Frequent Flyer

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                                           (semi-related picture from wedding weekend!)

I have always been one of those people who is really into routines when she flies. I don’t like to get to the airport more than an hour early (living on the edge, you know). I always agonize over whether or not to buy my favorite pre-flight snack (sour patch watermelons, duh). I also consistently scour the gate’s waiting-area, desperately trying to find an electrical outlet . . . I’ll stop at nothing, which usually means that I sit on the floor of any number of airport hallways.

What tends to change, though, is what happens once I actually get on the airplane. In a lot of ways, an airplane serve as a great equalizer – everyone on that plane is trying to get to the best seat, crossing his fingers that the air conditioning won’t be blowing too hard. I would even venture a guess that everyone secretly tries to ask the flight attendant to pass more than one measely bag of pretzels. Just me? Okay. Anyways.

As I stepped onto my second of two flights this past weekend (I was in Virginia for the wedding of two dear friends, it was awesome, tears were shed, etc), I anxiously scanned the rows to see where I would be sitting. I’m usually one of those people who loves to capitalize on airplane rides and use them as an opportunity to make new friends. But . . . it was late. And I hate the Atlanta airport. And I was annoyed that there wasn’t a Dairy Queen in said airport. And my ears were still ringing/feet were still hurting from dancing the night away the night before ( Mary, you know). Basically, I had every excuse in the book to avoid being a conversationalist with my fellow passengers on the airplane.

I bet you can see where this is going . . . As I slowed my roll and got to my seat, I looked down and saw that my seat was currently occupied with a (big!) crossstitch project and an elderly couple sitting in the same row. We exchanged pleasantries, I made a joke about sharing their bananas with them (weird, so weird), and my heart softened a little bit. It softened enough to ask this sweet couple their names, learn about the Reservation that they lived and worked on for 25 years, and discovered that they were celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary. (I also got the nearest rows to hoot and holler for them).

There I was on the airplane, experiencing a chance encounter with two people I will probably never see again: I had nothing to lose. So I thanked them for their witness to marriage and explained how much hope it gives me. As we continued chatting, I felt the momentum moving as I started to tell them about what I’m doing – this new apostolate, the move to St. Louis, etc. I was able to clearly and objectively tell these two with such confidence what God has done in my life.

As we said our goodbyes (complete with a few bad Lauren Jokes) and chuckled about the people in front of us who had a heck of a time getting their bags out of the overhead bin (you know the types . . .), I once again thanked them for the conversation and assured them of my prayers. I disembarked the plane tired, but renewed.

I was renewed in the knowledge that no matter where we come from or where we are going, we all have a story to tell. I was renewed in the assurance that the Lord is using this new apostolate to get people talking, and I was renewed in the understanding that I have nothing to lose–He’s already given me everything. In every encounter, every airplane ride, every phone call, there is an opportunity to create an intentional encounter. The joy that I felt as I left that airplane (and tweeted about it, of course) was the joy of the knowledge that although some things are unexpected, nothing is accidental.

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I have come that they might have . . . Lipstick?

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“Mare?” I tried to whisper to Mary Clare as she was kneeling after receiving Communion at Mass last weekend. “Did you pack your lipstick?” She briskly nodded. I frantically rifled through her purse–she carried a purse all weekend that I just dropped all my stuff in–and I quickly applied the lipstick before going up to speak at the end of Mass. (For the last few weeks, and the foreseeable future, I am bouncing between parishes and introducing myself and our new youth ministry program.)

Mary Clare, one of my dearest friends from college, was in town this weekend to see another of our college friends make her first vows with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George. (Short name, right?!) Her profession coincided quite nicely with a weekend, which allowed Mary Clare to make an extended visit and experience all that St. Louis has to offer. (It’s worth noting that my tour guide skills aren’t entirely developed . . . so it involved a lot of churches, white wine, the inevitable Schlafly brewery tour–third one in a month–and 10pm bedtimes. Perfect.)

As Mary Clare and I stayed up late talking one night, I was struck by the unique position in which we find ourselves– recent college graduates just entering the working world, desperately trying to use the faith with which we have been so generously gifted for the good of the Church and of all we encounter. As we continued to talk about our current situation, our thoughts turned to what it would be like in 5, 10, and 15 years when we (God willing) will have our own families to take care of; when won’t be able to give ourselves as radically and completely to the Church as young, faithful women in a world that says those two things are incompatible.

But, here we are, doing just that. Doing what exactly? Honestly, sometimes I don’t really know. At this current juncture of my life, what does it really mean to “give everything” to my work, my Church, my God? It means, I think, acknowledging that God has intended for me to be here. Right here. He wants me to be in a new city, starting a new job, beginning and ending each day asking for the grace to not fall flat on my face doing it (this prayer becomes all the more real when I’m marching up the Church aisle to make my introductions). What this weekend helped me realize was that this current time of life is unique – unique in that I answer only to God, and that I can give myself now in a way that I never have before, and probably never will be able to again.

To be a person of faith, and particularly a young person of faith, in today’s world is often seen as pointless. And honestly, as someone who works for the Church, there are days when I would rather pull my hair out than do what I know God is asking of me (this usually involves the alarm going off before early mass or trying to perfect for the 28347th time my stupid business card). But, just when things seem like they are a little too crazy, God gives me friends who share their lipstick with me and at the same time remind me that the Christian life is not only possible, but worth it.

