Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Vanity of Vanities = First World Problems

So one of the things I love about living in my neighborhood is that we can bike–as a family–to Church, to friends houses, to the pool, to my husband’s work.

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Biking to swim practice

It’s Sunday morning at 9:45am. I’m all excited that we’re actually walking out the door with plenty of time to bike the 1/2 mile and get to the 10 o’clock Mass without rushing.  Everyone has bike helmets on, I’m loading stuff into my basket, and my husband grimly tells me that my front tire has a hole in the tube.  

So we walked.  Quickly.  In the Houston heat and humidity. And got to Mass at 9:59am. Sweaty, but on time.

First World Problems.

The first time I heard the phrase “First World Problems” was on FaceBook, in a meme.

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Except I didn’t know it was a meme.  I read the shallow complaints common to American society and flipped out.  [Me: THESE ARE NOT PROBLEMS!] A couple of FaceBook friends gently explained that it was an expression and what it meant.

First World Problems, also known as “White Whine,” are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.*

A couple of weeks ago, my Mom explained that she heard the phrase for the first time.  It changed things for her: How privileged am I to have THESE problems?

So when I heard the readings today – readings I have heard a gazillion times before – I felt like I was being called out on something.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.

(Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23)

The word vanity translates as “breath” or “vapor,” as in breath of breath or vapor of vapors.  Designating something that lacks substance, in effect, meaning “nothing of nothing-ness.”

First World Problems.

Though I was disappointed that we couldn’t bike to Church–and that I’ll have to buy a new tube to fix the tire–I was fully aware that this wasn’t a real problem.  I take a look at my FaceBook feed… and I see a lot of complaining about things that aren’t really problems.  It’s so easy to complain.  Too easy.  And all too often, I join in the misery.

Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

I read the book A Complaint Free World a while ago… I love the theory (complaining less; appreciating more).  I also recently lost a dear friend to cancer… there’s nothing quite like watching your friend’s newly widowed husband having to care for three kids under the age of nine to put things in perspective for you.

There’s a lot of things that we expend our time, energy, money, and effort worrying about that really don’t matter.

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
Colossians 3:1-2

Throughout Scripture, Jesus calls us to conversion.  The Greek word is metanoia.  A change in our whole being; a transformation grounded in repentance.  Metanoia is less about rejecting earthly things and more about recognizing what really matters.

What if, instead of complaining about things that don’t really matter, we saw each inconvenience as an opportunity to embrace something new.  Or simply thought “How privileged am I to have these problems?”

 If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Ps 95:7-8)

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Workings of the Spirit Part 4: From My Plans to God’s Will

Recognizing the Workings of the Holy Spirit in your life is one of the surest ways to discerning God’s will.  It’s a lot easier to do when you’re looking back on your life. (For an example of what that might look like, read Part 1 in this series.)

Figuring out what you’re called to do is only part of it.  Actually doing it can be a little scary, especially if things go awry.  (For more on this, read Part 2.) 

Following God’s will in your life isn’t a once-and-done thing either.  It’s an ongoing conversation with God.  The promptings of the Holy Spirit are constant, sometimes bearing unexpected messages, but always filled with the goodness of God.  (For more on this, read Part 3.)

And now for Part 4

When My Plans Cooperate with the Holy Spirit

After my year of international travel, where my ministry as a teacher took me to see concentration camps in Poland, and visit the Holy Land of Israel (did I mention I did all this traveling for free?!),  things changed.

Alexander Raymond Dienno Demarest

Alexander Raymond Dienno Demarest

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Peter holding Alex for the first time

Obviously, the Holy Spirit had a little something to do with the creation of new life, but with Alex, Peter and I participated in the planning process.

Part of the plan was – as a teacher – to have the baby in the summer and return to teaching when he was 3 months old.  Alex was born on the Fourth of July.  I was able to stay home until October, and then resume teaching Morality to my three classes of juniors and directing the Service Learning Program.

Everything was going according to plan.

It was a busy school year, especially with an infant at home.  As a working mother, I felt like I was teetering on the edge of chaos at all times.  The one piece of advice I try to give new working mothers is: You’re not doing it wrong.  It’s just hard.  Worth it, but hard.  I definitely recognized the Workings of the Holy Spirit in all the joy that came out of just loving him.

I loved teaching, even though I felt like I was always behind and could never catch up.  I loved my students – such bright kids with great questions who enjoyed my passion for the material.  I definitely recognized the Workings of the Holy Spirit in my classroom.

