Tag Archives: Full of Grace

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.

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.

 

A Temple of the Holy Ghost

Vienna Wagner

Vienna Wagner
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

I was born a perfectionist.  As an ambitious older sibling, I was always eager to prove myself.  I got straight A’s, played sports, sung in musicals, and competed on the academic team.  I planned to attend an Ivy League college, go to medical school, and make more money than my parents.  Success was my main desire.

I was baptized in the Mennonite Church and believed that I was in complete control of my faith and my life.  I believed that I was strong, but the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  Instead of depending upon God, I became like the foolish man in the Gospel of Matthew who built his house on sand.

My control came crumbling down during my senior year of high school.  When I returned from my summer vacation, the twin brother of my best friend, who was my high school boyfriend, had transformed into an angry stranger.  Our relationship became physically and emotionally abusive.  He began to flirt with my friends and mocked me for my looks, my grades in school, and my Christian faith.

I could not tell my best friend how hurtful her brother had become, and, instead of turning to God and his love, I retreated into silence.  I ate lunch alone and hardened my heart.  I began to believe that I was worthless, not worthy of God’s grace.  I refused to confide in my friends and family and continued with the motions of my put together, perfectionist’s life.  I focused even more on college applications and scholarship competitions.  I continued to attend church but refused to allow the Word of God to comfort me.  I blamed myself for what had happened and sometimes blamed God.

I was ashamed of myself for staying with my high school boyfriend for as long as I did.  My body became a thing that was ugly to me, something apart from myself.  I did not view my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, my body became the one thing that I could completely control.  Although I was already slightly underweight, I scalebegan to skip meals and exercise at every possible opportunity.  Anorexia became my idol.

As I lost the pounds, my friends complimented me on my appearance, but their compliments only fed my eating disorder and my disordered pride.  As I counted calories obsessively and developed rules for what I could and could not eat, I could not escape feeling disgusted with myself.  No matter how many pounds I shed, I believed that I would never be good enough to be authentically loved, to merit God’s grace.  I lived like a prisoner within my own body.  My life was forcibly focused on school, not eating, college applications, not eating, and avoiding my ex-boyfriend.

Without God, I would have not survived.  Since my baptism, I had taken communion at my local church but had never seriously thought through what it means to take the Eucharist and accept the body and blood of Christ.  As my pastor said Christ’s words of institution, “Take and eat; this is my body,” I began to reflect on the importance of the Incarnation, of God having a body that could suffer like mine.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection his human body was glorified.  Not just Christ’s spirit, but also his human body was freed from death.

As I took the host from my pastor’s outstretched hands and placed it on my tongue, I began to adopt a new definition of beauty.  I realized that my body is a temple where the spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells.  That Holy Spirit also brings life to my mortal body.  I realized that if my body is a holy temple and an inseparable part of myself, then I needed to take care of it.  In light of God’s love I am beautiful.  I am God’s beloved creation that he molded into his likeness.

Incarnation

I decided to stop counting calories and gave up my control over how many ounces I weighed.  I realized that I had allowed what had happened to me to harden my heart and turn it inward upon itself.  I had starved my heart and locked it away.  I made it impenetrable to God’s salvific love.

I told my family and my friends the truth about my high school boyfriend and my eating disorder.  I have learned to not blame God for my suffering, but to see Christ suffering beside me.  I have begun to forgive myself and am learning to rest in God’s grace and steadfast love.

In light of the Eucharist even my physical act of eating was transformed into a sacrament and a participation in the life of Christ.  My body was no longer disgusting to me, and I no longer felt separated from that part of myself.  Although I do not believe that God wills such suffering upon his children, I believe that he has used my pain to teach me how to authentically love.  I have learned to view all of creation, including myself, as an undeserved gift.  There is freedom in living in the love of God’s grace, a grace that I can never earn or deserve.   God cares for me like he cares for the rest of his creation.  I can trust in God, and, with God as my strength, I don’t need to worry about my weight or my reputation.  Only Christ could heal my brokenness.

