Tag Archives: family

Prayer: An Act of Thanksgiving

Meghan Kozal, 2018-2019 Anchor Intern

“Bless us, O Lord, and these, I guess…”

“Did you just say and these, I guess?”

“Of course, that’s what the prayer is, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s thy gifts!  Not I guess!”

The traditional Catholic prayer before meals can sometimes get a little lost on us in its ritual nature, as the Old English terminology had for my sister when she was younger.  My own prayer before meals can often be hurried in my busy day-to day-life and even at times apathetic, as if I were actually praying “and these, I guess”. Recently, though, I was given the opportunity to be drawn out of the ritual motions and words of the prayer at the dinner table in Rungsted Kyst, Denmark.  

This past semester I lived with a wonderful host family in the small coastal suburb of the capital, Copenhagen.  My family included several host siblings: 10 and 14 year old sisters (Amalie and Victoria), 17 year old brother (Gustav) and, arguably my favorite, the small dog (Luna).  One of my favorite parts of living with them was our hyggeligt nightly family dinner.  

Gustav, Victoria, Amalie, and Meghan after dinner

I was used to praying before meals, as I had always been taught to by my family, and it was something that I had continued to do at Notre Dame.  My host family, though Christian, were not particularly religious and did not pray before meals. Being a guest in their house, I did not want to seem overly religious and make them uncomfortable, so I snuck in my prayer before our dinners while no one was looking.  My secretive prayers continued for some time until my youngest host sister, Amalie, noticed and asked my host mom what I was doing, though she said it in Danish. My host mom asked me if I was in fact praying, laughing a bit at my shyness, and was surprised that so much time had passed with no one having noticed.  After my host family found out that I always prayed before meals they would pause in serving the food when they saw me begin to make the sign of the cross. It was occasionally rather uncomfortable, as they stared at me in a bit of wonder and waited to continue what they were doing until I was done. I was happy, though, that I no longer had to sneak in my prayer and it really made me stop and think about the prayer I was saying, as well as make sure I remembered to pray it.

Nearing my last week with my host family in December, after I finished praying, Gustav asked me why I prayed before meals.  I hadn’t realized what a mysterious thing prayer could be to someone who had never really experienced it in this way, as it had always been a part of my mealtime ritual.  I told him that it was an act of thanksgiving. It was a recognition that I am blessed to have the meal sitting before me as well as the family surrounding me. In praying I am showing gratitude for all those whose labor went into the food reaching my plate while also praying that those who were not as lucky as me would be fed.  Gustav’s response struck me in his immediate acceptance, as he said that he thought the whole family should begin to pray before meals along with me if that is what it meant.

I, like I think many Christians do, heard about missionaries converting people in foreign lands and had a longing to go out into the world and do these awesome deeds, but I hadn’t realized that in praying before meals in the tiny suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark, I truly was a missionary.  Although I did not directly preach the words of the Gospels or bring my host family to Mass with me, in modeling a way that faith had moved me to reconsider a part of my daily life, the meal, I believe that I was able to show how my faith is one of gratitude and thanksgiving.

I realize now, though, that I left out an important part in my description of my prayer- that I was also praying with the gratitude for the space to be able to show my faith and for having been raised in a family and community that taught me the very faith I was able to demonstrate. I regret not having been more upfront about my faith from the beginning to my host family, as I might have been able to have the conversation about prayer and more with my host brother long before the eve of my departure.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

I don’t think that I will ever fully be able to see my mealtime prayer without this new lens of mission and purposeful gratitude, and I hope I continue to often find myself sitting at a dinner table with the choice to pray in secret or to profess my faith so that I do not forget the great blessing that is prayer.  

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we continue to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

“Where is home for you?”

Regina Ekaputri, Senior Anchor Intern

Where is home for you?”

It’s a question that I get asked quite often here at Notre Dame, and I’m sure it’s one of the most common conversation starters for many of us. Most of the time, I would always take the question literally, answering that I grew up just a little bit outside Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s easy; it’s where most of my family is, and where my childhood home is. But now that the end of senior year is looming, I have gotten to reflect more on what “home” means to me.

Regina pictured with her mom and sisters

Lately, my concept of ‘home’ has expanded. I have come to realize that home is not just about a particular place. In addition to where my family is, I now associate home with the other places, communities, and times when I have been so welcomed, accepted, and embraced with warmth and hospitality, when I have felt at peace and comfortable to be my authentic self, to share my thoughts, beliefs, and values, to engage in heartfelt conversations, and to be vulnerable.

