Category Archives: Full of Grace

OCD as Part of Me

Joe Tenaglia

Joe Tenaglia

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2015

University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2018

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” I’m sure when you read those words you automatically think of certain things. Maybe you or someone you know has OCD, or maybe you’ve never really understood what it means. Regardless, those words have a connotation that comes with them. For me, those words bring to mind thoughts of sweaty hands, a lump in the back of the throat, and a heartbeat that feels like it’s going about five times faster than it really is. Those are the things that I think about, because I have OCD.

OCD works differently for all people. The things that I obsess over are ideas. Thoughts and emotions will get trapped in my mind and it can be incredibly difficult for me to get rid of them, no matter what I might try. I like to use the image of plugging a guitar into an amp: I feel the exact same things emotionally and think about the same stuff as everyone else, but those thoughts get amplified and can overwhelm my normal and rational way of thinking.

The hardest part about my OCD is not feeling like myself. When I first started having feelings of anxiety and fear, I was in the fourth grade. Out of nowhere, I started to become uncontrollably terrified at all hours of the day. When I say terrified I truly mean it. I would be unable to sleep because I was crying hysterically, scared that I was going to get cancer. I’d have a bad dream where I was eaten by a
shark and be unable to get through school the next day because I was convinced that it would come true. As a young kid, I had no idea what was happening to me or why. My parents were at a loss, too. Here I was, the happy and energetic boy they knew and loved, reduced to a puddle of tears. Not knowing what to do, they took me in for help, and I was diagnosed with OCD. Through the grace of God, I have been able to get some great help, and through my therapist and the medicine that I take every morning, I have been able to live a mostly normal life.

However, my OCD is still very much a part of me and it does still rear its ugly head in a big way from time to time. I have had a few really tough times when I’ve struggled with it, and when I’m feeling really anxious like that I feel incredibly lonely. I look around at everyone else and wonder why I can’t be “normal” like them. At those times, it even feels like God has left me.  I ask why this is my cross to carry, and when I get no answer in return, I feel even more lonely.

sad man 2Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I went through a tough stretch with my OCD. I was having trouble with the end of the school year, and this transition brought up a lot of smaller fears and insecurities that I had been bottling up for a while. Altogether, it became really overwhelming. The loneliness I felt then because of the thoughts running around my head was too much for me to handle on my own. So I called Chad, my campus minister from high school, just so I could talk to someone. Over the phone that night, I vented and cried to him and let everything out. Chad helped me by being there for me. He let me know that I was loved and that I wasn’t alone. He couldn’t fix the problems that I was having, but he did so much for me just by listening.

I came to a couple of big realizations when I was talking to him. Ever since I was diagnosed with OCD it had always been a goal of mine that at some point I’d be able to deal with it on my own. I thought that maybe some day it’d just go away.  I would outgrow it, or I’d finally be able to push these debilitating thoughts aside. But when I was talking to Chad, I realized that none of that was ever going to happen. My OCD is always going to be a part of me. Even now, as far as I’ve come, it still bothers me from time to time. And when it does it’s really awful, but it is something I have to deal with.

In that moment I realized that in order to live with my OCD, I need to rely on the community of friends, family, and mentors who surround me. At college, away from my family, I had been trying to keep things to myself. But I found out the hard way that going it alone makes it more difficult.  It led me to feel alone and abandoned by my peers, and even by God.  I felt like there was no one for me to turn to.  Yet when it came down to it, I knew that I had to turn to somebody.  I had resisted being vulnerable with my friends because I was afraid of what they’d think of me, but once I started to let them in they were nothing but supportive and loving.  They helped so much by just being there for me and listening to me.  They were there for me all along, but I had to take the first step and let them in.

Through my friends, I began to feel God’s presence in my life again.  I had thought that God was leaving me alone to fend for myself, but He was there the whole time in the form of my friends.

Not only did my friends listen to me and offer their words of love and encouragement—they were always there for me right when I needed them. One time when I was feeling deeply lonely and overwhelmed, I walked out of my dorm room and saw one of my best friends walking by. I stopped him, and told him I needed a hug. We embraced and then spent some time together. In this brief exchange, I felt loved and knew that I was not alone. At another low point, I ran into a friend from St. Mary’s College (who I usually only see on weekends) and was able to sit down and have dinner with her. She listened to me in my distress and was a calming presence for me in the midst of my inner turmoil.

In these moments, I felt God specifically looking out for me, putting someone in the exact space and time where I needed them. I had thought God was nowhere to be found through my OCD, but here He was by my side, helping me get by. These experiences helped me to be grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life, but they also helped me be grateful for my OCD. I was taken aback when one of my friends told me that he thought my OCD wasn’t entirely a bad thing because, as he saw it, my OCD helped me connect more to other people in a deeper way. I had never thought of my OCD as anything but a hindrance, something that held me back from living the fulfilled life that I assumed everyone else had. But his words invited me to consider the ways that my OCD positively affects me.

I realized that if OCD is and will always be a part of me, it is a part of all of me: good and bad. Somehow, in ways that I cannot even comprehend, my OCD affects me at all times. It affects me when I can’t rid my mind of a worrisome thought, and when I become anxious. It also affects me when I empathize with another person, or when I develop curiosity to learn new things.