I also followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and submitted proposals to present my insights on Establishing a Service Learning Program in Catholic High Schools.  Among others, I presented at the National Catholic Educator Association (NCEA) Convention  Several of the attendees asked “What resources would you suggest?”  At that point, there weren’t really any resources that could speak to both the theological and practical (pastoral) dimensions of doing Service Learning in Catholic high schools.  “Well, you kind of have to do what I did: read the Church documents and put it together.”  When I recounted this story to Peter, he said I should write a book.

After the NCEA Convention, another attendee invited me to present at the Center for Concern’s Educating for Justice summer seminar on Service Learning.  In my little world, these were pretty big deals.  I definitely recognized the Workings of the Holy Spirit in all of this.

Time flew by that school year, and each day was jam packed.

Mommytime 10.5 Weeks-6

It was May 2. The day after Service Hours were due.  I was exhausted.  I had discovered that five students had cheated on their service hours.  It was just a bad day.  I’m at home, sitting in the rocking chair watching Oprah, holding a satisfied 10 month old who just finished nursing.  Peter hands me a gin and tonic.  As I happily sip, I think to myself: Wow, I’m really nauseous.

And as those words float past in a thought bubble above my head, I immediately shout to Peter (with panic): “YOU DON’T THINK I’M PREGNANT, DO YOU?!?!”

When God Has Other Plans

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Turns out, breastfeeding is not a form of birth control.

It was not my plan to have my boys 17 months apart.  It was not my plan to stop teaching, but there was no way we could justify the expense of two babies under two in daycare on a Catholic school teacher’s salary.  Nor the insanity of it all.

It was not my plan, but it was what was happening.

As I freaked out and cried, Peter reminded me: the timing wasn’t the plan, but we did plan to have another baby.  And he was right.  But I was still reeling from what I saw as an abrupt and unexpected end to my teaching career.  (I can be a little melodramatic.)

It took me a long time to see that this was God’s Plan.  But it was.  And here’s how it unraveled:

I presented at that Summer Service Learning Symposium with the Center for Concern.  Once again, an attendee asked for resources.  Once again, I replied there wasn’t any that I knew of.

But this time, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of thinking someone should write one, I decided to be that someone.  So during Alex’s naps, and after his bedtime, I worked on turning my Master’s Thesis (and all of my practical insights from five years in the field) into a book.

Still overwhelmed by the idea of having two babies under two, it helped me channel my energy into something creative, positive, and life-giving.

Then this happened:

Maximilian Dienno Demarest

Maximilian Dienno Demarest

The stress of two babies under two was intense.  But so was the love.  Those first six months were a blur.  But we did it.

I was about 80% finished writing the book when Max was born.  I was still looking for someone to publish it.  I had no idea how I would manage to write while mothering.  And then Peter realized that he had extra funds in his pre-tax child care account through his job; we had already covered the costs of a sitter.  Things just have a way of working out with the Holy Spirit.

There’s a lot of things I forgot during this blur, but I do remember having a phone conversation with my friend Theresa, a friend from my time at Boston College.  After she finished her PhD, Theresa became an assistant professor for BC through her own Workings of the Holy Spirit.

In one of our conversations, I happen to mention to Theresa that I was surprised to discover how much I loved the process of research and writing.  It was exciting and exhilarating.

We played a lot of cards during this visit.

Playing cards with Theresa

Some time later, Theresa called to say that while she was at a conference representing the program at Boston College, she had a conversation with a mutual friend (and former professor of mine), Mike Carotta.  He was working with a textbook publisher who was looking for people with a background in theology, experience in education, that could write.

“So I said to myself, hey – I know someone like that.  So I called you.”

My heart did cartwheels.  Thank you Holy Spirit!  Theresa promised to pass my info on to Mike.

During this same time, Peter finally explained how his job environment had begun to crush his spirit.  As he looked for a new job, the Holy Spirit helped me say, “Wherever you need us to move, wherever you need us to go, we will go.”  And by the grace of God, I meant it.

On our way to Austin for my sister’s wedding, Peter got two phone calls for two interviews in Houston.  Since we were already going to be in the state of Texas, and since Peter really had no other wedding-related jobs but dutiful husband and father, he spent a day interviewing in Houston.  Things just have a way of working out with the Holy Spirit. 

Laurie and Sam's Wedding

Laurie and Sam’s Wedding

Two weeks later they called to say he got the job.

