Out With the Old! In With the New!

Elegant Closet & Dressing Area

Image by sparklerawk via Flickr

I haven’t written anything in a long time… and I’m not sure how much it matters because I’m not really sure who reads this anyway… so for all I know, my Mom is the only one, and she doesn’t seem to mind my absence.

A lot and a little has been going on in my life since I last wrote a piece of genius.  I guess that’s what happens when you start a new job (school bus driver! bam!) and your social life is actually starting to look up because you’re starting to make some new friends (stick that in your juice box and suck it, loneliness!).

While there are a lot of good things going on in my life… there has also been a lot that seems to have been piling up.  I admit that I often just feel lost and completely exasperated at how my dreams don’t seem to be matching up with the reality of my life.  I have spent a lot of time dwelling in the past… wishing for what was and what could have been.  But all that dwelling hasn’t been doing anything particularly helpful for me. Perhaps it’s time to simply look at this present moment as my past, and continue forth in the direction I have been heading.  Why fight it?  What’s the use in constantly looking back when all it does is give me a good crick in the neck?

I’ve been buying a lot of new clothes lately.  It’s good because now I actually have the money needed to update my wardrobe a bit and get rid of the clothes that used to fit me when I was 25 pounds heavier (who wants those around, anyway? I’m not planning on finding those 25 pounds again! Stay away!)… but it’s bad because A) I need to save my money and B) I’m running out of room in my closet.

In order to solve the problem at least halfway, I decided to clean out my closet. And boy, it was hard.  I tend to form emotional attachments to inanimate objects… so I can’t even begin to explain how hard it was to fold up my silky black and white skirt that I wore to give my Kairos talk my junior year of high school.  That skirt was part of a pivotal moment in my life.  I had a hard time throwing away my prom shoes, because prom was so much fun and reminded me of the good ole days.  But the reality is… that skirt doesn’t fit me now, and I am never going to have another reason to wear a fancy beaded silvery shoe.  I could not part with my prom dress. I could not part with my worn down and awful-smelling Adidas gym shoes that I bought at Harrods in London.  But that green and pink polo shirt from 7th grade? See ya. Weird diagonal-cut blue wool sweater thing? Adios.  Too small? Too big?  Haven’t worn it in 6 months?  Haven’t worn it since 1999? Good-bye. Siyonara. Hasta la vista, bay-bee.

My closet now houses 80% clothes I actually wear, and 20% I might wear, but mostly keep around for nostalgic reasons.  It’s quite empty.  It’s quite intimidating.  I feel like my wardrobe is kind of pathetic and like I don’t have enough.  I feel like I may have gotten rid of too much.  Maybe I’ll wear that one black cardigan that has been worn so thin you can see through it.  Maybe I could just put a shirt on under it. Maybe I don’t have to face my future at all… maybe I could just keep pretending that I am still the high school version of myself and that I have a weaker prescription on my glasses to see the world a little fuzzier than I do now.

But maybe the empty closet doesn’t have to be so intimidating.  Maybe it represents possibility.  Maybe it represents trust in the Lord to take care of my needs, when it seems like there isn’t enough.  Maybe it means I’ll have an even swankier black cardigan to throw in there one day.  Maybe I’ll attach new emotions to new shoes.  I’ll have new adventures. I’ll keep growing (or hopefully shrinking).  My closet can look completely different 5 years from now than it does today. Maybe that’s a possibility that needs embracing.

Furthermore, I am donating my old clothes to a good cause.  There are people out there who will love my huge jeans and old coats I haven’t worn since I had braces.  There are girls out there who are going to feel beautiful in my sparkly shoes and silky skirt.  They get to make beautiful memories from my old beautiful memories.  And that’s remarkable.

Everything that happened in my life wasn’t a waste… it meant something to me, and it will continue to mean something to someone else.  But we’re all meant to keep growing.  We are designed to keep changing every day.  So now I am letting go and giving the Lord permission to really do with me what he wills.  All because I cleaned out my closet this afternoon.