The Prayer of Another

IMG_0798Andy Miles
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

Growing up as an ultra-early riser, I would sometimes awake just as the sun was coming up to catch the early hours of Sports Center for no reason other than to be able to say I woke up before my younger brother – 10 year olds can be competitive about the strangest of things.

But, I was never really first up.  My mother always beat me.

No matter how early I seemed to rosary 2rise, there was my mother, in the den off to the corner, reading from a tattered book, shuffling rosary beads through her fingers: praying.

It’s a tradition she continues to this day.  She wakes up early and prays.  And for so long I didn’t get it.  I would say my prayers, but only to clock in my time, do my duty, my penance.  I’d rattle off a few Hail Mary’s, shuffle in a few Our Father’s, and cap it off with a rushed Glory Be.  What was there in prayer that was so intriguing for my mother, so urgent and important that she would wake up early and pray?

As I got older and delved into my studies more, reading the works of the great theologians, prayer time became thinking time; I would spend my time reasoning through theological issues, trying to come to conclusions, trying to fix my problems with clean explanations.

Sometimes I would marvel at myself.  Here I was exploring the “big questions,” while I remembered the naïve prayers of my younger sister long ago as she went to bed, praying about petty things that happened to her during the day.  I thought there was no way God could be remotely interested in her minuscule problems at school, her spelling quiz the next day.  The God who created the vast space of the universe had time for that?  Certainly not, I thought.

But how wrong I was.

During my second year in college, things became much less simple.  All those problems I had always chalked up as pettiness, problems of no concern to a great all-powerful God?  They were crushing me.  A break-up.  Friends that seemed to have little concern for my problems.  Trouble focusing in class.  Trouble focusing outside of class.  Gossip.  Feeling alone.  I never spoke of these problems aloud.  I certainly never spoke of them in prayer.

I never really spoke to my mother about these things either.  I was never the kind of person who shared things.  But, after going home for a weekend, it was clear she knew something was not right.

So the next week she sent me a text.  All she said was that she wanted me to know I was in her prayers.  That each morning she gets up and prays not some strange impersonal prayer, but a prayer for me, a prayer for each one of her children.  I told her thanks and tried to move on, tried not to be affected.

alarm clockBut something about that image, about waking up to a piercing alarm, about waking up in the cold of winter long before the sun rose, about walking out into the den to pray, not for some abstraction, not to figure something out, but for me?  That haunted me.

A few nights later I broke down.  I woke up in the middle of the night and could not fall back asleep.  All that petty gossip, all those troubled friendships, they were not petty at all.  I muttered in my head all those distressing trivialities that I once thought God could care less about.

I released it all then.  Part of me appreciated the humor of it all.  The same kid who once chuckled as his younger sister muttered to God her worries about who to sit by at lunch the next day sat there distraught about a break-up and college drama.  Part of me was intent to go back to bed that night angry.  I could lie there and bring this all before God and it wasn’t going to change a thing.  It wasn’t going to be fixed.  But, as I dozed off a seed of a thought hit me that would grow into greater understanding over the coming days:  maybe I was finally learning how to pray.

There was not some grand moment of clarity, no sweeping movement of peace.  But after releasing all my concerns, I had the strangest desire to pray for someone else.  Maybe I was finally discovering why my mother could wake up so early all those years.  For the strangest reason, in that moment, the only thing I could think to do was to pray for someone else.

Over the coming days I started to think about how often I had told others I would pray for them.  I used it as a meaningless phrase to convey that they were in my mind.  But had I ever really prayed for them?  Really prayed?  The kind of prayer where you feel such care and urgency that you would wake up early like my mother has all these years?

And so a few days later, I prayed for her, my moMary mother of Godther.  I prayed that above all she could know, despite how little I ever told her, how important she was to me, how she was the model for my faith.  I prayed that for one day I could bear some of her anxieties and worries, for I understood how long she had been asking to bear mine.

I count these days as one prayer in my mind—the first real prayer I might have ever prayed.

