Because in the school of the Spirit,
man learns wisdom through humility,
knowledge by forgetting,
how to speak by silence,
how to live by dying.
-Johannes Tauler

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Ultimate End

So does it end here? 
Julie and I have come to the conclusion of our "experiment" in taking on a spirit of poverty. 
What do we do now? 

I can only speak for myself, but I believe the year has taught many lessons. Like other educational experiences, some lessons stick while others do not, but with time I will continue to learn more and more because of the seed that has been planted in the soil of poverty I have prepared. Irregardless of the details of our endeavor and all it entailed, whether we have ultimately succeeded or failed or done something in between, the greatest impact I hope to find as I move forward is the gift of pause. I have found immense wealth in taking a moment to ponder what is before me - not operating on auto pilot but asking questions and seeking answers below the surface. 

Truly, it is not only in regard to material possessions that one can be rich or poor - I believe we have thoroughly established that throughout the year - and so it is not strictly in not buying anything that one fully takes on a spirit of poverty. There is something so much greater involved, and it is something we can only discover if we are looking and listening with our hearts. 

I do not claim to have come anywhere near mastering what this means, but as I carry this blessed time in my heart, with all the riches I have gained and all the poverty I have faced, I will continue to seek an understanding of how the Lord is asking me to use this "experiment" for His glory. My search could lead anywhere: perhaps to choosing a life of poverty, or serving those in poverty who have no choice. 

Ultimately, seeking a deeper union with Our Lord is the end, and if a spirit of poverty, however radically lived, is the greatest means, than please may I, and all of us, receive the grace to drop our nets and follow Him. +

Thank you for your prayers and support. God bless you. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"dirty" laundry

Was anyone else raised this way? We used our towels once growing up...and then put them in the dirty clothes pile. I think my family still does this, but I long ago dropped this habit out of necessity (a girl can only have so many towels in her dorm room, and can only do so much laundry!) However recently, I've noticed that I often do this with my clothes: I wear them and take them off and put them in the hamper and don't usually give a second thought to whether they're clean or dirty or smelly or disheveled or in perfectly good shape - into the washer they will go, anyway! 

The beautiful thing about getting older is that we become wise enough, or at least speculative enough, to question all that we have been taught from a young age and make a choice. Sometimes that choice includes a change for ourselves, but just because I have now begun to do things differently in my own life does not mean I need to subject anyone in my family to making a change as well.

So I'm trying to wash my laundry less, and trying to realize that things aren't as dirty or as bad as they seem. A freshly washed wardrobe is not going to get me closer to heaven, and just as clothes do not need to be perfectly pressed, neither do people. In many things, there is a poverty (and sanctifying grace!) in accepting how things even when we know how they could be, and shifting our focus to the really important questions of our pilgrimage on earth: "Am I striving for holiness?" and "Am I helping those around me do the same?" Poverty is detaching from the pursuit of worldly perfection, yet always reaching for that perfection to which our Heavenly Father calls us (Mt. 5:48) and bringing others with us. St. Augustine says, "Do not allow yourselves to be offended by the imperfect while you strive for the perfect." This strikes right at my heart because it is something I struggle with so often. I do need to do a little laundry: soul laundry. I should be focused on washing my soul more often than washing my clothes...if it isn't actually dirty or smelly or disheveled then I don't need to wash it. What I do need to do is start looking at the things that do stink in my life - my sins - and in the poverty of humility, confess them. The laundry detergent of reconciliation is free, as the Lord of mercy and compassion gives it freely through Jesus Christ, and it smells sweeter than all the fragrances of the world. + 

Monday, November 1, 2010

a means to an end

Every morning I open my inbox to at least two new emails, one being a meditation of the day (Just a little quote from some Catholic book...usually ones I've never heard of) and the other being an email about the Saint of the Day. 

Last week, I received the story of St. Peter of Alcantara, a spiritual director to St. Teresa of Avila. He was an amazing man, and his work was responsible in part of forming the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans as we know them today. 

Of particular interest to me in the short email about this man were the two segments I've copied below on St. Peter and poverty. 

"Poverty was a means and not an end for Peter. The goal was following Christ in ever greater purity of heart. Whatever obstructed that path could be eliminated with no real loss.
The philosophy of our consumer age—you are worth what you own—may find Peter of Alcantara's approach severe. Ultimately his approach is life-giving while consumerism is deadly."

"I do not praise poverty for poverty's sake; I praise only that poverty which we patiently endure for the love of our crucified Redeemer and I consider this far more desirable than the poverty we undertake for the sake of poverty itself; for if I thought or believed otherwise, I would not seem to be firmly grounded in faith" (Letter of Peter to Teresa of Avila).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the neat freak

Julie and I have found many differences between us as we've lived together this year, and one of the most obvious is in our housekeeping styles. When I first moved in, I would see Julie's friends here and there, and they would say, "How is it living with Julie?" And I would honestly say to anyone, even now, she is a great roommate. But then they would make a comment like, "She says you're really clean!" That always struck me, because I didn't just hear it from one or two people, but from a few! I wondered what Julie was thinking in making that comment to so many people - if maybe she found this to be annoying or a problem or something. 

We laugh about it sometimes, because if you were to observe each of us walking into a room, you might note that by time I've left, it looks like a vacuum has gone through. By the time Julie has left, it looks like a tornado has gone through. I think I'm exaggerating for both of us, but it does paint the right kind of picture: I'm really neat, and she is, well, let's say more free in her placement of objects. 