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The Prodigal Sock

Rainbow socks

Image via Wikipedia

This weekend’s Gospel reading was one of my all-time favorites.  It was the story of the prodigal son… the one who thought he could do it all on his own… the one who said, “Hey pops, I’m thinking about doing my own thing for a while… so can you just fork over the money you were going to leave me when you’re dead and gone now so I don’t have to come back to collect it when you finally kick the bucket?”  I mean that takes some serious balls to ask for your inheritance before your parent even thinks about croaking.  And you know… I always looked at this story from the point of view of the prodigal son… because I obviously ask my parents all the time for my inheritance up front… you know, with how awful the economy is and all (okay… that was a lie… I’m not that terrible).  I get it. I am a good prodigal daughter.  I screw up all the time. I poorly judge situations ALL the time. Almost constantly.  To the point where I wonder if God is ever sittin up there, long flowy white sleeves rippling around in the heavenly breeze, smacking his forehead and wondering what gene he forgot to install in me before I was born to prevent such stupid mistakes.

But have you ever considered the opposing viewpoint?  That of the father?  The one whose lousy no-good son had the gall to ask for his inheritance upfront… you know… because the economy was so crappy and all.  The one who waited up every night hoping for his son to return.  I mean it’s beautiful, really. Any normal person would probably hold a grudge and say “good riddance.”  But this father never lost hope.  He RAN to his son… with open arms. I bet he did it in slow motion, too, with some grand music playing in the background while the sun was setting over that grassy meadow.

But still. I don’t get it. Why didn’t he just stand there and wait for his son to approach him?  Why didn’t he get that heart-sicky feeling we usually get when we see someone who has wronged us?

Then I had this thought.  How many times have you ever lost a sock to the dryer?  It’s a sad moment when you are done folding your clothes (while they’re still hot… it’s the only way to do it), and you matched up all your socks and balled them up and threw them in your laundry basket… only to find one with a missing mate.  The sock that went rogue… forged its own path… decided feet were not for him any longer… decided that a life in the warm belly of the dryer would be infinitely better than just hangin out in the sock drawer all day until you need a place to stick your nasty sweaty phalanges.

But then, one laundry day in the future, after weeks, months, YEARS of that poor orange polka-dotted sock laying alone and helpless in its pathetic little corner of your sock drawer, you see it. It’s orange. Spotted. It’s lookin kinda sock-y.  It’s laying there, magically, at the bottom of your pile of clean laundry.  The prodigal sock. And if you’re anything like me… you probably let out a noise of some kind at this point (I’m a squeaker, myself).  A Cheshire-cat grin illuminates your dull and aged face as you hold up the long-lost sock and victoriously cry out, “AT LAST! I found you!”  You march up to that sock drawer, pull out that sad lonely other-half, and watch the drama unfold with a tearful reunion.  The socks are cheering. The undies are jeering (but who can blame them, really, they got the short end of the stick anyway when it comes to clothing items).  Finally. Everyone has a friend.  Everyone gets stinky feet time. Everything is right with the world again.

That’s probably what God feels every time he finds one of us lost rogue socks at the bottom of the pile of flowy white robes in his dryer.  Sheer joy.  For I was once lost… but now, am found.

Leavin’ Me Breathless

Minor road leading to Żelechów, Poland.

Image via Wikipedia

Today I took a rather wonderful hour-and-a-half-long walk around my neighborhood.  It was gorgeous out, albeit a little windy, and I had a little skip in my step as the cool hint of Fall gently kissed my cheek.  The sun peeped out from behind clouds which seemed to threaten rain, but managed to restrain themselves.  Justin Bieber serenaded me in my own personal concert (baby, baby, baby, OHHHHH… don’t judge) as I marched along, left, right, left, right, breathing in peace and breathing out all of the pent-up anger and frustration I’ve been carrying with me lately.

