Archive for the ‘Passion’ Category

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

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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.

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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.   

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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

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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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