It began in bringing forth all my petty problems to God, for there are no petty problems for him.  It began in bringing those to the Cross and not trying to fix them, not trying to figure something out.  Simply allowing them to be.  Simply being in the presence of my God.

It continued as I felt love for someone other than me.  To pray for the person I always thought I was going to pray for but never really had.  This was prayer: an experience of nearness with God that is far from alone, an experience of deep communion and love.  By giving something of myself, my deepest concerns, I began to desire to be something for someone else.  I desired to pray.

God is nearer to us than we could ever imagine, so deeply attuned to the small things, our relationships with one another, and the little pieces of our life.  Was that text from my mother not an answer to the prayer I was too proud to pray?  Though I had not prayed with that level of concern and vulnerability before, the seeds had been there, a prayer was nearly there, for that text struck such a chord in my heart and touched so many worries that I had longed to express.

The response to my prayer, the answer to my problem, was the prayer of another, a sign that I was and am loved.  All those days I was too proud to come before my God with my problems?  Well, God had placed someone in my life to pray that prayer for me.

My problems were significant to my mother, and they were significant to my God.  Absolutely nothing is unimportant to him.  He never tires of our prayers.

Running to God through Injury

Katie MoranKatie Moran
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2014

One of the many blessings that God has given me is the ability to run.  Going for a run gives me great joy and it is one of the times when I feel closest to God.  Unfortunately, I have not always treated running as the gift from God that it is—at times it has drawn me away from God instead of bringing me closer to Him.

When I came into college my freshman year, I got very caught up in the mentality that running is everything.  As a student athlete on the cross country team, it was an easy trap to fall into—I loved being on the team and feeling the security of belonging to a group right from the beginning, I was surrounded by people whose whole lives were about running, and we all spent a ton of time and energy doing everything we could to become the best runners possible.

Being very dedicated to track and field 4one thing is not necessarily bad, but I was becoming dependent on running.  It had become the very center of my life—the point from which I derived the meaning of my life, my purpose, my value…in essence, running had become my God. Training was going really well and I was getting psyched for the first home meet.  It was on my birthday, my mom was coming out to watch, and I just had this feeling that I was going to have a breakthrough race.  It seemed like everything was perfect.

Then, the Tuesday before the race, I was cooling down from a good workout when all of a sudden, my left calf started cramping up, and within a half mile I had shooting pains going all the way up my leg and could hardly walk.  I hobbled back to the training room and learned that I had gotten a stress fracture in my shin, which meant that I would be out for the rest of the cross-country season.  I was absolutely devastated.

But I refused to let this keep me down.  I poured out all of my frustration into cross training, and almost three months later, after finally getting back into running, I was training better than ever, feeling happy to have the injury behind me and stronger for having pushed through it.  I was gearing up to race again and was set to run the mile on the last Friday of the semester; but, as if I were reliving a nightmare, the Tuesday before the race, I was cooling down from a workout, and I re-fractured my shin.

I could not believe it.  Knowing how lonely and wearisome the past months of cross training by myself had been, I could not imagine going through that again.  My only consolation was that I could hopefully make it back for the majority of the indoor season.  With this goal in mind, I did the same thing again—cross trained my heart out and clawed my way back, this time being more cautious and attentive to my rehab so that I would not get injured again.

Triumphantly, I made it back for the first home meet after Christmas break, and I even set a PR.  I was so excited to be back and running well, and I felt like I could finally see a successful season ahead of me.  Yet, to my complete horror, less than a week later, same shin, same place, third stress fracture.  This time, it completely took the wind out of my sails.

Sad runningWhy was this happening to me?  I was doing exactly what the doctors, trainers, and coaches were telling me to do, so why couldn’t I stay healthy?  Would I ever be healthy again, or would my shin never completely heal?  When I realized and fully acknowledged the possibility that I may not be able to continue running on the team, I was terrified.

It was then that I realized my complete dependence on running and the way that it had become my God.  I imagined my life without running: without hours of practice and meets, I would lose my sense of purpose; without a spot on the team, I would lose my sense of belonging; and without workout splits and race times to my name, and (I am embarrassed to admit) without my identity as an “athlete,” my sense of personal value would be greatly diminished.

