Thursday, April 9, 2015

Let Go and Let God

This is a guest post from my sister, Elizabeth! You can read more by her at Startling the Day:

In this culture of worshiping busyness, we forget how predictable our lives can be. Those of us who are of the traditional workforce (teachers, engineers, accountants, receptionists, etc) know which building in which we will stand/sit/run around in most given days. Let's not take that for granted.

My husband (an engineer) and I (a teacher of English language learners in elementary schools in Virginia) just returned from a visit to our lovely mish sister, Katie. I left our two day trip with a better understanding of how my baby sister (muhahaha!) spends her mishily mish mish days with FOCUS on Harvard's campus. In a word: everywhere.

Missionaries live in the world, but work especially hard not to live of the world. We met students who draw from the soul-enriching energy that the FOCUS missionaries bring to Harvard.  They know who they can rely on and I'm proud my sister is one of those.

So many of the sacrifices they make are obvious: they have to fundraise their own salaries, they give God the decision about where they will live, they have to reach out to complete strangers on a college campus, and they spend their days making themselves vulnerable to Satan's most precise hits.

That being said, the first thing I realized when I got home: I know where I will be tomorrow. Thank you, God! 

I have never been more grateful to know exactly what to expect from tomorrow. We take for granted the lack of uncertainty in our day. 

"Where are we going?" "Can you be here in 10 minutes?" "I'm not sure if I'll be there then, can I call you when I'm ready?" "What do you want to do?" "What else?" 

Those questions have answers in "the real world." Missionaries have to let go of control and prevent that frustration that rushes over (me, at least) like a wave when teetering between decisions. God drives this bus, after all. Let's accept that and praise Him that He lets us think we have a hand on the steering wheel.

Thank you, Katie and the other Harvard FOCUS missionaries, for giving me another glimpse of God's wisdom!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Favorite Things From This Week

Yesterday and today have been totally awesome days with totally awesome conversations. I took a psychology class in college where the professor described this ideal work state of an artist, known as “being in flow” when the work flows from them because of the perfect level of challenging-ness and concentration. I think I’ve been in “flow” with Christ and Evangelization for the last two days. God is working in my conversations and interactions with these women and giving me glimpses of His eternal Joy.

Here we have it! My favorite things from this week:

I loved walking into the chapel and running into students praying together as boyfriend and girlfriend because they want their relationship rooted in Christ.

I loved when a conversation about adventures during winter break led a student to tell me how they came to build a growing, personal relationship with Christ through prayer, fellowship and the sacraments.

I loved getting to a level of openness in conversation where a student trusted me enough to ask, “How do you love someone who hates you?” and I loved when the Holy Spirit reminded me of a homily from 8 years ago which exemplifies the answer

I loved when multiple students asked me when bible studies are and how they can get more involved.

I loved when students, inspired by the SEEK conference, told me how they have chosen to devote more time to prayer and mass, and asked how they can help their friends to know the truth as well.

I loved when I rescheduled my holy hour and make my way to the chapel, only to find a student who needed to talk about an important upcoming decision.

I loved when I went from an “art date” at the museum to a lunch date to a coffee date to a study break date to a group coffee date to the chapel to teach someone how to pray more dynamically

I loved when the snow cancelled my bible studies but the girls met anyway because they wanted to share in fellowship. And I loved even more when students rearranged their schedule to have a make up study at a different time in the week

God is good! All the time! 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My Debt to You (and scheduled repayment)

This is my confession: I have avoided writing for this blog for many months.

Thus, it is time for some true accountability. At the very least, I owe you writings about the following:

·      SEEK 2015
·      The March for Life 2015
·      The Start of a New Semester
·      Confessions of Winter: Why You Shovel Early
·      How to Make the Most of Lent

I promise that I will take an hour every Tuesday (Pew’s-day) to write and post articles.

I hope you can help keep me accountable to this!

God bless,


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Notes from Prayer: I Can't Save Anyone

In the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples ask, "'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'For men, this is impossible, but for God all things are possible,'" (Matt. 19:23-30).