One explanation I offered is that it has to do with the composition of our minds. Julie is quite level-headed and sensible, organized when it comes to projects and committees, and generally knows what's going on and how she feels about it. My theory is that because her brain is so organized, her room doesn't have to be. She's got it all in order in her head, so why waste the time ordering all the paperwork and whatever else that goes with it? 

I, on the other hand, am not quite as even-tempered. I recently heard it said that if a man's brain operates like a waffle (everything in boxes), a woman's is like a plate of spaghetti (I'm sure you understand this analogy). Well, I am a plate of spaghetti with red and white sauce, meatballs, mushrooms, onions, garlic pepper, and parmesan cheese. Ew. What a mess. 
So, because I feel like a crazy person more often than I'd like to admit, a clean room (a place for everything and everything in its place), organized email inbox, a boxed and neatly labeled calendar, and generally, an organized style of living is crucial for my sanity. I can't cook if the kitchen is messy. I can't write a paper if there's stuff all over my desk. I can't sleep if I have clothes on the floor or books out of place on the shelf or stuff on my bathroom counter that should be in a cabinet or drawer. 

Hi, my name's Missy and I may or may not be borderline OCD. 

It's a blessing and a curse, as you might imagine, but I've been wondering if maybe this is why this idea of poverty and striving to live that out has become so attractive to me. The less 'stuff' one has, the less one has to clean up or keep track of. And of course, this does not just apply to material possessions. A life that is rightly ordered and balanced will bring with it peace and calm. That means not having more than is needed, taking the right amount of time to sleep, to work, to eat, to exercise, to recreate, and most importantly to PRAY, and within each of those things balancing routines, diets, exercises, activities, devotions: living life to the full. Certainly how that plays out looks somewhat different for everyone, but our bodies, our souls, and our minds were created with definite, non-negotiable necessities: you must sleep, you must eat, you must pray (this could be the lone subject of an entire post), you must do some sort of physical activity, you need down time... 

I do a lot of rambling on here, which means you could have probably guessed my mind looks like that spaghetti plate I described. But through this experiment of poverty, and in continuing to order my life rightly, hopefully I can at least switch to penne pasta. At least then the noodles aren't so tangled. And as we all learn at some point or another, you can't switch up the recipe without the help of the Executive Chef. +

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Saint of 'Darkness'

You can tell me to stop, but I'm really hoping you won't. 
Mother Teresa continues to blow my mind. She is so incredible! I am beginning to love her more and more. I came across this in one of her letters, which was published in Mother Teresa: Come, Be My Light - The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta" edited with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., the postulator of her cause for canonization.

"...The Word of God became Man -- Poor. -- Your word to God--became Jesus-Poor and so this terrible emptiness you experience. God cannot fill what is full.--He can fill only emptiness--deep poverty--and your "Yes" is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really "have" to give--but how empty we are--so that we can receive fully in our life and let Him live His life in us....
This is the poverty of Jesus. You and I must let Him live in us & through us in the world."
-Mother Teresa

And I've just been posting things as I come across them and they relate to poverty. There is so much more! With hesitation, I'd like to point you to a website I created for a class project, one that I hope to continue developing and growing over the rest of the semester. It's definitely a work in progress (so don't judge me!), and I'm not sure what I hope it to become or what it even could be with my limited web development skills. More than anything, I wish it to be a tool that points people towards beautiful Mother Teresa so that they too might be touched by her light in their lives. You can find it here.

"If I ever become a Saint-- I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven--to light the light of those in darkness on earth." 
 - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, October 18, 2010

but wait! there's more.

So, to keep carrying on about this whole September business, you know, not eating out, I want to talk about why it was less difficult than I expected. Sure, it took more meal planning than I might normally do and it also took some creativity when it came to getting together with some friends. Instead of meeting someone for breakfast, I invited her to join me in my apartment, which ended up being a lot more fun anyway! I was actually surprised at how very easy it was for me to avoid (for the most part) the restaurant industry. There were times when my parents fed me (thanks Mom!) or I went to a friend's house for dinner. One day a co-worker and I who normally eat lunch out now and then decided to each pack a different dish for lunch and then we shared them. 

Other than the two times I mentioned I ate out (1 breakfast, 1 dinner), I managed to eat some other way, and most of the time I did not even think about it as a sacrifice! I found other ways to be social, and I found myself at the grocery store more often. Both good things! And every now and then, I would think to myself, "Gee, I might like to slack off tonight and eat at that restaurant or that fast food restaurant." But knowing I couldn't, I didn't dwell on those thoughts for long. 

I was healthier in terms of time, energy, and nutrition. Much like this whole year I've saved time by not spending it in the mall or other stores, I saved time by not eating out either - restaurants can be time consuming! As a student and full-time employee, I needed every minute of the time that was spared. Even though it takes more energy to cook for yourself, I saved energy by not being as social - after a long and challenging summer I took a step back and took a breath. Even social butterflies can get tired flying around to all those beautiful flowers we call friends. And I'm not one to count calories much and I hardly ever step on a scale (if I get up the nerve, I might blog about all the poverty that entails some day!), but I do try to eat healthy, just because I enjoy that type of food. Not eating out and doing more grocery shopping and cooking for myself made more room for that! 

