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A year. A lifetime. A journey.

 

“Travelers cannot reach new territory if they do not take new and unknown roads and abandon the familiar ones.” St. John of the Cross +

This morning I woke up, “off.” You know, those mornings when you wake up and feel like, “…this is going to be a bad day?” It was kind of like that. But not the part about it being bad, only that something was off. I didn’t realize until about 2:00pm, that today marks my one year of leaving the monastic life. What a blessing to look at the past year! So much has changed in me. So much has happened. So many blessings!

I have been home, from India, for a little over three weeks. I am just settling into being home. Adjustment has been hard. Much harder than I had anticipated. I miss my friends. I  miss the beautiful souls I was blessed to work with every day. I  miss adventures in India. But I am happy to be home. I am enjoying family and friends. I am rejoicing in being able to go to my Byzantine Church again. I am happy to be looking ahead and trying to plan what my near future will look like.

Today, I was praying about all that has happened in the past year. When I discerned to leave Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, I didn’t really know what I was going to be doing. I just knew, deep within my heart, that our Lord was asking me to leave and discern marriage. So, I stepped out into the deep and the darkness and let Him lead me. Wow! What a journey it has become.

When I first left, I spent some time at my Granny’s. It is time I will forever cherish. I missed her and was happy to rebuild that relationship with her. Playing UNO for hours in a row and going through family history…it was something beautiful to share with her. Then I moved to Kelley’s Island, where I helped run a big bed and breakfast. Last summer was an experience for sure!

While living and working on the island, I had plenty of down time. I used it, sitting at the beach with my Icon and journal. I used it to talk with the Beloved. As I began to pray about what comes after summer, I felt a tug to India. India was a lifelong dream of mine. I had given it up, to pursue religious life, but was now feeling the Lord giving me one of my greatest desires. Through the grace of God and several benefactors, I applied and raised the money to head to India for four months!

While in India, I volunteered with some beautiful people. I met so many lifelong friends and had even more time in the desert (of the heart 😉 )to pray about God’s calling for me. I had left religious life to discern marriage…why did I then move to India? Marriage wasn’t going to happen there. It was just the time I needed to find myself and prepare my heart to be open to a relationship.

Now, I am home and entering into a normal, every day, lay woman’s life. I am working, buying a car and saving to move out on my own. This is who I am. I am a young, single Catholic, seeking to serve the Lord in all I do. Do I  miss my sisters (in religious life)? Yes, every day! Do I  miss monastic life? All the time. Do I regret leaving? Not once since I left. If anything, I am more at peace with my discernment the longer I am back, in the world.

I have learned so much about myself. I am more confident in my own skin. I am not ashamed of who I am or what I do. I love my kids that I nanny, I love my Church family and discerning what career I feel called to in the days ahead. My time at the monastery, only helped to prepare me for this life. I am sound in my ability to seek the Lord in prayer, to repeat the Jesus Prayer in times of joy and trial and to reflect on the death to self we should all be practicing (in religious life or lay life).

Thank you all for your support. Your love. The reminders of my worth. This past year has been easier because of you all. Knowing I have friends and family standing with me in my discernment has been a gift and joy. I cannot wait to see what He has planned for me. I look forward to this journey and keep you all close in heart and prayer along the way. God’s blessings, my friends! +

Time flies when you do God’s work!

Four months have passed already! My time at SCH is completed. I said my farewells, I have packed most of my belongings and souvenirs (I hate packing) and am spending this beautiful Sunday evening with my roomies. My flight leaves at 4am., Monday morning (Sunday evening, 6:30pm, American time). My heart is torn between rejoicing in the thought of, “home,” but also not wanting to leave the beautiful people in India.

 I am so very grateful and blessed to have been given this opportunity. Let me just say, it has changed me. It has changed my life! The beautiful memories made, the struggles I have encountered, the unbelievably hot Indian days (and all the hot nights of little sleep), the many Churches I’ve been blessed to see, etc., all play a huge part in this whole experience. I came here not really knowing who I was or who God made me to be; now, four months later, I come home different. I am me! I am more at peace and comfortable in life than I have been, since my mom died. 

Yet I come home with fears and anxiety, about how well or how quickly I will adjust to culture again. So much has changed in how I think, how I make decisions, etc. because of where I have been. I know I will have struggles in America. I’m already overwhelmed. I will be different. I will need time. 

