Archives for category: Community

Lately I wonder how adequate my growth has the potential to be, if my vertical communion is limited and the majority of it is not initiated by me. Is spiritual growth separate from the other kinds we experience as humans, like the mental or emotional species? Does any class of growth happen separate from God? I do not imagine it is out of Satan’s desire to promote certain areas of growth if ultimately it draws me out of communion with God, so I suppose it is possible to grow as a person in “good” ways in my unimpressible state.

This is my fear! I barely communicate with God through intentional prayer lately, as I am still grieving for Pam and spiritual apathy is like an anvil on my soul. But I can’t deny all the ways I am experiencing growth and “good” change in my life since. Has God found ways to reach my squashed spirit, and subconsciously I to him? I find myself these days with emotional responses that are (relatively) mature/rational, with more sincere regard for my friends and family, an infinitely more genuine personality and optimistic, focused point of view. Up until recently I palpably lacked all these things, that was easily observed, especially by myself. I am excited to pursue things now for my own fulfillment (read: healthy hobbies) and I understand now that my goals are to simply find what I love and do it, and what is purer or sweeter than that? Such a revelation, such an embrace of the genuine person that I am is like taking in a cool glass of water after a season of drought.

A part of this sort of mental clarity comes from a realization I had a couple of weeks prior, while I read an email I wrote sometime my junior year of college. It was to a friend that I was losing and I was, to phrase it mildly, entirely obsessed with and determined to put things right between the two of us. On the surface, my words are sickly sweet, imploring, too simple to suggest intrigue. My true feelings behind them were depression over the state of our friendship, morose really, confusion as to why we were growing apart and inwardly wondering if it was because of me, because there was a part (or all of) me that she didn’t like. The latter idea terrified and tortured me. Looking over this email three years later, it’s astonishing to see how affected and blatantly fake I was! In the email I exuded happiness and cordiality and passive interest as if those were natural components of our relationship, but never scratching the surface as to why we grew apart or otherwise being sincere in any way. The tone the letter is so unlike me, it was unsettling to read. It made my stomach turn, thinking of how much my friend’s reception of me mattered and how I let that shape me… even more so, I remember that I was completely oblivious to my hypocrisy, only writing in order to gain her friendship and trust again.

It kick-started something in me, mentally and emotionally, and it changed in me the way I approach most things. Life. I think my disgust at seeing something so insincere and fake, and realizing that this permeated most of my character in college & since, has rerouted my perspective and personality into something more healthy and real.

I never realized it at the time, but returning to school as a newly converted Christian imparted a lot of very real pressure on me to glory in prudishness, to be the ideal Christ lover, to be spiritually mature enough to lead others to Him. I wanted approval from my family in Christ and everyone else, so I hid my sins, becoming all the more insincere and plain fake, rejecting my old self, genuine personality and all.  I realize this now, and though it haunts me to think of the friendships I lost or ruined or the people I may have led astray because of my deeply rooted insecurities, I am still ignited to be completely the opposite. Perhaps God is influencing all of this, perhaps vertical communion is still happening, perhaps my soul found a way to connect to Him that my mind does not realize yet.

Perhaps the mere thought of prayer, or the simple desire to be known by God, to be a better and more genuine soul, is prayer itself.

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There were so many times in the past three months I wanted to blog, or had an inkling of a profound idea for one, or had a lot on my heart that could have been shared…

But even though my life for the past three months was a cornucopia of wonders, hardships, contentment & confusion, I don’t have a lot of pretty words bubbling over to pour out into a post right now. I thought I might just bullet-point the bigger goings-on in my life.

  • My favorite thing to do as of late is READ. Not just anything, though. My sister found a box full of my old paperbacks in our attic, gems like Sweet Valley High, Fear Street & Gary Paulsen. I read about five R.L. Stine books in the past few weeks, they’re like candy to me. I read them like I did when I was in middle school, under the covers with my small lamp on, straight through or until my eyes involuntarily clamp shut (out of sheer terror, or exhaustion).
  • My little sister & I are growing closer. I love it. I know she cherishes me for who I am & gets my quirks. I am super comfortable & happy to be myself around her. Our relationship has grown a lot, she is super precious to me & our mutual respect is something pretty neat.
  • I am working three jobs, neither of which are satisfying or nurturing. I tutor approximately zero science students at a community college & I have two retail jobs. Each still require work ethic though & I’m saving up money so it isn’t all unproductive.
  • I am gaining a little confidence, one week at a time, about making future plans. About what my life is going to be. “What the heck am I doing with my life?!” with varied tones of exasperation, clarity & conviction, is my mantra lately. These next few months I feel are some of the most pivotal of my life — the next job I land might be the one that lasts half my life (something a friend lovingly shared last week).
  • I am thinking about going to grad school. Not for science though, for counseling. I had a fruitful experience in Minnesota working with at-risk youth last year; it may be a calling? Who knows about these things? So wherever I move this year, that’s likely (or not, perhaps, maybe) where I am staying in order to go to a good school, in state, to get a counseling certificate. There’s a chance. Or I might move to Boston to live with my older sister. Or I might move to Baltimore to be a part of an intentional community & teach children about gardening & environmental friendliness. MAKING DECISIONS IS NOT MY FORTE.
  • I miss my friends. Edit: I NEED MY FRIENDS. There are not many at home anymore & since I am out of the instant community of college or a volunteer program I seem to have become a social recluse. A little bit. Turns out I have some social anxieties I didn’t know about before, because there’s never been a time when a friend wasn’t a few minutes (or a few doors) away.