Whatever comes in the future, I will always look back and treasure that late-night conversation with Mary Clare. For now, though, I am thankful for the people and experiences that have given me the confidence to step forward during this season of life. God asks us to give Him everything, but only because He intends to make a generous return gift of Himself. But the generosity of God, in addition to His own presence, also provides us with the friendship of so many others to live the Christian life with us; others who make His own presence more of a reality in our lives, others whose solidarity allows us to bring the power and love of God to bear on the world. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone, and there is indescribable joy in the solidarity God is so happy to give us.

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Great Expectations?

chapel This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to make a trip to Nashville to visit a dear friend (hi, Rhodes!) and have some time away during this crazy season of life. It was also a “return to the motherland trip”, since I was born in Tennessee, but haven’t been back since. (Side note: I have always been very proud of the fact that I was born in Tennessee, so much so that I would often try to speak with a southern accent . . . until roughly the age of 10 . . .)

Anyways! The trip was filled with so many good things – barbecue, bluegrass, meaningful conversations – I left with a heart as full as the moon (get it, full moon last weekend?). To my surprise, one of the most profound moments occurred not in anything that I did, but rather in what I experienced.

On Friday evening (feast of St. Dominic, holler!), we decided to go to Vespers with the Dominican sisters who have a convent in Nashville. Now, these sisters chant (beautifully!!) all of their daily prayers, which fills me with dread because, for those of you who have ever had the pleasure of being around me for more than five seconds, you know that I am rather tone deaf. (In fact, when St. Augustine said “those who sing pray twice”, he also meant “when Lauren sings, she prays -2 times”).

Of course, my natural reaction was to stress out about how I could possibly get myself together enough to act like I belonged there, but as we settled into the rhythm of the prayers, I realized that it really wasn’t about me (shocker). In that moment, all the Lord was asking me to do was to remain quiet and allow myself to experience the joy that was all around me. The joy in the prayers of the Church, the joy in quality time with good friends, the joy in cold beer (don’t worry, that obviously happened post-convent trip).

All too often, especially in the Christian life, we worry about how much we are doing. Many times I find myself worried about how I sound, how I come off, whether or not I “belong,” and how much time I spend praying. But the reality is that God doesn’t desire any of that from us – the false expectations that we place on ourselves, whether in conversation, action, prayer, or anything else; they really do nothing more than create artificial division between ourselves and God.

What I realized as I sat (and knelt, and stood #CatholicAerobics) was that God didn’t need for me to sing along. (In fact, he probably preferred that I didn’t . . .) All He wanted me to do was to experience what was happening right in front of me and acknowledge that it was all for Him. And that is one of the great joys of the Christian life – He doesn’t want us to place expectations on ourselves, on the Church, or even on Himself–He desires us to experience life as it happens and to seek His face at every moment and in every circumstance.

As I drove home from Nashville, (this was of course after I dropped my credit card DOWN the window shaft of my driver’s window while in the coffee drive thru. I know.), I realized that God did not only want me to enjoy what I expected to enjoy from the trip (the company of a friend, bluegrass, cold beer); He also wanted me to acknowledge that He was giving me many more gifts besides–in circumstances I had foreseen, in circumstances I hadn’t; in ways I expected, and especially in ways I never expected.

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Separation Anxiety.

love of GodAs I slipped into the pew this past Sunday juussstttt before the opening hymn, I found myself in my normal pre-Mass routine: awkwardly glance around and smile at fellow Mass-goers, try to put my keys down without making a lot of noise (fail), and make a mental note of whom I would give the sign of peace first. As I settled in, I did my best to thoughtfully listen to the readings and give God the praise due Him during the hour.

And then, just as I was about to slip into “what am I going to have for lunch” levels of concentration, I heard it: “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans goes on to say, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I spent the better part of Mass asking myself that exact question “What will separate me from the love of Christ?”
The promise of Scripture rings true for all of us – nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. In this crazy world in which we live, a world that is constantly presenting us with things that could separate us from the love of Christ, that promise is all that we have. And it is enough.

I have been wrestling a lot with that word, separation. Although it has an instinctively negative connotation, Scripture tells us that it also holds some sort of promise. In the two and half months since college graduation, I have travelled roughly 6,000 miles (thank you, google maps), moved halfway across the country to a brand new city, and settled into a crazy new job. In a sense, all this activity has been about separation – separation from my life as a college student, from my family and friends scattered across the country, and separation from everything that I knew. And yet, even in this admittedly difficult season of life, I find strength in the knowledge that nothing – no new job, no move, no tearful goodbye – can separate me from the love of God.

Now this isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to create unnecessary separation – I think we all have. The culture tells us we don’t need the love of Christ; in fact it tells us that that “love” can be found in inanimate objects, through objectification, or in money. As I am settling into this new life, I desperately need the reminder that none of my human weaknesses will ever separate me from the love that is continually offered to me, which is Love Himself.

And so I will continue to give thanks for this great promise of love. And all this “separation anxiety” that is par for the course with a new city/new job/new relationships will all be seen in the light of the joyful promise that nothing will separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.

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