If you reach out immediately, I may not respond right away. Don’t be offended or worried, it’s just me adjusting and being with family. I may not enjoy things I did before…in the same way. Sharing my stories and adventures with friends and family, will take time and processing. I think even the food, or amount of food, I eat will be very different than before. Surprisingly, I want a HUGE salad more than a burger (I’m sure I’ll eat one pretty soon anyways). These are just some things that people may not think about, if they’ve never experienced a third world country or extended mission trip somewhere. But these are all good and amazing things to experience! 

I am excited to see friends, to hold new babies and the babies I always nanny. I am excited to take a HOT BATH. Maybe some candles and a good book will even be involved! I am excited to go to Mass at St. Francis and Liturgy at St. Nicholas Byzantine parish. I am excited to drive again. I can’t wait to hear the peepers in the fields and see the horses behind our house. To not be afraid of the dogs on the streets or to have buffalo holding up traffic. I am excited about so many things! Above all, I am excited to see what plans the Father has for my future. Where will He lead me next?

Thank you for following along on my journey. Thank you for your prayers, donations, well wishes, etc. All of your support has gotten me to this point today. Please pray for safe and quick travels. Pray for the current and future volunteers at SCH, who make it possible to keep these children here. Of course, pray for these children. They pray every day for their forever family to come and find them. Pray with them, that all children may be placed into homes of love, happiness and health! 
Blessings and well wishes from India! + 

Poverty, is everywhere.

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

                                                                          – St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata –

Life in India has changed me. Definitely in ways that are evident, physically, but also ways that are so deep within I can only catch glimpses of it. Regardless, I am grateful. Has it been easy? Not all days, or even most. Is it all “worth it?” someone asked me, Yes! The sorrow, the sickness, the moving across the world to a third world country…each of these are beyond worth it. I only wish I could capture better, in words, what I feel in my heart. 

These past couple of weeks, I have struggled. I miss my family and friends. I miss the ability to drive places and not deal with traffic in India. I miss being able to take a warm bath, while reading a book or listening to calming music. I miss my air conditioned bedroom! You name it, I miss it! But those things, the longer I am here, seem and feel so inconsequential. So unnecessary for obtaining happiness. They are things of the world…material things that in all honesty will never bring TRUE happiness. 

In my lifetime, poverty has come in many forms. From losing my mother, taking out college loans, to living as a nun and trusting in Divine Providence (which we should always do) and living here, in India, where poverty is so visibly present. We are all called, be it one way or another, to live in poverty. Being in the world, not of the world, is so hard to accomplish. It is especially difficult because everything in society points to “material” and “monetary” wealth, as happiness. My friends, it is so much more than that! That is trickery. That is a lie to distract you from happiness.

 “Love alone leads to perfection, but the three chief means for acquiring it are obedience, chastity, and poverty. Obedience is a consecration of the heart, chastity of the body, and poverty of all worldly goods to the Love and Service of God. These are the three members of the Spiritual Cross, and all three must be raised upon the fourth, which is humility.”

                                                                          – St. Francis de Sales –

While being here in India, my biggest sense of poverty is that of not having a Byzantine parish to attend. A place of worship that feels like home. How I ache for Divine Liturgy, “like I am used to!” The more I pray into that ache, I realize that while it is somewhere I feel heaven meets earth, the one thing that matters in the Liturgy is found here too…if I look for it. That is, the Bridegroom! The physical body of Christ, that I may receive Him physically, to be held deeply within. Maybe the physical body of the church building lacks in “American beauty,” or the music is not the same; but the Lord is present, the Sacraments are offered, the Communion of Saints is at each Mass. I have “home” here.

A priest, in response to my sharing this struggle, said to me, “…this time away is your Lenten journey in the desert. Your Pascha is not going to be in April, it will be in May. Your Paschal season will be when you return to Divine Liturgy.” How beautiful, and very helpful, I found his words. He knew my ache, but also knew my love of connecting my experiences to the Cross. He helped me to center myself again…to focus on the face of Christ and not just the feelings obtained while at Liturgy.

So my friends, I ask you, how are you living out your poverty? Do you live it with gratitude, or do you only see the burden? I challenge you, in this time of the Fast, to look at your life. Are you living poverty, chastity and obedience; and therefore, living humility? Take this time, set aside by the Church, to enter into the desert. Ask the Lord to reveal the baggage you have within. Then, come Pascha morning, we will have left our baggage at the tomb and risen to new life, with Him. 

Please pray for me as my time here is rapidly coming to a close. Please ask the Lord to continue His work in my heart, and that I may remain vulnerable with Him. Thank you! Know of my prayers. Peace +

“A Girl and Woman restored to life.”