In these ways and so many more besides, my OCD is a part of me, making me who I am. And who I am is a child of God, created in His image out of love. My OCD is a part of that image, and I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

Over the years, my OCD has brought me a lot of troubles and has made my life difficult at times. As tough as it can be, it has also helped me recognize the love of God through those around me, who have shown me so much love and shown me that my OCD makes me who I am. My OCD may be a cross that I will carry throughout my life, but with the love of God and the support of those around me, I know that I can bear its weight.

cross

Taking Stock of Our Gifts: Writing Papers and Helping Friends

Burr, Sami

Sami Burr

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith,
2014 & 2015

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2016

Coming to the University of Notre Dame was a very humbling experience for me. After I moved onto campus, I was constantly blown away by the people that I met. Everyone seemed to be good at everything. When I began to make new friends, I found myself constantly in awe of the impressive things they had accomplished in high school, and what they were doing with their talents at Notre Dame. Sometimes, I felt like I wasn’t impressive enough to really belong, and I found myself overlooking my own gifts.

While focusing on yourself too much can be a problem, something I learned this past year is that you can’t be a good friend without knowing what your own gifts are. Friendship calls us to give of ourselves, and if we’re going to give of ourselves, we have to value ourselves first. We have to recognize what we’re good at. We have to understand that God has given us all unique gifts and talents, and that we bring something meaningful to a friendship. Understanding what our own gifts are is the first step in giving them away.

One night this past semester really helped me to understand how recognizing my own gifts is important. My friend Anna was having a really bad night. She was someone whose intelligence always blew me away. She seemed knowledgeable about practically every subject, she always had intelligent things to add to any conversation and she was acing all her classes. But on this particular night, she had to write an eight page paper that was due the day before. Somehow, she had forgotten about it until it was too late, and now she was going to be up all night writing a paper that was already going to be graded down for being overdue. She asked me to stop by her room, and when I saw her I could tell she was really upset, and ready to fall apart.

My first reaction was surprise. I was surprised that Anna, who was so smart and organized, had gotten into this situation. I was also unsure whether or not I could do anything to help her. She began to tell me about the paper and how much she was struggling, and pretty quickly she started tearing up. I said “Do you just want to cry about it for a while?” She nodded, and I think I was able to help her let go of all the stress and frustration just by giving her permission to cry.

That’s when I realized that there was a reason Anna had asked me to stop by. She knew me well enough to know that I could help her. I remembered that I am really good at handling stress. I’m good at persevering and staying focused on the positive.

It was much easier for me to recognize the talents that Anna had, but I needed to recognize my own gifts in order to help her.

After I had that realization, I began tackling Anna’s situation like I would if it were my own. She cried for a little while. We joked about the situation a bit, because nothing beats stress like laughter. And then I helped her make a reasonable plan for getting the paper finished and getting some sleep. I showed her some of my favorite songs and speeches on Youtube that always inspire me to persevere instead of giving up. When I left her room, she was much calmer, and had begun to feel more confident about the work she was doing again. It gave me so much joy to see that she had let go of some of that stress and frustration so that she could do what she needed to do. (And she did end up writing a brilliant paper, finishing just before her class.)

It was only after Isaints, communion of 2 realized what my own gifts are that I was able to give them to Anna. That night helped me to understand that while it’s important to see the good in others, it’s also important to see the good in yourself. God has given us all unique gifts and talents to give away, but we can’t give them away until we take the time to learn about them. Taking stock of my own gifts has made me a better friend, and it’s made me more confident that I have something to offer the people I love. When we have confidence in who we are and what we have to give, we can build each other up and achieve much more than we ever could on our own. On our faith journeys especially, we need each other’s support. Knowing what your own gifts are means that you can give them away to the people who need them the most.

 

Sami’s Playlist of Motivational Videos:

“That’s How I Beat Shaq” by Aaron Carter

Braveheart Speech

Aragorn at the Black Gate Speech

Made Perfect in the Image of God

Tully, ErinErin Tully

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2014

University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

I really hate the word “perfect.”  Perhaps it is because I see it as an unattainable goal, or perhaps because I let that goal complicate so many years of my life.  (As a disclaimer, this is not meant to be a Gretchen Wieners apology from Mean Girls.  I am trying to tell you I’m perfect and popular and I’m sorry you’re all jealous.  If I do come across that way, I would definitely not deserve to be caught if I did a trust fall with all the girls in my class.)

I grew up with my best friends from kindergarten on.  We were a bunch of goofballs and weird-o’s, not caring how we looked, and being told in eighth grade that we were “too immature to be pretty”.  We didn’t mind; we were happy and innocent.  We had fun and we had each other.

But when it came time for high school, I decided I wanted to be something more.  I wanted to be liked by everyone, have a lot of friends, and have that high school experience that everyone had told me would be the best four years of my life.  Well, I got to high school and decided to create myself anew.  I thought,

“I should start wearing makeup and caring about my hair…Perfect.”

“I’ll work hard in school to make my parents proud…Number one in the class!…Perfect.”

“I should start having big parties at my house.

Maybe people will like me for having a nice house and cool parents…Perfect.”

[ File # csp1751585, License # 1306723 ] Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php) (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / wacker

“The coolest people in class like to drink…I guess I will too…Perfect.”

“John said he loves me! I’ll just keeping doing whatever he wants so I can be cool and have a boyfriend…Perfect?”

“Oh and let’s not forget my faith.  I’ll just go to Mass even though I barely pay attention…Perfect”.

I had done it.  I attempted to perfect everything about myself so that I could have friends and be well liked.  I spent every day of high school maintaining an image of perfection – I was the girl who had everything together.  The perfect life, perfect family, perfect friends, perfect grades, and perfect faith.  But towards the end of high school, when my closest friends said, “Oh Erin, you wouldn’t understand because your life is so perfect,” why did I cringe?

