To borrow a fairly crappy joke from my dear friend Mary, the forecast for Spring break-up this year is a bleak one. (Break-up is a term we use in AK in the spring when all the ice is melting and chunks of snow are flying all over the place…hence- break-up. Hopefully my explanation didn’t ruin the joke!)
Anyway, if you, my dear reader, are anything like me, you experience life through the lens of many emotional high highs and low lows. I have always been one to channel my emotions through music, but this can sometimes be dangerous- I listened to one very bitter song about 100 times on repeat before realizing this song wasn’t helping me move on, it was only making me more upset and causing me to stay in my funk longer. Haha, who am I kidding, I know I’ll listen to my angry song again. It’s a great song (if you must know, it’s Peter Pan by Kelsea Ballerini). But, when you want to try and be good for a while, here are some of my favorite breakup songs- about moving on, loving yourself, and trusting in the beautiful future God has in store for you.
If you would like to listen to this playlist on Spotify, I’ve somehow managed to be a technology wizard and have placed a handy-dandy link in this post!
Find me on Spotify here:
Hopeful-Yet-Sad Breakup Songs
Someone Like You by Adele
Landslide by the Dixie Chicks
A Little Too Much by Shawn Mendes
Lose You to Love Me by Selena Gomez
Vulnerable by Selena Gomez
Look at Her Now by Selena Gomez
Rare by Selena Gomez… basically her whole “Rare” album is a breakup masterpiece
Cruel Summer by Taylor Swift
The Archer by Taylor Swift
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor (a true classic)
22 by Taylor Swift (if you want some happy hope)
All You Had To Do Was Stay by T. Swizzle once again
Love Ain’t by Eli Young Band
Praying by Ke$ha
Art of Letting You Go by Tori Kelly
Dear No One by Tori Kelly
Coffee by Tori Kelly
Better When I’m Dancing by Meghan Trainor (listen to this one last if you want a dose of upbeat happiness)
Hello dear friends! I can’t BELIEVE how long it’s been since I last posted. I’ve missed the teeny, but lovely, community I found here on the internet, and so much has happened since I last posted that I’m not really sure where to begin. Since I’m prone to writing long, drawn out essays about the deep and dark parts of life, I decided to force myself to just put something out there. So…since it’s been nine months since my last post, I’m going to write nine big (or not-so-big) things that have happened in my life in these long months!
1. I got another tattoo.
Yep… I did it. I got another tattoo. This one is a bit different than my first one, because I didn’t think about it quite as much, but I still love it. It’s fireweed, which might actually be my favorite part about living in Alaska. In the late summer fireweed blooms all over, turning the mountains purple and bringing a unique and beautiful color to the landscape. I’ve always wanted a tattoo to represent my home state, and although it’s (MUCH) larger than what I anticipated, it’s still something that brings me hope. Fireweed is the first plant to grow back after a wildfire, so this tattoo reminds me of my strength and resilience, whether or not I feel it all the time.
2. I discovered the complete gift of Catholic therapy.
I was able to start seeing a Catholic psychologist in October, and let me tell you friends– it has CHANGED THE GAME for me. Seeing a therapist who understands my faith and the way my mental health affects my spiritual life has been a great gift from God. I trust my therapist so much, and he understands me in a way that none of my secular therapists have. If you have access to a practitioner of your faith, I highly recommend taking the extra step to help both your spiritual and emotional life.
3. I completed my 33-day consecration to Divine Mercy.
Back in October, my significant other and I did this consecration together, and it was truly beautiful. The book 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley reminded me of the great and intimate love the Father has for us, at a time in my life when I couldn’t see that love myself.
4. I studied abroad in Rome.
I went to Rome in January of this year, and I will never be the same. I saw the faith in such a concrete way, and I grew in friendship with so many beautiful people. I also experienced great hardship, and saw my friends suffer so patiently and with such strength. Rome was a true pilgrimage, a complete shitshow, and an incredible blessing. I plan to post more later. The featured picture of this post is where I lived for two months.