So add selling the house and preparing for a corporate move on top of the stress of two babies under two.  (Side note: after a week of insane preparation, our house was on the market for 10 days and sold for full asking price.)

All this to say, I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point in my search for a publisher for my book on Service Learning, I received a YES.   Again, my heart did cartwheels.  Thank you Holy Spirit!  

This publisher was located in Washington DC, so I found a sitter and rode the METRO downtown for an in-person chat.  In our meeting, however, I found out that since the audience for the book was such a niche market, there wasn’t funding approval for a book.  They could publish it as a series of journal articles or publish it as an e-book.  My disappointment was palpable.

I spent some time checking in with God on this one, though, before I said no thanks.  At this point (in 2007), neither of the options that this publisher was suggesting was going to solve the problem teachers in the trenches were facing – a lack of accessible resources.  Those journal articles tended to stay on the desks of principals.  And in 2007, e-books weren’t really a thing.  I may get published, but it’s not going to actually help the people I wrote the book for.

So I cried a bit on the METRO ride home, paid the sitter, and fed the babies.  And then I did something so outside of my comfort zone it kind of makes me cringe as I retell it: I went into my office, pulled Mike’s book off my shelf, Googled his publisher, cold called their 800-number, and left him a message.

When I don’t know what to do with a bunch of (negative) emotional energy, I channel it in to something I feel God is calling me towards, but I’m really scared to do.  

And what do you know, it worked out.

You Can’t Imagine The Plans God Has

Mike called me, I recalled Theresa’s summation: looking for people with a background in theology, experience in education, that could write” and explained myself.  He said, “Email this conversation to me and I’ll forward it to the powers-at-be.”

So I did.  And he did.  That was on Friday.  On Monday, there was an email from an Editorial Director asking for a writing sample, followed by a phone interview and a non-disclosure agreement.

After a few months, my part in the project – to write some features for the textbook series – was about to start.  We were now living in Houston.  Hurricane Ike blew through and knocked one of the 60-foot pines away from the house (Praise Jesus).

Hurricane Ike hit Houston 6 weeks after we moved in to our new house.

Hurricane Ike hit 6 wks after we moved in to our new house.

The Editorial Director called and asked me if I would like to write the Teacher’s Editions for the series.  And I said no.  In nine years of teaching I had never used a Teacher’s Edition.  And I couldn’t see working on something I would never use.  To be honest, there was just too much stress in my life with the two kids, new city, and new house to do that.  So before I had a chance to filter my answer, it just all came out (in respectful honesty).

So she said, “Well what if you could create something that you would use?”  So I talked about what that might look like.  And then she said, “Ok, we’ll pay you for this conversation.  Can you create a prototype in two weeks?”

My jaw dropped.  [Silence]  “Um, yeah.  Sure.”

So while working on the TE prototype (I now know that’s publishing lingo for Teacher’s Edition), I was running into difficulties with how some things were explained in the Student text.  So she suggested that I also be part of the review process as a contributing editor to the Student Editions as well.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Well played, Holy Spirit.  Well played.  

I sent off the TE prototype and needed to wait a couple months before the next step in the process would begin.  So somehow, the Holy Spirit managed to nudge me to edit, finish, and self-publish my book: Living the Vision: A Pastoral Guide to Service Learning in Catholic High Schools.  And yes, I have an e-book available, too.

And then I started really working on the textbook series.  I was the primary author for five of the six Teacher’s Editions, and a contributing editor for the first four Student Editions.  I loved the team of people I worked with, I loved the process, and I am really proud of the finished product.

So that, my friends, is how I ended up with a job that has been beyond my wildest dreams.

Here’s what I’ve come to know about the Workings of the Holy Spirit:

  1. It’s really awesome when your plans and God’s plans align.  You feel like partners with the Holy Spirit.
  2. It’s really scary when God’s plans go in a totally different direction than your plans.  But go with it.  Use anger or disappointment to motivate you to surpass fear.
  3. If you think it’s awesome when your plans and God’s plans align, it’s going to blow your mind when you see what happens when God’s plans come to fruition.  It’s beyond your wildest dreams AMAZING.

Workings of the Spirit Part 3: Deeper Passion, Bigger Challenges

In Part 1, I told the story of how I ended up at my undergraduate college as a theology major, explaining three indications that it just might be the work of the Holy Spirit:

  1. A series of uncanny coincidences with impeccable timing
  2. Realizing you have a passion about something
  3. Feeling certain that you need to follow your passion, even if you’re unsure of how to proceed.