At the beginning of my walk, I went at a slower pace to warm up.  Upon starting up my first big hill, my arms swung with a little more intent, my water bottle met my lips a little more frequently, and my legs began moving in power mode.  The hill was pretty large.  My breathing began to feel a little more labored and my side started to kink up a little, but still, I powered through.  Reaching the top was a welcome relief, though my hips were starting to ache and my abs were starting to make their presence a little more known.  My pace started to slow a little as Carrie Underwood sang to me about her cowboy casanova.  I mapped a route out for myself of possible places I’d like to go.  I had a general idea that I wanted to get up to the grocery store before eventually meandering on back home, so I turned down a street that looked familiar from a past bike ride and hoped for the best.

My pace started to pick up a little and steadied itself at a fast walk as I worked my way through the neighborhood.  My surroundings started to look less than vaguely familiar, but Bruno Mars started to sing about how I can “…count on me like 1, 2, 3,” so I kept on keepin on.  I surprised myself  by finding myself on the exact opposite side of the grocery store than I intended, which added quite larger distance than I originally intended on.  No big deal, though.  I just powered through the swarms of moms with their full shopping carts, making sure to smile and say hello once in a while.  Eventually I found myself down by my church and I realized that I wasn’t so tired anymore. My pace was consistently fast, my breathing even, my hips not as creaky, and my smile a little less forced.  I started to feel good about myself, good about the way my body was moving, good about where I was in life.

At that moment, I felt God’s presence just a little more than before.  I thought about the stages of my walk and what I could learn from them.  I thought about how lately things have been rather up and down.  There are days where I’m confident in where I am and where I am going.  There are days where my plan doesn’t work out the way I expected it to, and I am momentarily lost, but eventually wander back on the right path.  And there are days where I am climbing up hills with a cracking knee and splitting side and I wonder if I can even finish what I started.  But then I realized that had I stopped at the first tough hill I had to climb, I would have been left with pain.  The idea was that I kept walking and I kept pushing myself through it, and eventually I found myself in a place where I was experiencing some kind of “Walker’s High.”  Despite the struggles at the start of my journey, I found that my body adapted.  I grew a little more confident in myself and was proud of how far I had come.  And then I grew determined to finish with a bang, so I walked home the way with the other big hill. I knew I could do it, because I knew that God was with me.

So all in all, it was a good walk today.  A necessary reminder of the truth in the saying, “If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.”  It gets better, friends.  Just keep pushing through.  You will make it.

BINGO!

Sometime around finals week last year, I became addicted to Bingo Luau, a game at pogo.com.  I also got addicted to a couple other ones… but Bingo Luau was the one I always gravitated toward when I didn’t want to think about anything of substance after a long day of classes.  I also appreciated that it relied so much on luck rather than skill… because lets face it… I got no skills what-so-ever.  At least with a good game of chance I wouldn’t feel like a complete idiot, right?

Anyway. So I get myself good and addicted to Bingo Luau, and then I quit when summer rolled around, and tonight, I picked it up again.  And I remembered… gosh, I really hate bingo.  Seriously. I hate that I have just as much of a chance at winning as anyone else does. I hate how I can have a card full of numbers and the caller doesn’t seem to want to call any of the right numbers.  I hate even more how I can be so close to a bingo, I can be ONE number away, and someone else will win it anyway.  It’s a mini heartbreak every time.  I remember one time, in real life, I played bingo with my grandma. I could have won $500. I was one space away. And some old hag had the audacity to yell “Bingo!” before I got a chance. And what does some old lady need $500 for, anyway? I’m the starving college student, here.

Bingo is frustrating because you have to play the card you are dealt.  You have the option of switching cards, sure, but there’s no surefire way to pick a card that will have all the winning numbers on it, unless of course, you possess some kind of psychic ability, which the average Joe doesn’t.  Chances are that I have a higher probability of losing than I do of winning… unless of course, I’m the only one playing.

So if the odds of losing a game of Bingo are so much higher than the odds of winning… then why do I keep going back to play it?