5. I visited London… and it was pure magic.
Guiseppe, the lovely front desk clerk (seriously, Guiseppe is amazing. He’s funny, loves St. Padre Pio, and is studying to be a gynecologist!) at the convent we lived in for two months in Rome, told me that London was completely magical, and by far the best city in Europe. I didn’t quite believe him, because we were already living in the Eternal City for heaven’s sake… but I should have. We only spent a weekend in London, but I could have stayed there for months. London was incredible.
6. I left Rome… two months early.
This is where the “shitshow” part of studying abroad in Rome really became apparent. In just a few short days, I went from telling my family back home to chill out to leaving the city I’d called “home” two months early, getting on a plane, and taking a 48 hour journey home, with less than a day to prepare. I’m still reeling from this one. More details to come later.
7. I experienced my first broken heart.
Yep. Didn’t like this one very much. Still don’t.
8. I got yet ANOTHER job as a Certified Nursing Assistant… and this time, the people are even weirder!
After going crazy at home in quaratine for a few weeks, and realizing that I didn’t like having negative dollars in my bank account (ALWAYS buy travel insurance people. You never know when there will be a global pandemic), I decided to renew my CNA license and start working 12 hour shifts at a rehab and skilled nursing care facility. I wanted to be useful and busy, and boy, did I get what I asked for. I’ve learned so much in this job, and already cried in the bathroom once. I’m sure there are many more tears in the bathroom to come.
9. I purchased Disney+.
This might not seem like a big life event, but trust me, it is. Disney+ has gotten me through a breakup, a global pandemic, and an illness that (hopefully) isn’t Covid-19. I’ve always loved Disney, and, even though I have most of the movies on DVD already, it’s so nice to be able to access them wherever I am, and to relive my childhood by forcing my roommate to watch Hanna Montana: The Movie with me.
Okay, this is the post where I get to pretend to be a lifestyle blogger (with much lower-quality photos) who has my crap together, not just an anxious Catholic blogger. How exciting!
Truly, though, I have been looking forward to writing this post so much. I tend to be such a deep thinker and overanalyzer, so just reminiscing on the past month and really thinking about things that have brought me hope, authentic joy, or just simple pleasure is actually quite healing. I really do think God lives in the simple things, and when we can be grateful for those little things, the chaos seems just a bit less daunting. I hope some of these items/experiences may be things you can incorporate into your own lives, and that they may bring you peace in the craziest of times!
Consider the Lilies by Elizabeth Foss
This Bible study could not have come to me at a better time. I actually bought it almost a year ago, but I just picked it up this month, and I’m so glad I did. I love the Take Up and Read Bible studies because they are so simple. I love Lectio Divina, but oftentimes I overwhelm myself with the idea of picking the right passages to read and spending the right amount of time meditating. This particular study is focused on finding the peace of Christ, and it’s so so good. It has brought me small moments of peace amongst crazy times this month, and I am incredibly grateful for it.
2. Blessed Is She Healing Rosary
This rosary is so unique and simple. I loved it this whole semester, but not for the reasons you would typically love a rosary. I definitely prayed with it, but I also just loved holding it and looking at the image of Mary with the crucified Christ on the cross. It reminds me of what Mother Theresa says about Jesus saying “I thirst” on the cross, and how He thirsts for us and our love. This rosary is also incredibly durable, so I don’t worry about chucking it in my purse and taking it with me everywhere, or wrapping it around my wrist and banging it on desks and such as I go through my day.
3. My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell
This book is phenomenal! I always feel like such a failure of a Catholic, especially now that I go to a Catholic college, because I know so little about the saints compared to my peers. In this memoir, Colleen talks about her career as a speech writer for President Bush, her experiences caring for her dad with Alzheimer’s disease, and her struggles with infertility. As she takes the reader through her life, Colleen talks about each saint she encountered, and the lessons she learned from them. I’ve been so inspired by her book to read the writing of the Saints, and to pray for their individual intercession. I highly recommend this for any woman who is struggling in her prayer life or with her relationship with the saints!
4. Gilmore Girls
I love Gilmore Girls. I always have, and I always will. There’s a good chance it will be on my favorites list for each month until I die. I can’t quite explain it, Gilmore Girls just gives me this incredible sense of comfort and home. It also reminds me of my mom and some of my closest friends. Whenever I’ve had a hard day and need a pick-me-up, Lorelei and Rory are there to comfort me, laugh with me, and cry with me.