Part 2 explained that: 

  1. Saying “Yes-But-No” (or Not right now”) to the Holy Spirit doesn’t really work.
  2. Actually Living Out Your Passion involves taking some leaps of faith.
  3. Sometimes Things Fall Apart, but God is still at work.

As Dr. Seuss writes in Oh the Places You Will Go

ohplaces-4

It is tempting to think that Things Falling Apart is an indication that you have chosen the wrong path.  Sometimes, yes – that’s what it means (particularly when we say Yes-But-No to the Spirit).  Other times, no – not so much.  Rather, it’s the same path, only a different direction.  It’ll take some more story-telling to explain what I mean.  So on to Part 3.

Living the Dream

I mentioned in Part 2 that “I took the initiative to pursue a dream to go to…Boston College.”  I had held this dream for years, but kept making excuses for why it couldn’t happen: finances, time, relationships, etc.  But it stayed in my thoughts and in my heart.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us through our innermost desires and passions.  Gently nudging us along… until we don’t listen.  Then the Spirit smacks us upside the head. (I’m a tad stubborn, so I get smacked upside the head by the Spirit quite a bit.)  Which is how I ended up at Boston College.  It took an unhealthy work environment, the encouragement of a boyfriend, and the voices of two separate friends from different areas of my life to get me to even apply.

My time at BC was fantastic; the course-work and the community were exactly what I needed.  It gave voice and clarity to the leanings of my pedagogy (educational theory and practice) while deepening my background in theology.

Boston College-1

with Tom Groome

While I was in Boston, I continued to long-distance-date the areospace engineer I had met in Austin (which is really hard to do with a guy that doesn’t talk on the phone).  Peter had since completed his PhD and moved to the Washington DC area to work with NASA Goddard.  Somehow (I seriously don’t remember how), I was given the opportunity to help represent BC’s program at a conference in Washington DC. (I loved my program at BC so much, I would have happily gone anywhere to do this for them, but bonus: free airfare and time to visit Peter!)

“Thy Will Be Done” (Not My Will Be Done)

While explaining BC’s program to various people, I meet Malcolm.  His name tag tells me he’s a teacher at a school in Maryland.  I mention that I will be finishing my degree in the summer, moving to this area, and looking for a job.  He says he works for The Best Catholic High School in the region, and they are looking for a new Religion Teacher for the following school year.  While we exchanged information, I was pretty sure this was the first time I actually recognized the Work of the Holy Spirit while it was happening.

Met with the Principal.  Fell in love with the school.  However, she wanted to hire me as the school’s first full-time Campus Minister.  In addition to retreats and liturgies, the first big task the Religion Department needed was an overhaul of the Service Learning Program.

It just so happened that my Master’s Thesis was on Service Learning, but this direction wasn’t what I had in mind.  My love and passion were for teaching.  This is one of the many examples in my life where I had a hard time embracing God’s plan because it wasn’t exactly matching up with my plan. 

You know the story of the Rich Young Man?

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-31)

I think the Rich Young Man gets a bad rap.  We don’t know whether or not he actually followed what Jesus said to do.  Scripture just says “He went away sad.”  Sometimes I have a hard time following God’s Will.  I go away sad.  But I do get on board (eventually).  It just takes me a little time to get over myself.

When I (eventually) said yes, I was comforted by the idea that I would at least be teaching one class.  So I finished my time at Boston College, moved to Maryland, and started working at Seton.

Listening to the Voice Within (Or Not)

While my thesis had help me create a substantive Service Learning Program grounded in Scripture and Tradition, my professors at Boston College had also helped me know that it would be necessary to prepare the community for a paradigm shift in attitudes in order for the program to be successful.

Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to the voice within.  I wanted to educate the whole community about both What the changes were and Why there were going to be changes.  The Principal said there wasn’t a need because these changes were considered a Religion Department policy.  I should have insisted.  I knew better.  But I was already so busy working with students and parents, so I conceded.

One of the reasons Seton is such a fantastic school is the community.  The faculty care deeply about the students whole well-being.  So when the students reacted strongly against the changes, (some many) of the faculty reacted along with them.  It was hard on me.  It took over a year of fighting the good fight (with the Principal always having my back, as she said she would) to get the whole community on board.  It happened (commitment to service became integral to the school’s identity); but it didn’t have to be so hard.