About two months ago, I was praying in the lower chapel of St. Paul's, asking God to prepare my heart to serve the students that I was about to meet for the first time. I had just left the comfort of my family home to move to Boston, Massachusetts in order to begin serving as a FOCUS missionary at Harvard. Over the summer, I got a lot of positive feedback about my decision to answer God's call to serve as a missionary. I was and am very flattered by the compliments, but sometimes the content of the compliment didn't sit well. Some people would say something along the lines of, "Wow! Go save some souls!" and I would seldom know how to respond. When I read this Gospel passage that day (and keep in mind that it was the end of the summer), this is what came to mind:

We, as missionaries, do not save anyone. If we think of life as a pool, we are not the lifeguard, but rather, we are the lifeguard floatation tubes: we are instruments and we are symbols and, when we do our jobs well, we point to the True Savior, the ultimate Lifeguard.

What good is a tube that breaks? How helpful is the buoy that floats away from the one who saves? It is only when a lifeguard can employ the tube as it was made to be employed that it can have any part in saving a life because a floatation device has no inherent saving power. Any trained lifeguard is MORE THAN capable of saving a drowning swimmer without tools; how much more true is this for the all-powerful, ever living God?

We are called to bear witness to God, to point to Christ always and to be moved and animated by God, who rescues all. My prayer became more specific following this realization:

"God, please draw me closer to You and allow me to be a helpful instrument of your Love." 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Greatest Of These Is Love

Typical Ave Maria sunset... Not too shabby, eh?
This summer I spent 5 1/2 weeks in Ave Maria, FL with 400 fellow missionaries at New Staff Training for our temporary vocation as FOCUS missionaries. For those of you who have never visited this booming metropolis, Ave Maria, which is about 40 minutes east of Naples in SW Florida, reminds many of its visitors and residents of the sets of Pleasantville or The Truman Show.

Despite the idyllic setting, most of the missionaries I know (including Yours Truly), experienced at least one spiritual crisis during our time there, because we realized how cluttered and chaotic and imperfect the "streets" of our interior lives were. About three weeks into training, I spent 5 days panicking because reflection and prayer had led me to realize my shortcomings, not only in loving others, but in accepting love from God and His children here on earth.

As human beings, we are made in the image and likeness of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Catholic teaching describes the Holy Spirit as the fruitful communion between God the Father and God the Son: the transcendence of love between the Father and the Son is so great that it is its own person: the Holy Spirit. 

I began to understand Love as God made it, as the full gift of self and full receipt of another. For my adult life I had focused on how to best give love, but I had actively rebuffed others' attempts to give their love to me. My insistence to give but not receive was reflected in my relationship with God, and my eyes were finally opened to the things in my life that I had withheld from Him. By refusing to receive His Love in parts of my life and heart that I thought were ugly, unfit, and in need of improvement before I could show them to the Lord, I was actively withholding my Love from Him and from others. 

1 Corinthians 13:3 says, "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but do not have love, I gain nothing." There I was, about to give up control over at least 2 years of my life  in service of God, realizing that if I didn't make a change in my life, it would all be for naught. 

Only in opening my heart to God and others, in loving and allowing others to love me, will the mission I have been called to by God be fulfilled. There is no other way. The broken heart that is open to the Love of Christ is the heart that will be healed; it will radiate with particular light that invites others to discover the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).  

Since that week of crisis in training, the Lord has opened my eyes to His greatest gift, which is an essential part of our human experience; Love changes lives. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta humbly reminds us, "Not all of us can do great things; only small things with Great Love."

"And these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love," (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Harvard '14-'15: Loving through Laughter since June 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Life is Very Good... (Ask Me Why)

(I do not own this)
In a recent trip down memory lane, I recalled a day in 10th grade when our teacher introduced us to a brief version of the Myers-Briggs Personality test.

One question in particular stood out to me: Do you prefer to travel the world or stay close to home? Internally, I immediately replied, “Travel the world, duh!” But then I began to consider how worn out I got when I spent the whole day out of the house, or how anxious I would be entering an unfamiliar place without my parents or sisters as allies. “But I don’t want to be a homebody!” I cried out in my mind.

As a fifteen year-old young woman, I was restless and unsatisfied with my suburban reality. I truly believed that my life would be a dreadful waste if I didn’t get out and go! I firmly resolved to travel extensively and accomplish A LOT. I wanted to be one of the “key terms and people” in the index of a history or science textbook, because that was the only surefire way I knew I would have done something worthwhile with my life. This desire was prideful, and it was mostly born of profound insecurity and empty intrinsic self-worth.