For many years now, the story of the little girl in Mark 5, has been very precious to my heart (hence the name of my blog). This past weekend, I decided to go back and read all of Mark, chapter 5. As I read the title, “A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed,” I could not help but see myself in both images. In this passage, both the little girl and the hemorrhaging woman were given new life. 

Before coming to India, I prayed a lot with the image of the little girl, being raised from the dead. I asked the Lord, “Abba, you alone have called me to make this journey to India. You know of my excitment, at a life long dream coming true, but also of the many fears and questions that come with this decision. Will you show me how you are calling me to die (to self) while there, so that you may then say to me, ‘Talitha Koum!,’ and raise me to a new life in you?” I knew that this experience was going to stretch and mold my heart in ways it has never experienced before. As with all situations though, the idea of that changeterrified and excited me all at one time. 

 It wouldn’t take long for Him to begin showing me the areas of my heart that were being stretched. It hasn’t stopped either. And I also think that it will continue to shape who I am, for the rest of my life. What an experience of a lifetime this has been! I can’t wait to see the ways that this experience will shape my life, once I am back in the States. 

When I got here, I experienced what I would imagine is, typical culture shock. The way of life here is different in so many ways. The poverty I have seen here, is unlike a poverty I could have ever imagined seeing. The culture, which we try to enter into, was so difficult to accept and live out, every day. With all of this change came the human reaction of denial or rejection…because I didn’t like it. It made me uncomfortable. There were moments of pain and sadness. All of this because He heard me and was showing me, “how you are calling me to die… .” 

I have struggled while being here, to remain centered in the present and not focusing too much on the future; which is never guaranteed to us anyways. Will I be nannying again? Will I decide to get my STNA certification? Will I be called to do youth ministry? I discerned I was called to marriage, yet I am living in India? What is God thinking?

 I see myself doing well and loving each of these choices, but then I think about the kiddos here and what we will be doing in the next day or two. Then a “career” seems much less important to try and figure out, while being on the other side of the world. I am praying about what He desires me to do next, but really, I am learning there is not much I can plan from India. Just one more example of Him showing me how to die; to focus on the two words I have prayed with from day one, trust and surrender.

About two weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone about deciding on a career for when I leave. It wasn’t the best decision to listen to them. I basically spent the whole week telling myself what a disappointment I was and that I am wasting my life here. I let Satan, through the words of someone close to me, talk me down to a point of total self destruction. Then, by God’s grace, He changed my mind in a matter of three minutes! 

That next morning, I was working with the one little girl I have worked one-on-one with since coming, in January. She didn’t talk when I came and it was a struggle to get her to follow my directions, even in that, I saw her changing. She now runs to me every morning, taking my hand and leading me to where we do, “circle time,” as a home. Then, she immediately grabs my hand, when I sign to her that circle time is all finished, and pulls me to the cupboard where the supplies are for our individual work time. 

She speaks!

This particular morning, she talked! She participated in saying kids names, she said teachers names, colors, and most precious of all to me, she said my name as she put her hand under my chin to say, “Hi, Jacqui!” My heart! In that moment, I realized that if for nothing else, these past two plus months with her, my time has been meaningful. My being here has a purpose, much more important than choosing a career from across the ocean. The Lord brought me to new life in just three moments!

When I was praying about the woman touching the hem of Christ’s garment, I thought, “how often has that been me?”

  I looked back at times in my life when my heart was hemorrhaging. How many times did I slide my hand through the chaos of the crowd, to simply grasp the hem of His clothes? How many times did His power overwhelm and heal an open and hemorrhaging wound? Each time, He was drawing me deeper and deeper into new life, deeper into a life of faith. 

 A priest friend once told me that God, as a gentle and loving Father of my heart, wanted to love me from the deepest and bloodiest part of my wounds. He seeks to enter into my pain…to carry me through it. I was so desperate for healing and peace. He wanted to be the one to show and prove to me that I am and can be cherished from within, and despite, my wounds. He shows me new life, in my hemorrhaging heart, through His love. 

 How does He restore you to life? 

Blessed continuation of this Lenten journey, as we await the Resurrection to new life!

Beauty. What is it?

EditI decided to write a blog post on beauty because, in my opinion, this topic is mentioned more and more in society, while also getting further and further from the truth of what it is. When I sat down to write this entry, just for fun, I googled the word beauty. I was curious as to what links would come up. First, were articles on makeup and hair. Second, we have clothing trends. Next came body image. And finally, we have…you guessed it…Beauty and the Beast! 🙂

When looking up the definition of, Beautiful, this is what I found. Beautiful-very attractive. Very pleasant. Very kind. (cambridgedictionary.com) So there it is. The definition is speaking in terms relating to inner beauty, whereas society portrays beauty as what is externally present. Something I found interesting is that all of the definitions I found, had to do with female descriptions. As if men cannot be beautiful!

