Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spread Joy, Share Love, Give Thanks

Recently our Green Bay team has had quite a few bonding experiences. Whether it's been through our usual extended periods of time in the car, 3 hour long spontaneous life-sharing at Culvers, or at the movies seeing Thor and Catching Fire (midnight premier might I add!). I can't really express how much joy this time has brought me. Ever since being here (or even since graduation really) I've been missing all my close friends from college. The bond I share with them is like no other so being away from that has definitely proved a challenge. However, I can see the barriers slowly coming down between everyone here on the team and it makes me so excited! Like you really have no idea... Their acceptance of my weird moods, love for Gavin (which I'll get into more another time), and my nosy desire to know their life stories has been awesome. Some times I just can't stop from smiling because I can just feel the blessings that are these people surrounding me. The amount of dumb jokes we have that we laugh at for way too long may be nauseating to outsiders but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I know I only mentioned the GB team above but I cannot forget the Mensha half of SPIRITUS either! Although we only see each other about once a week we are immediately hugging, joking, and just having a great time together the instant we're reunited. The fact that we hug every person on the other team each time we arrive AND leave melts my heart. In case you don't already know, I love hugs (sorry to all those who don't that I still hug anyways hahah). The hugging has even creeped into Mass during the sign of peace! Basically it's hugging all the time here on SPIRITUS :) Recently, as a whole team, we went on a healing retreat where we learned more about the importance of forgiveness, whether that be giving it to others or accepting it from God. Through that retreat I saw people open up in an entirely new way. Whether in a group or one on one I began to feel even more connected to my teammates. Experiencing their openness and vulnerability was powerful. I want to thank each one of them for that. You're all changing my life every day whether you believe it or not.

So this Thanksgiving, even though I can't be home with my family and friends, I am thankful I have these amazingly accepting, loving, joyful people in my life. It's no Stonehill but that's ok because it most definitely is where I am supposed to be. God may even start to get annoyed with how many times I thank him for this experience and the people I'm sharing it with haha. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, may God bless you and all your family and friends!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


As some of you may know, on SPIRITUS we attend daily Mass. We were lucky enough to be given books that have the readings for every day. Each day also includes a small passage about a saint as well as a reflection that connects to that day's readings. This past Thursday there was a reflection that really stood out to me. It was titled "What Makes For Peace." I've already reread it like 10 times. There are so many points made in it where I immediately reacted with a, YES! or Exactly! Before I go into it any more I'm actually going to type it up for you to read. It's a little long so be prepared.

"What Makes For Peace"

Real peace implies something deeper than polite acceptance of those who are different. It means meeting those who are different, appreciating them, and their culture, and creating bonds of friendship with them. Family, culture, religion, community, and friendship are all realities that are vital for human growth. But we need to learn how not to remain enclosed or imprisoned in such groups. We have to cross boundaries and meet others who are different. Coexistence is a foundation, and it is important, but peace is something much deeper. To create peace we have to go further than just saying hello. We have to discover who the other person is and reveal who we are. As we listen to and really meet one another, we begin to see the work of God in the beauty and value, in the deepest personhood, of those who are different.

In his book I and Thou, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber speaks of relationship as the treasure of the human person; he distinguishes the "it" from the "thou." There are things and there are people, individual people. He reminds us that a society that encourages the accumulation of things--things to do, things to possess, things to look at, to buy, to throw away, etc.--risks undervaluing and forgetting the treasure of personal, heart-to-heart relationships. It is through relationships, through love, that we are fulfilled....