  • The week of Thanksgiving, my cousin’s husband decided to kill her. He committed suicide after. They left behind their daughter who is about to graduate high school. The entire experience, for everyone, is completely & utterly horrific. Pam was her name. She was young, beautiful & sassy. The kind of grief we experienced/are experiencing is sometimes blinding, it’s so painful. It completely stuns you, the shock & the sadness of it, to a point where speaking is hopeless & your mind races with convoluted excuses & sorrows for weeks on end. There isn’t a time since the funeral that I don’t feel heavy & empty when I think about losing Pam, or wonder about what it’s like for her daughter, or my aunt, or her sister.
  • God has not been a part of the picture, at least not much, since Pam’s funeral. My sadness, I think, has overrun my desire to let God be a discerning part of the grieving process (or my life, frankly). I was never belligerent, but I did put up defenses around my heart like Fort Knox & refused to let any vertical communication persist. I stopped caring about the Gospel, or God’s perspective. It means nothing to me that God might understand or sympathize with our pain; the idea made me laugh more than once. Hysterically. Deep down, though, my soul is always stirring for Something more & I hope that His sympathies might mean something, someday.

That is the reason I didn’t post anything for three months. It is the biggest thing that happened in my life since. How could I write about anything without considering Pam? Such an experience is impossible to process into a coherent blog, or words at all. In any case, I had no idea how to approach it so I just stopped trying to write. Lately though, I think I am beginning to look objectively at things… I talked openly with a friend about it this weekend & that encouraged me to blog a little. It’s not that I’m finished grieving for Pam & my family but maybe God could be a bigger part of the picture now that emotions/defenses aren’t wreaking havoc?

As I am sitting here, I am wondering if longing for something is healthy at all. Some longings heavily based on reminiscing seem dangerous. Dwelling on the past can be borderline sinful, something that’s concrete, at least for me.  It clearly is not God’s desire to dwell on what once was a part of my life & things or experiences I am missing. Longings. But have them I do so maybe blogging about them will help keep my thinking from clogging.

  • Volunteering.  I miss the support that being a part of a program provides.  I miss the deep encouragement of knowing that I had friends to live with & love 24/7, a job to keep me purposeful, a roof & amenities that I did not have to worry so much about.  I worry about all of those things now.
  • Minnesota.  I miss it for the above reason, but also for the warm neighborhoods, gorgeous gardens, “Minnesota-nice”, all the state pride, frozen lakes, feet of snow, the joy of returning spring, Viking-mania, Lake Woebegone, the Beaver Island Trail for biking, the parks & the tater-tot hotdish.
  • Living within walking distance of 98% of my closest friends.  College creates community.  Really good community, too, even when it includes many people you do not care for.  You realize this as soon as you are out of college & suddenly you do not know any of your street neighbors & your best friends are more than an hour driving distance away.
  • City life.  I feel drained when I am not in the city.  Maybe that is because of all the people, all the agendas, all the possibilities for good friends & growth.  Out here past the suburbs where it is not quite the country but the nearest theater is half an hour north, I do not see people unless I need to spend money.  We drive everywhere.  There is little community.  No one is ever outside, which is the worst part.  If I lived in D.C. I would find parks & benches & patches of grass for lunch or anything else I could get done sitting down.
  • Having a sincere, big-picture purpose.  In college, I did not need to think a lot about what my life’s goals were, or understand my genuine motivations for life, or determine my purpose.  In the short term, even though I grew to not enjoy my major, I knew my purpose was to go to school, do my work, pass courses, do things with friends, eat, call home once in a while, etc.  As a volunteer, a lot of what we did was dictated by the program.  Sure, there was more wiggle-room for figuring out my long-term purpose than in college, but when we were not working, meeting, eating or retreating, we were passed out in front of “How I Met Your Mother” reruns… my point is now, without much else giving me purposeful shape to my life, I feel restless, sometimes listless, unsure & doubtful about what happens next.
  • My own coffee pot.  I share morning coffee with my folks now.  This is extremely petty of me, but they like their coffee a certain way & at different times with varying degrees of mess.  I sincerely miss being able to make a pot of coffee to my taste & not have to worry about it all being drunk in ten minutes or a big coffee/cream/sugar mess on the counter top.  I have to safe-guard the pot when I make coffee nowadays.  But coffee is one of my prime worldly comforts so it is not that big of a surprise that I am so irked.