Six years later, my life is exciting and fulfilling everyday; I travel to exciting places regularly, and I am blessed to have many wonderful close friends. I graduated on time from a well-respected university, where I established a great reputation as a Psychology research assistant. Plus, I’m employed, and am finally moving to Boston after 10 years of dreaming about living there. Life is Very Good!

Life is Very Good, but contrary to what I believed in high school, nothing that I just listed is what makes my daily life fulfilling or satisfying. At 15 I was under the impression that doing a lot is what would give my life meaning. I woke up each morning and labored to earn my place on the planet. I had a pleasant life, but I lived in fear that taking time to rest would invalidate me. I wanted to be the best at something -- at everything -- not for bragging rights, but so I could be sure that I wasn’t wasting everyone’s time or space. I ran and ran and ran until I could run no more, and I was forced to rest.

Photo credit: Pat Dunford
In a state of fitful exhaustion, I encountered Jesus Christ in His Church. This encounter was a crossroad: I could keep living as I had been, or I could embrace the reality of God with all of my heart. When I found rest in the Lord, I finally saw how my life is His amazing gift to me. My worth was a permanent gift that had already been freely given. God created me; I am His daughter, and as His daughter I can neither earn nor lose the worth with which He created me. God let me empty myself out for 20 years so that one day I would open my heart and let His Grace fill me entirely.

FOCUS Team Harvard 2014-2015
Beginning August 20th, I will be serving as a campus missionary at Harvard University with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). My mission is to grow in my relationship with Christ, make myself radically available to the students at Harvard, and walk with them as they grow closer to Christ. I will meet them wherever they are, just as He met me where I was, and invite them to make God the center of their life.

I am not alone in this mission; I have many mission partners who support me spiritually and financially in my efforts the help fulfill Christ’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). As part of my missionary endeavors, I will write updates and reflections every week and post them here.

I can’t wait to enter into mission with you!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I don't blame God

I’ve always been blessed to have wonderful role models in my life. One woman in particular has a permanent monument in my heart; she gave me many things over the course of our time together, not the least of which is my name.

My parents named me Katherine after my dad’s mom (who also is known as Kay, Tappie, or Gramma). My sisters, Christine and Elizabeth, were in school when I was born and both of my parents worked, so when they found out that I was joining the family, my parents asked my Gramma to watch me during the day, rather than putting me in daycare 45 hours a week.

From the time when I was 2 months old until I went to kindergarten, Gramma would come over every and make me scrambled eggs in the microwave (scrumptious!), and help me get dressed. We’d go upstairs and make the beds for everyone and then we’d watch TV and “rest our eyes”.

On Wednesdays, we went to Claudia’s to get her hair fixed. I have countless memories of sitting on her lap, snuggled into her chest, and (forgive me) playing her underarm skin that fascinated me because of how “it rolled.” In addition to going to the beauty salon, we ran weekly errands like going to the grocery store and the library, and sometimes we’d even go to the mall to get “French fries, ketchup and coke” for lunch. On our outings, we’d stop to talk to every single person we saw who had a baby. 

Mommy and Gramma had a relationship that every woman should dream of having with their mother-in-law. Gramma was sassy and sparkly and loving and she bonded with her daughters-in-law as if they were gifts that her sons had brought home, rather than man-thieves who stole them away from her. Mommy understood early on that a strong bond with Gramma was a gift of love, not a detraction of my love for her. I formed incredibly close bond with my mom and Gramma, and their love for me complimented each other.

Gramma and I were like peas and carrots. I was her Katie Bird, and she was my Gramma. She shared with me her love for young children, classic movies, cultural trivia, and true stars like Lucille Ball and Billie Holiday. She respected me as a person from day one, and by example, she taught me how to talk to adults and make friends. She shared with me her quiet but deep Catholic faith, and she encouraged and defended me on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget sitting on the couch with her on New Year’s Day in my sophomore year of high school. I told her that I wasn’t excited to go back to school the next day because I always got into tufts with this one boy. She turned to me, fire in her eyes, and raised her fist indignantly, shaking it threateningly and fervently said, “HE’S HARRASSING YOU?! Why I outta….”