5. Leah Darrow’s Podcast Interview with Maria Abbe
I LOVE THIS GIRL! Maria is so authentic, positive, and raw all at once. She tells her story about her faith, her struggles with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, and her journey to becoming a runner. She and Leah are wonderful together, and I found her podcast to be both inspirational and forgiving. Her blog https://www.runningmyselftogether.com inspired me to start my own:)
6. Peppermint Oil
Woohoo, the endless nausea continues! I should probably see a doctor, but oh well. Anyway, peppermint oil is meant to relax and clear the mind, and it also helps with digestive issues, nausea, and headaches. Not much has been helping with my nausea recently, but peppermint oil seems to do the trick. I either put it on my wrists or diffuse it with lavender in my room. I especialy love peppermint when I’m doing homework or sleeping.
7. Fresh Eggs
Okay, this one might seem a bit random, but I’d never eaten fresh eggs (which I now lovingly refer to as butt-eggs, because it’s super weird to see an egg actually come out of a chicken’s butt) before this month, and it’s changed my life! I house sat for a lovely family with eight chickens for a week, and each morning I’d wake up to three eggs. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but they just taste more… egg-like. These eggs were better than any I’d ever had before. Plus, there was something so satisfying about feeding and watering chickens at night and then collecting eggs in the morning and cooking them for breakfast. I felt an odd sense of ownership over my breakfast, and I loved it. I now desperately want to have chickens when I have my own house one day.
8. Homemade London Fogs
Once again, something is on my favorites list because of nausea. I’ve been trying to drink less coffee (this better be worth it, ugh), so London Fogs have been my replacement for my morning (or 11pm, because I work the night shift now) cappuccino. I still get the joy of making fancy coffee, even if it doesn’t smell quite as good. In case you didn’t know, a London Fog is basically a tea latte- Earl Grey tea, steamed milk, and vanilla. You still get some caffeine, but it isn’t nearly as much as espresso.
9. The Book of Job
If you read my last post, where I complained about my various ailments and talked about being honest with God, then you’ll know I’ve been loving reading the Book of Job. To be quite honest, I still haven’t finished it, but reading it has given me comfort in God’s goodness and also allowed me to be more honest in my prayer life.
10. “Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons
To be quite honest, I don’t actually know what this song is about. I realized that I was listening to the lyrics incorrectly, but when I first heard it, I thought it was about Christlike love. I have no idea now. But I’ve always loved Mumford and Sons, and this song really does soothe my nerves and speak to my heart.
11. This Strange Grilled Cheese Sandwich
I’m now realizing that there is perhaps too much food on my favorites list… but I think that’s pretty true to who I am, as I like to eat. A lot. I recently went to an incredible restaurant in Anchorage called Bread and Brew, and it’s forever changed the way I view grilled cheese sandwiches. My sandwich had cheddar and gouda cheese, green apple, and bacon. It was such a strange combination, but I can’t stop thinking about it! I recreated it at home, and even though my ingredients weren’t quite as fancy, it was still delicious.
12. Blueberry Mint Kombucha
Yet another food item! And the THIRD item on the list that has to do with nausea! I’ve been on a kombucha kick this summer, and my favorite of the ones I’ve tried is Humm blueberry and mint. Kombucha itself is so good for gut health, and the mint also helps with nausea. Also, healthy guts lead to healthy brains! Gut health is vital for controlling high levels of anxiety. I love the flavor and the health benefits of this drink. If only it wasn’t so expensive!
13. This Hair Tie Scarf Thingy
This one is a bit more frivolous, but that’s what monthly favorites are about, right? Plus, I really do love makeup and fashion, so I would be lying if I didn’t include this. I bought this hair thingy at Anthropologie back in April, and while I’m certain I paid far too much for it, I’ve been loving it a lot. It dresses up any simple outfit or hairstyle, and I love the colors. I also think it’s very fun, very effortless, and very me.