This shift in my perspective came about over this year’s fall break trip to André House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. I was with a group of fellow Notre Dame students, and we were there for the week, serving and engaging with people who are experiencing homelessness. We would start each day by rotating through different jobs from helping with meal preparation in the kitchen, clothing distribution, managing and cleaning the shower facilities, helping at the main office, serving food during dinner time, handing out tickets to the guests, or washing the dishes.

One of my favorite jobs, however, was being a “porter.” It involved staying outside the building, by the entrance, and welcoming guests as they come in. I personally think that ‘portering,’ which sounded like such a simple job, was what makes André House such a special place. The duty comes with opportunities to encounter the people, to engage in thought-provoking, humbling, vulnerable, and genuine conversations with the guests who would come in for the services. I had the opportunity to hear about their day, their struggles and frustrations, and also their hopes and joy. One person sat with me and shared about his few but prized possessions, which included his Bible. He chattered excitedly about the last passage he was reading, and his favorite verses. Another guest shared about his hope of getting housing soon, after having lived on the streets for months. One guest sat down with me and shared about his injured legs, about his daily struggles, tearing up as he stuttered his words out to me. Another came to me and asked me to pray with him right there at the parking lot. We sat down at a bench, and he told me about his experience of being recently evicted from a shelter, and his hope of finding nice housing. He gave me his outstretched and open hands, and we prayed together under the awnings of the parking lot.

Fall Break 2017 at Andre House

The way these people were willing to open up and share such personal and profound things really moved me throughout the time I was there. At first, I was baffled with how much they seem to embrace vulnerability with people they barely knew. However, as the week went on, I also observed the way the core staff and my friends interacted with the guests: asking their names and making the effort to remember them all, listening intently to each guest they encountered, embracing them in warm hugs and greeting them with wide smiles, sharing laughter and tears as the guests shared some of their stories. I realized that they were willing to be so vulnerable because of the way the people at André House reach out to them, offering companionship and human connections with such love and openness.

It was this realization that slowly brought me to see that home is more than just a physical roof above our heads—it’s a place of refuge, hospitality, and solidarity, a place where we feel safe, supported, and loved. In the case of André House, it’s a Christ-centered community that acknowledges and celebrates everyone’s dignity as God’s creation, welcoming people as they are, treating everyone they encounter like Christ himself.

This realization leads me to feel a deep gratitude, as I reflect on the communities and the people that have made me feel at home. I have been blessed to have found ‘pockets of home’ here at Notre Dame, and also in various places I have been since I left my childhood home—in the loving and supportive friends who willingly accept me with all my quirks and occasional sarcastic tendencies and share moments of vulnerability and solidarity, the caring mentors and professors who believe in me and push me to grow as a person, the faith community that walks with me and helps me see God in every little thing I encounter, and also in some moments of prayer and reflection where I feel a deep sense of God’s peace and love. This feeling of gratitude also comes with a sense of hope, as I grapple with the uncertainties of what my post-Notre Dame life would be like. The future becomes *slightly* less daunting as I know that I have not only my loving family back in Indonesia, but also these various ‘homes’ to return to. I also learn to trust more, as I grow in my understanding that ultimately home does not have to be attached to a place, but instead refers to authentic relationships, welcoming communities, and the unconditional love and constant companionship God readily gives for us all.

When Joy Runs Dry

Nathan Miller, Senior Anchor Intern

“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.”  Psalm 47:2

In my blog last semester, I reflected on the Litany of Humility prayer. In my blog this semester, God has given me a whole new life experience to understand humility…and right now, I can’t say I’m all too thrilled about it.

Just a few days before Christmas, I had surgery to repair my torn ACL (and meniscus, as I found out afterward). But this wasn’t a recent injury. I had torn it in the first couple weeks of fall semester playing football with my friends. If anyone asks though, just tell them I was wrestling a bloodthirsty bear while protecting a small child lost in the woods.

Successful surgery!

I celebrated the Christmas season with a big brace on my leg, using crutches to get everywhere. I needed help with simple things like getting dressed, showering, making food, and pretty much everything else that would normally require you to balance on both legs. Every task was a “big production” as I came to say, and my limited mobility kept me from getting out of the house very much. As someone who is used to providing for himself, I quickly grew frustrated with my temporary disability.

It is remarkable how quickly frustration can erode joy. On one hand, I had so many reasons to be thankful – the surgery was successful, I had adequate insurance, and my family and girlfriend went to great lengths to care for me and make me comfortable. Even more, I was still able to attend Christmas Mass and see my extended family as we celebrated the coming of Emmanuel. But yet, my frustrations mounted. Getting up at night to use the bathroom was a hobbling mess. Mom always offering 5 different ways to help when all I wanted was to rest. And probably above all, I felt incredibly lethargic and cooped up. My motivation to do things like reading books or study for my upcoming CPA exams was low, and even lower was my motivation to pray. You would think that having so much free time, especially over Christmas season, would have inspired me to pray. But I found many excuses: “I have to do my rehab exercises first” or “I need to take a nap first” or “now my family is home I should play a game with them.”

