The Matter Of Discernment

The matter of discernment puzzles me.

I was 20 before I even heard the word discernment, and then I heard quite regularly at that. It didn’t take long before “discernment” sound like the magic word for some secret society. It annoyed me to no end for a long time.

I’m not much closer to discovering what discernment really means ten years later. Although I have been told on numerous occasions that it’s not a “get out of jail free card,” so I should really stop treating it like one.

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

It’s one of those necessary evils of life, especially if you’re Catholic, if you ask me.

There seems to be an implication that one cannot possibly find their vocation without some sort of discernment.

While this is more or less true I don’t think it can be expressed in such a cut and dry fashion if people are really going to understand discernment.

I understand that there’s no definite “right” or “wrong” way to discern.

However I’m not sure I’ve ever done it “right,” or at least the best way for me.

I have, however, done what everyone else has done.

I’ve gotten up for the sunrise masses and before class rosaries (mostly).

Gone to prayer groups and Bible studies.

Rarely ever, and I mean ever, missed fellowship or adoration.

Made every retreat possible, even a yearlong SEEL retreat that included spiritual direction.

I even joined a discernment group (albeit for other reasons, at least initially).

And they’ve had great success, although a different definition of success than the secular.

I have the dubious distinction of being a religious sister’s prayer partner for a few months during our junior year (during her final pre-nun years). Just to give you an example. I like to tell people that I helped facilitate her discernment process, because that’s how things happened in my head.

It took me a while to really get that discernment has no timetable. Although it eats on my nerves when people say they’re discerning something and you know for a fact that they’ve been doing it for years. Talk about using discernment as a “get out of jail free” card.

Let’s not even talk about the people who are so certain of their plan because they’ve discerned it within an inch of their lives and then after a day (or what feels like a day) they do a complete change of direction.

Because the mysteries of discernment go both ways, and every which way.

Discernment’s never been my thing, at least not in the same way swimming or encountering unpleasant people seem to be my things.

It would be awesome if God would just speak very loudly and very clearly after a period of prayer and self-reflection.

Unfortunately, discernment doesn’t work like that either, at least not for most people.

Discernment is important. It’s also becoming a lost art in some aspects. Just don’t ask me for advice on it, because I have no idea what I’m doing.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 6, 2014

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People, Not A Project

Although I did my capstone project on persons with disabilities it was to prove that people with disabilities aren’t a project for the Church to do but rather people who could contribute to projects within the Church’s purview. While I was concentrating on the Catholic Church in particular it isn’t a uniquely “Catholic problem.”

 

It seems like a simple problem with a simple fix. However, it’s more layered than that.

Buildings aren’t accessible, the most obvious reason, but not the only reason.

Sometimes people are led to believe that they don’t have anyone who has a disability that attends their church, that is not true. There’s at least one person, and there are many more who wish to belong to your church but don’t for obvious (and not so obvious) reasons.

Decades of inspiration porn is another reason, it’s so engrained in the culture of so many churches that people can’t help themselves for wanting to put someone with a disability on a pedestal. “People with disabilities are more united with the sufferings of Christ,” “God chose them to be different to show us the beauty of life,” and such.

One might think it’s nice to be thought of in such high regard but at its core it separates those with disabilities from the able bodied.

If the goal is equality than the “special projects” and the pedestals within our churches need to be put away and everyone needs to look for ways to start the path to inclusion, because it won’t happen overnight.

I wish more people would recognize this problem within all churches. We’re people who want to work alongside people to complete a project, not the project itself.

Arming For The Future

One morning I woke up and got dressed, it’s what I do most days, but this morning in particular was different.

I was planning this outfit for at least a week.

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It wasn’t fancy by any means but, for me, it was more important than any fancy dress (or anything else). It was part of the most important presentation of my life (at least so far).

One of the last pieces of my master’s degree was completing a capstone of some sort. Originally, I was going to write a paper. I had been planning it since the beginning, and I wanted to be able to pull something I had written off a shelf in the library at a later date. I pictured future students finding my work and incorporating it into their own, just as I had done, but one sentence changed my mind.

“If you did a project it will have the potential to reach a greater audience.”

I thought back to the final projects I’d done in other courses. What could I use from any of those, if any.

I decided to do a project, but that would mean enrolling in the seminar rather than working by myself (a method I prefer, or at least I thought I would).