Hearing the word perfect was like a sour note in a song.  My life was not perfect.  Insecurity, the feeling of inadequacy, difficulties finding and believing in God, broken relationships with my sister, drinking myself to the point of blacking out, failed attempts at relationships, mistaking love for lust, losing part of myself I promised I would never lose – that’s how I saw my life.  I didn’t actually believe I was perfect, but apparently everyone else did.  I put on an appearance of having it all together and wore a smile to block out how I really felt.  If I appeared perfectly put together, then people would like me, right?  It was not until the end of my senior year of high school that I realized how destructive and hurtful my outward appearance had become.

I went on KairosKairos retreat in the spring of my senior year.  I was really excited because I had heard so many great stories of new friendships, forgiveness, and grace.  My small group in Kairos was filled with members of my class I had never really gotten to know.  During the retreat, I dropped the “perfect” act, and simply talked with people.  I didn’t care about appearances for once, and it felt amazing!

One night, we talked about judgment.  A boy named Joey told me that he had never met me, but he had always hated me.  I seemed like the classic mean girl and a stuck up snob.  There was no way I could be a nice person with the appearance I worked so hard to uphold.  Joey’s revelation shocked me.  And I was more shocked to realize Joey was not the only person who felt this way.  People I barely knew found me irritating.  My closest friends had watched me become superficial and I could feel our friendship dwindling.  Even my younger sister who I had considered my best friend could not stand me.  She felt overshadowed and resented who I had become.

But it was then that I came to realize that the person Joey hated was not who I was at all.  I had worked so hard to be someone everyone would like; yet this very person was someone no one could stand.  Outside I appeared put-together, but inside I was falling apart.  By covering all my insecurities and dissatisfaction with myself with an image of “the perfect girl,” I lost myself.  I damaged relationships and prevented the fostering of new ones.  I had wasted the “best years of my life” trying so hard to be someone everyone would like, while all along I drove them all to despise me.  If I had just let people see the broken girl, sad girl, insecure girl, and imperfect girl, I would have learned what true relationship, friendship, and faith meant.

In the last months of my senior year, I tried as hard as I could to repair the broken relationships I had created.  I gave up the perfect act, and just tried to be Erin.  Erin who likes Chemistry, figure skates, sings off key with her sister, quotes Spongebob too much, makes a fool of herself with her friends, and who has made far beyond her share of mistakes.  Erin who desires God’s love and relationships that reflect it, but has fallen short of those many times.   Erin who is so, so, so far from perfect, and who can finally learn to accept it.

Perhaps I am like Cady Heron, although I did not write in a burn book or try to destroy the reputation of Regina George.  But like Cady, I tried to become someone I wasn’t.  I tried to make friends and get guys to like me by completely forgetting who I was.  I gave up the amazing friends who were there from the beginning to achieve popularity and mold myself into a distorted image of perfection.

Maybe I don’t hate the word “perfect;” I just hate the way I used it.  If you think about it, we are all perfect because we are each images of God.  Every little thing about myself I didn’t like and tried to cover up, was already perfect because God made me that way.  Hiding myself got me nowhere.  Accepting myself is still a work in progress, but I think it’s the way to go.  For the Chemistry nerds, the star students, the students who don’t really think school is their thing, the leaders, the followers, the introverts, the extroverts, the Gretchen Wieners, the Cady Herons, and the people who still don’t know who they are, I hope this can be a story of self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-love.  Perfection is everywhere in this world and in all of us.  We just need to have our eyes open to find it and our hearts open to accept it.

Embracing God’s Love, Crooked Teeth and All

Sarah Robison

Sarah Robison

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2015

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2016

During the spring of my junior year of high school, a terrible thing happened. I still remember that fateful day. My mom told me she would pick me up after school so we could go prom dress shopping, and I had been looking forward to it since first period biology. But after the final bell rang and I got into my mom’s minivan, I realized we weren’t going to the mall at all. We arrived at our destination and my mom turned to look at me. “Sarah,” she said, and then she spoke the most dreaded three words that any seventeen-year-old could hear:  “You’re getting braces.”

A line from Scripture came to mind: “Father, if it is possible, let this suffering pass from me.”

If you search “average age to bracesget braces” on Google, the range is from eight to twelve years old. This means that the mean age is ten. I was seventeen. Prom, graduation, dance recitals, senior pictures… you name it, I had braces for it. And when you’re in high school, the last thing you want to do is stand out.

What was even more unbearable to me than not being able to eat popcorn or candy was that I was totally and utterly embarrassed about how I looked. What I didn’t understand at the time is that beauty does not come from having braces or no braces, crooked teeth or straight teeth. It is intrinsic to who we are as daughters and sons of Christ.

In all seriousness, I told my mom that if I had to get braces then I would not smile with my teeth or let anyone see them until I got them off in eighteen months, a task which was much more difficult than I realized at the time. I recognize now that this frustration and embarrassment came from a desperate place in my heart in search of a love that comes only from God.  It was impossible for me to love myself because I did not fully understand how unconditionally He loves me.

My promise to survive without showing my teeth lasted for approximately 48 hours. Although I tried to cover them up as best I could, eventually my lips got sore from curling over the metal in my mouth.  ballet babiesThen, two days after getting my braces on, I was teaching a ballet class when a little four year old named Nina pointed to my teeth and said, “That’s so cool! I want some!” She ran off after class and begged her mom to get “twisted paperclips glued to her teeth, just like Ms. Sarah.” That’s the thing about little children—they love every part of you. They think every part is extremely fascinating and beautiful.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we adopt this openness and love, becoming like little children. From then on I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to cover up my braces. It was actually a huge relief not to worry about making sure they were hidden, and my lips definitely forgave me once I stopped straining them in an attempt to cover my teeth.