Unable to move normally. Frustrated with being taken care of all the time. Not taking time for prayer. I realized about one week after surgery that my supply of joy was running on fumes. How did I deteriorate so quickly? Of course, there is something to be said for coming off of major surgery and still being on strong pain meds, but I also had to find the wellspring of hope to replenish my joy.

Two things in particular helped me reclaim a spirit of joy amidst my temporary disability.

First, I needed to express gratitude, internally and externally, for the gracious help of my family, but in particular my mom. As we were driving back from visiting one of my relatives, she sat in the second row of the van with me and let me rest my leg on her lap (since I needed to keep it straight and that’s a difficult task in a vehicle). As my leg rested there, she silently started massaging my foot. In a few moments, I was unexpectedly overcome with a sincere feeling of gratefulness and humility. In that small moment, I saw how deeply she cared about me. For this time in my life, I once again needed to unabashedly rely on my mother’s love. Recognizing this brought me one step closer to joy. I allowed all the kindness of my loved ones to soak in as I embraced my limited capabilities. Gratitude is a wonderful medicine for grumpiness.

Second, I brought myself back to a routine of prayer. As I sipped my morning coffee, I sat by the window and started with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It has long been one of my favorite ways to pray because it makes me feel a deep connection with the universal church and puts words into prayer for a whole spectrum of human emotions. Even though it’s my favorite prayer, it was still difficult most mornings to start it. After about five minutes of praying, however, I felt my resistance soften and my mind open for God to enter. From there, I was able to use my own words to talk with God about how I was feeling – my frustrations and my desire for joy. He in turn comforted me with His steady peace and directed me to embrace gratitude. This conversational prayer helped me see God amidst my little suffering, but was only possible because I first entered into formal prayer. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit works through our prayer, even when we feel we are at our weakest.

Joy is decidedly different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting, yet joy is sustaining. Even still, I found that joy can run dry, and it is in these times that we need to draw on the wellspring of love shown to us by our family, our friends, and above all, our Heavenly Father. Joy, invigorated by gratitude, is one of the marks of a Christian life. It is a mark I hope you will join me in striving for each day, on Our Lady’s campus and beyond.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”   Romans 15:13

Family Christmas 2017

Understanding Love Through Divorce

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

One Sunday morning after church when I was 8 years old, my mom took my sister and me to the park and sat us down on a bench. She calmly told us, like it was any other day, that she and my father decided that they no longer wanted to live together, that they still loved us very much but decided that they were better as friends than as a couple. She then pointed to an apartment complex across the street and explained that’s where my dad would be moving. We would see him, of course, but he would no longer live with us. My parents were getting a divorce. I don’t remember being very sad when my mom first told me the news. I could not comprehend in that moment the way my parents’ divorce would affect my life or my understanding of God’s love. Now, 14 years later, I can see how this event was a turning point in both my life and my faith.

After the divorce, the biggest change in my life was the newfound balance of time split between my parents. I lived full-time with my mom, and she became my superhero. I watched her work a full time job, take my sister and myself to and from school, make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and plan every birthday party and holiday celebration. With her superpowers of multi-tasking, I knew I could depend on my mom for anything and she would be there. She took on the role of both parents alone, and I never felt like I missed out on anything.

Emily and her mom

When my dad moved out of the house, he went from being my parent to my biggest cheerleader. During an average week, I might see him once and talk to him maybe twice, but he did his best to never miss a soccer game or art show and even drove me to my prom. We would spend afternoons at the movies and listening to music. I knew he always supported me in my actions, but he was no longer a constant presence in my life. Between working long hours and consistently moving around South Florida, I would go many days without talking to him. This is when I started paying more attention in church and being intrigued by the idea that God was always present.

When my parents divorced, I struggled to maintain my previous understanding of love. Until then, I had understood that my mom and dad loved each other and from that love, they had my sister and me. I didn’t understand then that a love between two people could crumble and disappear. Watching my parents go from lovers to friends who could drive each other crazy made me wonder if all other love could fade as well. It was with that fragile understanding of love that I questioned how God’s love could always be present. But through both God and my parent’s modeling of God’s love, I learned what unconditional love really meant.