Whenever I got my report card, she’d cheer with enthusiasm for grades that I thought were mediocre. At times when my own spirits were quite low, she’d share her hilarious point of view, and follow it up with, “You know what? I’ve never had any doubts about you.”

As we got older, naturally our dynamic shifted. We’d still hold hands as we walked across the street, but my hand would be the firm, steady one now. When I was learning to drive, it would be part of my job to take her to the grocery store or the doctor, as my sisters had been doing for years.

Gramma lived in Apt 242 in a complex for low-income seniors or other individuals who wanted to live independently, and it was my home away from home. I spent an inordinate amount of time there, making friends with other residents and determining the subtle changes between the sitting rooms on each floor.

I do not own the rights 
On December 1st, 2009 (my senior year in high school), a tenant on the 3rd floor lit a candle that never went out. The complex caught fire and though no one was hurt, she (and several others) lost all of her belongings and her home of 20 years.

Our community reached out, and we received donation after donation of clothes, giant purses (which were her favorite), gift cards and condolences. Unfortunately, that fire claimed a significant amount of her spirit, her spunk was greatly quelled and she made a habit of falling in the middle of the night.

After living with us for a few months, Gramma’s best friend, Virginia, came to Richmond to be closer to her and they moved into a new apartment complex. Then I went off to college to explore my life as a young adult, and found my home in the Church.

Gramma spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital in my First year, but she reclaimed small sparkly pieces of her spirit that had burned up the previous year. When our sweet Joan Marie didn’t wake up the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Gramma marched me up to her casket to pray at the Vigil. She prodded us to laugh following Emil Daddy’s funeral on Christmas Eve by joking with the nurses and asking, “Am I not your most adorable patient tonight?”

On April 6th, 2011, my mom called just before my 2 o’clock class. “Katie, I need to tell you something….” Gramma had been in treatment for injuries she’d sustained from falling, and my dad had noticed a change in her coloring. They brought in Dr. Lee, the same doctor who treated my grandfather in the end, and he confirmed that she was jaundiced due to renal failure. “She’s going into Hospice, Katie. I’m sorry, but this is the end.”

I walked across campus, trying to breathe as hot knots gathered in my throat and tears erupted from my eyes. I walked from the Lawn to the church, and met friends there. 

My friends, God bless them, sat with me as I cried and questioned, passing time until Christine could pick me up on the way home from her school. I could not for the life of me figure out how the world could continue to go on without Gramma. How could it be that her time was up? It wasn’t enough; I wasn’t ready. How is it that the whole world didn’t know they were about to lose such an amazing woman? How was I expected to continue school? For that matter, how could I get out of bed and breathe air in and out in a world without her?

Christine arrived, we drove back to Richmond and almost immediately made our way to her bedside. She was unbelievably physically altered, but she was there; she wasn’t gone yet.

Family means more than just the 5 of us.
As a family, we spent the better part of 3 days together, and we all said goodbye to her in our own ways. In perfect form, she muttered her last word, “holy,” as we prayed a Hail Mary circled around her. She died peacefully at 1:14am on April 10th, 2011. To this day, I'm surprised that God let the Sun rise that morning.

I didn’t have great answers to any of my own questions. For a while, the world continued without her but I didn’t. I drastically changed my course of study and became a part-time student. I seriously considered taking time off of school altogether.  Slowly though, the memories of her lessons and stories and time with me lit a few sparks inside of my heart.

Talk about that sense of humor
At times when I need to hear her voice, I go to church, and pray for her intercession. On days when I miss holding her hands, I carry one of her giant purses or wear her “hip grannie” rings and stroke its curvatures with my thumbs. Almost automatically, I've taken up humming nonsense notes to myself, just like she did, when I’m alone with my thoughts. Any credit for my sense of humor goes directly to her.

In life and in death she taught me that everything was going to be okay. I don’t blame God for wanting her in heaven; I’ve become grateful for the near 85 years He lent her to us on earth.

Still, even two years later, it is unspeakably hard to spend my day knowing that she isn’t living any more. But on those days when I seriously question myself and the potential for success and happiness, her voice resonates in my head like a powerful orchestra. She says, “You know what, Katie Bird? I’ve never had any doubts. Love you!”

I very much love you too, Gramma. Thank you so much for always taking care of me. I'll be seeing you.