Also: I entirely deleted both Facebook & Twitter last week.  It has not been long enough for me to know if that was the craziest thing I have ever done, especially about the former.  All those connections lost, especially considering my aforementioned “community” longing, makes me think yes.  But they are both huge distractions while I job search & are two things I care way too much about for God to be impressed.

This week I started to feel strongly that I should never, ever forget my time as an FCV and relish in the memories, the lessons and joys.  I am actually thinking about my volunteer experience every day now and hindsight has brought loads of clarity to me.  Hindsight is marvelous.

The more I reminisce the more fond I am of all of it and the smaller gems of communication with the children themselves.  I keep reminiscing about particular conversations I had, or games I played, or activities I led and remembering vividly how I felt, from nausea and sweaty palms to calm clarity and steady hands.  Having been allowed a full month to take a breath, to step out of the overwhelm of it all — which I never did truly get over through the entire year — and to have God continue to reveal His promises and purposes through retrospect, I am quite keen to return to my coworkers and the children.  My supervisor always told me that after I left, I would miss the place terribly and I usually felt to awkward to be honest and deny it.  But weeks later, I feel the way I never felt after leaving my university: sad.  As anyone would feel after saying goodbye to the dearest of friends.  It makes sense really, because the entire year seemed to revolve around a lesson on sincere relationships (see posts from August 2009 to June 2010) and I suppose I learned, because there is some tangible void in my heart now that the experience is behind me and so many who shared it with me are out of my life.  To me, although I am sad in leaving them I rejoice in making good, real, sincere relationships.  This is the way it is supposed to feel when a life is plainly, genuinely shared with another.

If this was the only purpose for being in Minnesota, to intimately learn the value of our relational qualities as created persons, I’m incredibly satisfied.

This is the end!  I packed for two weeks, said goodbye to everyone at the Chlidren’s Home and just finished a three day retreat at Clare’s Well, a healing farm run by the Franciscan Sisters.  It is simply a fantastical place, entirely secluded, forty plus acres, a perfect showcase of the Minnesota sky at night, plentiful goats, guinea hens (and their babies), kitties, a blind dog and thousands of native birds.  Nature just thrives in this place.  It was a perfect ending to the program — only I wish I finalized more things like packing and my flight back home before we went, since I just seemed to dive back into anxiety as soon as we returned this afternoon.  Regardless I am incredibly thankful for Srs. Paula, Jan and Carol for creating such a beautiful, peaceful and healing community at Clare’s Well and for letting us crash the hammocks for three days.  I know I will do my crying on the plane ride tomorrow morning and I’m eager for this anxiety to leave.  I know the morning will be hectic, or it usually is, so I’m trying to keep centered and peaceful and not let my circumstances take over.

Auf wiedersehen, Minnesota!  I learned a lot from your eccentric climate, Catholic tradition and amiable neighborliness.  I will hopefully never forget “Minnesota nice” and probably consider my self Minnesotan for the next year at least!

Here we are in the home stretch!  Amazing to think it has been ten whopping long months already — !

Today we are scouring our rooms & the volunteer house like mad.  To help prepare us Sister Clara made omelets this morning, which I need to eat more of, I decided.  I can’t remember the last time I had hot breakfast & Clara is a master cook, so omelets shot to the top of my list of favorite foods this morning.

This Thursday the Children’s Home said goodbye to me in normal fashion, with ice-cream & a big “Thank You Alicia!” poster with all the kids’ signatures & notes.

A sweet send-off

It was a sweet send-off.  My supervisor was dead set on getting a picture of me on my bike that I rode to my placement everyday, and we decided to add balloons from my party — I thought it turned out nice!  We tried for an action shot, but turns out it’s incredibly difficult to ride while a dozen balloons are smacking your face.

Bike and balloons

Then we had a final fiesta with most of our best Minnesotan friends.

Minnesota pals

It’s been a fine last week.  Now it’s time to clean like there’s no tomorrow…

Wordle: CAP Essay

Here is the world cloud for my Christian Appalachian Project essay I’m submitting this week. Happy to see “community” right on top!