Stomping though Healing Waters in Hand-Me-Down Rainboots

1 Mar

For my faithful followers that have been wondering if I dropped off the map, I offer you now my most sincere apologies. I started writing a few times this month, I promise I did. There were some great public transportation stories (I now have a solid friendship with my bus driver Tim), some inspirational car time with Karen, and an afternoon where the Pitt Pals and I cleaned out a wedding store for 2 hours, taking home a life size cutout of James Dean. There were most certainly some tales to tell. But each time I started to write, I felt like I was missing something, like my thoughts were incomplete. My heart just wasn’t in it—and I’ve never been one to do things half-heartedly.

The first half of the month was a bit of a drought. It was long, it was dark, and it was frozen, right down to the pipes in our bathroom. I was happy, but I was stagnant. I got into this routine where I went to service, came home, had dinner, sat around and went to bed. I thrive on movement, but where there is nothing or no one to make us move the motivation to do so is a bit hard to come by. And I was stuck.

But then I went back to Chicago for three days, and my life transformed from a drought to a flood. “Healing waters,” as Maddie would say. Or something like that.

My trip to Chi was the windy whirlwind I knew it would be. I was attacked by the love of all my people, never slowing down and never resting my head in the same place twice. The exhilaration of good friends and the chaos of the city breathed life back into me, reminding me who I am and what I live for. I’m not stagnant, I don’t wait for life to happen. I reach out and grab it. Is that not what I pride myself on? Has not my mom always told me that I am full of fire and life and spit? So what was I thinking, getting so caught up in routine that I forgot to move? Woo, child. I needed the Wind of that City to slap me in the face, and I needed it bad.

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 I carried to Chicago a purple backpack, some shoes that were most certainly not waterproof, and a heart ready to love and be loved by some of the people who helped form it. I left the city with that same purple backpack, adding a pair of sunglasses, some guy’s shirt (long story, don’t worry Mom), some awesome hand-me-down rain boots, and a mission. It was time to stop being stagnant, it was time for progress. So this week I am knees-deep in graduate school applications, studying, and plans for the future. And let me tell you, I’m exhausted. There’s nothing quite like going from 10 to 100 in just a week. But despite the internal anarchy and the occasional breakdown, I know that this is bigger than me, and that’s what makes it all okay.

Chicago was what I needed—I knew she wouldn’t disappoint. But while returning to her outstretched arms felt good, I couldn’t stay. She keeps some of the ones I hold dearest, but I am no longer limited to her grasp. Because what are boundaries for love, anyway? I left the Pitt Pals to go on my journey and I left my Chi friends to return, and my time with my parents was merely a tease. But I am certain, now more than ever, that love transcends time and space. And the heart, like God, knows no limits.

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Freezing in my Underwear

25 Jan

I tend to be most inclined to put words on the page when I have an overarching theme or an overriding lesson that I have learned and want to express. I haven’t written yet in this new year because I’ve felt that these moments have been lacking. I’ve had no sudden bursts of inspiration, no life-altering moments, no uncovered mysteries. This has been, in that sense, the most ordinary  of times.

But Emily Browning once wrote that earth is crammed with heaven, and hasn’t my blend of the Jesuit and Franciscan traditions taught me that the ordinary is crammed with the extraordinary? Maybe it takes, then, some quiet reflection, or setting up shop in the back of Crazy Mocha café with a Moroccan mint tea, to really see the little extra inside this ordinary time.

Earlier this month we ventured to Salsbury, PA for a Winter Retreat. The retreat was a strange one for me—a traveling to the depth of emotions and back again, all in enough time to film a murder mystery (yes, I’m serious). Not to mention polar plunging in my underwear into 30 degree water. The unfeasible mix of depth topped with whimsy left me a bit numb to emotion (and the water left me a bit numb to my toes), and I left the farmhouse of Salsbury desiring to forego my consistent analysis of life for the joy of simply living it, no strings attached.

(Editor’s note: It was on this retreat, I must add, when the whole way I think about cats changed, and I realize that they don’t all suck.)