The good news is that after the month of not eating out, I did not immediately run out to the nearest restaurant and order the most appetizing thing on the menu. When some co-workers invited me to lunch a few days after the experiment "ended," It was very surreal. I found myself thinking: "O yeah, I'm free to go out now. September is over. I've 'done my time'." But I almost didn't want it to end. There is such a freedom in detachment

I'm sure the difficulty of such an undertaking would increase with the duration, but truthfully, maybe this is what we should have been doing all year! There were never really any guidelines for our poverty as it relates to food, and as I sit here typing this, I'm a little dumbfounded as to why not. One of the most basic human needs and one thing that can really set apart the truly impoverished from the rest of the population is access to edible and nutritionally-adequate food. So why hasn't this been incorporated into our experiment? 

Truly, I have learned a lot - that I do not doubt. But as the year has gone on, I have realized more and more, that we are barely skimming the surface. +

Friday, October 15, 2010

relative success

Following up from my last post, I wish to share a story of how a gift that I was humbled to receive affirmed my decision to "politely" proceed with dinner plans I had made with co-workers during September. 

Two of my female co-workers and I try to study together once a week or once every couple weeks (although, one has a Masters, the other has a Ph.D. so why they're studying is beyond me - I'm the only one with actual homework to do! Although that might explain why I'm the one who is the most focused...). Often, we will plan our study sessions near a restaurant we've been wanting to try, so that after a couple hours of hitting the books, we have as our motivation the reward of a good meal waiting for us. Not only does it help to have some study buddies, but it is nice to spend some time "off the clock" with a few co-workers and to enjoy each other's company. 

We had already scheduled a study/dinner night for the middle of September, with our destination the Cheesecake Factory, and rather than backing out on them and delaying the evening til October, I decided it might be better to go ahead as planned (they were not aware of my commitment) and tack on an extra day or two at the beginning of October in reparation. However, I was feeling quite guilty about it, especially the day of our plans, and kept thinking to myself that if I was actually being strict with myself in this experiment, I wouldn't have relented so easily. 

God hushed me, though, when quite unexpectedly, that very day after daily Mass I received a thank you card from the priest for the work I had done all summer as a sacristan for the young adult Mass here in Indianapolis, and inside was a gift card: to the Cheesecake Factory. 

Someone once brought to my attention the fact that this is not about being so stubborn that "come hell or high water, I will not eat out this month!" but that it is more about the spirit of the undertaking. In the case of my Cheesecake Factory experience, I had to surrender to the poverty of 'yes'. By adhering to our plans and "breaking my commitment" I had to swallow my pride, proceed with the dinner plans, and realize that not eating out for a month is not about gaining bragging rights or proving that I can do it: it's about what I learn by making (or not making) that sacrifice. The fact that I even set out on that path and was open to the lessons that would come with it is more important than if I "succeeded" in the mission of the month. Success is such a relative term anyway. 

This experiment is not perfect, and I realize that more and more each month as I think of a greater challenge, a more authentic form of poverty that I should be living, but my shortcomings do not limit God's work in and through this experiment - it has still been beautifully fruitful. +

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

to humbly receive

I would like to share about my month of September: I tacked on another challenge to the experiment. I decided to avoid eating out, as a sacrifice and a more truer form of poverty, and well, it was both more and less difficult than it should have been.

The more difficult part was a result of a condition I have: I am a social butterfly to the core. I'm not really one to eat out unless it's on social terms, and that probably occurs more frequently than is healthy, for many reasons (see post on time). So because it is a normal thing for me to grab dinner or lunch or coffee with a friend or relative, my breaking that habit presented quite a moral dilemma at times. Do I eat out to be polite because someone has invited me, tell them I'm busy until October, or witness to them by sharing about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it (hmm...good question...) and perhaps actually make an impact with this experiment? 

It's hard to know what the right answer to that question is, and I think my conscience, in it's moments of rationalization, would like to think that depending on the circumstances there are different right answers. Maybe polite society would argue that this is true, but you don't win souls for Christ by being polite. 

There were two instances where I did eat out, both because they had been previously scheduled, but also because, to be honest, I didn't rise to the challenge of being a witness. I chose the polite route. Was this the result of a fear of humiliation?

People in poverty - financial poverty - do not have the money to go out to eat very often, if at all, and so I imagine that status comes with a lot of humiliation. It is extraordinarily humbling to admit to someone that you cannot afford something that they can, not only because it is a blow to one's sense of self-worth (which, for too many people, is defined by their income and material possessions), but also because there may come a time when betraying your financial status elicits charity. 

In our independent and self-sufficient society, it is difficult to accept generosity in whatever form it may present itself, and isn't that a crying shame? Of course our world is broken: in their selfishness, people forget to be charitable - to be loving - and so is it any wonder why there is a lack of trust and willingness to accept charity when it is offered? To accept God when He manifests Himself in the form of love, of generosity, of a gift that our pride does not allow us to receive? 

In a cut-throat culture that takes and does not give, it can be hard to believe that someone might actually be good enough to be capable of this charity. I cannot help but think this may be why so many people reject the greatest gift ever given to us: Life, found in the Most Holy Eucharist. 
God Himself comes down and allows us to consume Him in the simple form of bread and wine - the Creator of the entire universe allow us to take Him into our mouths! He willingly travels through our bodies, feeding our souls, filling us more than we could ever hope to be filled by anything else: and all this, humbly, only if we choose to receive Him. To receive His Gift. of Everything.  

