29 February, 2012

St. Kate's Shout Out

Who knows what kind of grief this is going to get me amidst my staff, my collegues, and my mama community, but here it is: I'm a 2005 graduate of St. Catherine University! St. Kate's is my alma mater and yes, it is an all-women's Catholic university located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Let's start with a few myths. We are not all lesbian, though we have women and friends in our community who are. We are a liberal arts college, but there are conservatives, progressives, and independents among us. My generation did not have curfews and guys are allowed on campus and in the dorms (though they had to be out by 1 a.m.) We do not and did not have pillow fights in our underwear, but we do wear comfy pants to class. We are a Catholic university, but we respect and learn from all kinds of religious faith and spirituality. Finally, any alumnae that tells you she didn't feed the squirrels is probably lying.

It seems like a great concept. A higher-education experience surrounded only by women. A golden opportunity for serious, focused, goal-oriented learning. In fact, the university's vision is "To be a leading Catholic university distinguished by its innovative spirit and premier baccalaureate College for women."

It's a glorious vision. Unfortunately, visions are often just that - something we see, hope for, and desire but whose reality we can only strive for. You see, the vision statement leaves something to be imagined because it is actually somewhere amidst the estrogen and the massive amounts of chemically-enhanced junk food is where the real story of St. Kate's lies. Let's take a look.

"To be a leading Catholic university..."

My faith was challenged by my experience at St. Kate's. To say otherwise would be untrue. And yet, it was in the challenges that I found my resolute in the faith of my childhood. I found myself in my faith. I better understood the intellectual challenges to the Catholic faith and was able to arm myself in knowledge and acceptance of the mystery.

Moreover, the wonderful ACTC consortium relationship provided not only expanded learning options, but it allowed me to choose the depth and specificity at which I wished to study. Half of the courses for my theology major were taken through the University of St. Thomas Catholic Studies department. I rely regularly on the strict theology and doctrine from my UST courses, but I rely just as heavily on the pastoral insights and lifelong learning perspective that I received in my St. Kate's course. Without both, I would not have the well-rounded background I need for my work in today's Church.

I remember fondly a Christian Life Stages course taught by Sr. Shawn Madigan. On a weekly basis, as I face the different needs of various people of faith, I reflect back on my learning about the different faith stages of individuals. I am so blessed that she has returned to her home town and mine, where she regularly presents and reflects at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality a few minutes from our parish. The St. Kate's community never ceases to touch my life.

At some point during my time at St. Kate's I read the book "Friendship and the Moral Life" by Dr. Paul Wadell. Little did I know that a few short years later I would be listening to him speak at my own parish, being that he is a professor at the local Catholic college.

Most significant to the Catholic identity of the college for me was in the example of the late Dr. Russ Connors. My final year at St. Kate's his course on "Suffering, Compassion, and Healing" was the only theology course that also fulfilled my writing intensive requirement. The learning was meaningful, but made only more so by the living and dying of the man who taught it. Having kept close tabs on Dr. Connor's work and health since my graduation, it has been a great joy, comfort and example to watch him live the lessons he taught. He suffered his conditions with grace, lived what time he had to the fullest, and died with great dignity and love. He leaves behind a legacy that exemplifies the Catholic intellectual tradition: faith, understanding, and great love.

"...innovative spirit..."

I was a nerd and the college experience wasn't going to change that. I was blessed to be a part of the Antonian Honors program. Interdisciplinary seminars and lectures pushed my learning to a new level and gave me the ability to flex my intellectual creativity. I was able to take my interests, my passions, and turn them into a learning opportunity. I was encouraged to read and research John Paul II's rhapsodic theater movement - for a grade! I researched, marketed, directed, and produced a play! The innovative spirit of the program taught me that I have control over my learning and my experience and inspires me to continue my learning in whatever endeavor I undertake.

Moreover, it was in St. Kate's cafeteria that I was first introduced to Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream. Many a late study (and movie) nights were accompanied by that ice cream and I like to believe that it's unique place in my experience has inspired me to continue trying new foods, new experiences and my own culinary endeavors. Perhaps ice cream cannot be considered innovative, but it sure can be considered inspiring!

The innovative nature of my St. Kate's experience is what inspired the work on this blog. It is what inspired the work I do in women's ministry. I learned to see a need and respond to it with my gifts. God has imbued the St. Kate's community with the inspiration and innovation of the Spirit.

"...premiere baccalaureate College for women."

While an education is a key aspect of the St. Kate's experience, I think the key word in the final phrase of the university's vision is "women". Community is at the core of my St. Kate's experience. Is, not was, because the St. Kate's community extends well beyond our time noshing in the Pulse, working out in Butler, studying next to Dew Drop, or worshipping in the Chapel.

