I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Spiritual Autobiography

I haven't fallen off the planet...I just started grad school. (Maybe that's the same thing.)

Anyway, things are crazy, but I thought I'd post one of my assignments from class - it's a spiritual autobiography. (It was a pretty neat exercise and I highly recommend it, though it can be personal at times, as you'll see below.) -->

After finishing my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long service trip in New Jersey with other young people around my age. Fr. Greg, one of the priests from St. Petersburg Catholic, came with us. On a sunny afternoon, we took a walk with the hopes of me being able to talk through some faith-related things, and it was on that very walk where I came to a pretty impactful realization…“I want to have that moment - I want to get struck by lightning, knocked off my horse like St. Paul,” I remember telling Fr. Greg. Where was my conversion of heart story? Where was God’s hand shaking up my life? He stopped me and told me to look at my life at that very moment. Then, he invited me to think back to a year earlier. What did I notice? Well, when I looked at it that way, I did see how far I had come just in that year.
Change is slow, but it’s there. And it’s constant. Who I was on that afternoon was not the same person I was at 17, just one year earlier. And who I am today is very different than the person I was when I was a kid. I’ve kept God at the center of my life from an early age, but my relationship with Him has had its toll of ups and downs, slow maturation, and growth. It would be unfair to think of my relationship with God without also focusing on the integral roles of various friends, family, and (even) strangers. Therefore, through this spiritual autobiography I will attempt to show how God has woven my life tapestry (to date) with incredible people and powerful events and moments…
My parents are two of the strongest models of faith I have ever met, and I truly believe that their love for God, for each other, and for their children (me and my sister) as well as their determination to raise their children in Catholic schools gave me a firm foundation in the faith. Holy Family was, and continues to be, an incredible parish and home, where teachers, neighbors, and strangers care about each other, worship, and serve the greater community. It says a lot when I still go back to visit and am able to spend time with teachers and friends I have known for over 25 years. I realize now that God’s hand was truly present in guiding and forming me. I can still remember when my fourth grade teacher, Ms. McKenzie, had our class do an exercise about our relationship with God, and I thought I had hit my spiritual high - God and me, we were best buddies. (It’s funny how those small moments stick with you after all the years.)
In eighth grade, my grandmother entered hospice in November due to her battle with breast cancer. On a relatively cold (remember, this is Florida we’re talking about) January evening, my mom took my sister and me to visit her after we played in our school’s basketball game. I was so excited - I had scored 5 points, my all-time high. (Let’s just say that basketball was not my best sport.) I was tired and interested in watching a movie on television. My grandma reached over, held my hand, and said, “I love you” to which I responded, “I know.” I never said “I love you” back, and when my dad came into our room the next morning to tell us grandma had passed away that night, I couldn’t forgive myself for a long time. I always loved going to grandma’s house when we were kids - we’d play dress up from the costume box, play board games, and, on Sunday mornings, we’d go to church. Losing her hit me hard, and I would label the months following her death as a time of desolation. Yet, it was also a time of consolation - her funeral was the first time in a long time that our extended family was able to all be together, and that was an extremely powerful and tangible realization of God’s love for me.
As I experienced my high school years, I had many ups and downs in terms of building meaningful relationships with people. I was never a part of the “popular crowd,” but I was able to find my own niche with friends of similar interests and moral values. It was at St. Pete Catholic when I first had ACE teachers and where I first came to experience the beauty of the Salesian order, especially with our priests, Fr. Lou Molinelli and Fr. Greg Fishel. I attended two Salesian provincial leadership retreats in New York my senior year (one time as a participant and one time as a team leader), where I felt truly moved by the spirit. All of the bullying, rough times, loss (my paternal grandmother passed away after a battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease my junior year of high school), and other times where I had come to doubt myself and my faith were suddenly pushed to the background of my mind. God had been watching over and leading me the whole time - I just hadn’t noticed it until I had the time to reflect and pray.
The University of South Florida, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology, was the first public institution I had attended for school. It was the friends I made in the Catholic Student Union and the Honors College who shaped my time there. Overall, my college experience was a strong period of consolation, from attending and leading CSU retreats to studying under incredible professors (one of whom I attended Mass with multiple times) to turning my physical health around through running with the Bull Run group. With each unique experience came a chance to meet people of varying backgrounds, beliefs, and knowledge. With each new relationship, I discovered more about myself and, as a result, more about how my faith was shaping my life’s journey. It was also during college when the Salesians entered my life again, this time through the sisters of Mary, Help of Christian camp that I worked at in New Jersey. That summer we sang so many songs about God, and my daily chore was helping prepare the hosts for the following day’s Mass. (Jackpot!)