My mother taught me, from a young age, what true beauty is. She was beauty, in its entirety. Her physical beauty was present, but above all, she is remembered by most for her TRUE beauty…her soul. That woman radiated beauty to the world. She was an icon of beauty! 

As I began my time here, in India, I felt uncomfortable around some of the more severely disabled children. I have nannied for children with disabilities, but that was only one child. Here I am loving so many more children than one, and they range in their disabilities. I asked myself, “Is four months enough time to be comfortable around these children?” Then, I couldn’t help but realize I was only seeing them from the outside. I did not look at their souls, as I wrote about in my previous post, How are we called to love.

I was surprised, when looking at lyrics of pop songs, just how many had the desire of true beauty in them. Even when some are hidden within other words. One Direction, has a song titled, What makes you beautiful. This is one popular song I found with aligning focuses. Here are some lyrics from that song…         

You’re insecure, don’t know what for, you’re turning heads when you walk through the door, Don’t need makeup, to cover up, Being the way you are is enough!                                                                                                                     Everyone else in the room can see it, everyone else but you. …

Growing up, I struggled with self image issues. In all honesty, I still do. Society plays a huge role in this problem for so many. Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by beautiful people. Thin. Big chest/rear. Seductive in mannerisms and looks. Faces overdone with makeup, to the point that if a before and after picture were posted, you would struggle to recognize the made up person. All of these are only false beauty. Look at this ad campaign done by Dove, when you have time.

For so long, I had been insecure in my outer image. I saw only fat, filth, weariness, pain and wounds that go, oh so deep. I never felt attractive. I felt only the opposite of what I was seeing portrayed as, beautiful. When I entered religious life, I was blessed to have the time and ability to really see myself. I was secluded from the images of the world. The only definition of beauty I had access to was what I remembered from my mom, and that of the Bridegroom. The Lover of souls. Finally, the Lord began to heal my broken image. 

As I entered into this journey of self exploration, many demons were confronted. When I left religious life, I promised myself I would remember who I was. I am a beautiful child of God’s. I am made in His image. Society would have no claim to my heart. I wish I could say I stuck to that promise…

When I got to India, beauty again became a theme. I had been called out into the deep, the unknown, where the Lord would have open access to my heart. My two months, thus far, I have entered deeper into BELIEVING I am beautiful. I have begun to see more through the lense of Christ. I am withdrawing further and further from society’s view on beauty. 

As I began working with the children here, I started to realize that they are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met. No longer do I see their “disability.” No, I see a childlike soul, aching to share with me what it really means to be beautiful. 

This past week, I was taking photos with some of the teenager/young adult women I work with. They started to stack hands and I happened to capture this moment. Since then, I have reflected on the many stories contained in that one still shot. What wounds have those souls endured? What insecurities do they keep hidden within? How different each hand is; in how it is shaped, how it shows love, etc. Yet, there is one common factor. Each of these hands is an image of the Father’s love. Each hand is beautiful. 

The song from MercyMe, Beautiful, has always been a go to when I am struggling to see any beauty in myself. Here are the lyrics,

Days will come when you don’t have the strength, when all you hear is, ” you’re not worth anything,” Wondering if you ever could be loved. and if they saw you’re heart, they’d see too much. 

You’re beautiful. (x’s 2) You’re made for so much more than all of this. You’re beautiful. (x’s 2) You are treasured. You are sacred. You are His. You’re beaitiful. 

Praying that you have the heart to fight. ‘Cause you’re more than what is hurting you tonight. For all the lies you’ve held in you so long, they are nothing in the shadow of the Cross. 

You’re beautiful refrain.

Before you ever took a breath. Long before the world began. Of all the wonders He possessed, there was none more precious. Of all the earth and skies above, You’re the one He madly loves, enough to die. 

You’re beautiful refrain.

When I need to refocus on true beauty, I close my eyes and let Him sing me this song. Never allow yourself to believe you are not precious, you’re not beautiful. We are His!


ps. sorry about the photos. I am struggling to upload smaller images via my kindle. 

How are we called to Love?

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:1/2-

First off, my apologies for my lack of posting. Life has been busy and I have had to pray, a lot, about what I was called to share with you all. I have been keeping you all in my prayers, even though I haven’t written in a while. Settle in, I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. 🙂

These past few weeks have been filled with so many examples of love, for me. Whether that be through saying farewell, with tearful embraces and “I love you’s,” to a beautiful friend, or maybe through little smiles and children embracing and trying desperately to kiss you, to the flowers blooming on the road side, random gifts of coffee beans from my brother, or donations from friends, etc. All of these things are little glimpses of love.