More to come. +

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blessed Mama T

This beautiful woman. I have noticed her following me this year....or perhaps she is leading and so beckoning to me to come forward with her, and I am beginning to wonder if maybe I should have committed myself to a study of her life for this year of poverty - she embodies it so perfectly. 

I came across these words of hers today...you see what I mean? 

"The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. But the less you have the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is not mortification, a penance. 
It is joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. But we are perfectly happy."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

switching to God's time

Time to step it up a notch. We're about eight solid months into this experiment and I do believe it is now game time (huh!). The challenges are getting more acute, my weaknesses are rearing their ugly heads, and there is a sense of descending deeper (or ascending higher?) into this experiment, knowing that with four months left, God has not nearly finished the lessons we are being taught this year. 

Two particular topics have captured my attention over the past couple months, so much so that finding the words to write about them has proven to render me silent, but it is my hope that today I can pen my thoughts on these: food and time. 

They're two things that go together, if you think about it. Most of us aren't privileged to have mothers or maids to prepare our meals for us, so not only does eating take time, but so does cooking and cleaning afterward, as well as obtaining the food from a restaurant or the grocery. I actually quite enjoy cooking, but almost always something else takes priority, and I slap something together to satisfy my stomach in moments of ravishing hunger. Something in me finds it extremely difficult to rationalize spending even 15 or 20 minutes on preparing a meal (although with my novice cooking skills it usually takes me much longer than that to 'whip' something up) and then taking the time to eat it, when there is "oh, so much else to do!" 

But that begs a very potent question: what is this "so much else to do" and why is it taking priority over a basic need of human life?! This struck me one day like a Bible upside the head as I began to consider the state of my life and what I am doing with it. You see, just as with money, spending time is a thing to discern carefully. This year has not been about being cheap or saving as much money as possible, but rather about being wiser and more frugal in the ways money is spent within the bounds of my life. It has been an exercise in climbing out of the box and taking in the view these new conditions afford. I am not poor, but in considering my brothers and sisters who are through my actions, I have come to one step closer to that solidarity that we as followers of Christ seek. 

Just as I have limited the ways in which I spend my money this year, weighing whether a material good is a need or a want and proceeding accordingly, so too must I begin the same process with my time. This is not an act of selfishness, but rather an acknowledgment that if the way I spend my time is causing my basic needs to suffer (food, sleep, etc.), my spirit to wither, and my relationship with God, the most important one in my life, to lack because I do not have or make enough time to spend with Him, then something is really wrong. Even spending time in service to the Church, if it is not rightly ordered, can do more harm than good, both to me and those I am trying to serve. 

Sometimes, we are faced with situations in which we are asked to do or give something that requires us to take from something else: this is the poverty of 'yes'. In saying 'yes,' there is a sense of abandonment, as the realization of the sacrifice such a charge will require sets in, but even in the knowledge that challenges will come, there is a certainty and a peace that saying 'yes' is absolutely the right thing. Other times, we are presented with something that, while inherently good and entirely desirable, we must decline for a greater reason: this is the poverty of 'no'. It becomes apparent in these times that no matter how beautiful or worthwhile any invitation is, if it is not in God's plan for us, we have no choice but to say 'no' for the sake of our best interest. This we know in the deepest parts of our hearts. Both of these 'poverties' require a dying to self, because often the answer God calls us to give is the opposite of what we would like to say, but this type of poverty, of obedience perhaps to His will, is purifying and true. 

In taking these ponderings to heart, I am approaching my time this fall in a new light. Cutting the ties that bind me to a busier-than-healthy schedule and re-evaluating just how God is calling me to spend the 168 hours He gives me each week, I hope to enjoy a slower pace and bring the spirit of poverty to my hourly allocations. 
Maybe I won't even need my watch anymore! 

Not that I have a choice. 

It stopped working today, raising me to the ranks Julie has been reeling in since March. It's just one more experience to add to the journey, and well, I was starting to get a tan line. God's timing is always quite perfect, and my watch wasn't actually doing a very good job of revealing that to me anyway. 

Does any of this even make sense to anyone other than me? 

I'll save the rest of my thoughts on poverty and food for another day. That tangent is still being formulated in my head. 


Sunday, August 8, 2010

a lot to live up to


Advice for her sisters

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta asked her sisters to follow these virtues. "God needs our poverty, not our abundance. These are means of being humble:

  • Speak as little as possible about oneself
  • Take care of one's personal matters
  • Avoid curiosity
  • Do not meddle in the affairs of others
  • Accept contradictions with good humor
  • Do not focus on the faults of others
  • Accept reproach, even if undeserved
  • Yield to the will of others
  • Accept insults and abuse
  • Accept feeling uncared for, forgotten, despised
  • Be courteous and sensitive, even if someone provokes you
  • Do not try to be admired and loved
  • Do not hide behind one's own dignity
  • Yield in arguments, even if one is right
  • Always choose what is most difficult."

     Source: "Heart of Joy: The Transforming Power of Self-Giving" by Mother Teresa, Servant Books, 1987

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Not my Moleskine!!!"

"Holy desires...increase by delay in their fulfillment; if delay causes them to fail, they were not desires." -St. Gregory the Great

In one month, ask me if I still want a new Moleskine planner...mine suffered a significant amount of water damage tonight, and well, I felt like crying. I have been somewhat dramatic and asked Julie if I could possibly bend some rules (using a dusty Border's gift card? asking for a "gift" from someone?) to obtain a new one. Like tomorrow. I am attached to this thing at the hip. (Planner = life...?) Her advice: wait a month and see how you feel. She reminded me that she has made it this far without a watch...