I wish I could say that the reaction I got from allowing my braces to be visible was earth-shattering or extremely dramatic, but it wasn’t. Everyone carried on with their lives, and nobody even said anything about my braces. What I thought would be the single event that ruined my final eighteen months of high school actually had no negative effect.

My struggle to accept myself with braces taught me that in the most important relationship we will ever have, our relationship with Jesus Christ, there is absolutely no point in trying to hide parts of ourselves. It is once we recognize this and let His love overflow in us that we can truly feel the beauty and tenderness of the unending love of the Savior—a Savior who loved you so much He died on a cross to know every single part of you more deeply.

The day before I moved in for my freshman year at Notre Dame, I got my braces off. The funny thing about braces is that when you finally survive their years of torture, you are confronted with perhaps an even more embarrassing task: the retainer. At least with braces you can talk relatively normally, but when you have a retainer in your mouth, forget it. Yet the beauty of having a retainer lies in the fact that if you get off-track and don’t wear it for say, a few months, you can still put it back in and it will eventually realign your teeth. It might hurt and will definitely be challenging, but if you just allow the transformation to happen, it will.

Aside from the disgusting-ness of retainers themselves, they are a pretty beautiful image for how God works in our lives. Even when I mess up, He is there with His arms stretched wide open on the cross, reminding us that it is never too late to realign our will with His will. Even when we turn our backs on Him, He comes running after us…even if we have braces.

christ rio de janiero

Confession: Perfecting Imperfection

Cruitt, PatrickPatrick Cruitt

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2014

University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2014

As a kid, I had trouble finishing the things I started. I have countless unfinished journals, projects and brief obsessions gathering dust in boxes under my bed as proof. For example, despite spending an embarrassing number of hours playing Pokémon video games, I have pokemonyet to complete a single one. And I have never gotten around to writing any of my several ideas for an epic science fiction or fantasy novel. I was never able to complete any of these undertakings because I just couldn’t deal with something being missing or making a mistake.

My biggest obstacle was my own perfectionism. This same perfectionism extended to my moral conscience. The least transgression would prove extraordinarily anxiety provoking, and from my very first Reconciliation I absolutely hated going to Confession.

My distress over my imperfect nature only grew worse as I grew up. I struggled to control my work and my relationships. The least mistake on my homework, the smallest social slip-up, would lead to excessive guilt and shame. Those same emotions that were supposed to inspire me to seek forgiveness and help instead closed me off to God’s grace.

I had somehow gotten it into my head that, in order to truly receive forgiveness, I had to first make myself clean. It seemed useless for me to confess sins that I knew I would be tempted with again and again, no matter how contrite of heart I was. Instead of opening myself to grace, I warred against sin on my own. How else was I to understand Jesus’ demand to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)?  I thought that, in order for something to be perfect, I had to accomplish it entirely on my own, all at once.

I wanted to make myself holy, and then seek God. I did not realize it is in seeking God that one slowly becomes more and more holy.

It was then that someone pointed out to me the words of Christ to St. Paul, which have stuck with me ever since and have continued to reveal new depths of meaning to me:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). I began to understand more fully that, though I may be unworthy of it, God’s love for me is real and enduring. Through my relationships I began to see that the faults that I saw in myself did not prevent others from loving me, and I began to open up to the possibility of being healed.

I had thought that those closest to me, especially my girlfriend, would reject me if I showed how weak and sinful I really was. Instead, when I finally opened up, she treated me with love and respect, and helped me to overcome my fear of the confessional—to seek out the sacrament.

Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine light on handle of confessional.

By entering into the confessional, I made myself vulnerable. Just like all of those unfinished projects, I had to admit that I, too, was incomplete. But knowing that the priests have heard it all before, that they won’t judge or condemn, helped. When I finally came face to face with the priest, I was met with understanding and acceptance rather than the rejection I had come to expect based on my own self-judgment. Confessing my imperfections enabled me to begin the healing process and let go of my obsession with perfection.

I discovered that the process of confession itself didn’t need to be perfect either—the absolution I so desperately needed was still conveyed. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, my relationship with the community of the Church was repaired. It was only then that I realized that my perfectionism had isolated me from friends and family as I tried to accomplish everything under my own power.

In being reconciled fully with the life of the Church, I opened myself up to making mistakes and letting myself be loved by others.

Even so, I still continue to struggle against my prideful desire to control. I know this process is not over, and that I am still in need of healing. I still struggle with attending reconciliation, and I still have yet to become a Pokémon champion or finish writing one of those novels. But I know that God is with me, and that God’s love for me has the potential to transform even my weaknesses.

Rooted and Grounded in Love

Ellie Norby
Ellie Norby
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

During my sophomore year of high school, I thought I had the basics down.  God loves us:  check. He should be worshiped in Mass and prayer:  check. He wants us to live according to the example set by His son: check.

But beyond the basics, I didn’t realize God cared about the details of my life – so when I was tested by the news of my parents’ intention to divorce, I couldn’t trust Him. When my family was dragged through a cycle of indecision that lasted from 10th grade until I left for college, I assumed my problems where too small for someone that listened to a gazillion prayers every day. My dad would decide he wanted to leave my mom, but stay because of the kids; my mom would convince him to work on the marriage, but they would not get along because my dad clearly wanted out. Then the whole thing would start over again.