14. The Mountains
This might also be on my list every month. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to live near the mountains until I left Alaska for college in North Dakota eight months of the year. North Dakota isn’t awful, it’s just… flat. Hiking and skiing are my favorite forms of exercise, and there isn’t much of that in Bismarck, ND. I’ve been making the most of my summer at home here, and hiking mountains has been a big part of that. Getting outdoors and hiking or going for a jog is so good for my mental health as well. I think I encounter God primarily through nature. If anyone is struggling right now, I would recommend going for a hike or a walk unplugged. Just you, God, and Creation. I’ve been focusing on surrendering my will to the Lord, and as I hike or run, I’ve been saying to myself “every step is surrender”. This phrase just came into my head during one hike, and I left that hike feeling so empty, but in a good way. I was able to enjoy the rest of my day after hiking in a way I haven’t been able to in a while.
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Catholic young adult conference to remind you how much of a disaster you really are. Perhaps to some people, walking into a conference full of young married couples, children, priests, and religious is the recipe for excitment, but for an anxious me there may be nothing more stressful.
Don’t get me wrong- I love going to talks, I love the Spirit-filled periods of Adoration and Confession that always seem to be present during retreats, and I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. But, for lots of reasons, this conference just wasn’t clicking for me.
I arrived at 9am after working a night shift at the Senior Center, exhausted, with hands shaking from the ridiculous amount of coffee I had consumed, my stomach churning from yet another bout of nausea I’d been experiencing all summer (I’m still not entirely sure what’s causing it), and all the feelings left over from a college student’s first experience with heartbreak. A recipe for the perfect retreat experience, right?
I came into the retreat feeling ill and directionless. For weeks I had felt as though I was teetering between feelings of despair and quiet, timid hope. Anyway, as I walked into the retreat, I put on the mask of happiness we are all too used to wearing and fought back tears for several hours.
“Just pull yourself together!” I told myself angrily. “Your life is good, you shouldn’t be this upset. Get it together!”
But I couldn’t. The feelings of despair built up throughout talks, Confession, lunch, and Adoration. I was desperately unhappy, and so angry at God. If I’m being honest, I think I hated Him that day (don’t worry, I’ve since apologized).
Comparison is the thief of joy, right? Absolutely. I realized that part of the reason I was so upset during the retreat was because I wasn’t living in the moment. I was comparing myself to the priests and religious, and to the wives and mothers. They have their lives figured out. They trust God enough to find their vocations. They look like they are happy and peaceful. And then my friends and the young, single missionaries. They are laughing. They are experiencing freedom in their singleness. So why can’t I? Why can’t I pull my crap together? Why can’t I count my blessings?
I realized that one thing I suck at is just letting myself be. I am awful at sitting in the painful emotions, at leaning into my fears, sadness, and anger. But that’s okay. I’m learning. My friends, if you struggle with this, then be still and know that you are learning too. It’s a journey, and we don’t have to be perfect at it.
Truly, given my mindset, it could be nothing short of Divine Providence that I was able to be even the teeniest bit receptive during the conference. Luckily, God is all-forgiving. Even though I had spent most of the conference grumping at Him, He still blessed me with a talk by Gomer (Michael Gormley) of the Catching Foxes podcast.
(If you haven’t listened to the Catching Foxes podcast with Luke and Gomer, then I highly recommend you do so! They are hilarious, holy, and honest about their wounds. Here’s a link: https://www.catchingfoxes.fm)
Gomer’s talk was exactly what my weary, grumpy, ungrateful heart needed. As dramatic as it sounds (and I sure as I am that Gomer would puke upon hearing this) it truly nurtured my soul.
Gomer was just so honest. He shared about the struggles he experienced with depression after he lost his long-term girlfriend, and the exhausting period of waiting it took for her to accept him back. I found myself relating to his tale of the young drama-queen Gomer, because I’m a bit of a drama queen myself, especially in seasons of waiting or suffering. He talked about the agony of prayer and of living a life on this side of Heaven- a life where we make mistakes and those mistakes have consequences. A life where we don’t realize what we have until we lose it. A life full of sin, separated from God.
After Gomer’s girlfriend broke up with him, he thought his life was over. He pouted and cried and basically just had a miserable existence (he said it, not me). His spiritual director told him two things. One, Gomer needed to read the Book of Job, and, two, Gomer wasn’t grateful enough for the goodness of his girlfriend. Read the Book of Job, and be grateful. I thought to myself “well, I’m pretty much just as dramatic and lost as Gomer, so maybe I should do those things too.”