So, maybe I don't need it as much as I think I do...and we're back to this again.

He makes everything glorious. +

Friday, July 16, 2010

Long Story Short

Update: I've continued the trend I began in my preparations for Haiti and have started getting rid of the clothes I no longer need or want or that aren't modest. It's amazing how long the culture has kept it's grip on me! But slowly, slowly I will continue conforming to who Christ is asking me to be. He is so patient! 
So, long story short, remember the problem of no more hangars? Plenty now to go around! 

On a similar note, as a form of poverty I suppose, we've taken on a challenge for the summer, Julie and I. No A/C in our apartment. We'll make an exception if we're going to have guests (no need to drag innocent bystanders into our experiments!). If you've spent any time in central Indiana in the last month, you know there've been a few hot ones! Long story short, it's a bit rough, but as I've been saying all summer: "It's not as hot as Haiti!" 

But speaking of Haiti and no air conditioning, I realized something a few weeks after I got back. Being sort of toasty in the apartment, you don't usually want to wear much but shorts and a tank top. And that's when I realized I left almost all of my shorts in Haiti...hopefully someone is getting some good use out of them down there (although I'm generally twice the size of all the Haitians, so hopefully there's someone who can even fit into them!). So, this has been another component to the year: offering up all that the present situation (and my ambitious generosity) brings!

But long story short, my mom sneakily purchased some shorts for me. She tried to tell me that they were from her closet, a couple pairs that she "never wears anymore." Then why do they smell new, Mom? :)

Ah, but it takes me back to an earlier post: this is the charity we open ourselves up to in poverty. A charity that comes unrequested and undeserved. And that is the charity - the love - we receive from Our Lord, who is Love Himself. 

Long story short? All you need is love. +

Sunday, July 4, 2010

For the love of God

Now and then, I’ll think of something I would buy if I was living a normal life, things that “I could really use.” I thought maybe I’d start writing a list of all these things so that next year I would remember to buy them. A friend advised me against this and the more I’ve thought about it the more I realize the absurdity of such a plan. Honestly, Missy? If I need a list to remind me to buy something in six months, then it can’t be that critical of a belonging. It’s becoming a discipline, to stop myself from thinking, “I’ll buy that next year, when I’m allowed.” That is not what this is about! I haven’t made these rules and entered into this experiment to cage my shopping habits for a year, only to let them loose with wild abandon when the time of oppression comes to an end. No! This is deeper than that. I am seeking a change of heart and attitude, a platform for a greater perspective of poverty and hopefully, therefore, solidarity with those who are less fortunate. If I cannot recognize the value in all I have, the gifts God has already bestowed upon me and their full potential, and acknowledge that no material possession will ever make me more complete, then this year of commitment to a spirit of poverty is in vain. If I do not let this transform me totally, I will have done it for nothing.

I don’t do things for nothing. +


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Carly Simon is singin' to me

Being blessed to have grown up in a middle class society, I don't know if what I'm about to say is true. However, if I had to guess, I'd say this: the poor aren't vain. The lack of material possessions must culture a certain type of humility, because at some point, necessity must override any sense of shame or embarrassment...

I was struck by this thought last night as I was drifting to sleep (don't the best ideas come to us in that time between waking and dreams?) and it kept me awake: in this, my year of poverty (but will it only be a year?), shouldn't I also be embracing this humility - a detachment from vanity? In my limited reflections on this so far, I am led to believe it may be one of the greatest challenges I take on. It is probably the deepest-seeded issue I struggle with, but within this context of poverty, surely I can begin to weed it out and plant new seeds, ones that will flower and bear fruits I may share with others. 

And so begins the search: how can I concretely live this out? To begin, I turn to the words of  a man named Ken Blanchard, who says, "Humility does not mean you think less of yourself; it means you think of yourself less." It is that old recipe for JOY: 


There it is, the greatest reminder: anything worthwhile or successful must begin with The Alpha and end with the Omega Himself. Striving, tripping, falling, but ever pushing on, I will fix my eyes on Christ. +

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Coupons and deadlines

For some reason we set a goal of blog posts per month. I'm not sure why. (An effort to get me to post something maybe?) I do have several topics that are relevant to wordly want that I still have 6 more months to write about. Here is one: coupons.

Everyone loves a deal. Me especially. If someone says, what do you prefer this or that? (i.e., at the grocery or the restaurant), my instinct is to say, "whatever is on sale." Legitimate, I think, we all want to save a little money. And hey, I'm not too picky for the most part. But at some point can trying to save money become an obsession?

I have to admit that I use to spend at least an hour before going to the grocery trying to cut coupons and go to more than 1 store in one trip. Not only did it take up time, but when I would go to the store and they didn't have the item, I would get made. At some point in the recent future I decided to stop all this nonsense and cut back on my coupon 'problem.' Granted, people (me included) can save a lot of money this way, but aren't there other things in life to spend time doing? I can't put my finger on it, but I have felt released from the coupon craze - and I still can be a smart shopper!

I'm coming to the end of this blog post, but I am not sure how to end. Maybe there aren't better things in life to spend your time doing if you can save money and donate it somewhere? Or maybe we should just be donating or time...and/or be less attached to either!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Just when you think you've made progress...