After graduation I moved to Green Bay where I met my husband. We prepared for marriage at our local parish where we were paired with a preparation couple. Small world that the St. Kate's community is, Kris and Bob Fry were a Katie-Tommy pair from an earlier generation. Their marriage, family and way of life is testament to the character fortified by their SCU and UST experiences. They actively contribute to the global search for justic and stand firmly on both feet of charity and advocacy. Most importantly, they inspire others to do the same.

Last, but perhaps most meaningful to my experience at St. Kate's, is my roommate. I lived with the same roommate all 3 years we were at St. Kate's. Jessie was there through the ups and downs of college life. She's survived the guys, the jobs, and countless miles of travel. Together we've seen the late night crowd at the Highland Park Chipotle, the inside of St. Joseph's hospital emergency room, and miles of high-speed rails across Europe. She is not only one of my best friends and confidents, but she is now my son's Godmother. If I take nothing else with me from my time at St. Kate's, I take her and her unconditional love.

Not every moment of my time at St. Kate's was easy or humorous. There were days when I questioned every aspect of the vision statement above. Ultimately though, asking those questions, seeking for the answers, and experiencing the impact of the community made me a stronger person, a more supportive wife, a more loving mother, and a more dedicated woman of God. St. Kate's vision prepared me to live an even greater vision: to live and share the message and mission of Jesus Christ.

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..."
Matthew 28: 19-20

February 29th is "Shout Out St. Kate's" Day! For more insights into the St. Kate's community go to http://minerva.stkate.edu/shoutout.nsf/pages/homepage

26 February, 2012

My Absence: Not Intentional, Just Cluttered

Well, it's been awhile. It's not that I haven't had anything to talk about. Just the opposite: there's been WAY TOO MUCH to talk about and I've been too overwhelmed to write.

I've got three different posts started, but they get stuck between my head and my fingers. The obstacle in their path is my heart.

The other day I walked into my boss's office while she was having a casual conversation with our pastor. I said something about "after this, things will calm down" and she responded, "you're always saying that, but things never seem to calm down."

As if on cue our pastor responds, "Not this side of the grave it won't."

That is when it occurred to me. Only in Heaven will I find peace from the chaos. However, we are all on a journey to Heaven. On that journey there must be a way to create a life that reflects the peace and joy of God's Kingdom since that is what we have our eyes on. One would like to believe that God would allow to at least practice, if not perfect that type of order and joy. It is only with a clear head, heart, and home that I can create that peaceful mental space for myself and my family.

This Lent, I believe I have a calling. It is a calling that has been percolating since we moved. It is a call to truly simplify. In addition to our annual pantry clearing Lenten efforts, I will be purging closets, dressers, storage spaces and cupboards in an attempt to de-clutter our physical spaces and reinvigorate our mental spaces. Perhaps by Easter we can celebrate a little bit of Heaven on this side of the grave.

22 February, 2012

Dying in Christ

"From dust you came and to dust you shall return."

It's Ash Wednesday again...probably the most well-attended non-obligatory day in the Church year. I believe that for many Catholics Ash Wednesday has taken on the traditional spirit of New Years - a time to reflect, repent, and refocus on the important aspects of life.
As a daughter, a wife and a mother, I’ve discovered that throughout the journey of our faith life, we have opportunities to either live as Christ teaches or turn to another teacher, whatever or whoever that may be.

I learned my first lesson about dying in Christ around the age of 18 when my parents became foster parents to at-risk infants. You’ll most likely find my 50 year old mother in her rocking chair, priming a feeding pump, or in a waiting room at a hospital or therapy clinic.

We weren’t always a foster family. We were an average family with three daughters. My mother had always wanted more, but after some serious health diagnoses she accepted God’s plan for the 5 of us. A registered nurse turned stay-at-home mom, she kept her nursing license current “just in case”. Though she had always wanted to do foster care, my dad wasn’t so sure. In 2002, our parish hosted a ministry fair that included a local social service agency looking for foster and adoptive parents. My dad’s heart softened and God’s seed began to germinate. They began the preparation courses. After a cross-country move and a few less than Godly obstacles, they completed their licensure as foster parents.

We have had more babies than you can count on both hands, each one with their own need, their own family, and their own lesson for us.

When this process began, I had my feelings of replacement and frustration. I was the first out of the house and even before I was gone there was someone there to take my place. Our first little pixie, who to this day has a piece of my heart, took my mom away from me during a time of great transition to adulthood. The close relationship mom and I had built seemed, at best, an afterthought. It put a strain on my relationship with my dad who became the buffer for my frustration, and with my sister who has always been my mom’s ultimate champion.

As the years have passed and my own family has grown, I have been in a constant process of prayer and conversion. God offers me the patience and grace I need to die to myself and know that this is what the example of Jesus and the sacrament of the Eucharist is all about. While I can’t honestly write that I am on board with the choice and its implications all the time, I know that something that requires this much love and this much sacrifice must be a call from God. While I selfishly worry about my children’s grandparents and the time they have to spend with them and with each other, I trust that Mom and Dad are in constant discernment. I know that as God calls them to this, He also provides the time and nourishment they need to be sustained in their vocation. Today, I am so blessed to say that my children will never know a limited definition of family.