The topic of Gomer’s talk was “How to Pray”, so I expected a long-winded explanation of the different types of prayer and how I was doing everything wrong. Well, Gomer did talk about how I wasn’t praying correctly, but it wasn’t because I don’t follow a certain format, or because I get tired and distracted too easily- no, my prayers are often flawed, I realized, because I’m not honest with God.
When Gomer’s spiritual director told him to read the Book of Job, he was showing him an example of true, honest prayer. The Bible is filled with groaning and wailing, with complaints and anger… especially the Book of Job. Good Lord Job…
“My own utterance I will not restrain;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I the Sea, or the dragon,
that you place a watch over me?
When I say, “My bed shall comfort me,
my couch shall ease my complaint,”
Then you frighten me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,
So that I should prefer strangulation
and death rather than my existence.”
Quite honestly, there have been many times in my life where I don’t think I relate to any Biblical character more than Job. So often, I look at my life and complain. “I’ve tried so hard!” I think to myself. “I’ve given up so much for God, and this is how He treats me? Why must I suffer?”.
Whenever I begin to think like this, I try to hide those selfish and hardened bits of my heart from God. I wait until I feel a bit better to pray, so I can craft pretty and loving prayers to present to the Lord. Or, if I pray in the moment, I use it to look at the bright side. I’ll try and be upbeat, positive, and grateful, even if I am feeling none of those things. And perhaps there is a place for that in prayer. Perhaps there is a place for positivity in prayer, even when I feel like crap. But, more than anything, God wants us to be honest with Him. He doesn’t want our pretty little poetic prayers- He wants us. He wants relationship. We don’t need to sugarcoat things for God. He knows our suffering, and He wants to journey through it with us.
After Gomer’s talk, I decided to put his advice into action. I was driving home from the conference. At this point, I had been awake for 39 hours, I was still too nauseated to eat, I was hungry, I was sad, and I was anxious. I knew I had two hours to sleep before my next shift, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest with my racing thoughts. So, I spent the 20 minute drive home yelling, literally screaming and crying, to the Lord. I’m sure the other people on the highway thought I was a lunatic. I felt like a lunatic. But, I had also never felt more myself in front of God. Finally, finally, I was telling Him how I felt. I was allowing Him to experience my misery with me. I was so angry and so sad, and I let Him feel all of it. And, in doing so, I felt all of it. Verbalizing my pain to the Lord allowed me to truly feel.
I wish I could say I felt better immediately after. I didn’t. But incorporating this raw honesty into my prayer has been transformative in my relationship with God.
Throughout the book of Job, it is apparent that Job is afraid of the sheer power of God- he is afraid of what God might allow to happen to him. If Job had been all-knowing, then he would have seen that God wasn’t causing his boils and the deaths of his children. God was allowing the devil to test Job, because He trusted in Job and believed he would be faithful. Imagine if we could see our trials through a different lens- as chances to show God our faithfulness, over and over again. But, trust me, I know it’s a struggle to do that. I especially resonated with this passage:
“For what I feared overtakes me;
What I dreaded comes upon me.
I have no peace nor ease;
I have no rest, for trouble has come!”
I often feel like that. I feel that the moment I think I’ve found peace, I get hit again with yet another trial, another test. But like Job, we must take heart in the fact that God is faithful. Not all our prayers should be yelling out in anguish. But many of them certainly can be. In the end, however, we must remember we aren’t yelling at God for the sake of yelling at Him. We are crying out to Him earnestly, because we want Him to know our struggles. Just like in Job’s story, there will be joy in the end.
P.S. No matter how crappy you feel, please go to conferences and retreats like this! Yes, the retreat was difficult for me, but I learned so much about myself and about God, and will definitely be going next year:)
Y’all, I’m struggling. That’s it. Life is really, truly difficult right now. No matter how much tea I drink, sleep I get, friends I chat with, scripture I read, or walks I go on, I am in pain. And I’m trying to teach myself that that’s okay. Sometimes this journey on earth is just freaking painful. I’m trying to surrender my suffering to Jesus, who of course loves me more than anyone else ever could, but it’s not easy to surrender. People far holier than I speak about giving our sufferings to the Lord, and they make it sound so simple. Maybe it is simple, but it’s not easy. The idea of surrender is contrary to every wall I’ve put up and every protective mechanism I’ve created for myself. Maybe, in protecting ourselves from the world we harden our hearts to the Lord. I know I have.