Before my project would be finished I would have to workshop it with a small group and then present it during the seminar.

I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only student in my class born with a physical disability. So, I didn’t just have to present my project. I also had to give everyone a crash course in living with a disability.

I put thought into every detail, over and over again. Knowing everyone would go back to their everyday lives I wanted them to come away with more than what they came with, other than how good my project was.

Mainly I wanted them to know that people with childhood disabilities grow up and become adults, that we’re probably not what they thought, that the disabled aren’t looking for pity or continually bitter. I wanted them to see disability from a different point of view.

The outfit was only the last piece of my part of arming my peers for the future.

Why I: Don’t Suggest Giving Up Social Media For Lent

There are certain things I can count on as Lent approaches. Without a doubt, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is the most popular question to ask and/or be asked.

Now that social media has become such an important part of our lives it’s natural to consider whether or not to give it up for 40 days. I have several friends who engage in this practice, problem is most of them don’t use social media that much anyway. So is it really that sacrificial or are they really getting any benefit from it?

A point worth considering, but not the one I wanted to make right now.

As I write this there’s a snowstorm outside (I’m a write ahead & schedule blogging type). In fact at one point it was snowing so hard that it was snowing sideways. Thus my plans for the day have been canceled and I’m attempting to stay occupied indoors. In a way it’s going to make the point of this post much more poignant, at least I hope so.

The internet, and social media, has opened up everyone’s world. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is just how much it’s opened up the world for those with disabilities.

I wouldn’t be friends with many people if it weren’t for the internet, or at least I wouldn’t be as good of friends with people if things didn’t start on the internet. Let’s just say as an introvert with a disability it’s nice to get the “getting to know you” stuff out of the way when you only get to see people in person a few times in your entire life.

I can’t forget to mention Sara. If there’s anyone who taught me that just because you have physical limits doesn’t mean you can’t create solid friendships and an intentional community. Our friendship may have been short but it left me forever changed.

I don’t suggest giving up social media for Lent for one quasi-simple reason:

You may be part of someone’s community, and it may be the only community they have access to (especially in the winter months).

Giving up your social media routine for 40 days may seem like a good idea and in some ways it can be beneficial but if you do consider who you’ll be leaving behind for 40 days.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

How much can happen in 40 days?

Also consider your group of friends, do they also give something(s) up for Lent?

Do you all give up the same thing for Lent? If so, do you still have that same sense of community because you have other ways of keeping in contact or are you able to see each other in person?

Do you have one friend (or maybe more) that seems uncomfortable with your plan for a 40 day social media fast?

Have you ever stopped and really considered why someone is resistant to give up social media (especially if you “only” know them virtually)?

Lenten sacrifices are meant to make you a better person, but not at the expense of other people. If your sacrifice is harmful to someone else than are you really working towards a greater communion with the Body of Christ?

Alternatives to consider:

Cut back on your social media practices. Check in once a day or once a week.

Post the same thing on all of your social media accounts (idea borrowed from Pat Padley FYI).

Keep community connected through email or text, or an old fashioned phone call.

Make your intentions known early on, as in before today, so if any of your friends have reservations or objections you can engage in thoughtful conversation.

Have a way to contact you on your social media profiles and make it easy to find. Have you ever received an “out of office reply” with a contact email or number included? Like that.

I’m not saying that you absolutely shouldn’t give up social media for Lent.

I’m not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit so I can’t say such things with absolute conviction. But I wish people wouldn’t make the decision as easily as they seem to. Virtual community isn’t the same as in person community but it’s still a community that needs nurturing, attention, and people to take part in it.

*A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on February 10, 2016

When Liturgical & Secular Collide

Last year (in particular) I had to juggle multiple schedules. The concept isn’t a foreign one, everyone does it every day, at least in the majority.

Although I doubt a liturgical calendar is one people rarely consult, unless they’re Catholic.

However, it’s one I had to basically live by, not counting the fact that the Church also lives by it.

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with not having to worry about commitments tied to a calendar (and then having them be graded) and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was enjoying it, especially when the following post started appearing on social media:

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For those of you not familiar with Lent things can get complicated when the liturgical period overlaps with secular holidays, and even birthdays.

My birthday fell during Lent during college, my 21st birthday no less, my roommates planned a party for me (due in part because I was the only 1 of the 4 of us who had a birthday during the school year). It seemed like it was going to be a huge party, at least in terms of what I can handle for a big event, but it was during Lent.