As the only daughter, I was getting a huge share of the emotional splash. Life was messy, and I was bitter. I felt that my problems were strictly of human origin and would only be solved when the adults figured themselves out. I did not believe that God was a part of my life. Even though my mom encouraged me to trust Him, God seemed uninvolved in the gradual collapse of my family.

Although I couldn’t see it, I now believe that God was working in my life the whole time. His grace led me to keep seeking him, even though Mass and prayer led me nowhere. His Spirit helped me to attempt to trust, even though it seemed hopeless. His love allowed me to continue to care for my parents and my brothers, even when my bitterness made the situation miserable.  And then, after years of just surviving, God moved in my life so that I could finally see his presence.

In October of my freshman year of college, my mother (who I already worried about because of the divorce and her empty nest status) developed a freak intestinal condition and spent four weeks in the hospital. She faced two emergency surgeries, an infection, no eating or drinking whatsoever, and loneliness. All this was happening to her while I was nine hours away, so I couldn’t be with her! The situation was so far out of human control, I finally brought my problems to God. It was not my mom’s fault, or my dad’s fault, or my fault – it just happened, so God allowed me to turn to him. I prayed for her healing, and most of all I begged that she would feel God’s presence in my absence. Slowly, she started to get better. I couldn’t tell if her improvement was from God or the power of medicine, but I could not deny what happened when she finally got permission to eat after three weeks of nothing more than IVs.

eucharistTwenty minutes after the doctor gave her the okay, a volunteer knocked on the hospital room door and asked if she wanted to receive Communion. The first thing to touch her chapped lips in
almost a month was the Body of Christ. It was as if God proclaimed: She abides in Me, and I in her. She feeds on Me, and so she will live because of Me.

That moment was so powerful that I could not just accept it as temporary comfort during my mother’s illness and move on with my life as before. It forced me to realize how much energy I had wasted being angry at God, and angry at my parents. And in letting go of my anger, I realized that God had been present not just in the hospital with my mom, but in the entire mess of the last few years. While I was lost among each of my individual sufferings, He was actually drawing them together into one path that led closer to Him. I could not see God’s presence at the time, because I was blinded by sadness and confusion.

Somewhere in the emotional discussions with my parents, somewhere in leaning so heavily on the rest of my family and my friends, somewhere in seeing my mom and my dad vulnerable, broken, and crying – God was there. How do I know this? Because love was there. Love. We all easily could have drifted apart, but we remained committed to each other, and to what could be salvaged of the family. Those gritty situations, however painful, were rooted and grounded in love.

God didn’t want me to suffer, but He did use my burdens as an opportunity for grace. The divorce was a cross that free will and human choices placed on my shoulders, so under its weight I could not look to God. But He found me, with my head bowed, vulnerable, and His grace drew me down a certain path. And then, when he lifted my burden in the moment he came to my mom in the Eucharist, I was
able to look up again. And I saw that He had led me to a new place. A place where I was a little closer to him, and a little closer to the person He created me to be.

holy family iconIn the world’s eyes, my family is broken. But the Lord can always see the possibility of bringing more love into our lives with each other and with him. So as my family continues to struggle, I pray that our reconfigured relationships are based on love and devotion and not hurt or resentment. I pray, again and again, that I may trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding; that I may acknowledge Him in all my ways, and He will direct my paths.

 

God’s Love, Unlisted

Thompson, Marisa

Marisa Thompson
Notre Dame Vision Music Mentor (2014)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

When I was in middle school, I liked to eat, but my metabolism did not cooperate. As I was getting older and my body was changing, I realized that I could not sustain the amount of food that I was eating. While I was still active in sports, I had quit dance, which was a major part of my daily exercise.  Slowly but surely, the weight began to pile on.

When I got to high school, I started to notice I was the slowest on my sports teams and the fattest of all my friends. It’s hard not to feel self-conscious when you are the only girl in the room who is not a size six or smaller. And if I ate ten cookies and my friends ate ten cookies, it never affected them, but I always paid for it later. I would wonder, “Why has God given me this burden when some of my friends, who are definitely not as physically active as I am, still somehow manage to be so skinny?”

Nothing I did really helped me, it seemed. I tried dieting—nothing. I tried exercising more on my own outside of sports practices—nothing. And even when I spent a semester in Colorado during the spring of my junior year—where we went on three back-country expeditions, ran almost every morning, and ran a 10-mile loop at the end of the semester—still nothing. What began to shrink was not my waistline, but my hope that I would ever be thinner.

When I got to college, even though I did not think it was possible, it got worse. I still tried to maintain a good level of fitness, but with my increased class schedule and lack of intensive sports teams, I just couldn’t do it. All the while, I was making all these new college friends, whom I felt that I needed to impress, and none of them were like me. They were all these gorgeous, thin girls to whom I felt I could never even hope to compare myself. And forget being friends with boys in this new environment. I wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing enough for any of them.

I had heard enough of the “God loves you for who you are” talk. I didn’t really think that was possible. How could God love this when there are so many more perfect people around me?

My unhealthy body image ended up transferring over to encompass my whole being. I began to see myself as unworthy of everything in my life. Not only were my friends more beautiful than I was, they were also smarter, funnier, more social, getting the hang of college better than I was.