Personal relationship implies tenderness and kindness. The opposite of love is hardness of the heart or insensitivity; it is indifference to others and to what they think, feel, and need. It is to avoid meeting them and to erect defense mechanisms. Fear encloses people within their systems of protection. Peace is not just absence of war and it is not just living alongside others, ignoring them, indifferent to them, or avoiding them. Peace is getting to know each other, appreciating each other, seeing each other's value, and receiving from each other. It flows from a communion of hearts in which we discover that we are truly brothers and sisters belonging to a common humanity. This communion of hearts is not just sentimental; it does not mean merely sheltering amidst a friendly group. It implies that together, as a community and friendly group. It implies that together, as a community and as friends, we are committed to working for peace and justice. Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice. But to grow in love requires work--hard work. And it can bring pain because it implies loss--loss of the certitudes, comforts, and hurts that shelter and define us.

One thing I struggle with in life is the judgment of others, whether it is coming from me or from other people. It's almost inevitable as it seems to be ingrained in our human minds. But I've come to realize, it's OK to judge. It's what you do with those judgments that actually matters. Do you dwell on them? Do you feed them with more and more judgments? Do you realize how you are reacting to those judgments and actively alter your behavior? Do you leave your mind open to the possible realities that may overturn those judgments? Do you love everyone despite those judgments and realities? No, we are not going to agree with everyone on everything because that's life. That's what comes with the gift of free will. Therefore, if we accept our personal gift of free will we must also recognize that everyone else is accepting that same gift and using it how they see fit. It's not going to be how you see fit because it is their choice just as it is your choice. This is just the first step though. No matter what a person chooses to do with their gift, they were beautifully created by God and will always be loved by Him. Knowing He loves every person on this earth is enough reason for me to love them as well, despite any differences in opinion or life choices. We must overcome our human instincts to dwell on judgments and see people as less than human, whether they are your best friend, mom or dad, complete stranger, criminal, etc. We were all formed with the same equality when we were given the gift of free will and thus the ability to sin. Let us then use our gift to honestly and faithfully pursue this peace. Let us accept each person as human with a story of their own that we should be clamoring to hear so that our judgments may be made new with truth. 

"There is no way of knowing what a particular person's journey has truly been and where the person is now until we earn the right to hear his or her story and then listen carefully and prayerfully."
-Sherry Weddell

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Unnecessary Stress

So it's been over a month since I've posted last. Clearly this blog isn't turning out to be what I hoped. Instead of a place where I can share significant events or revelations or whatever, this blog has become a nagging headache. You might not understand that at all since I've only posted 2 times but that's exactly why. This blog has transformed within my mind to become a place where I need to prove and write oh so eloquently that I'm learning lots and having these profound experiences and where I can get people to consider deep religious topics that I'm having personal revelations about. Don't get me wrong, I am having all of these experiences but why has it become a thing to prove? In reality this blog should simply be about small updates on my week to keep family and friends in the loop when it actuality it's morphed into this ridiculously complex thing. Honestly, I don't know how that happened but the pressure that has come from it has been slowly driving me crazy. On top of my super busy 6 days a week and average of 12 hour long days, thinking about writing for this blog, writing in my journal, reading books or whatever extra stuff I'd planned to do with my time stresses me out constantly. It's like I'm back at school procrastinating an important assignment but it's even worse cuz there is no due date to make me get my act together. So with that said, I'd like to apologize to all those who were expecting a lot more updates from me on here. I'd love to say that now that I've come to this realization I'll have more simple updates coming but I really don't think that is going to happen. I need to mentally get this stresser out of my mind and I think by telling you all what's going on that will allow me to do that. Hopefully I can turn this back into (in my mind) a place of fun stories, small thoughts, and no stress! So let me start with this story:

This past Thursday the entire team was on retreat with St. Lawrence Seminary, an all boys high school. Emily, Jared, and I were put on the Junior retreat. Picture this- me giving a talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in front of 60 high school boys.... Did you laugh? Yeah I did at first too haha but then I actually met the guys and my nervous laughter turned into a giant smile. All of these boys were so open to being there, to learning, to growing, and so willing to participate, be a little silly, and they had genuine interest in the goodwill of everyone there. The three of us went into this retreat feeling way less than prepared and came out feeling like it was one of the best retreats yet. The Holy Spirit really helped us out there.