Someone took my coffee cup.

My sister, just because she had some extra points to spare on her student card, bought me an oversized coffee mug from Starbucks. This might sound ridiculous, but I’ve actually gotten a few compliments on it around the office! I really love it, and I kept it at my desk for a long time, because, well…it’s mine. I don’t want to risk the chance of it being “borrowed” and then swallowed up by someone’s messy desk.

Today, I left for lunch and wanted to wash it just before leaving. I have a shelf in the kitchen cabinets at the office that I usually keep a few things on, so I just dried it and set it there on my way out. I forgot all about it until I saw it in the hands of one of the employees – he isn’t usually in the office because he doesn’t live in Indianapolis, but works for the company from a distance, so of course he didn’t know that was my shelf that I keep my things on…and that he had taken my coffee cup. I almost said something to him as he walked by holding it…

And then I saw him take a drink.
Out of my coffee cup.
That no human’s lips had ever touched but mine.

It was like a slow motion nightmare and in my head I screamed, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo….”

I am not kidding you – I had to stop and regain my composure. He has no idea, still, the commotion he’s caused within me, and I don’t particularly plan to tell him. I may just sneak around until he’s abandoned it and then reclaim it, hiding it deep within a drawer at my desk, only to see the light of day when I need some cinnamon tea or a cup of french vanilla coffee.

Yet for the last thirty minutes of the work day, I had to ask myself: why is this causing me such grief? It’s a coffee mug for goodness sake! And I thought I had come so far this year, in my detachment and in my purposeful poverty, and now I’ve completely lost it over a piece of porcelain.  

It’s possible this is a reflection of something deeper, some greater issue I’ve yet to overcome…yet to even discover. With six and a half months to go, I’ve got some more work to do in my heart. +

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

do not (pass port)-au-prince, do not collect $200

About half way from Bassin Bleu to Port-de-Paix, at the end of our trip to Haiti and homeward bound, I was handed an excellent new topic (within a gut-wrenching realization) for a blog entry. It occurred to me at that moment that I had not a clue where my passport was...or if I even had it in my possession. A frantic-ish search and memory flash later, my stomach was in knots - the passport was in my backpack which I had attempted to donate to the people of Bassin Bleu in a rush that morning. 
It seemed somewhat unfathomable that something like this could be happening (and to me!) so that none of us even became too concerned about it. Fr. Rick had a copy anyway, and it's not like we're in Europe. Still, the knots in my stomach grew as I realized I didn't particular want to part with my pretty picture or Australian stamps (and now Haitian!) but that would be my new challenge: detachment from my passport! 
A funny story for people at home...until it turns out the Haitian government won't let me through with my color copy and driver's license. I would need to go to the US embassy in Port-au-Prince the next day to obtain an emergency passport to return home. 
I gave away almost everything I brought to Haiti (I didn't even have a clean shirt to wear home!) and some article of clothing were a bit difficult to fold and leave behind. Yet, in the midst of my steps towards poverty of spirit I learned that it is entirely acceptable and even required that when in a foreign country, covet your passport! 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

generosity in poverty

"The less we have, the more we give. Seems absurd, but it's the logic of love..."
                                                                       - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

making room for joy

Just before I moved at the beginning of the year, I realized I didn't actually have enough hangars for all of my clothes. I was just one or two short - nothing major. So I bought a 12-pack, thinking that would definitely cover me for the year. As happens, I've acquired a few new shirts here or there. However, what astounds me is that somehow I've run out of hangars again! So because I can't buy any more hangars, the logical solution to this "problem" is to get rid of some clothes!

It just so happens that in light of my upcoming trip to Haiti, I was already planning on packing clothes that would not make the return journey with me - we have been advised to leave behind as much as we can. 

I'm ashamed to say that I immediately begin thinking of the most "wretched" clothes I own, the ones I never wear or don't particularly like, and deemed those to be the clothes for the Haitians. But why? Why do they deserve the clothes I don't want, the ones that aren't as quality as the rest?

This reflection brought to mind a point Dubay makes in Happy Are You Poor: we must give out of our necessity. He points out that "Vatican Council II twice admonished the faithful that it is not enough to give from superfluities but that we are to aid the poor even from our need (GS nos. 69, 88)." 

As I stand in my closet, I have begun to consider which of my articles of clothing are practical for the climate of Haiti, and out of those, which ones I like the best. Those will be the clothes I pack for the trip and leave behind. I wouldn't say I truly need the clothes that I am particularly attached to, but in my sense of fashion, perhaps some of them appear to be an article I can't live without. I'm quite grateful for the opportunity to concretely live this call to another level of poverty. 

Without question, I know I'll have at least a little trouble with this. Yet I've been tossing around the idea of poverty being a path to purity. One source (resulting from a google search) defines purity as an adjective that means, "being undiluted or unmixed with extraneous material". Is this not a similar definition of poverty? A closer look has revealed a type of liberation that I don't often consider. Detaching myself from these clothes that I really like will put me one step closer to freeing myself from the materialism of our society. 

And this has prompted another thought: why aren't we, who have so much, happier? Maybe it's because the more we have, the greater our expectations. We place our hope in things that eventually fade away, and we are left disappointed...these things can never fill us. Could this be a root problem of the unhappiness or depression that seems so prevalent when we look around? I can't claim to have any evidence on this subject other than first-hand experience, but I would wager that research might show it to be true. 