Emily and her dad

1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God’s love for us is often compared to a parental love, so unconditional that no matter the circumstances, we can always return to Him. Growing up, it was hard to comprehend a love so vast and unconditional that it would always be present in my life. But that was God’s love that my parents modeled for me, even in their separation. During and after the divorce, I always felt my parents’ love, even when they would fight or on the days my dad was not there. They continually showed their love for me and my sister even during times of struggle. It was clear to see in the way my parents put my sister and I first in everything. I saw it in the way my mom kept my life stable through the change. I was it in the way my dad carved out time individual time for both my sister and I, so that neither of us felt abandoned. I was privileged to see in action the ways that parental love can withstand trials and flourish, even when the givers of that love had suffered their own losses. So when I sat in the pews at church and learned that God loved me like a father, unconditionally and always, I could feel the presence of his love in my life in the same way I felt my parents’ love for me. I understood that God would always be there for me, always willing and ready to work through life with me. I learned to talk to God as a father, asking for advice and guidance in the same ways I asked my parents, trusting in his love for me above all else. I understood God’s love for me in a real and deep sense.

My parents modeled unconditional love that could not be affected or diminished by any earthly issue, showing me how to understand and connect to God’s unconditional love for me.

 

Communion of the Heart

Elizabeth Hascher, Senior Anchor Intern

Just as quickly as my summer began, it was over. Even though I hadn’t been on campus for eight months, it felt like it was just last week that I was loading up my car with storage tubs and driving away, golden dome in my rearview mirror. At first, the thought of coming back was terrifying. I left campus last fall feeling very much ready to leave. It was a semester with a lot of difficult moments, and it left me questioning if Notre Dame was the place for me.

That trying semester did come with some unexpected blessings, however. One thing led to another during the fall, and I was presented with the opportunity to spend my summer participating in an SSLP with the L’Arche community in Spokane, Washington. There are 137 L’Arche communities throughout the world, and each of them provides a home and community where people with and without intellectual disabilities share their lives with one another. They live and work together, form friendships and relationships of faith, and seek to strengthen and provide growth opportunities for their communities.

That all sounds great, but what L’Arche really looks like is living in a house with ten other people and just embracing life with one another. L’Arche is about drinking coffee with your friends in the morning and sitting on the porch for hours. It’s about dancing in the kitchen and praying together after dinner. It’s also about talking with one another and sharing feelings of sadness or frustration, or giving someone a hug after a difficult day. Sometimes it’s even about laughing really hard when someone farts unexpectedly during breakfast.

L’Arche celebrates the Fourth of July together with a picnic.

As I left my L’Arche family and came back to school, I carried this experience with me. Knowing that a lot had changed during my time away from campus, I thought about my time in Spokane and wondered how I would be able to take what I learned and share it with others. How would I be able to explain to people at Notre Dame what a radically different lifestyle L’Arche was, and how it taught me more than perhaps any class? Well, here it is.

Living with people with intellectual disabilities showed me that the way we spend our time says volumes about the values we hold. If we truly let our lives speak, we can learn a lot about ourselves. We may be surprised to find that we may not be honoring our values and beliefs quite the way we perceive ourselves to be. It should give each of us pause to think about times when we have valued worldly things, validation from others, and power over vulnerability, humility, and sharing our lives with each other. My time at L’Arche showed me that if I truly desire to let God work in my life, I must intentionally create spaces in which He can dwell.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, writes in his book Becoming Human, “Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered, is at the heart of belonging, so it is at the heart of communion with another.” If we are to invite God in, we must choose to make time for the moments of joy in our lives, but also for those times of pain and sorrow. We must be more open about offering this up with the people around us. It is in such moments, when we give each other even the tiniest of glimpses into what is on our hearts, that we come into communion with one another.

Through this communion of the heart, God enters our lives. God dwells in the spaces of brokenness and weakness, and he is present in times of joy and celebration as well. He is there when we share snacks and tell jokes with our friends, and when we tell someone how tough our day really was. He’s there when we dance in the car and when we need someone to help us get out of bed in the morning. When we share life with one another and become vulnerable in this way, we make room for God.

Elizabeth and Tina go out for community night at a minor league baseball game

God seeks a personal relationship with each of us, and it is up to us to invite Him in through encounters of the heart. This means different things for everyone. Perhaps it is as simple as putting down your to-do list and taking a walk with a friend. Maybe it means sitting at dinner to talk for half an hour longer instead of catching up on your favorite TV show. It could even be simply being physically present to the person next to you. We can’t pretend to know everything that is on another person’s heart, but we can certainly make more of an effort to share what is on ours and be open to receiving that from others.

As tempting as it may be to say that everything is fine or pretend that life under the dome is all sunshine and tailgates, we are closing off our hearts to communion with each other and God when we do so. Jean Vanier also writes, “To speak of the heart is not to speak of vaguely defined emotions but to speak of the very core of our being.” If we are to cultivate our minds and our hearts here at Notre Dame, we need to be more intentional about opening our hearts to one another. It is then that we will begin to recognize God’s kingdom on Earth.