My heart has been pondering, “love,” since coming back from Kolkata. Being where Mother Teresa was, where she taught the world about the deepest form of love, sacrificial love, changed my view so immensily. I thought I had a good grasp on loving. I was wrong.

When I first arrived in Hyderabad, in January, it was hard to adjust. The first few weeks were full of moments where I was humbled. I started to accept and adjust, and then we (R. and I) headed to Kolkata. Never have I felt so humbled and shocked. I don’t think anything can really prepare a soul for the extreme range of emotions one encounters there.

In terms of the poverty, I wasn’t as shocked as I had been preparing my heart for. I will blame that outcome on my having lived in a city like Kolkata, just smaller, for a month already. It was Hyderabad life…times 100. We felt comfortable walking everywhere and following my gps…as opposed to paying taxis to take us. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I was, even when it came to crossing the street! If you’ve been to India, you understand. If you haven’t, it’s unlike any traffic I have seen.

The MC’s (Missionaries of Charity) Motherhouse. Wow! We walked in, our first night there, for Mass. Mass was in the main room, where St. Mother Teresa’s tomb was. I sat facing her tomb for mass…incredible! After Mass, the priest blessed each person, individually, with a relic of Mother’s heart. The Holy Spirit was definitely present because the prayer was specific to my hearts prayer! The tears, man!!!!

After Mass, I knelt at Mother’s tomb to pray. The room was basically empty, which I came to find amazing, because every other moment I was there, there were hundreds of people filing in chatting and flashing their cameras…it was hard to have quiet prayer there. I closed my eyes and again began to pray about my volunteer assignment for the next day, Kalighat. Mother’s first home she started.

I opened my hands and prayed, “Beloved of my heart, I give You my hands to do Your work. I give You my feet, to walk the path You walked. I give You my eyes, help me to see as You see. I give You my mind, make it free of human fear and weakness. I give You my heart, show me to love, as You love.” I also prayed the prayer of St. Francis, which happened to have the phrase, “…that I may understand and not seek to be understood” (This has been my prayer each morning since my one month mark).

The next morning, we left the hotel early, to make it to morning mass with the sisters. That was a beautiful moment in my heart! How greatly I have missed community prayer here! After mass, volunteers have a quick breakfast of, bananas, chai and a loaf of bread. Then, a quick prayer and off you go! We caught a bus, which is an experience in and of itself, and made it to Kalighat.

After check-in, the men stay on the men’s side and we women were ushered to the women side. We were all split up to help in many areas. Some of what I did was help wring out laundry for about 300 people and run to hang it on the rooftop to dry. I also helped rub coconut oil onto the scalp and arms of each woman there (the oil helps prevent lice and when combing for lice). I colored with a few of them, among other duties. All I can really share is that my morning there, was life changing.

Mother had the phrase, “I thirst,” written everywhere. As I sat rubbing a womans head, she gazed into my eyes. NEVER have I felt “love” in that way. We spoke completely different languages, yet, in one gaze I felt her love. Later when I was carrying her to her bed, for nap time, she was saying something over and over…I helplessly said, “I love you.” She placed her hand on my cheek and I knew she had understood me. Then, the scripture passage of the rich young man came to mind, “And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him…” -Mark 10:21- Had I not given the Lord my eyes just the evening before?

As I got up to go help someone else to bed, she grabbed my hand and motioned to her blanket, under her pillow. I grabbed it and put it over her. She rolled her eyes and said something. I thought in frustration, “How am I supposed to help her Lord? I can’t even comunicate with her!”Again, Mark 10:21 came to mind…all it takes to love, is to truly see someone, to look at them, their heart. She started laughing, which made me laugh, and she threw the blanket to the lady in the next bed. All that time, she was telling me she had someone else’s blanket.

Since coming back, I have added the prayer, “Lord, show me how to quench the thirst in souls here and at home. Help me to continue learning what love really is.”  Love is a journey, my friends. Love is hard. Love is devestatingly painful. Love calls us out of ourselves. Love is beautiful! Each day, I am humbled to see and learn more about a love that quenches the thirst, the ache, inside all souls.

Please pray with me, that I may learn more and more, how I am called to love. Know I remember you all daily, in my prayers and thoughts throughout the day. Pray for these children who show me daily, how to imitate God and love as children. (Ephesians 5:1)

Blessings! +