Friends, if any of you are struggling, I pray that Jesus would break down your walls and replace your heart of stone with a heart like His.
Here is a prayer I’ve found from Stacy Sumereau that is helping me to surrender, bit by bit. It’s not easy for me to pray, but it’s so necessary.
A Prayer of Surrender
God, my Father, I thank you for all that You are, and all that you do for me through your son Jesus Christ. I praise you for my life, for your mercy and for your Eucharist. In Jesus’ name, Father, I place myself entirely in your Heart.
I surrender to you my whole self, my heart, my mind, my memory, my imagination, my will, my emotions, my passions, my body, my sexuality, my desire for human approval, my weaknesses, my desires, my sins.
I surrender every person in my life to you. I surrender every situation in my life to you. I surrender every relationship I am in to you. I surrender every concern I have to you. I surrender every fear I have to you. I surrender every doubt I have to you. I surrender all confusion I have to you. I surrender all sadness I am experiencing in my heart to you. I surrender all the woundedness I have to you. I surrender all anxiety and worry I have to you. I surrender all that deceives me in my heart to you. I surrender my whole self to you. I trust you to care for me and others in a perfectly loving way.
As I have emptied myself, and surrendered everything to you, I ask you now, Father, to fill me with your Holy Spirit and all the gifts and fruits of your Spirit.
Holy Spirit you are the source of love, hope, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, tenderness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. Purify my desires.
Help me to open my heart to you. Help me to become perfectly receptive as a pure child. Help me to believe in your love for me. Help me to hope in your love. Help me to receive from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus all grace and virtues necessary for me to become the person you created me to be. I ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Your son, God Almighty Father.
O Most Holy Immaculate Virgin Mary, I entrust this prayer to your heart, and ask you to press it to your wounded heart and intercede for me to your son Jesus. Please help me to be as you are, a perfect disciple, an obedient servant, a true child of God. Amen.
My prayers go out to any of you who may be struggling to surrender your hearts. Peace and blessings, friends.
I’ve always loved that about myself. I love that I can create worlds and stories in my mind, that I can imagine and relive some of the best moments of my life. I love that I can see endless possibilities in one person or piece of art.
Recently, though, I’ve realized that my daydreaming has just turned into ruminations on anxious thoughts. Actually, I think my anxiety has corrupted my thoughts for most of my life. I think this perhaps affects a lot more of us than we realize. Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, only to realize that you’ve completely lost your place in the conversation and you have no idea what they are talking about? No one? Just me?
I so often find my mind racing, analyzing the details of each and every moment of my day, my week, my life. I try to accomplish the most mundane, simple tasks, like doing the dishes, and I realize I’ve been on autopilot for 15 minutes and I now have no idea what I’m doing. I have transitioned to existing in one place physically while my mind wanders into an entirely different world.
Our brains are crazy, incredible places. I am constantly astounded by the depth and magnitude of the wanderings of my mind. When put to good use, we can use the great gift of our imaginations to encounter the Lord. We can write The Lord of the Rings! Our minds make us uniquely human, and our imaginations allow us to participate in the creative artistic power of the Lord. But, our imaginations are also capable of incredible evil. We can isolate ourselves, imagine the worst scenarios, and allow the Devil to creep into our everyday lives.
When I was younger, I remember using my imagination for hours on end, writing hundreds of handwritten pages of my “stories” and playing alone with my American Girl Dolls. Then, something shifted. I stopped using my creativity for good. I think the most imaginative people can also be the most anxious. I stopped living in the moment, and I started living in my own fears. It began in church, during Mass when I had time to think, and then it extended to car rides, late hours when I should be sleeping, and trips to the grocery store. Bit by bit, I lost myself, and my family lost me, to the tunnels and caverns of my own fearful imagination. I stopped existing and being present to my family and myself, and this is an incredibly dangerous existence. This is the type of existence that leads one to despair. I didn’t know this until recently, but despair is a great sin, one that separates us from the Father, and shows that we are afraid to trust in Him.
Bit by bit, I lost myself, and my family lost me, to the tunnels and caverns of my own fearful imagination.