Lent is a time when people tend to give something up (or do something enriching) for 40 days. My friends gave up drinking or sugar and/or took up a stricter practice of personal prayer, so the party ended up being more like an open house for all our friends. Whoever wanted to stop by did, and I took calls from friends apologizing for not coming by, but it was Lent, and they made a commitment.

I understood, some of them I envied in fact.

Why envy? Because some were making and keeping commitments I knew (and know) I wouldn’t be able to keep (even all these years later).

There’s often talk, and concern of what Catholics should consider a higher priority, the Catholic world or the secular world. I understand it and don’t at the same time. It’s an issue of balance, and that looks different for each person, not to mention personal values and priorities.

I, personally, like to see what happens when Liturgical and Secular collide. I like to see what others do, or not. It’s fun for me, albeit in a weird way, and it helps me figure out my own feelings, priorities, and whatnot.

Grad School: The Final Semester

I’m pretty sure a lot of people never thought I’d reach this point, honestly, I had my own doubts at times.

As far as semesters go this one was fairly lonely, like my first one, except this time I was able to recognize the loneliness. I knew a few people in class but not well, and I really didn’t want to make any new friends (yes, I am that kind of person). I wouldn’t go back to last year if given the choice, but I missed comradery, much like last fall.

You’d think I’d have the whole studying routine down by now, but no, there were plenty of nights when I was clicking submit at the last minute. But there were times when I completed assignments a week ahead of time. So yeah, that time management thing went to both extremes.

Although there were times when I wanted to quit, no matter what semester it was, and return to life as a normal person now I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve caught up on Netfl!x, which didn’t take nearly as long as I would’ve thought. So much so that I’ve started and finished watching other things.

I’ve even read a book or two, which I swore I wasn’t going to do for 6 months, at least. And by book or two I mean I’ve read a pile or two of books.

I took a short break from swimming, but it was more of necessity than want. And I regretted it within 2 minutes of getting back in the water, the break from swimming, not the swimming itself.

People keep asking me “what’s next?”

Honestly, I have no idea.

Am I cut out to be a normal person anymore?

My face has been buried in books and writing papers for years. I’ve had to turn down more social engagements than I can count, I don’t care to, really.

School has been my excuse to not do things I don’t want to do, but didn’t want to just say no either, so it worked on a few fronts.

I’m sending out my resume again and seeing what’s out there. I’ve been doing it some in the last year but nowhere near seriously.

But that’s not the part that freaks me out the most, although it is daunting.

What will I do with my free time?

I’ve had projects on the backburner for years, but is it time to give them more attention?

That would require some shifting, for sure.

Should I pursue a career based on filling someone else’s shoes or should I continue to forge my own path?

12 Days Of Christmas, Kinda

There are so many reasons why I hate the start of the Christmas season, at least the commercial version of it. I’m not sure when it started but I was ecstatic in college when I was given an Advent calendar that included the Christmas Octave.

My cousin says it’s because I know too much, that may be the case now, but back then I think it was just an annoyance.

I hate having to buy Halloween decorations in early September, that Christmas movies run 24/7 on some TV stations from October 1st through New Year’s, and the supposed “war on Christmas, among other things.

I look for anything for an escape, at least until Gaudete Sunday, so imagine how I felt when my coach told the group about the “12 sets of Christmas” challenge.

I’ve heard stories about swim practices during holiday breaks, “Grinch week” or “hell week” are common terms, although mostly in younger groups. Usually time around the holidays is devoted to fun games that happen to double as technique work or some sort of cross training, so I thought the sets would be like that.

No.

It was going to be unpleasant, to the point where I would probably hate it.

I tried making the argument that it was Advent and not Christmas, at least at the time. I threw out the “Catholic card,” knowing it wouldn’t get very far but it was worth a try. It wasn’t totally bailing on the challenge, just putting it off. Anything that would buy me a few more days without time trials makes for a better practice.

However, the “12 Sets of Christmas” was to be completed in December. Thus, covering both the Advent and Christmas seasons, more or less. So even if my argument had held up it wouldn’t have been for long.

It did get me to focus less on Christmas and more on what I was actually doing, which is a good thing, and an essential for a 400-yard Individual Medley, for time, among other things associated with swimming well, or at least well-ish.