It's often heard that people in third-world countries, people living in utter desolation, have a joy that is unparalleled in people with plenty. Doesn't this all fit together?! 
In just two weeks, I look forward to seeing (and experiencing?!) this joy for myself - may I return with enough to fill more space than my favorite clothes ever could. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Learning Deeper

Wow. Praise God for all the lessons we are learning this year.
As I read Julie’s last post, it sparked the memory of a conversation a couple weeks ago about this very thing. I was challenged (within the conversation) to consider what it truly means to take a vow of poverty – practically speaking. This friend opened my eyes to an element of that vow I had never considered: it requires the charity of others.
Because we know charity is love, what Julie says is so profound – asking for help, for charity, is allowing others the opportunity to love us, and maybe, in return, we are giving them some of our love by reaching out with open hands. That takes humility, and as Thomas Dubay says in Happy Are You Poor, "Detachment is one-half...; humility is the other. Poverty is related to both." My, how we are learning.
I am discerning the call to religious life and almost constantly in my prayers am I asking God if that is truly how He would like me to live and serve Him. As I trudge through the months, begging for an answer, I can always look back and see that even when I have felt stagnant in my journey, indeed, the Lord has been drawing me closer to Him and molding my heart in preparation for whatever is to come. 
Now, with the new experience of a third-world mission trip breaking the horizon, I wonder how God will call me deeper into this 'experiment' of poverty. Down in Haiti, poverty is no experiment. It is a very grave reality, and having only ever lived and traveled in first-world countries, I anticipate this journey will prompt some change in my own life. 
In some ways, I wonder if I will not be called to a new level of poverty. Dubay spends a chapter on the various levels of poverty, and comments, "The circumstances of some persons call for a more drastic self-denial than those of others." That certainly has gotten me thinking...
Those who know me know I have a flair for the dramatic, and over the past couple days, I've been reflecting on the "all or nothing" attitude I gravitate towards in life. St. Augustine says something I have always found to be true: "Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation." Knowing that I have radical tendencies, I am extremely curious how my time in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere will affect me. Already, I am deeply moved just from reading a book my dad has passed on to me by Louise Perrotta called All You Need To Know About Prayer You Can Learn From The Poor, which contains short interviews and stories about people who live and/or mission in Jamaica or Haiti. 
It's true that reading about the reality these missionaries and natives live every day is far different from living it alongside them, but I can't help but think what riches will await these poor in heaven - they are so faithful to God in the midst of their misery. The thoughts of such rewards prompt me to ask the Lord: "What must I do? I hear You saying to me as You said to the young man, "Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Mark 10:21) But, Lord, how much must I give to the poor? Even my life? Is that how I am to follow You?"
I [try to] patiently await the day when these smoldering questions erupt into the leaping flames of knowledge and purpose that will propel me deeper in my love for service to Christ. + 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Watch it

This morning I thought my watch broke. Crisis in the making. I was in the elevator at work (yes, we have to take the elevator for security - no option for stairs, ok??) and I looked down and my watch said 5:30am. I thought, we'll maybe it just needs the battery wound. Tried that. Nothing. Then I thought, we'll I'll just go buy a new battery after work.

HELLO! Not allowed. Then of course, I went through, in my mind all the people I could ask that might have an extra watch around and came up with a pretty good list and that was the end of that. I looked down a few hours later and it had started ticking again.

There's not really a point to that story, i.e. I don't think it was a miracle. I certainly hadn't given up my attachment to the watch at that point, but after reading some of Missy's posts tonight I'm left with a new perspective on what we might have to do at some point this year - humble ourselves and ask for help.

Often I think we become dependent on doing things ourselves, thinking 'oh I don't want to bother them' or 'It'll just get done faster if I do it myself.' But we miss the boat on that one. Sometimes it takes a great deal to ask for help when we really do need it, whether it be monetarily or spiritually. The people we love, of course, are always there for us, just waiting for us to stop being stubborn and open our eyes. I think the same can be said for God - he's just dying to shower us with his love.

And when we go out of ourselves to ask for help, we have another chance to grow in our relationships with others. Even if it's just an excuse call Mom and see if there's an extra watch lying around, maybe she is having a really bad day and the sound of one of her children would cheer her up.

A new battery won't do that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

a great invitation

As if God could hear in the depths of my heart (a place where I often cannot distinguish what is being said) that I wanted something more than simply the challenge of not buying anything, He has invited me to experience a deeper level of poverty. For this, I am humbled and very grateful. 

I was invited last week to join a mission team of young adults that will travel to Haiti for one week in May. Our mission is this (as stated in the informational handout from Fr. Rick Nagel, our fearless leader) :
To be Christ to our Haitian brothers and sisters and to seek Christ in the poor.
To bring the HOPE of Christ to a suffering people of God.
To grow missionary hearts for the poorest of the poor.
To raise up Catholic Young Adults as future mission leaders.
To build relationships between [Indy young adults] and 3 Haitian Parishes/Villages and seek ways to learn from one another and support one another.
To learn more about the Catholic Social Justice Teaching of having a preference for the poor.
To answer Pope Benedict's call to provide relief to a growing population of starving and uneducated children and families in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 

As this is not beautiful enough, an extremely generous anonymous benefactor has donated the costs necessary for this mission team to form! Without that gift, I would not be able to accept the honor of being among fellow young adults on this adventure that has already deeply moved me - I can only imagine how the stirrings in my heart will grow as we prepare and then participate in this journey! 