I’ve found different ways to deal with these thoughts, but they still plague me from time to time, sometimes for hours on end. This summer, I decided that I wanted to stop living in my imagination and start living in the real world. So, as one step of many I’m currently taking right now, I started a course in Catholic Mindfulness. This online course is designed to be eight weeks long, and it teaches Christians how to exist with God in the present moment. The author, Dr. Gregory Bottaro, lived as a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal for four years, and he also has his doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Dr. Bottaro combines his years of prayer and formation as a friar with his clinical experience as a psychologist to create a multi-faceted course for faith and mental health.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade once said, “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond our wildest dreams”. How many moments of joy might I have missed because of the fears that are swirling around in my mind? With this course, I am taking my life back. I am choosing to live in the moment and to acknowledge my fearful thoughts, but I won’t dwell on them. I am choosing to recover, and I am choosing to be happy. Happiness, as I am learning time and time again, is a choice.
“The present moment holds infinite riches beyond our wildest dreams.” ~Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Each week of this eight week course, I’m going to make a post on my journey. Each week has a slightly different focus, and I’m hoping to draw one main lesson from my practice to give you an idea of what Catholic Mindfulness is truly about.
God speaks to us in the present moment. He speaks to us through our experiences, our desires, and through the people we interact with. Dwelling on past mistakes, holding grudges, or fearing the future is not what God wants- these are tools used by the Devil. And, friends, I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of him being in control. That’s why I’m taking this course- because I want to live in the moment. I want to fill my mind with all the joys and sorrows I experience in my everyday life, instead of fearing the future or dwelling on the past. God is here with us now. Don’t you want to be here with Him?
Some of you may know the C.S. Lewis quote my blog is named for, but if you don’t (or even if you do!) this post is for you!
I am continually inspired and uplifted by The Chronicles of Narnia, particularly by one scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this scene, the characters are headed through dark, dangerous waters towards the Island where Dreams come true. As the crew realizes where they are headed, they regret the risk they chose to take and all begin to panic. Lucy desperately prays, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” In the midst of the chaos and fear, all look up and notice a strange creature, an albatross, flying above the ship. Lewis writes:
“It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart’, and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”
“Courage, dear heart.”
C.S. Lewis beautifully articulates the situation I find myself in over and over again. I feel afraid, lost, and in the darkness. I feel despair. I know that God loves me- deep down inside, I know this is true. I know that he delights in me, and that he loved the idea of me so much, he created me. But, when I feel lost and alone, I forget all about that. I feel like Lucy, aboard a boat I cannot control, in the midst of dark and stormy skies, with nothing but choppy, inconsistent waves beneath my feet.
I wish I could say I handle these situations with grace, like Lucy does. And on the rare occasion, I do. I think I have this whole suffering thing figured out. But then, just as I begin to regain my confidence in myself and the Lord, just as the clouds begin to part and I remember what it’s like for the sun to finally, finally, shine, storm clouds descend again and I am thrust into darkness.
One of the great voyages, if you will, that I took a chance and embarked upon was attending college almost 3000 miles away from home. Though there were many moments in my freshman year of college when I felt isolated from God, one particularly painful one stands out in my memory.
The Freshman Retreat
I remember being proud of myself for attending that retreat. Most of my closest friends were not going, but I knew I wanted to grow in faith and in community, so I said goodbye to my dear roommate and left the comfort of my dorm room to go to a camp in the middle of nowhere with a bus full of students I hardly knew. I felt pangs of anxiety throughout the whole retreat, but nothing was so bad as Adoration. I was ridiculously excited for Adoration. I wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, holding my lit candle (a tiny beacon that signified I had gone to Confession) and bare my soul to He who loves me. I wanted Him to comfort me, as He had so many times before. I longed for the intimacy one can only achieve when in the presence of Christ Jesus. I knelt down before the Lord, and I settled into the beginning of one of the loneliest moments of my life.