I survived Advent and Christmas, and the associated swim sets, actually, I think the swim sets helped take the edge off the intensity of the holiday season.

Although I think it’s weird that the Valentines paraphernalia made an appearance during Advent.

Remembering Jack

From a school in Copper Valley, to a legacy of thousands.

As the story goes a group of Jesuits and some of their Sister friends went to Copper Valley to open a school for Native Alaskan children.

60 years later the legacy continues to make a world of difference.

One of the Jesuits from that Copper Valley School decided to walk to Bethlehem in the name of peace.

He and his fellow pilgrims arrived in Jesus’ birthplace on Christmas Eve, or so the legend goes.

(Did you think I meant the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania? So do most people when they hear this story)

That same Jesuit joined me in a buffet line one spring in Seattle and invited me (and my community) to a meal at the local Jesuit residence.

Just like people do every day, except this was only the 2nd time I’ve crossed paths with this Jesuit. Typically, this kind of gesture, although nice, would seem odd to me.

Except for the fact that this Jesuit seemed to possess a level of generosity and kindness of spirit that I hadn’t encountered before, and haven’t since. I knew he meant it.

This kind Jesuit with a boundless spirit and unforgettable sense of humor has touched many, a goal many reach for but very few achieve.

People thought he was nuts. I’m sure there were times he though his own ideas were nuts too. But he went for them anyway.

I laugh to myself whenever I wonder if I’m about to embark on something people think is nuts. Jack would probably be one of those people too, the only difference is, He’d tell you you’re nuts with a smile on his face, then tell you to go for it.

What the Lord can do with a restless spirit is truly amazing, and only something the Lord can do.

I have been truly blessed by his example.

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Father Jack Morris S.J.
1927-2012

“Our human task, if you like, is to not flee from the ill-being but to transform it.”
–Jack Morris, June 2012

*A similar version of this post was written on September 28, 2016

Why I: Am Not Meant To Be A Catholic Blogger

I’ve had this post in mind since Benedict’s resignation. I don’t think I’m able to write it better now than a few months ago, but if I wait any longer I’m going to forget it altogether.

I found my first Catholic blog by accident. It wasn’t long before I thought I would be a good Catholic blogger too. At the time there weren’t many known Catholic bloggers, in fact many young adult Catholics were being told to stay away from internet Catholicism.

I thought I could be a voice for young adult Catholics like myself. It made perfect sense. The internet didn’t scare me & I had plenty of resources at my disposal (at least then).

However it didn’t take me very long to figure out that I wouldn’t be good at it. I did compare myself to other Catholic bloggers, but that was only part of it. I just wouldn’t be good at it. I’m not meant to be a Jennifer, Arleen, or Chelsea.

I don’t find God in church.

There was a time when I never went to mass at all. It wasn’t doing anything for me, except for filling me with rage & anger. Then there was a time when I went to mass daily. I have to do what works for me when it works for me. I can’t go to mass if I’m not feeling inspired to do so. Mass is a piece of the puzzle that makes up my faith life; it’s not the be all end all.

I struggle with modesty.

 It was a long standing debate between friends and me whether I was dressing modestly. In the end we decided that it was best to agree to disagree. I find wearing a dress to be incredibly uncomfortable, in fact I didn’t own anything that wasn’t pants for a long time. I don’t understand the obsession that modesty automatically means dress & immodest equals wearing a tank top. In wind a dress can blow & expose everything, pants don’t move. Tank tops are more complicated so let’s just leave it at I like to have all my bits and pieces covered.

The Church (or rather churches) isn’t accessible.

It’s true that it’s not accessible for people intellectually but that’s not the type of access I’m talking about here, although all types of access shouldn’t be ignored. Many people with disabilities can’t even get into a church to celebrate mass. It’s true that many churches have a handicapped row at the front of the church and it does provide a great deal of access for those who choose to use it. I however find a downside to it. I jokingly call it the “crippled and lame” section. Everyone wants to feel a part of the community. Putting people upfront, because it’s the only place there’s space, can make them feel like objects on display instead of being part of something. There’s also the issue of ramps & elevators…..

The pro-life movement.

I consider myself to be pro-life personally but on a global stage pro-choice. I think the pro-life movement overshadows many of the other issues the Church should also be taking a stand on. I also feel like there’s a piece of the pro-life puzzle that’s missing. We shouldn’t be ignoring other issues for the sake of one.