God showed me the fragility of placing all my value in something other than Him and the anxiety and unhappiness that it was causing me, and I realized that I needed to surrender my running to God.

This surrendering was—and is—an extremely difficult and gradual process; I am definitely still working on it.  At first, I truly could not bring myself to consider my life without running…it was too frightening.  Quitting was just not an option in my mind.  It was as if I had a white-knuckled grip on running, but God, with patience and persistence, gently massaged each of my fingers, gradually coaxing them out of their death-grip, until finally my hands could rest in His. Jesus hands When I would panic at the prospect of losing the security I found in running, God would lovingly comfort me with a sense of true security in Him.  God brought me to desire and seek that true peace and joy in Him even more than the superficial security and self-satisfaction that I derived from running.

When God had finally brought me to the point where I was willing emotionally to give up running if physically my body were to force me to do so—when I had finally surrendered it to God—He gave it back to me.  It was as if He said to me, “Now that it no longer rules you, I give it back to you for you to rule and to use for my glory.”  I finally healed and remained healthy, and now I derived even greater joy from running because I recognized it as the gift from God that it is and felt His joy and presence with me as I ran.  The temptation to make an idol out of my running still arose, and I still struggle with it today, but now I know the danger of centering my life on something other than God.  Only with God’s help am I able to fight this temptation, and it requires a daily renewal of my trust in Him.

At the time of my injury, it seemed like one of the greatest disappointments and frustrations of my life.  I used to believe that it was God’s way of reprimanding me for not focusing on Him, but looking back, I hesitate to say that God caused my injury, because I don’t think God works in that way—causing bad things to happen.

What I do know for certain is that God was with me in my suffering and brought incredible blessings from it in showing me that my true value is found in Him alone.

Sports, school, jobs—even relationships—can never be one-hundred percent secure, and depending on them as the center of your life is risky, because you could lose them and with them, your sense of value, belonging, and purpose.  The only thing that you can completely depend upon is God.  You are valuable because He made you.  You belong with Him because you are His sons and daughters.  And your life’s purpose is to receive His love and share His love with others.  God is utterly dependable, and what is more, He wants nothing greater than for you to surrender to His love for you and depend entirely on Him.

My (Pudding) Cup Overflows

MLewisMadeline Lewis
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

When I was little, I would always jump at the chance to go with my mom to the grocery store. Not because I wanted to help her out, really- I was pretty much just in it for the perks: being helper at the grocery store gave me a considerable sway in which items my mom purchased. And there was one food in particular that I wanted to make sure she didn’t screw up: the pudding. Obtaining my favorite kind of pudding was actually a strategic art. I would make sure I was extra nice and helpful when we got to the aisles leading up to the pudding section, and once there, I would casually slip in a request for my Grocery store aislefavorite pudding pack. Looking back, I realize what a blessing it was that my biggest crisis as a child was whether or not our cabinets would be stocked with my favorite kind of pudding. My cup overflowed with childhood blessings: my parents cared for us with a beautiful fullness of love, and my childhood is one happy blur.

This is why it came as such a shock when, the summer before my junior year of high school, my parents sat my brothers and I down to have a talk with us. That whole conversation is one unhappy blur, but I know they said these words: your dad… prison… three to five years. I could tell that my parents were just as surprised to say these words as we were to hear them.

There was a whole lot I didn’t understand, but the short version of it is that my dad was a lawyer who represented a man who turned out to be very bad. When this man got caught he told the authorities that my dad was part of his scheme. The important part, though, is that suddenly, I was so far away from that little girl whose biggest crisis was obtaining her favorite pudding at the grocery store. I was confused by what I thought was now a very broken version of the life I had formerly known and loved. My cup of blessings, I was sure, had been knocked over, and all of my blessings were quickly spilling out.

prisonIt was this tangled heart, sorrowful and confused, that I carried with me the first time we visited my dad in prison. I tried my best to pretend like I didn’t see everything: the security guards, the barbed wire, the paleness that washed out my dad’s tender face. We couldn’t touch or sit next to my dad. Still, there was one thing we could do: buy him food from the vending machines. Of course, there was always a constant battle amongst my brothers and I over who would take the bag of quarters and go buy the food. But my mom managed to convince me to go pick out some treats for our family: “You can pick out whatever you want” she said.