Then, for my first fall break in college, one of my friends was going
on a pilgrimage to Montreal with Notre Dame Campus Ministry, and she persuaded me to go Oratoryas well. To be honest, I did not really know what to expect, except some prayer and exploration of Canada, but I signed up anyway. We made our way across the border in order to visit the Oratory of St. Joseph, an oratory built by St. André Besette, the only canonized member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. While visiting the Oratory, the two priests who had joined us on the pilgrimage decided to offer Reconciliation for anyone who would like to receive. I hadn’t been to Reconciliation in over a year, so I decided it would probably be a good idea to go.

I sat in the pew, waiting for the people ahead of me to finish, asking myself how I had sinned in my life recently.  “Ok, yes, I probably have not been nice to my parents at some point. Yeah, I’ve probably lied to someone about something. Yep, I definitely swear a lot, that’s a problem.”

As I performed this internal examination of conscience, what kept coming into my head was the fact that I did not really even love myself. More often than not, the way I turned down God’s grace was by insulting myself and putting myself down. I thought of all the times I called myself unworthy, of all the times I wanted to run into the wall fifty times because I had gained another five pounds. So while the sins I recognized in my examination before were true, my true wounds resided in a place where only an honest self-reflection could find them.

With that in mind, I went into Confession. After telling the priest I hadn’t been to Confession in a while, I let out everything. I let out all of my qualms, concerns, and frustrations with myself. I wasn’t funny. I wasn’t smart. I wasn’t faithful enough. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t anything that God would want me to be!

When I finished my monologue with some tears in my eyes, the priest asked me, “How old are you?” So I told him, I’m nineteen. He then said to me, “Okay, you’re nineteen, so twice that is 38. For your penance, I want you to write down 38 things you like about yourself, and at least three of them have to be physical attributes.” He then absolved me of my sins, and I got up and walked away. Stunned by the task before me, I went to another pew in the Oratory, pulled out my journal, opened it tentatively, and started writing.

listI could name a few things I liked about myself, but with every bullet point I wrote down, it became increasingly more difficult to think of anything that I really liked. By the time I got to about number eight, I had nothing else to say. But I had to do it. I had to finish my penance. I wracked my brain, trying to think of things I liked about myself. With each motion of my pen on the page, I felt a twang of resentment and guilt, since I really did not like anything about myself. I would think of one example, go to write it down, but then retract it.

I got frustrated. Why can’t I think of anything? I looked back at the items I had already written down and decided to just go for it. Take that, penance! I’m going to write down the most ridiculous things possible, even things I didn’t particularly like about myself. Just simple facts about myself. Not really things that are particularly remarkable. Things like “I like that I have a spoon collection” and “I like my laugh,” neither of which I was particularly proud.

I finally finished the list and stared down at it, not really knowing what to think of it. Then I realized, this list of things that I love about myself that I had written were all things God loves about me. During my Confession, I had given God all of my baggage. I had told him how I felt unworthy of His love, how His death on the Cross for me was a poor decision. But in my penance, God responded. He said to me, “Marisa, I do love you. You are good in my eyes. You are worthy of my love, no matter what you think. And you should love about you what I love about you.”

Having the list in front of me helped me more than I realized. In making the list, I was not trying to necessarily quantify my worth, but it showed me that there is worth within me. If I had wanted to or needed to, I could have kept going and made the list even longer. Because what ultimately makes me worth loving is not something quirky like my spoon collection or the fact that I sound like a choking turkey when I laugh, what makes me worth loving is that I’m me. I’m the one God chooses to love for all that I am. And in reality, the list that I made doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of all that God sees within me.

I still look back on that list from time to time. Learning to love myself as God loves me is a difficult and ongoing process. In order for me to love myself, I have to learn to continually give myself over to Him and to his vision. Only then will I catch a glimpse of the way he sees me: beautifully made in His image.

The Image and “Like”-ness of God: Social Media and Self-Worth

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Maggie Duncan
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, 
Class of 2017

Have you ever been jealous of Kim Kardashian?  I have. Not directly, of course. But when it comes to social media—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—I do like a good “like.” If anyone knows how to get those, it’s our friend Kim K. I don’t bring this up because I think we can draw heavenly similes from the Kardashians’ tweets. I bring it up because kim k 2in my journey with God, I struggle with a similar vice as Miss Kardashian—the need to brand myself and control how I rank among others.

Social media is a weird beast, and it’s something  for which I’ve never been very good at controlling my desire. Some people can look at a few pictures or comments and be happy, but not me. Facebook became a way for me to check how my life ranked. It became a tool I used to distort and manipulate myself. I used social media as a way to craft an image of myself to try to get people to like me, admire me, or want to be me.

My misuse of social media was not just applied to my own profile. I also used it to judge others. How many likes did they get? Where did they go this weekend? How good is their life? How worthy can they—or rather, we—prove that we are to each other?

I tried to limit social media to heal these patterns a little bit. This past winter, though, I couldn’t tell you how many times I checked, scrolled, liked, and “hearted” per day. That scared me. Where was my heart if this was where I put all my time? Were my thoughts ever on things not relating to my own image or the images of others? Because of this wake up call, I decided to give up social media for Lent.

After I gave up social media, I felt like I was going through a social withdrawal. When I couldn’t be on Facebook or Instagram or the #Twittersphere, I found myself feeling isolated. I couldn’t be affirmed by random virtual entities anymore. I still had my real life friends—but I could no longer spend time crafting my persona.

social mediaDuring Lent, I realized that I wasn’t really living for God or for love, but for likes. I had learned to see myself as worthy only if a certain number of people approved of my image. I ignored the real connections—the “have a good morning” texts or the excited hug from a friend I hadn’t seen in two weeks—for the number of tiny “thumbs ups” I could get on a good profile picture.