For starters, in the case of the school year, I’m tired of thinking and need to mindlessly click numbers rather than ponder Heidegger’s metaphysics and how my daesin is always in flux.

There is also some kind of excitement with the game in itself… that maybe THIS time is going to be the time I will be a winner.  And as numbers get dotted off one at a time, this tension grows and grows until either I win or someone else does.

There is also the general satisfaction of winning.  Losing really sucks… but winning feels great.  I love being the person to press Bingo first and look in that little chat box and see everyone write something akin to “AGHHH!!!!! SO CLOSE!!!!!” I love the “It’s my lucky day!”-feeling… that for that particular moment in time, the internet universe gave me… ME!… that winning card.

And the way pogo.com works… whether you win or lose, you still earn points. I’m not sure what to use these points for aside from making a nifty little avatar for myself… but the more I play, the more points I earn.  This way, even if I lose, I can’t get too disheartened, because I know that it was still worth my time to play.

So anyway.  To kind of shift gears slightly, I’ve felt a lot of heartbreak lately in regards to being disappointed at the hand I’ve been dealt.  It all kind of happened at once, and my most recent heartbreak was that I did not receive the job that I had interviewed for and wanted oh-so-badly.  Out of over 200 applicants for this position, I was one of four chosen for an interview.  My interview went REALLY well.  I floated out of my interview like I had just been kissed for the first time by the love of my life.  I thought I had it in the bag.  Today, I woke up to a phone call with undesired news… that I did really great and that they had a really difficult time making this decision, but they wound up picking someone who they felt was just a little better suited for the job.  Someone else beat me to the Bingo.

And it’s so frustrating, you know? It hurts real bad. I was so close.  But the card I was dealt was simply not a winner this time.  In the end, I realize the overall experience was something to be proud of. I was one of four, of 200, picked for an interview. I had prepared for that interview days before I had it.  I was confident in myself, and maintained a decent balance between staying hopeful of the potential outcome, but grounded myself by keeping another job opportunity open that I do want, but is only my second choice as it’s part time.

In the last Sunday’s second reading, the author of the letter to the Hebrews (Paul? Maybe? Probably some kid named Frances) writes about discipline, and seeing our trials and hardships as being “disciplined” by the Lord.  The author writes, ““My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.  Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons.  For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Like a rock in a stream, I am being smoothed over as I endure the crashing water and tumultuous conditions of life.  It hurts, and it sucks, but I am being made better for it.  My rough edges are being smoothed and I am growing into the young woman I was created to be.  God doesn’t give me these challenges because he’s a mean fat kid on an anthill on a sunny day with a magnifying glass. He doesn’t *want* me to suffer.  He wants me to be *better.* Sara 2.0.  Because Sara 1.0 is really not the right version for whatever is in store for me.  And when Sara 2.0 is ready, God is going to give me something really great.  It’s easier to say that than to believe it… but somewhere deep down inside, I believe it.

So this time, I didn’t win.  But there’s always next time.  And when my “Bingo!” comes… I will be all the more ready for it.

Last I heard, I wasn’t 14 anymore… so…

…why am I getting pimples the size of Russia on my face? Hm? I’m just sayin. I thought that was an adolescent thing.  I

thought by the time 22 hit, I would be immune to it.  But nope. Sure enough… there it is… a nasty little bugger, right near the corner of my mouth.  And when I mean size of Russia, I mean… whip out a map and stick this pimple on it, and I’m pretty sure that it would take up the equivalent space on my face as Russia does on said map.  Okay maybe that’s a bit exaggerated. But still. Seriously.

And naturally this happens the day before an important job interview that I am scared out of my pants for.  I’ve had some interviews for jobs I didn’t really care for that I didn’t really prepare for… because lets face it… why would I, a theology major, care about a data entry job for an automotive company?  That’s like asking the Pope to work the drive through at McDonalds.  Not that it’s a bad job… just that well, you know… the Pope is qualified for other things… other more important things.