After a quick perusal of the mostly stale and overpriced options, I came across a glimmer of hope: there, waiting for me in the vending machine, was the most glorious looking pudding cup, handcrafted by the prison kitchen. With haste, I shoved $4 worth of quarters vending machinedown the coin slot. I may be in the strangest and most saddening place I have ever been, I thought, but gosh-dang-it, I will get this pudding cup.

Unfortunately, it was right at that moment that the vending machine ate all of my quarters. Not only did I not get the pudding cup- I had also wasted all of the money my mom had given me.

So, it is at this point that I started to heave heavy sobs in front of a vending machine in a federal prison in southern Michigan. And at this point, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of this:

I have nothing.  It’s not fair.  My heart is so very, very empty.  

(I think you can tell that this wasn’t really about the pudding cup anymore.)

Now, I know it may seem strange, but something started happening once I got to college and started eating at the dining hall. I couldn’t get pudding for dessert without thinking of that prison pudding cup. At first, this was just another reminder of the brokenness that I thought was surrounding my family from all sides. And my goodness, I was so tired of all of those reminders. I was tired of having to awkwardly change the subject each time someone asked what my parents did for a living. I was tired of my new friends wondering why my dad wasn’t there to move me into my dorm room at Notre Dame, why my dad wasn’t in any of my graduation pictures, and why I’d sometimes leave the room abruptly and excitedly to catch one of my dad’s rare phone calls. I didn’t want to share the story of my family with anyone because I only saw the brokenness.

But as I thought more about that prison pudding cup, I began to realize something important. Me, sobbing in front of that vending machine? That isn’t the whole story.

There was something deeper than the brokenness, something that gave my family the grace-filled opportunity to love each other more fully, in the most unexpected of circumstances. In fact, when my dad came back home this past spring, I saw this love present in my family more than ever before, and coming home from college was so exciting.

Now, being a typical college student, one of the first things I did when I got home was head to the fridge in search of food. To my surprise, there was a little gift waiting for me there: a pack of my favorite pudding, that my dad had picked up at the grocery store just for me.

The thing is, this little gift of pudding was a reminder of a whole lot my cup overflowsof love- and the surprise of those pudding cups waiting for me wasn’t the only surprise. For, even in the years that I had thought were broken, there had been so many surprising gifts of love: the gift of a new friend hearing my family’s story and not loving us any less, the gift of generous strangers who helped my family make ends meet each month, the gift of family and friends that visited on holidays and birthdays so that our home would never feel empty, but filled with love- love in overflow.

I never wanted to tell a soul about my family situation when it was, to me, only a story of brokenness. But as time passes, and God’s grace abounds, I am starting to see the fuller story. It’s not the story of a cup knocked over. It’s not the story of a cup emptied to the last, desolate drop. It’s the story of a strong, loving hand- a God that steadied and filled my cup with blessings even when I couldn’t see it: Blessings in overflow. I’m still learning that I always need God’s help, even today, to see all of the stories of my life as a story of love. But He always steadies my heart, giving me the grace to see the real and hidden story, with joy and in thanksgiving.