As Lent went on, it got easier to be away from it all. In pulling away, though, I saw that my lurking Facebook account was not the only flaw. The whole reason social media is such an issue for me is because of a deep need in my heart to be seen as important.

As Christians and as humans, we are supposed to put our sisters and brothers before ourselves.  My whole sense of self-worth came from how I could do better, be better, be more than others. I found the idea of truly being seen—really seen, live and unedited and sprinkled with imperfections—terrifying, to say the least. I rejected it because my groaning pride and my trembling insecurity would not have it.

When social media, the broken toy that it was, was taken away, I stopped being able to mold myself into a “perfect” person and stopped seeing others as simple categories. I slowly discovered the possibility of seeing us all in an honest light. We weren’t reduced anymore. Rather, we became as detailed and complex as we actually are—we became real humans again. Without this all-consuming project of crafting myself and others, I had some spare time. I used some of that time to pray, to be mindful, to be where I was supposed to be: here, in my real life, not just in the imaginary one where my ego had trapped me.

Letting go of the control I wanted wasn’t easy. A friendly, local priest told me one night when I was struggling that I should say a simple prayer to give up on my willful control, not just in social media but in life: “Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.”

Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.

That’s a hard prayer. But it brings a lot of peace.

As I got help from God and from the lovely people in the real world, I slowly started seeing more and more loveliness. I was able to be more grateful. My brain was freed up to love people more instead of insta-judging them. I was able to be myself because I was released from thinking about me and my persona all the time. I was finally not all tied up in the stress of trying to brand myself. I had no social media image to lmichelangelo creationean on during times of insecurity. I could only leap into trust with one fact: I was specifically and intentionally made in God’s image, and that is enough.

But Lent was ending soon. If I told you that Easter came and I stayed off of social media and lived a perfect life, I would be SO lying. Easter did come, and I fell down in the “ashiness” of my own sin, spending four hours on Facebook that day.  (That’s five and two-thirds episodes of Keeping Up with The Kardashians, for those of you wondering.)

Acknowledging this failure, I reflected on what I learned during Lent and what I should do going forward. I now have timers on my computer and blocks on certain websites, but most importantly, I now understand how much easier it is to rest in how God sees me—beautiful, flawed, and good—instead of how I want people to see me.

No lasting peace comes from likes, double taps, followers, or creeping around on the “interwebs.” Not even Kim Kardashian, God bless her, can promise that twitter fame or a show on E! will bring peace. Lasting peace, a gift from God, is only present in a heart that rests in God, open to loving the people He gives you to love.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

Her Wounds of Love

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

Intern, Washington University & Webster University Catholic Student Center Campus Ministry

Contact Author

This time of year, parishes start bringing out Books of Life or Books of Remembrance – a place to write the names of loved ones who have passed away – often with a particular focus on those who have passed away in the last year, but including those we have mourned for years.

This time of year, I find myself thinking about my grandma.

My grandmother was a vibrant, fiery redheaded woman who wasn’t even five feet tall. As I get older, I see how much of me is made up of her. She loved running, popcorn, shopping, and being busy. For the first seventeen years of my life, I don’t think I ever saw her sitting down for more than two minutes. Every time I visited her she made me “warm chocolate” – never hot, because then it would burn my tongue. She fit as many decorations as she could onto her house – most of which had an American flag on them – and told me that Mickey Mouse lived her neighbor’s little decorative toy house. And every time I slept over at her house, even when I was way too old to be tucked in, she would sing “You Are My Sunshine” to put me to sleep.

It’s hard to reconcile that image of my grandmother with the woman I kissed on the cheek in July six years ago, telling her that I’d see her again soon but knowing it was very possible that she would never see me again. This woman was frail, tired, and small. She could only speak a few words at a time, and she only ate chicken wings and Cheetos – and even then, she wouldn’t eat much.

My grandma was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a degenerative neurological disorder that affects the voluntary muscles of the body. She was one of ten percent of ALS patients who was also diagnosed with dementia. ALS took her voice, her strength, and her ability to walk. Eventually, in July of 2009, it took her life as well.

Throughout the time my grandma was sick, I never really questioned God. I didn’t blame Him for giving her ALS – I blamed genetics and bad luck. I wasn’t angry with God, but I didn’t really see how He fit into this disease. ALS is gruesome, nasty, and painful. It takes a person’s dignity and their will to fight.

When someone dies of a painful disease, people like to tell you that now they’re in Heaven, doing what they loved most. For my grandma, that meant a lot of people told me she was running across the finish line of a race – something she hadn’t been able to do for years – and God was waiting for her with an ice cold Guinness in hand. There was a part of that statement that was comforting, sure, but it also reduced my grandma’s suffering, the last few years of her life, to nothing more than a hurdle to get over and something that was simply erased. In addition to knowing that God holding a beer was pretty theologically inaccurate, this view of my grandma’s afterlife left something to be desired. But I didn’t know how to improve that view, how to reconcile the pain of ALS with anything glorified. I wondered if my grandma was up in Heaven looking her healthiest and most robust again, or if she could walk and talk again.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college, four years later, that I got a satisfactory answer to some of these questions. I was in Dr. John Cavadini’s course, The Catholic Faith, when we began talking about suffering and death. He started asking us the same questions I had asked myself – what happens when we die? If someone is shot, do they bear that wound in Heaven, living with the pain forever? When a mother sacrifices herself in front of a van for her child, do those wounds, those pains, plague her?