What was easy, though, was teaching.  The one little class I had was the highlight of my day, every day.  After a couple of years, I did listen to the voice within and asked to shift to more-teaching and less-campus ministry.  Yes, it helped that the voice within was encouraging me to do what I wanted.  But still.  I listened.

I certainly listened to the Spirit when Peter and I married.

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Seton’s Gospel Choir sang at our wedding, and two of my students were part of a liturgical dance that my friend Susan choreographed.

I also listened to Seton faculty’s suggestions to attend a professional development training by the Anti-Defamation League for Catholic Educators called Bearing Witness.  Through this amazing program – which is a partnership between the ADL, the US Catholic Bishops, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum – I found a new vehicle of passion, educating about the Holocaust, Judaism, and antisemitism, and fighting all forms of prejudice.

Through the ADL (and with the support of Seton), I was able to participate in the March of the Living in Poland.   

Poland 083

In this March, Jewish high school students and Catholic educators joined Holocaust survivors in the two mile walk from the smaller camp of Auschwitz to the massive concentration camp of Birkenau.

What was once a march of death (to the gas chambers) has become a March of Life and commitment to Never Again.

Later that same year, I participated in the ADL’s Bearing Witness Advanced in Israel, which again deepened my passion and enriched my understanding of the Holocaust, Judaism, and antisemitism.

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at the Sea of Galilee

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Sunrise hike up Masada

Praying at the Western Wall

Praying at the Western Wall

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on the camel everyone gets a picture riding after climbing Masada and floating in the Dead Sea

I think it is safe to say that my parents no longer wondered what I would do with a degree in theology.

To recap:

  1. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through our innermost desires and passions.  Live the dream by listening to that.
  2. Sometimes God’s plan is slightly different from your plan.  Be open to it.
  3. Listen to the voice within.  That’s the work of the Spirit as well.

Next up, Part 4: From My Plans to God’s Will

Workings of the Spirit Part 2: Mistakes, Passion, and Problems

In Part 1, I told the story of how I ended up at my undergraduate college as a theology major, explaining three indications that it just might be the work of the Holy Spirit:

  1. A series of uncanny coincidences with impeccable timing
  2. Realizing you have a passion about something
  3. Feeling certain that you need to follow your passion, even if you’re unsure of how to proceed.

And #3’s Certain Yet Unsure is where Part 2 picks up.  

Yes-But-No

I was graduating with a BA in Theology, certain I was called to teach, but doubtful that I could find a job.  So I made my first big mistake with the Holy Spirit: I said “Yes, but No.  It can’t happen.  I’ll do it eventually, but I can’t right now.  I’m not qualified.”

Fortunately, making a “big mistake” in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit is really only a “temporary detour.”  God finds a way to make it happen.  Eventually.

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So I graduated and started working in Telecommunications, training people to use their business telephone and voicemail systems. It wasn’t theology, but at least it wasn’t (as Lloyd Dobler explains in Say Anything) “selling anything, buying anything, or processing anything.”

And in a post on What listening to God looks like, it’s worth mentioning that knowing what you absolutely loathe is as important to discernment as discovering what you’re deeply passionate about.  Just don’t confuse what you hate with what you fear.  More about that later.

I lasted 18 months before the longing desire to do theology won out. I was so miserable in a job that was crushing my spirit that I simply quit.  I scoured the want-ads for anything remotely touching upon “helping people,” and was working on figuring out how to send a resume to the Archdiocese when I suddenly got a phone call from a friend-of-a-friend (who may or may not have known I was unemployed). One of the religion teachers at her school was going on a trip to Israel for three weeks, and they needed a short-term substitute. She wanted to know if I was doing anything. Might I be interested?

Um, let me turn off this episode of Little House on the Prairie.

YES, I am interested.

I interviewed with the Archdiocese who promised that following my short-term sub assignment, they definitely had long-term and ultimately permanent positions available, should I be interested.

Thus began my teaching career.

Living Out the Passion

While I was confident that this was the path for me, I was still apprehensive. There was a lot I didn’t know about my subject area.  And I lacked the educational training.

Then the Lord said [to Moses], “I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country.”  But Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  God answered, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:7a,10-12)

Since this was God’s plan, not mine, I decided to take the leap of faith and trust.  So I took Solomon’s lead:

Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people. (2 Chronicles 1)

My prayer to God before I teach is simply: “grant me wisdom.” (I continue to say this prayer before I teach, even to this day.)

