. While I agreed that when I think of home, if it’s not my parents, it is the Ponikiewski/Parent family or my friends at UD that I imagine and not really a physical place, I’m not sure I completely understood home as people until this weekend. But being at our Winter Retreat, surrounded by so much LOVE, I felt so at home and so at peace. I think I was a little surprised to realize that Echo is home, that these people are my home in a very real and tangible way, even though I’ve only been part of them for eight months. But these relationships really were forged by fire as we survived Summer session together and then built our communities, and I feel secure here.

Now, I’m a little sad to be back in Indy, even though I’m looking forward to seeing my freshmen girls tomorrow at Women’s Ministry. There’s so much to do, so much to catch up on. I’m just glad to have had such beautiful days with such beautiful people these last few days on retreat. Now, I have to come down the mountain and deal with life in the valley—which is proving to be more difficult than I thought. Pray for me!

The whole family-- Photo by John the caterer, courtesy of Annie Harton