I think I can only describe those few hours of Adoration as desperate. I begged Jesus for even an inkling of His presence. I knew He was there in front of me, but I didn’t feel Him. I felt many things, but not one of them was love. I felt my guilt gnawing in my stomach, after a rather mediocre confession experience with a priest who I’m sure meant well, but really just made me feel incredibly guilty and unloved. I felt the stabbing fear of the future, of having my whole life laid out in front of me, and not knowing if any of it would turn out how I expected- my career as a Speech Language Pathologist, my ministry ideas, my vocation- none of it was clear. I felt the quiet, constant loneliness of one who does not have many good friends in a state that has nothing of home. I dryly sang along to the praise and worship songs. I went through the motions- kneeling, standing, bowing, journaling- but I never felt anything. Around me, students were weeping, praying out loud, singing to their Lord, having (as I would later learn) some of the most pivotal, faith-filled experiences of their lives. And here I was- empty. I felt as though I had blindly trusted the Lord and gone on this retreat, only to have Him abandon me. I wandered out onto the dark waters, hoping to see a lighthouse, and not even given a lamp.
I continued to sit in the darkness, feeling dry and lonely, for all of Adoration. Finally, the agonizing period of prayer ended, and my classmates and I headed out into the crisp autumn air and back to the retreat house. I listened to stories of my peers’ dynamic and emotional prayer experiences, politely smiling and nodding. I should not be jealous, I told myself. I’ve experienced Christ before. It’s okay- someone else can have a turn. I sat rather numbly through the rest of the retreat. My prayers remained, in my mind, fruitless. I was incredibly disheartened, and I alternated between blaming God and myself. I thought I was being punished. I must have done something wrong. I racked my brain, agonizing over details of my life and my brokenness, trying to find an answer.
But, friends, I don’t think God wanted me to find an answer. I still don’t have one. Many months later, I still do not know why I felt such fear, sadness, and confusion in my soul during the Freshman Retreat. But I do know one thing. Despite the despair I felt, despite the fact that the LAST thing, the very last thing I wanted to do was continue attending Mass and praying and having small group discussions, I chose to continue with the retreat anyway. I chose to keep following God, wherever He lead me. And now, looking back, I think something miraculous happened to me on that retreat. I think God showed me something of my smallness. He showed me my desperate need for community, for connection. I participated in one of the best small groups of my life during the Freshman Retreat. I am still friends with many members of that small group. I continued throughout all of Freshman year to seek guidance from my small group leader, who also happened to be my RA. God taught me to see Him in others, even though couldn’t see Him in the Eucharist that weekend. I learned the value of connection. I learned to push on, to continue to seek friendships, to continue to choose to see the light, even with an angry, seemingly endless darkness churning in my heart.
Did I feel better coming back to campus from the retreat? Honestly? No. I felt horrible when I got back on campus. I felt desperate and alone, isolated from my Father. But I came home to campus with a network of acquaintances, who knew nothing about me other than my love for the Lord. I think, perhaps, that the Lord may have taught me through that retreat that I could seek Him in others when I am not strong enough to find Him myself.
Like Lucy, I was able to trust God when He led me out on dark waters. I couldn’t see Him or feel Him, but I knew he was there. I knew to keep searching for Him. Unlike Lucy, I did not experience the small, still voice of God. Most of us will likely not experience this whenever we ask for it. But, God does remind us that He is present with us, no matter how hard it is to hear His voice. I do truly believe this. Like Lucy, we will also have an albatross. Perhaps he will have a voice, or perhaps we will just know to trust him, like Drinian. During my time of darkness during and after the Freshman Retreat, my albatross was present in my small group. The Holy Spirit shone through my small group leader and my peers, as they offered me a place of connection and safety, even though I didn’t feel that connection with God in prayer. God is always present, just not in the ways we expect.
I believe- no, I know– that God and the angels and the saints in Heaven love, encourage, and cheer for us. God constantly whispers in the depths of our souls, “Courage, dear heart”. He desires for us to joyfully choose to be courageous. In our courage we will find our freedom. In fact, I’m so convinced of this that, after the hardest semester of my life (well, up until last semester) I got Aslan’s words tattooed on my arm, as a reminder of the encouragement God whispers to me constantly, even if I cannot hear it. He is there, loving us, even in the darkness.
My prayer for you, my friends, is that you would have the gumption to step out in faith onto the stormy seas. My hope is that this blog might help you to feel less alone in the chaos, because, believe me, I am there with you. And the Lord is there with all of us.