There is another dimension to this tale. 

I was uncertain whether I could even dream of saying 'yes' to Fr. Rick's invitation because of a tiny little part of my life: my full-time job. I do not, and will not by May, have enough vacation time to take off a week from work. After praying for God to send an answer, I approached my bosses with my situation, inquiring if there was anything that could be done.
Without hesitation, the owner of the company I work for said it would be no problem if I simply took the week off unpaid. My direct boss had no problem either, and even mentioned he might like to help out with something like this.

I wanted to jump for joy!! 

As I considered what this meant, I was filled with even more gratitude, because I came to two conclusions. 1) One week without pay while require some creativity for my budget that month, and this will perhaps call me forward to experience, not just in Haiti but in my own life as well, a greater sense of solidarity with the poor. I am happily anticipating this challenge. 2) My happy anticipation is largely rooted in the knowledge that while my budget is tight (as all young adults might say), it can withstand a one-time loss of one week's pay...this alone fills me with a great sense of thankfulness for the blessings God has showered upon me over the past year. 

There is so much to say, but I will save it for another time. 
Much is to come in the next couple months. +

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

and now...God speaks through crackers.

There are days when I get in the 'poverty' mindset where it becomes something of an obsession to purge my life of anything unnecessary.  I think it's the feeling I get from being cleansed - there is something immensely freeing and fulfilling in discarding the unnecessary, and likewise in using something to its full potential, and then laying it to rest, if you will. 
An example would be finishing off a box of crackers. It provides the surety that you no longer have old crackers in the cabinet, yet it does something more because in freeing up that little bit of space in the cabinet, there is now room for something new, something perhaps better. 
The same is true of life and the spirit. In freeing life from unnecessary noise or distractions, there is room for something new, almost certainly something better, and that is God. He comes and speaks in silence, in our nothing, and when we create that space for Him, there is a guarantee that He will fill it with more than we could ever imagine. 

I'm finding truth in this poverty, and as we know in our hearts, the truth will set us free. +

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Clinging to the 'Something Greater' of Christ"

There is a daily meditation within the other resources the Magnificat provides, and yesterday's echoed the words of my heart, so I'd like to post it here. 

"The trouble is... the fact that you cling too fast to these doubts and fears. You concentrate upon the too much, instead of ignoring them and casting yourself upon God in utter self-abandonment, as I have consistently exhorted you for so long past. Only through this holy and happy self-abandonment can you ever enjoy an enduring peace full of perfect trust in God through Jesus Christ. Yet once again, what have you to fear in this self-surrender especially after so many plain signs of God's great mercy to you? You seek for conscious support in yourself and in your works and conscience, as if they provided more assurance and stronger support than God's mercy and Jesus Christ's merits, and under the assumption that these cannot lead you astray...
When we have reached the lowest depths of our nothingness, we can have no kind of trust in ourselves, nor in any way rely upon our works; for in these are to be found only wretchedness, self-love, and corruption. Such complete distrust and  utter scorn of the self is the one source from which originate those delightful consolations of souls wholly surrendered to God - their unalterable peace, their blessed joy, and their unshakable trust in none but God. Ah, would that you knew the gift of God, the reward and the merit and the power and the peace, the blessed assurances of salvation that are hidden in this abandonment; then would you soon be rid of all your fears and anxieties! "
                               Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.  
Father de Caussade (+1751) was a French Jesuit, a writer, and a revered spiritual director.

From:  Cameron, Peter John (Father, OP), ed. "Meditation of the Day." Magnificat 11.13 (2010): 339-40. Print.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"to infinity...!"

"Then he said to the crowd, 'Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.'" Luke 12:15

As Thomas Dubay puts it, "We have no security in anything finite."

how many people ever stop and think about that? and what would it do to our mentality...to our society! if this consideration became a more routine part of our thought process? 

Recently, I've rid myself of something finite, something that provides ample opportunity for the instant gratification we are attempting to flush away this year:

yes, I deactivated my facebook account. 

I spent weeks weighing up the pros and cons of such a decision - I knew deep down that I needed to be rid of it, but it seemed as though every day, a new reason for remaining a member (all very well intentioned!) was placed before me. Finally, a conversation with a very dear friend the other night sobered me to the reality of this situation. She gently pointed out that poverty of spirit isn't usually something that is grappled with and carefully thought out, but that it is something that one commits to whole-heartedly, plunging in with wild abandon, trusting completely in the power of God and His Divine Providence. It's time to cut the ties that bind. The Lord will fill any holes facebook seems to leave: fill them until they overflow.  

You see, I think all the desires to keep facebook had something to do with greed and control. Is it really necessary to be 'friends' with every person I've ever known in my life and to have the ability to connect with them with just a few clicks at any time of the day or night? This is not 'friendship'. Instead, there is something very finite about the interaction facebook allows, and as I remove it from my life, I make room for more meaningful relationships. Now, if I want to get ahold of someone for whom I have no contact information, not only will it take interaction with other friends or family, but it will also take more time - more of an investment. In the fast pace of these current days, there's something about our time that, when gifted, lets others know we care. There's something within an email or an actual phone call or best yet, a letter in the mail(!) that allows us to know we are loved in a deeper way than a facebook post or message ever could. 

This has all at once been enriching, liberating, refreshing, even. Like moving a dresser (half-full of junk) from in front of a window and allowing the spring breeze to fill the room. So I'm taking a deep breath...