Last weekend I went home for the night to celebrate the upcoming birth of my longest friend’s baby boy. I drove in with one of her friends that I had never met, and left early the next morning after coffee with my parents to kick it back to PA for brunch with the Pitt Pals. Her apparent glee as she pondered the child inside her caused me to ponder the mystery of love, and how one can love so deeply a face she has yet to see.

Monday was MLK Day and we had the day off service, but it became a day of service when we became Habitat volunteers for the day and painted the upper rooms of a Church. It is rare, I think, to quite tangibly see the fruits of your labor, and it was a nice treat to see what a few hours of hard work and a little paint on your hands could do to make people’s lives better.

Other than these three stand-outs, the month of January consisted of waking up and going to service. When I try to find the little extra in the ordinary of these days, my thoughts drift to my supervisor, my community, and the sky. Karen has a heart that is larger than life, my community’s spirit never ceases to amaze me, and there’s just something about these Pennsylvania skies that leave me speechless. Or maybe they’re the same skies I’ve always been under, I’m just making a point of looking up.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. No all-inclusive themes, no neatly wrapped package with a bow on top, and no point, really. But maybe, sometimes, that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to just drop everything and pet a cat, or to give up pondering life’s mysteries and film a murder mystery instead.  Last night we watched the film The Way, where Emilio Estevez, wise old sage that he is, stated that you don’t choose a life, you live a life. And if Gordon Bombay says it, it must be true. So here’s to leaving the confines of the brain and diving into my life, even if the water is a little cold.

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Dancing in the Threshold

31 Dec

The night before the new year is a threshold of sorts. It is the time when we dance in the gray between the past and the future, and in one small motion of a clock’s hand we are simultaneously a second, a minute, a year. Time stops counting—we become infinite.

Sunday night I once again found myself in the back of a bus, staring aimlessly into the unknown as I rolled from home to home. As the bus took me from Ohio to Pennsylvania I let me mind take me through my last 365 days. And in doing so, my heart burst open. When you look at just one small slice of life, a year in review, you’re able to subtly bear witness to the molding of your heart. You’re able to notice where you’ve changed, where you’ve grown, where you’ve loved. You’re graced with seeing—a little.

One year ago I was living in Chicago, preparing to embark on a 5 day silent retreat that since has left me on a path of faith never before traversed. I’ve dived to the depth of my own relationship with the Divine, with no sign of the bottom of the well. But all is well, and will continue to be so. Then, in February, I led a Women’s Retreat and gave a talk about women in the future—tangibly solidifying that I am a woman of the future and that it was officially time to leave the Ramblehood.

I’m thankful to the friends who fed my stomach with food and my spirit with life. I’d be sad and hungry if I didn’t have your homes and your outstretched arms to wander to. And I’m thankful to Chicago—who took me in as one of her own. I belonged until I didn’t, and she gently nudged me home and told me to Carry On. But we shared one last sunrise, and that was pretty cool. Then, just as easily as I walked out of Chicago and waved Loyola goodbye, I walked into Cleveland, always willing to take me home.

Nashville, St. Louis, Detroit, and New York City beckoned me this year, and I answered the call. Dancing on tabletops, climbing fences, eating and drinking with friends and strangers alike, living out loud. Not to mention being reminded, once again, the meaning of hospitality.

And woo, child, lest I not forget the love I have seen this year! I stood witness as my brother married the girl of his dreams, silent tears streaming down my face as I saw the pure joy in his. And then I saw it again…and again… and again…when Mike/Lisa, Katie/Matt, and Nina/Steve were wed. This summer, when my mom broke her leg and my dad became her caregiver, I saw a selfless love like no other. And my heart was changed.

And then there’s Pittsburgh. It’s meant to be, I think, almost as if this city reached out to me and grabbed my hand, pulling me eastward. All I had to do was move. I can’t quite tell you what this place has done to me yet, but I can promise you I will not leave here the same as when I arrived. Stack these Franciscan ideals on my Jesuit values, add a community that is as selfless as I hope one day to be, and throw some old people in the mix, and something powerful is stirring in my soul. I can feel it. Stay tuned on that one.