One of the funniest parts happened at the very end. We were playing quarter hockey (small, enclosed, wooden board with 3 sections and different openings to get the quarter through and score in). I challenged one of the boys, Mark, and I was actually beating him pretty badly when some of the other guys started gathering around. Next thing I know I have a whole cheering section. Every time I made a good move they'd cheer. Every time I made a bad move they'd reassure me. Every time he made a good move they'd say I was giving him a chance. Funniest of all, every time I actually scored a dance party would erupt and there would be high fives all around. Poor Mark could not catch a break but the other guys were lovinggg it. I never thought I could feel so completely comfortable being only 1 of 2 girls in a group of 60 high school boys haha. (Granted they were much more well behaved and mature than normal high school boys but still) It's definitely one retreat that will stick with me :)

Ok now that I've written a novel, don't expect anything else any time soon (I'm sure by now you're not but had to say it lol). God Bless!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

4 weeks later...

Has it really been 4 weeks since my first blog post?? Oops…. As you can tell just from that, life has been pretty busy. We finished up training 2 weeks ago and finally got to move up to Green Bay (another reason I couldn’t post, because we're still waiting for internet up here). As I think I mentioned before, there are 2 teams; Menasha and Green Bay. While I reallyyy miss being with the 9 who are still in Menasha it is so nice to finally not be living out of a suitcase anymore! The other 3 girls and I are living in what was once a convent, while the 2 guys are at a rectory 15 minutes away. Our place is a work in progress as it was all mostly empty rooms in the beginning of August. To give you a visual, it’s basically a long hallway with lots of rooms off of it, plus a basement for laundry and such. But people here have been AMAZING with donations, especially the parishioners from Resurrection Parish (the parish I’m doing youth ministry for)! Thanks to them we have new beds, couches, tables, kitchen supplies, and the list just goes on and on. Even after a couple weeks here people are still asking what we need. I’ve truly felt the love of God through everyone who’s helped during this time.

Besides moving in and getting settled, we've begun getting our youth ministry programs off the ground as well as continuing to do retreats. The main age groups we’ll work with are middle school and high schoolers. Talk about challenging ages haha. Being the more introverted person that I am it’s been a real challenge trying to step out of that and be the “courageous” person to start conversations. In case you want a quick laugh at how pathetic I am I’ll give an example. Our first week in Green Bay we were going to join the middle schoolers at Resurrection School for lunch. I just thought this was sooo awkward and that the kids would be like who in the world are these random old people and why do they want to sit with me? So we walk into the cafe and I feel like I’m back in middle school trying to figure out where to sit... super awkward. I walk by a table filled with 5th grade girls and smile at them and a few of them wave and say hi. So I say, “I’d sit with you but there’s no room” and immediately like half of them go “oh you can just pull up a chair!” even though it’s a table where the chairs are already attached. I was shocked and also felt really dumb for being so nervous. A bunch of 5th graders just welcomed me to their table without a second thought….. Needless to say I’m working on not judging situations so quickly anymore as well as not being a baby haha.

Besides the challenge of getting over my innate awkwardness, I’ve been having an amazing time here. My teammates (both Green Bay and Menasha) are soooo awesome! I don’t think I've ever laughed so hard and so frequently haha (granted it is pretty easy to make me laugh, but that's besides the point). I’m already learning so much from them. I see so much joy, devotion, and empathy within each individual. You just can’t help but feel blessed when you’re constantly surrounded by pure amazingness.