So I went for it.  I taught five classes of high school seniors in the biggest Catholic school in Philadelphia.  I poured my heart into my lessons and presented with the passion and excitement that led me to the field.  I used my organizational skills to clearly explain my expectations.  And I had a great team of colleagues to turn to for advice.  I didn’t have many problems with classroom management; though I probably should have written a few more students up for behavior than I did.

I found the “sweet-spot” of teaching – that “Ah-ha! Moment” – to be exhilarating.  This was it.  I was doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

And Then Things Fell Apart

Just a month into the following school year, my life fell apart.  Like crisis-of-faith, deep-depression,  pick-up-the-shattered-pieces-of-my-life-and-move-across-the-country “fell apart.”

So, I finished teaching the semester, moved to Texas to be with my family, and committed to healing and rebuilding my life on a happier and healthier foundation.

Move to Austin 1999-1

After spending a few months working in telecommunications (isn’t it amazing that I had that skill-set under my belt and had a “real job” within weeks of my arrival?), I started teaching again in the only Catholic high school in Austin at that time (isn’t it amazing that such a small school had a position available for me the following school year?).

When I reflect back on this very difficult time in my life, I marvel at how the Holy Spirit was still actively working in my life.

A little over a year later, I met a man quite randomly through a friend of a friend (in fact, each of us showed up to this party barely knowing the hostess through separate friend-of-a-friend people… and then never saw nor heard from the hostess again). But commitment-phobic as I was, I wasn’t interested in or looking for a relationship. And neither was he: within months he was finishing his PhD and moving across the country in pursuit of a job. So with mutual understanding, we began to enjoy each other’s company. A lot. And before we knew it, enjoyment turned to appreciation, respect, and love.

First Picture of Peter and Julie

Possibly the first picture ever taken of us

The atmosphere of my job had changed substantially. So much so that I took the initiative to pursue a dream to go to graduate school. I can’t quite explain why, but the deepest desires of my heart yearned for Boston College. A colleague asked me which program I was interested in, and without much thought, I replied: the Masters in Theology. Erin encouraged me to look into the IREPM – a program designed for people like me, called the Institute of Pastoral Ministry and Religious Education. Consequentially, a friend of mine from undergrad–Susan–had been telling me the same thing. Of course, when I looked in to it, the program was exactly what I wanted and needed.  (The IREPM has since become part of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry.)

Once again, I’m going to pause here and draw attention to a few themes:

  1. Saying “Yes-But-No” to the Holy Spirit doesn’t really work.  Kind of like Jonah and the Big Fish, God will get God’s way with you eventually.
  2. Actually Living Out Your Passion may involve taking some leaps of faith.  Trust like Moses, pray like Solomon.  It’s worth it.
  3. Sometimes Things Fall Apart.  God is still at work in your life.  Pick up the pieces and move on.  God moves with you (and for you, and through you, but that’s another post).

Stay tuned for my next post, “Workings of the Spirit Part 3: Deeper Passion, Bigger Challenges.”

Workings of the Spirit Part 1: A Series of Uncanny Coincidences with Impeccable Timing

Have you ever had one of those conversations that center around “How You Got to Where You Are”?

  • How did you end up moving [here]?
  • Why did you decide upon [that university]?
  • That’s an interesting job… how did you come to that line of work?
  • How did you meet [your husband]?

A few months ago, thanks to FaceBook, I reconnected with a friend I met in 1999, when we both started working at a Catholic high school in Austin. In our catch-up conversation, Ayne asked, “How did you go from teaching to writing?”

For a while, my phraseology was a secular blend of user-friendly language: “it was totally random,” “everything just kind of fell into place,” or “coincidentally…”  It’s not that I didn’t recognize Divine Providence when it happened, it’s just that the workings of the Holy Spirit are often so unbelievable that it’s hard to describe…

Most recently, my friend Heidi introduced me to Theology of the Body guy, Christopher West, and explained my background writing for Our Sunday Visitor’s textbook series.  Shaking my hand, Christopher asks, “So how did you get that gig?”

Christopher West

Christopher, Heidi, and Jason (Christopher’s assistant)

Me: “Long, convoluted story.  Short version: Holy Spirit.”

Christopher: [Laughing] “Fair enough.”

Me: “I mean I could ask the same of you: How did you end up doing THIS gig?”

Christopher: [Nodding] “Holy Spirit.”