And I’m terrified of this interview because it actually means something to me.  Granted, it’s not exactly the job I went to college for… but it is still in the general environment which my degree is in (it’s an office assistant position at a Catholic university), and could at least get a foot in the door for another opportunity even more closely suited for whatever the heck I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life. Maybe.  I’m actually preparing for this interview… meaning I am looking at mission statements, I am looking at programs this department in the school offers, I am preparing for questions that I may or may not be asked so I don’t sound like the bumbling idiot I’ve been sounding like for the past three months of my life… shoot,  I am even YouTubing videos on how I should present myself to my potential future employer.  Yesterday, I bought my first big kid suit… I even got the opinions of a couple salesladies before buying it… just to make *sure* I was portraying the correct image.

I’m freakin out.

So this morning, when I said hello to myself in the mirror and found Jupiter on my chin, I was not pleased.  I know I can’t help pimples… but when I see pimples, I think teenagers.  And when I got my big kid suit yesterday, I did not want to look “teenager,” I wanted to look “Catholic intellectual.”

And then I realized… God is trying to teach me something in this moment.  I don’t NEED to be perfect.  I need to be myself.  I need to let my love of theology shine in my interview, not my adultyness.  I need to trust that God will put me where I am needed.  This pimple humbled me a bit.  I mean I know I’m kind of a big deal, as I’m a child of God and all, but I should be willing to go where God leads me, not where I think I deserve to belong.  I’m caught up in this frame of mind that I am a big bad college grad, I spent thousands of dollars for a piece of paper to put me in a job that will earn me more than minimum wage, I have been a good and faithful servant, I DESERVE this job.  But the problem is that my ego might be getting a little too big.  Sure I deserve happiness, but really, the reason I am alive and on this planet is bigger than me.  I could very well work at the drive through at McDonald’s and be exactly where I need to be.

I’m not saying at all that I should disregard my wants and desires… as God designed me with those particular desires to begin with, and those desires are good. However, I have to be careful to not enter the territory of thinking I can do it all on my own, that everything is in my control.  Because it’s not.  Not needing to be in control is a great gift from God.

So I’ve got a zit the size of the sun on my face.  So it’s unexpected and a pain in the kisser. I’ve just got to make my smile bigger, and my personality shine through even brighter.  Because ultimately, a zit isn’t going to keep me from being where I need to be.

Can You Hear Me Now??

Do you remember those commercials for Verizon with the dude walking around on his cell phone saying, “Can you hear me now? Good!”  I do that a lot.  On my Verizon phone.  My phone only sometimes gets good reception.  A lot of the times it straight up lies to me.  It will tell me that I have 5 bars only to drop my call anyway, just because it feels like it. Sometimes the message comes in loud and clear… and other times it gets jumbled and I have to keep asking “What? What did you just say? Can you enunciate??”  I feel like an idiot a lot when I talk on the phone because I keep needing to ask people to repeat themselves.  It’s really beyond my control… obviously.   It’s my stupid phone’s fault for getting the message jumbled up.

I don’t think I ever had that kind of problem with my home phone.  When the phone is directly connected to the wall, it’s not an issue.  But if I have to get some stupid signal to go all the way out into BUFU space, and then expect it to bounce alllll the way back down to the right person, there ain’t no way I’m going to be guaranteed a clear connection.  At least that’s my personal experience with it.

In getting the convenience of a cell phone, we can potentially sacrifice the quality call received and transmitted.  And while cell phones are seriously a blessing when it comes to emergency situations, or being in contact with anyone no matter where he or she is located, it can also be deadly.  There are more opportunities for disaster with cell phones when it comes to things like calling/texting while driving, or walking across a street, or I don’t know, meandering in front of a train or something.  People just get stupid when talking on their cell phones.  And I’m one of them… I’ll be the first to admit it.