Luke 6:17-45
And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region o Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyon in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

Sermon on the Plain
And raising his eyes towardy his disciples he said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man

Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, 
for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Love of Enemies
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Event sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Judging Others
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”And he told them a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

The Sermon on the Plain is a good summary of Jesus’ teachings.

Scripture asks us regularly to die to ourselves and live in Christ.

The past 8 weeks of my life have been yet another lesson in dying in Christ. Having recently moved, I was fixated on the words “Christmas at home” this year. I had visions of stockings, warm cookies, and Christmas crafts dancing my head. And then the doctor said the word, “cancer” to my mother-in-law the first week of December. The potholders hit the floor just about as fast as I hit my knees.

The words “career path” had been on my heart and in my sights until the second week of December when the thermometer read 103 degrees and my beautiful children couldn’t keep anything down. I spent as much time on my knees cleaning as I did praying. After two weeks, no career success has ever felt as good as the moment the fever breaks and your child sleeps comfortably.

The words “Superbowl” and “finished basement” beckoned us into a January lull until a frantic phone call from my father with words like, “complications”, “pain management” and “6-8 week recovery” sent me rushing to the aid of my mother and foster siblings. In place of a Superbowl, I got a bowl of spaghettios. Instead of basement moulding, I got to clean moldy food out of the refrigerator. Instead of a planning the Confirmation of 50 young people, I found myself living mine.

Things don’t often go as we think they should and as much as I hate to admit it, each of these moments were moments when I found frustration before I found Christ. The frustration stems from a place of topsy-turvy priorities. It was in the second moment where I realized that I had let something else be my guide instead of Christ, and that I had to commit myself to a conversion of heart with Christ as my guide.

We all have moments when we allow someone or something else be our guide, leader and teacher. Perhaps it is the people we spend time with, our families, our society, our government or president, the promise of comfort or money or power.

I’d like you to take a moment and ask yourself, how have I failed to live up to the teachings of Christ? How do I need to die to myself in order to know the joy of living with Christ?

God promises us something beyond death. In dying to ourselves, God promises us life. This cookie is an Easter tradition in my family. The resurrection cookie is a reminder that beyond death is something greater - the empty tomb and the resurrection. The resurrection is the reason we fast - that we are better able to feast on the life and sustance the Lord gives to us through his Son and Spirit.

05 February, 2012

From Envy to Contentment

I really envy a friend of mine.  She's a lawyer, married with no kids, and living just outside Washington D.C. She has time to run long distances, visit local markets, and spend time "centering" on Sundays.

Today is Sunday and my day was anything but centered. I haven't showered, the laundry is complete but unfolded, and I am sitting mired in a cluttered desk with a to-do list longer than my 5'9" frame. Five minutes ago I had a glass of red wine, but I can't put my finger on it now...

I miss the days before my kids. There, I said it. It doesn't make me love my children any less to say that. It doesn't make me any less of a good mommy to reminisce the days when leaving the house took no longer than the amount of time it took to find my keys. Or to wax on about the weeks when the house only had to be picked up ONCE. Or to want a weekend away with my husband to remember what he looks like without his yogurt-smeared sweatpants.

We have fond memories of our time before our children and I've been told by friends that the years between 0-5 are some of the hardest on a marriage because of the constant grind. Somedays the storytelling is all that gets us through these long days.

As I find myself envying my dear friend's life I hear the Lord say, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods."

Thanks Lord...

However, when God gives you a message like that and you can't get it off your heart, I've found that the only way past it is to take it to prayer. As I mulled over that phrase, angry at God for missing the point, I couldn't make myself feel better. Nothing I read or thought could justify me past what God was telling me. If I wasn't right then I had to wander down the rabbit hole of "what if God is right?"


What I have is beautiful. The life we live is so blessed. Activities and outings that once had meaning as a couple now have a whole new dimension as a family. Wings and fries nights are now family date nights and I'd never want to miss a "laugh 'til you cry" trip to the zoo. Long car romantic drives are now comandeered for "pil-loso-pee" discussions about the comings and goings of all things cows and dragons. As I type I'm listening over the monitor to my son click the cats into his room so they can "listen for a story". And there is nothing, absoultely nothing, more wonderful than watching John Ross teach his sister how to use the IPOD.

These are moments of my life that I will never get back. Perhaps that is why the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, "Do not worry about tomorrow...today has enough trouble of it's own."

Okay, Lord...but, I still miss those days.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters."

It is time to find contendedness is the place my shepherd has led me. He has promised to lead me to safety, nourishment and rest. I must relish the gift of the moment. Five years from now I will find myself missing these days and wishing them back.

"God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Amazing how something as unnerving as envy can take my heart through a beautiful scripture journey to a place where I can and should find contentment in God's providence. Now it is up to my free will and discipline to remain in the place of contentment.