A feeling of lack of understanding.

I’m guilty of this as well, so I’m going to attempt to treat lightly. One of the biggest reasons I turned my back on the Church was the lack of understanding (and even the desire to try to understand). People were too focused on trying to heal me and tell me I needed to be a better person. People are different and share and express their faith in different forms, even among Catholics

I don’t know the Rosary.

At one point I’m sure I knew it, but not anymore. Even more shameful, at least to some of you, every time I try to learn I miscount my Hail Marys and/or fall asleep in the process.

I can’t be a good leader if I’m not a good follower.

I can’t tell people how to be a Catholic if I’m figuring it out for myself.

*A similar version of this post was written on May 10, 2013

Why I: Joined A Discernment Group

Ten years ago I was looking to make a fresh start after a near crash and burn of my academic career & a list of personal issues. (Side note: The fact that I started college more than a decade ago makes me feel kind of old.)

Here’s what’s awesome about going to a university with an active campus ministry:

There’s always something going on.

It’s almost kind of ridiculous how much stuff you can be involved in (or not).

At the time I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, in fact I was still in the recovery from Atheism phase of things, because that kind of journey practically requires a recovery period. I called myself a Christian but I wasn’t ready to “drink the Catholic k00l aid” just yet.

I steered clear of any organized group outside of the theatre department my freshman year and I was reconsidering that plan for sophomore year. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, so I didn’t want to do the same thing.

There are always plenty of things to do in a theatre/drama department as well. There are always “other duties as assigned” (to put it one way) or a friend is working on some sort of project at all hours so if you want to see them it’s best to go to them (and then you end up helping on the same project, somehow). But I didn’t want to be a “drama kid,” at least not exclusively.

At some point during orientation, sometime after neighborhood orientation, I huddled into the campus ministry office with other new students to hear their “sales pitch”. This was some place I wanted to be involved. I knew that from visiting a friend earlier in the year. The how was the part that needed to be determined.

I’m not a try everything once type of girl but that’s pretty much what ended up happening. The first few weeks the only thing I had second thoughts on was solemn adoration; anything labeled solemn or somber means I’ll laugh uncontrollably. I needed to be better versed at adoration before the sound was turned off.

The first group I showed up for (I think) was women’s group. I loved that group. In fact many of the ladies I met thanks to that group I’m still friends with today (maybe I’ll tell you about that someday).

The next night discernment group would be meeting. I had no idea what “discernment” was but I figured it would be similar to women’s group so I showed up.

I probably should’ve looked up what discernment was before I decided to go to the group. But if I did I probably wouldn’t have gone.

Instead of sitting in the lounge area we met in the prayer room. And instead of one of the campus ministers facilitating there were two nuns, from The Little Sisters of the Poor (an order I knew nothing about, but have come to love dearly).

At some point during the hour I realized I was in a room full of ladies who were considering becoming nuns. I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t want to get up and leave (for fear of embarrassment only).

I may have countless sisters these days, but back then I had only known two, and the impression they left wasn’t one of full warm & fuzzy memories.

I left that night thinking I probably wouldn’t go back (because I wasn’t even in the same hemisphere of that life path) but when Thursday rolled around again I did. I’m still not sure why. The funny thing is I kept going. I think I only missed a few meetings during the year, when being a drama kid had to take a front seat.

I even went the night when we’d be saying the Rosary most of the time. When I grasped even less of it than I do now & I had to borrow a Rosary from the spares that someone always seemed to have on hand.

For me it wasn’t about discernment, at least not at first, it was about meeting people who just might be like minded. When that didn’t work out so well it was about having concrete examples of what I might aspire to. Not to mention meeting some religious sisters who were not only nice, but they went out of their way to invest in others.

I will never ever forget that Sister Mary David told me it was perfectly fine to fall asleep during adoration “because the Lord knows you need your rest.”

Never mind that I had agreed to sit up with the blessed sacrament only to fall asleep face down on a futon that was in our makeshift retreat chapel.

My original intent couldn’t have been any more off. However I think I got a lot more out of it than I realize (yes, even now). I made a mistake in judgment but it was one of the best mistakes I could’ve ever made (especially given my history with mistakes).

Even if I have come to have a love/hate relationship with the discernment process.

*A similar version of this post was written on September 4, 2013