And so it got me thinking.  I’ve been waiting for God’s call for you know, 22 years of my life. I always think I may have heard God say something… but actually, I wasn’t hearing right.  Or sometimes I lose the connection.  Sometimes I think I’m in a place with great reception, only to move just a fraction of an inch and lose my contact.  I try to connect with God on my terms.  I try to figure out a way where I can do what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it… and finagle God in there somewhere, wherever God can fit.  In all of this finagling… I forgot how to listen. I forgot how to create an opportunity for me to simply be still and pay attention.  Or sometimes I focus too much and forget to look at the grander picture unfolding.

I’m trying to connect with God on a shaky cell phone connection.  I’m too busy, I’m too impatient, I’m too set in my own dreams sometimes, and this causes my signal to break up a little.  And then I misinterpret the call, all the while God is on the other line saying, “Sara?? Are you there?? Hello??”  I think I’ll be able to hear God better when I plant myself down to a landline phone… when I remove those other distractions and find a way to focus on just listening with the ear of my heart (as the Benedictines would say!).  Maybe it means reading scripture once in awhile. Maybe it means just taking time to be still.  Maybe it means quit it with telling God what to do, and just be there with the active listening skills.

I think that’s where many of my frustrations with difficult discernment of my calling come into play.  The problem isn’t that God isn’t listening… it’s that I’ve got a crappy connection.

Do you ever feel like that?  In what ways can you create a better connection with God?

Why Bother with the Church?

Last night I went to a backyard Mass at an old friend’s house.  I think that backyard Mass should be almost exactly how regular Sunday Mass should be.

For starters, we were all there because we were personally invited.  The atmosphere was cozy and laid back… there was no pomp and circumstance where pomp and circumstance was not due.  We were at home (literally), surrounded by trees and unexpected guests (raccoons!!).  The people there were neighbors to the most literal sense.  I saw a lot of faces that I haven’t seen in quite some times.  Not everyone there was Catholic.  The homily was open to the community to take part in (which was kind of awkward, and I wished Fr. would have given some kind of structure to it, but oh well).  Nobody sat in the front row… which was funny and oh-so-Catholic.  The entire event was a celebration.  We had name tags to make introductions less awkward (like if I should have known someone because they’ve been my neighbor since I was 5, but naturally, since I never interacted with them, I have no idea who they are, but they know who I am, the name tag helped), there was lots of casual conversation beforehand between everyone, and there was food and drink after and more casual conversation.

It felt like a big family reunion.

And that’s how Mass should be every week.  Even down to the simplicity of the backyard.  Mass doesn’t need to be a Hollywood production.  It needs to be real.  And that… that backyard Mass was the most real Mass I’ve experienced since the days I celebrated daily Mass with the monks at St. John’s.

The topic of the homily revolved around us sharing our experiences with the Church… why we’ve stayed, and why we haven’t, and what drew us back, and what is pushing us away.  I wanted to share, but chickened out because there were just so many people there who know me or who don’t really know me but think they do.

So why have I stuck with the Church?  I almost left the Church a couple times.  It was ultimately guilt that made me go to Mass every Sunday.  I’ve gone to Masses at school sometimes where I felt so suffocated by my questions that I had to leave and be with God out under the stars or near the lake.  I figured as a Theology major, I would grow closer to God (which I’m not denying… I have grown closer to God).  I just never expected such a hard journey with my questions.  The more I learned about the Bible and about my religion, the more unsure I became about what I believed.  I sought confirmation and found more questions.  Ultimately, I realized that I ain’t no quitter, and I made a promise at my confirmation to stick with God through thick and thin, and I made a promise to question and seek real answers and to never give up on the fight.  I stick with the Church because that’s where I belong… that’s where my family is.  I know God is still God even when I don’t think God exists.  I have told God that I don’t think he exists.  I’ve always been proven wrong… whether it’s through my family or my friends, or a book I’m reading or a TV show I’m watching or whatever it is that I’m doing daily.  I bother with the Church because it bothers me.

Do you bother with the Church?  Why? Why not?  If you don’t bother with the Church, what *do* you bother with?