So we stand at this threshold. We gather here, teetering between who we’ve been and who we hope to become. I have high hopes for my next 365 days. Hopes for peace and for clarity, for knowledge and wisdom, for witnesses to and experiences of love. And for joy—lots of it. I have hopes for simultaneously changing the world and fully living in it, and maybe even setting it on fire if I can find some matches.

These hopes float up from my head and my heart to join the masses drifting through the air. Dreams abound tonight. Reach up and grab one, or two, or ten. Make them your own.

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Do You Believe in Magic?

23 Dec

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ” 
― Mary Ellen Chase

If you’ve been following my blog up until now, I’m sure you’ve deduced that I’m a bit of an idealist. All of my elusive comments about magic behind every corner and grandeur in every breath must get a little old to the likes of you who rationalize with mere logic. If this is you I’m speaking about, I’d stop reading now. Because if you think I’m quixotic under normal circumstances, you haven’t seen me around Christmas.

I often think that other people, when acting authentically, become guides from the beyond, but there’s something about the season of Advent that makes these guides more bountiful. Maybe they’re angels paving the way for the Newborn, or maybe they’re elves, frolicking around like those pointy-eared children in Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause. Whoever they are and whatever the reason, they’ve been sprinkling magic this Christmas season (I can rhyme too, Mr. Grinch).

A few weeks ago my community and I helped Catholic Charities stock a home for an incoming refugee family. As we pushed our four carts around Wal-Mart, overflowing them with $500 worth of household appliances, a few of us headed to Electronics to purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone. As the clerk explained to us how to set the phone up, we explained to him that we were purchasing the phone for another family to use. As we thanked him and walked away, Wal-Mart Nick looked at us and said, quietly and subtly, “keep doing what you’re doing.” As that short phrase escaped his lips, it was as if all of the Wal-Mart shoppers grew quiet and their carts grew still. It was more than an offhand comment—it was a summons. And all this from Wal-Mart Nick in Electronics.

The other day a few of us were waiting in the snow for the bus for over half an hour, and we had just about given up hope that it would ever turn the corner in our direction. As we started to make our way back home, accepting that we would never make it to our destination,  I noticed there was an older woman waiting for our bus, but standing at the incorrect bus stop. My heart went out to her, so on our way back I went over to explain to her that the bus was on a detour and she had to move to a different stop to catch the bus. As I walked her to the proper stop, the bus pulled up—perfect timing. I swear that somehow, someway, it was her doing.

The beautiful thing about Christmas magic is that we’re all welcome to join in the fun. Last weekend my parents were driving home late from a holiday party, and the snow was really coming down. As they drove past a bus stop, they noticed a bus drive past, a man flailing his arms in its wake. Seeing him standing there helpless, they did the only thing they could think of—they picked him up and took him where he needed to go. To quote the wall of Paris’ Shakespeare and Company bookstore (which happens to be my favorite corner of the universe), “be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”

When you open your eyes, The Spirit of Christmas is everywhere. Can you see it?

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Happy Christmas from my community to yours 🙂

A Big Turkey in the Big Apple

1 Dec

A few summers ago I was a Recreation Coordinator for a company that provided international students an alternative summer vacation—a chance to live, learn, and explore the city of Chicago. I spent my days with high school students from mostly Spain and Italy, guiding them around the city so dear to my heart.

            On the day one of my favorite Spanish groups was set to depart, their travel leader left me a note. In it, she wrote that while traveling and seeing new places is an amazing feat, nothing compares to the people you meet and who touch your heart on your travels. That, she said, is why she travels, and why she loves it so.

            This year I spent 15 of Thanksgiving’s 24 hours roaming around the streets of New York. My pals and I hopped on a Greyhound in Pittsburgh at 10:30pm Wednesday night, arriving in the Big Apple at 5:15am Thanksgiving morning. After brushing our teeth in the bus station we booked it to the parade route, securing our front row seats for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

            The great part about something as magical as a holiday parade is that as time passes and you look back on the day, you remember the confetti, the floats, the cheer, the music. You don’t remember the numbness of your toes and the wind blowing across your face. So even though, when we calculate the grand total, we were on 42nd and 7th for nearly 7 hours, the cold is a passing thought in my memory bank when I think of all the joy that the parade brought. There’s just something about being right there in the middle of the magic that makes your spirit fly—everyone was jolly and full of life, rosy cheeks and all.  