pudding cups

Finding Order in Christ

Grace Maginn

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

 
With confidence, I can unashamedly say that one of my favorite activities is tidying up. As I am a college student, this might sound a bit outrageous; but vacuuming rugs, putting my clothes away, and picking up after my roommates makes me happy because these things allow me to de-clutter and organize the world around meTidying up allows me to put something in order when everything else is busy, chaotic, and out ofmy control. It brings me a sense of peace, knowing that all of my stuff is organized and right where it should be. Though I do love tidying up, what I don’t always love are those times when there are plenty of actual messes to clean up. More than once, I’ve woken up to find a couple of pizza sauce stains on the white couch, a bottle of purple Gatorade spilled onto the carpet, an overflowing trash can giving off a pungent aroma, and crumbs everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE). Often when this happens, I freeze up, panic, and metaphorically (and/or physically) get into the fetal position. Messes that require a bit of tidying and organizing I can pretty well handle. But Stains? Spills? Messes that go beneath the surface? Not so much. One day during my sophomore year, I found myself frantically getting ready for class, running a lot more behind schedule than I wanted to be. Grabbing a bottle of lotion from the top of my dresser, I hurriedly opened the cap, only to watch in horror as the bottle flew from my grasp, tumbled out of my fingers and spilled all over my newly-vacuumed carpet. I’ll confess that the first thing to escape my lips was not a nice word. However, the second thing I uttered, which still surprises me, was Lord, give me patience. After a messy and exhausting first semester, that phrase seemed to connect the dots with many of the difficult and overwhelming things I had been struggling with.
When my brother told my family he was gay a year and a half ago, I spent much of my time avoiding deep conversation with him—or any conversation at all, really—in my effort to maintain the same image I once had of him. When a friend of mine was accused of sexually assaulting another student at Notre Dame, I tried to ignore the problem by shutting him out, because I didn’t want to have to help him deal with the mess he had created.  When I myself experienced a scare with cancer, I tried to put the fears and anxieties I had about my potential sickness-filled future into the back of my head, and instead I pretended like everything was fine. I avoided letting these issues break open into my daily life by simply pretending they weren’t there. I feared that if I did acknowledge them, I wouldn’t be able to handle them. As long as everything was tidy, I was okay. In a lot of ways, I imagine myself to be like Martha, in the Scripture story when Jesus visits her home.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Lk 10:38–40)
Martha spends her time frantically cleaning, cooking, and tidying up her house forJesus’ stay. In her hurried effort to get everything all ready, she forgets what’s right in front of herLove itself, in the person of Jesus, her friend.
The bottle of lotion spilling all over the floor and making me late to class wasn’t only the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it was a mess I couldn’t just tidy up. I had to stop what I was doing, get on my hands and knees, and really work to get it all off the rug. In the same way, I found that trying to put all my problems in neat little boxes and stick lids on them didn’t fix them. Instead, they sat there accumulating dust, itching to be broken open and worked through.Inevitably, all of these situations in my life did eventually break open, and I could no longer ignore them. I had to acknowledge my overwhelming desire to become close to my brother again. I had to reach out to my friend from college who needed someoneto talk to—someone to help him through his rough time. And I had to address my own anxieties about my health, and about what was in store for me in the future. clutter1In removing the lids from my boxes of problems and sorting through the contents, I realized that for a long time, my life had needed a deep cleaning. With my brother, this required having plenty of conversations, gradually getting to know him for who he really was, not for who he had always pretended to be. With my friend, it meant allowing him to share his own worries and anxieties with me, instead of just brushing them off or ignoring them. With my health, it meant taking it all in stride, coming to terms with the reality of the situation, and embracing it for what it was. In all these situations, deep cleaning was the only way I was truly going to work through these problems. Like Martha, I had to realize that deep cleaning came in the attention I paid to Christ. It wasn’t getting on my hands and knees to work a stain out of the rug on my own, it was getting on my hands and knees in prayerful meditation, offering up those stains to Christ.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and itwill not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:41–42)
I found that my worries and struggles were better understood and seen in a new wayafter I had spent time in Mass, meditative reflection and prayer. It was only when I spent time in silence with Christ that I was able to slow down, process all that had happened, and then move forward. Mary, Martha’s sister, understood that the only thing in her life that could remain constant and steady was Christ. I needed to be a little bit more like Mary. Though my room might be clean, the world around me will most likely be pretty messy. Messes are always going to be made, but it’s how I go about handling them that makes all the difference. Taking my messes to Christ and offering up my struggles to him transforms my stresses and anxieties into points of deeper union with him. Despite all the challenging experiences I’ve faced, I’ve found that Jesus is the order I need.