As the time for college graduation was quickly approaching, I had to prayerfully consider where I would head next. When I applied, was accepted, and said yes to ACE, I didn’t realize then that my life was about to change forever. With five complete strangers, I moved to teach at a small Catholic elementary school just southwest of Phoenix, Arizona, and teaching was, by far, the hardest thing I had ever done. We had weekly opportunities for adoration as a faculty, and we gathered in the church building every morning for announcements and prayer. There was a deep sense of peace - my school was blessed to be run by Holy Cross priests and Salesian sisters (yes, they’re back!), my colleagues were men and women of strong faith, and the sheer beauty of the desert was beyond belief. I realized just how connected I felt to God on the mountains and in the stillness, and I sought every opportunity to go on a hike or run down by the canal. Hosting the ACE marathon was probably one of the biggest highlights of my time in ACE - the families and administration at St. John Vianney were so welcoming to our whole ACE group.
I loved Arizona and my ACE school so much that I decided to stay there for a third year, but that began to take a toll on me because I was (physically) so far away from my family. I made the incredibly hard decision to move to Chicago to be in the same city as my sister, and I cried myself to sleep every night leading up to my departure. I was leaving behind a beautiful community of children and parents who had supported and loved me during a very challenging part of my life, and I was so grateful to God for those friendships.
Chicago life, while highly enjoyable if for nothing else due to the sheer quantity of amazing places to go and things to see, was very busy and crowded. I missed my minimally crowded interstate drives down I-10 to and from school with the sun behind me each way. I knew I would need to find a new way to recharge, as nature (at least in the Arizona sense) was out of the picture. My school was (and is) made up of great groups of people, but the spirituality and strong Catholic identity that I had experienced in Arizona was (and is) missing. You could call this a “dry” time in my life, and I was in dire need of a spiritual community.
This longing and deeply rooted desire led me to a beautiful parish called St. Clement. They were known for a strong young adult community, and I jumped right in on their winter retreat in February of 2012. I instantly knew this parish was special, and I soon developed strong relationships with many people there. Around that time, I also became a minister of care, and I brought communion to the hospital every other Saturday. I encountered so many incredible patients, and I had the opportunity time and time again to hear their stories. In those visits, I experienced God’s presence. But it was also right around this time that my grandpa died, and, like before with my grandma, it took its toll on me; yet, it did not damage or shake my faith in God.
After teaching fourth grade for two years at ICSJ, I was asked to move into the middle school religion position. That year I LOVED my job. I spent so much time reading about and praying the Catholic faith in order to teach my students more authentically and richly that I found I was never far from God or had thoughts much separated from Him. Then, in the summer of 2014, I went with 40 parishioners ranging in age from early 20’s to late 80’s in my St. Clement community (and our pastor) to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. Talk about experiencing God! We were on the Sea of Galilee, on Mount Tabor, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. As our tour guide, Josef, told us about the history of each place, I got chills in thinking I was walking where Jesus actually did. I couldn’t wait to share my experience with my students. (The year of 2014 was also a great year because I became the godmother to the daughter, Maggie, of my two ACE housemates, George and Kelsey!)
And now, here I am in the Remick Leadership program - another blessing and amazing opportunity. Being on Notre Dame’s campus in and of itself has provided spiritual nourishment through the beauty of the Grotto and Basilica as well as the grounds and various chapels. The workload has kept me busy, but, as a young adult who just turned thirty, I am still wondering about my vocation - teacher and school leader, yes, but what about a family? More and more of my friends have gotten (or, are getting) married and are having children, and I am so happy for them, but I constantly ask God, what about me? Some days, I find consolation in the love I receive from friends, school families, my family, etc, but there are other days when I experience desolation. But I continue to pray and to ask God for guidance and peace. And, at least while I’m at Notre Dame this summer, I’ll continue to go daily to the Grotto and ask for Mary’s intercession.

God’s been with me through all of life’s up and downs for the past thirty years, and I know He’s with me right now. Without moments and times of desolation, times of consolation could never be possible, so in everything I give thanks.

2 comments:

  1. How beautiful! A friend (now a priest) helped me realize that God sent me to ACE to learn how to live in community. The downside is that now I can't live without it!

    The best vocation advice I've heard was from Fr. Mike Schmitz: if you are a person of prayer, in a state of grace, and fulfilling your daily duty (in your case, going *back* to grad school), then you should move forward with the confidence that the decisions you're making are what God wants for you. Prayer and the sacraments will

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    1. Thanks Lindsay! I hope you are well!

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