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After the parade, we grabbed some New York pizza and defrosted our feet, then set off and explored all that we could in the next few hours: Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Public Library, Grand Central Station, 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Plaza. We then booked it through Central Park to Upper Manhattan, where three strangers had us over for a Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner we hopped in a cab, went back to Rockefeller Plaza, walked to Times Square where we wobbled right in the middle of the madness, then kicked it back to the bus that carried us home all through the night. A whirlwind indeed—but a magical one.

Despite the utter joy that the parade and the excitement of the city brought, I think my Spanish friend was right. The people I was with and who I met along the way were the real meat and potatoes (turkey and mashed, if you will), of the trip.

During the four hours we waited for the parade to begin, I struck up a conversation (naturally) with the man standing next to me. His name was Gary, and he was there all the way from central Canada. Watching the parade was on his bucket list, and he decided to get up get out and just go. Gary and I chatted about all kinds of things—from his grandchildren, to his 3D television, to traveling, to his love for all things Snoopy—and  he was a delightful man to share a parade with. And after hearing we are volunteers, he even offered to give us a little cash to support the rest of our trip. After much reflection, I’m convinced that Gary just might be Santa Claus, and he’s from a little farther “up north” than central Canada.

Speaking of good people, let me tell you about a few more we met. Thursday afternoon our Thanksgiving feast was prepared  by a hostess that not one of us knew personally. Her brother is Amy’s co-worker, and they discovered in a conversation last week that they were both going to be in New York for the holiday. So he, his sister, and their friend—no questions asked—invited the four of us to a delicious dinner. We walked in the door as strangers, became friends, and by the end of the meal were snapping group photos—just like family.

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I would be remiss, when discussing the goodness that surrounded me on Thanksgiving, if I failed to mention my wonderful traveling companions. Words fall short when I try to comment on what my community means to me. Our theme for the day was Up for Anything (“UFA!”), and we were. Spirits were high, happiness was in the air, and two overnight buses didn’t slow us down. Those kids make me a better person, and they were the real Thanksgiving gift to me this week.  

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The Heart of Mystery

17 Nov

This  weekend the community came together for a pre-advent retreat (you know, that time when you prepare to prepare). Yesterday we took a Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment to begin to understand how we each prefer to think. As it turns out, I prefer thinking with intuition and feelings rather than observations and analysis. I could have told you that—though this hasn’t always been the case.

Growing up, I was a very analytical thinker. I loved school, I loved brain-teasers, I loved efficiency and solving problems. There was a short stint in grade school when I wanted to be an engineer—I wanted to create tangible objects that could solve the world’s problems. During this time in my life I knew I had feelings, but I was very much aware that my thoughts came first—that I thought my way into being happy or sad, thus analytically deciding what my emotion would be. But then, my sophomore year of college, this all changed, and my whole way of perceiving the world changed along with it. I don’t know what caused this change—maybe it was living on my own, maybe it was falling in love, or maybe it was always there, and unbeknownst to me I was slowly and subtly growing more fully into the person I was meant to be all along. Whatever the reason, suddenly and seemingly without warning, my feelings came before my thoughts. I would cry without cause and laugh without tangible reason. I shifted from wanting to change the world in a palpable way to instead wanting to change the way people thought and felt about the world. Suddenly, feelings and ideas mattered. In fact, they mattered most of all. Because there will always be problems in the world, and sometimes our only defense is the way those problems are perceived. If we could be content on the inside, the outside wouldn’t seem so beyond our control.

Phew. So that was a tangent. Still with me?

Let me explain the purpose of this chaos, the method to my madness.

This week I have been overwhelmed with thoughts of my future. Not my future in a tangible sense (the things I probably should think about…grad schools, careers, etc.) but rather who I’ll become in the future. I get so caught up in trying to decipher my higher purpose—the inner workings of the universe and where I fit into them. It’s fun to dabble in depth, but to live there is exhausting. This week I’ve been consumed by thoughts of the meaning and purpose—and I’ve been exhausted. But something happened this weekend that rejuvenated me (maybe I should prepare to prepare more often).