And we all laughed.

How did I end up going from teaching to writing?  How did I end up with the most amazing, beyond-my-wildest-dreams, dream-job? The short answer is truly: through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

When I look back on my story–when I look back on my life–I see the workings of the Holy Spirit with great clarity.  I see it happening in my life when things just work out.  Sometimes it’s when certain doors close and others open.  Maybe it’s just me, but this can be confusing, especially if you thought you were on the right path and then come to find out you made a terrible mistake.

Perhaps if I explain my own story, it’ll make more sense.

A Series of Uncanny Coincidences with Impeccable Timing 

In my teens, I was constantly busy with one of two activities: youth group in my wonderful parish and the incredible theatre program in my public high school.

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Vernon Township High School Theatre

Antioch Youth Group

Antioch Youth Group, St. Francis de Sales Parish

When the questions about college came up, I took those activities to their logical end: I was interested in majoring in technical theatre at a college that could nurture my spirituality.  Conveniently, there was this cute guy in my youth group that was a theatre major at Muhlenberg College (a Lutheran liberal arts college in the Allentown, PA area).  He loved it, and that was endorsement enough for me at the age of 17, in the summer before Senior Year.

That summer, my parents spent a few days at the Jersey Shore with my Dad’s parents.  Pop asks, “Where’s Julie thinking about going to college?”  At the very moment that my Mom replies, “Oh, some Catholic university in Allentown…” a couple walks along the beach hand-in-hand, wearing Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales t-shirts.  She jumps up and proceeds to interview these strangers on the details of the college.  Later that night Mom calls to verify what colleges I’m looking at, and when I proceed to correct her, she actually gets all indignant with me.  Insists I look at Allentown, because as the strangers on the beach said: they have a very good theatre program and they’re Catholic.  Even though our parish was also named St. Francis de Sales, I still wasn’t sold.  I mean, COME ON!  But as any adolescent would, I told her what she wanted to hear so I could get off the phone, mumbled my “whatever” and rolled my eyes.

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Pop and my Dad at the Jersey Shore, 1991

The following month I was seated in the Guidance Office, using the computer program which asks you to enter all of your college criteria so as to narrow down your limitless choices of colleges and universities to 25 or less.  Of course–alphabetically–Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was first on the list.  Weeks later, at the high school college fair, I visited Muhlenberg’s table only to be told that they’d suggest I contact Allentown College (who wasn’t even at the college fair!).  So fine.  I grudgingly made an appointment to visit for their Open House and even agreed to stay for an overnight visit with some students.

Sure enough, once we arrived on campus, I was sold.  My heart delighted in the rolling hills of Center Valley.   Their theatre program was exactly what I was looking for.  And without a doubt, I found a spiritual home.

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The beautiful valley in Allentown College’s (now DeSales University’s) campus.

Realizing Passion and Finding (a little) Clarity

As it turned out, I really enjoyed theatre, but more as a hobby than a career.  So I changed majors.  But I really had no idea what I wanted to do.  Or what I was supposed to do.  It was at that time that I was taking my first theology course.  And. I. LOVED. IT.  Not just “really enjoyed,” but exploding with THIS STUFF IS AWESOME passion.  My heart and my brain came together with excitement. PASSION.

But I still had no idea that this would actually go anywhere.

And then I was sitting in a study group, preparing for the mid-term or final in this theology class.  We were taking turns explaining concepts when, after one of the guys correctly explained a concept, he simply said: “Still, I just don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense.”  So I give it a shot.  I was a little surprised by the clarity that came out of my mouth, but it worked: he got it and so did everyone else in the group.

Certainty and Doubt

When I told my parents that I wanted to be a theology major, they both asked what I would possibly do with this (very expensive) degree.  I had no idea.  But I just had to do it.

By my senior year of undergrad I knew I ultimately wanted to teach theology, but figured I’d have to get a degree in education first.  Note that I never actually looked into the options… I just convinced myself that it wouldn’t work… it couldn’t work.

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I’m going to pause here in my story and  draw attention to a few themes.  If you experience any of the following, consider that it just might be the work of the Holy Spirit:

  1. A series of uncanny coincidences with impeccable timing
  2. Realizing you have a passion about something
  3. Feeling certain that you need to follow your passion, even if you’re unsure of how to proceed.

Stay tuned for my next post, “Workings of the Spirit Part 2: Mistakes, Passion, and Problems.”

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