Dr. Cavadini explained that as Catholics, we believe that those marks of suffering on our bodies that we bore as marks of love will remain on our souls – but they will be transformed, glorified. They will become beauty, incarnating the Love which we pour forth and worship. My mind immediately went to my grandmother, of course.The pains and hardships of ALS that made her weak and listless, I believe, are long gone now. However, I do believe what Dr. Cavadini told me – that those wounds, those pains she endured out of love, out of a desire to keep fighting and to stay with us just a bit longer – are glorified now. She is happy and whole – wounds and all.

It’s surprisingly easy for me to believe this, mostly because over past four years, I have already seen the glorification of her wounds in those she left behind. After bearing her loss together, my family is stronger than ever. My extended family gathers each year on her birthday to celebrate mass and have a meal together. After her funeral, we decided to keep in contact as regularly as we had when she was sick – a promise we’ve kept to this day.

I don’t wish the pain of ALS on anyone, and I wish my grandma was here with me today – but I find solace this time of year in knowing that her love remains with us to this day and adds dignity beyond measure to her life, and has glorified her wounds in her death.

Pieces of God’s Mosaic

BrianBrian Florin
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014 & 2015)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

When I was in high school, I had a lot going for me. I was well-known by my peers, found much success in the classroom, was involved in my Church, was a varsity athlete, had a girlfriend, was prom king. I even starred in the school play while helping my basketball team win the state championship on the same day. I felt like Troy Bolton. I wasTroy Bolton soaring. And I was flying. Except for the fact that I didn’t win the state championship. And I didn’t star in any school play…ever. Despite not having a voice as smooth as Troy’s, I still knew what I was better at in comparison to my peers, and I liked that.

Things suddenly changed when I set foot on Notre Dame’s campus freshman year. By the end of first semester, I lacked all the confidence that I had in high school. I felt outmatched and out of my league in every aspect. Everywhere I turned there was someone who did better than me on an exam. There was a better athlete. Someone who told jokes better. A better friend. People were even better than me at praying. I quickly fell into a habit of comparing myself to other people. I gained and lost my self-worth with every failure and success of another. No longer was I top in my class or the best on the basketball court. I found myself overwhelmed by the talent of those around me; with that, I lost sight of my own gifts and abilities. I remember thinking time and time again, “I’m not smart enough, not funny enough, not sociable enough, not even holy enough to be here or anywhere.”

In the summer of 2014, I helped at Notre Dame Vision for the first time as a rising Junior. I joined a group of some of the most faith-filled and talented students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross. For the first week and half, I constantly looked around me and found myself jealous of other mentors. I felt inadequate, and this impacted just about every aspect of the week; I would say to myself, “Why can’t you lead a small group like him or make your group laugh like her?” It even got to a point where my victory waffle wasn’t good enough anymore. The phrase “I’m not good enough” soon became one that I turned over and over in my head day after day.

VisitationOn a Tuesday night, during the Reconciliation service, I gazed at the paintings that lined the ceiling and walls of the Basilica. Just above a group that awaited their turn for reconciliation was the painting of the Visitation that I had seen many times, but never quite from this angle. While I would normally glance over this, I was struck by the way that Elizabeth greeted Mary with such joy and happiness. A sense of peace washed over me as I looked in awe at the depiction of this beautiful exchange. Elizabeth wasn’t jealous of Mary for being chosen as the Mother of God. Rather, she rejoiced in the faith and belief of Mary that allowed for such a miracle to take place. Elizabeth’s joy was so incredible that John the Baptist even leapt in her womb!

In this moment, I began to realize that we too are called to leap for joy at the beauty of one another’s gifts and successes. The jealousy that I’d had of those around me blinded me from being able to recognize their gifts. Not only that, but I had lost sight of what I was good at too. I had become so focused on “not being good enough” according to my comparisons that I rejected the idea that in God’s eyes, I was enough.

Each Sunday at my parish during the collection, the priest invites the children to come forward and place their offerings in a basket at the front of the altar. Some kids immediately sprint up to the front of the altar while others tentatively make their way to the front, looking back at their parents for reassurance. There are always some kids though that stand on the altar and watch in amazement as another child places their envelope in the basket and runs back to their seat. In this moment, these children are content with themselves, yet completely awestruck at the sight of another child. Jesus tells his disciples to be like the children. I began to realize how beautiful it is to have a childlike recognition of others.  “Lord, give me the eyes to see as they do” became my silent prayer.

Now, if you’ve ever seen
Mosaic making a mosaic,
from far away you see a beautiful picture or image. But as you move closer to the image, you begin to see that the mosaic is made up of many tiny pieces that contribute to the larger picture. Without one of the pieces, the image would be distorted in some way. Through our own unique gifts and talents, quirks and idiosyncrasies, you and I are the many tiny pieces that make up God’s grand mosaic; His beautiful picture of creation. Comparing myself to others was in fact distorting my perception of this beautiful image. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be, nor was I supposed to be exactly like the person next to me, and they weren’t supposed to be exactly like me. We each contributed something unique to God’s Mosaic.

I have definitely realized that comparing myself to others is a lifelong struggle. But, when I find myself falling back into this cycle of jealousy and comparison, I recall the joy with which Elizabeth greeted Mary; I pray to see as the children do when they look with amazement upon one another, and I am reminded of my own giftedness and worthiness in the eyes of the Creator. I am reminded that He calls each of us by our own name, and claims us as His own. I am a piece of God’s grand design. We are all pieces of His beautiful picture.