Yesterday morning God sent me a little grace and let me hear His voice. As one with a background in psychology, I always feel the need to add an addendum to my statements where I discuss the Voice of God. Most people don’t take too well to the thought of hearing voices from people that can’t be seen, even if that person is the Almighty. When I’m discerning, confused, or just need to center myself, I slow it down, embrace silence, and see what comes to the surface of my soul. The thoughts that resound when all else is still become to me messages from beyond. Call this intuition, call this God, or call this witchcraft, the terminology you prefer makes no difference to me. All I know is that as I sat in the St. Clare retreat house yesterday morning, I heard through the silence a message, telling me to trust that right now, exactly as I am, I am enough. I will grow and learn more and delve deeper into the purpose of it all throughout my life—of this I have no doubt. But life is a process and I have to trust that I am being led where I need to be, that right here, right now, in this moment and in this place, I am enough.

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            I believe that if you keep your eyes open the universe gives you what you need. This morning, after my realization last night that I don’t need to fret about the future or my place in it, I poured myself a cup of coffee and went for a stroll. As I meandered back, forth, across and around the building, I noticed something that had been there all along but I hadn’t noticed before. A tiny little plaque on a shelf read, “Ask not what the future holds, for you know who holds the future.” This statement, in itself, is a bit cliché for my liking, but God is timing. My eyes were open to receiving what came to me, and that happened to be what they saw. And whether or not I believe that everything happens for a reason, I don’t think it’s wrong to imagine that something that brings us peace was sent to us from the beyond.

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            The world is full of magic that I can’t quite grasp. Around every corner, beyond every door, and in every stranger’s story, there’s wonder waiting to be uncovered. But there’s no way to find it all at once…and maybe that’s the point. I must trust that if I keep moving, open my eyes, and embrace what’s in front of me, each wandering step leads me closer and closer to the heart of mystery, the depth of my being, and the pulse of God.

A Sentimental Sunday

3 Nov

 “We must delight in each other, make others conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together,always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.” 

― John Winthrop

            One time a dear friend taught me something that has changed my life, and it’s just too good to keep to myself. So get ready, readers! If this blog were a game of Clue, you’d win the game with Martha in the computer with the wisdom.

            Open your heart to people, wherever you are. Love. Love completely, love big, love  without inhibition. You may fall out of touch, it could be painful when the time comes to separate, but love is life. And love is worth it.

We are a quarter of the way through our time with Change a Heart. I am consistently cognizant of the fact that my time here is finite. I will not live in community forever, serve at Ursuline in the future, or reside in Pittsburgh for the rest of my life. The impermanence of it all can raise the question of its worth. I have nine months left…is it really worth devoting myself wholly to this temporary existence?  I could easily protect my heart, and not allow myself to get attached to the people or the place, for fear of the pain of goodbye. This is an option.

But though a beating heart means you exist, I think an open heart means you’re living. What’s the point if I don’t commit?

So, yes. I can say with 100% honesty that I have committed. I am attached. Pittsburgh, my seniors, and my community have stolen my heart, and I’m not getting it back any time soon.

While I’ve been moved time and time again by my Pals, I think the intentionality with which they live has struck me the most. That intentionality is the difference between simply living with people and living in community. My Pals take the time to look a little deeper, striving to be respectful, caring, and non-judgmental in all they do. They make me a better person.

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            Last Friday Chris had the day off from service. He very easily could have taken the day for himself, and no one would have thought about it twice. But, instead, he spent most of the day preparing an amazing dinner, so when we all came home from our days of service he could serve us. And when I woke up the next morning, there was a dozen donuts waiting on the table—Wes and run out to the local bakery to get us breakfast.

Last night, after the annual Change a Heart Gala, Amy had prepared an array of snacks for the Pals, so the party could continue long into the night. I wasn’t feeling great, so as the Pals kept the party alive downstairs Kim tucked me into her bed upstairs, giving me the space I needed to be well. How are these people so good?!?

            Friday was the Feast of All Saints. I usually think about Saints as awesome dead people who set the world on fire. But  not anymore. Now I see the Saints in my life as very much alive.

I’ve committed, I’m in love, and I am grateful.