This week we find out who our spiritual directors are and get to have our first meeting with them. We also have our first Cor Jesu, which is a night of adoration and praise and worship (kind of like LIFT from back home). Next Monday we’ll have our first bible studies for both young adults and high schoolers. And of course more retreats are on the schedule too. I have lots more I could talk about but I’m going to end this post here. I promise I won’t go another 4 weeks without blogging. Hope you’re all doing well, I’m keeping you in my prayers!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Call

It's been just over 2 weeks now that I have been in Wisconsin, marking the beginning of my 9 months of youth ministry volunteer service through SPIRITUS. I could probably write a book about everything that has happened thus far and we haven't even gotten into the ministry work yet! I've wanted to post something on here for a while now but the busy training schedule has tired me out so much that at the end of the day writing is the last thing I want to do haha. Let me just give a quick overview of my program and such before I get into anything else. I am working in a team of 15 people (6 returners) to help the Catholic youth of Wisconsin become closer to their faith through retreats, youth ministry, and bible studies. There are 9 girls and 6 guys. From within this group we've been divided into 2 other teams; one that will stay in the main location of Menasha at the Mount Tabor Center and the second will be in Green Bay. I was chosen to been in the GB team. There's a slightly better description to the right of what we'll be doing as well as a link to SPIRITUS' website/blog. Right now we are going through training to learn the retreats, youth ministry, and the basics of living in community and working with youth. I know that was kind of a lame description but I'll get into it more in later posts.

There are many topics/revelations I could talk about but one that seems to have come up the most over these past 2 weeks is the question of "Am I really called to be here?" Since this type of service and living is such a big change for most of us this question has undoubtedly passed through each of our minds once if not multiple times. My mind was actually consumed by this question the days leading up to my departure to WI as well as the first few after I arrived. My family and friends and memories of Stonehill life were really holding me back from being excited about this new adventure. However, the biggest contributor was my self doubt. I had almost zero confidence in myself because I felt as though I lacked so much necessary incite and knowledge surrounding the Catholic faith. Once I arrived, in my eyes, this doubt was only confirmed. I saw how much everyone else knew, even if it was just a simple prayer that I'd never heard of, and compared myself to them immediately. I was going down a self-destructive path and instead of turning to the One I knew would always be there I turned inward or to a few people from home. How hypocritical of me to ignore Jesus in my troubling times when I accepted this position because I want to spread the news that He is someone who you should ALWAYS turn to because he will ALWAYS be there for you.

While I felt alone in these feelings of doubt at first, I quickly came to realize many others were struggling as well. This goes to show you how deceptive judgments can be. Whether the struggle is not knowing all the prayers, feeling homesick, doubting your ability to connect with the youth, or anything else, that question of "Is this really my calling" finds a way to sneak in there. These doubts and many others are going to sneak in our minds countless times over these next 9 months, especially because we are doing God's work. As one of my teammates said, the Devil hates what we are doing and is going to try extremely hard to stop us, especially through attacking our relationships. This was brought up after one of our teammates came to the decision that this was not his calling and that he was going to leave the program. It was particularly hard to see him go because he was going to be on the GB team with me and I saw so much potential in him. Many others saw this in him as well. This just goes to show that we may not always be able to see our purpose or usefulness in certain situations but that doesn't mean we don't have one. With that being said, I respect my teammate's decision and pray that he finds his true calling.

As the rest of the team and I embark on this journey and continue to battle these doubts we must remember that we aren't here randomly. Some of my teammates joke about how often we are thanked for "saying yes" to SPIRITUS as well as to God's call (hence the title of my blog). God called each one of us here for a purpose. He wants to use us to do His work and He will equip us with the necessary gifts to do just that. If we truly believe what we are going to be preaching then we will place our faith in the hands of Jesus Christ despite the number of times we doubt or feel discouraged. 

Through the wise words of a fortune cookie I got on the day I arrived here "Discover The Power Within Yourself." With God's help I hope to do just that over these next 9 months. :)

I know many of you reading this may not be used to me being so open about my faith. This is something I have struggled with for my whole life and will continue to struggle with throughout this year. I hope that you continue to read and are interested in my experiences and thoughts even if you aren't religious yourself. You all have a special place in my heart and sharing this side of myself is something I think I have been longing to do without knowing exactly how to go about it. On that note, feel free to comment or talk to me privately if you have any questions about anything I bring up in my posts!

Miss you all & God bless!