A chapter closed

Another one of my sisters got married at the end of last month. Maybe it’s because my sisters are so close to me, so involved in all my most important memories, that I struggle to take their weddings seriously. Every time I have to remind myself that this is real; I stand in the vestibule ten minutes before it all begins pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

Weddings in general tend to leave me a little dazed. They happen so quickly — after months of preparation and flurry and nerves on edge, two people whisper those conclusive words, exchange rings, smile for photographs, hug distant relatives, dance and eat cake, and somehow, in just a few short hours, the Change happens. A bridge crossed, a door closed, a new chapter begun. 

Maybe all big changes are like that. Months and even years of preparation, inner turmoil, questions and fears, and suddenly everything converges in one sharp point. There’s only this moment, a decision, a quick, almost innocuous action, and the rest is what you make of it. 

I find, as so many things draw to an end before I set off on this discernment journey, that I want all of my goodbyes to have meaning, to betray even a fraction of the real thoughts and feelings I’ve been too nervous — or too proud — to show up until now. I’m consistently struck by how little of myself I’ve shared with the people I love most. Why do we struggle to be real with one another? Perhaps it’s more fair to ask, why have I always struggled to be real?

Words just fall flat at a certain point. I’m afraid that’s my only excuse for the long silence on this blog, and for awkward goodbyes in person over the last month. Before certain realities, one has to be silent.

Despite the frustrations, the long bouts of loneliness, the pain of unanswered questions, I have loved my life in the gap, and I’m going to miss it. It’s good to feel the sting of this goodbye; it means I’m not running away. All the best things in life require some sacrifice. As one dear friend reminded me just this weekend, the most important things are also the hardest. 

Please pray for me as I enter formation. Know of my prayers for you (and please feel free to email me with any particular intentions that I can carry with me when I enter in August). 

Friends, readers, I want to thank you in a special way for several wonderful years on this blog. Thanks for your encouragement, your comments, and your particular insights about life as single young adults. This is the last post on Life in the Gap — another chapter closed. I pray that we will all be open to answering God’s call, even as we persevere in the silence for as long as he asks it of us. May we always be generous. May we give our hearts away in love. May we set the world on fire. 

God bless you all,

Mabel

 

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Time to grow up

You know how sometimes you’re having a complete meltdown over something that seems absolutely critical to your future health, happiness, and overall well-being? There you are, staring out the living room window at the cold, dreary rain, thinking dark thoughts about the future without whatever it is and wondering how you will ever survive. You’re in the depths of despair, and you glower in black fury at your roommates when they walk innocently by and wish you “good morning.” Nothing interests you. Food loses its flavor. Life — what meaning does it hold now that That Thing is about to be taken from you?

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So I was having one of those days on Sunday. And I’m both relieved and embarrassed to admit that the answer to my woes was incredibly simple. It went something like this: Grow up.

I’m realizing with increasing regularity that I spend a whole lot of time thinking about how the events and people in my life affect me. Those that affect me most get the most attention. Those that affect me less can sit and simmer on the back burner, if I give them even that much thought. Why worry about other people’s lives, seems to be my semi-conscious mantra, when I have my own to worry about?

But when someone else’s life has a noticeable impact on mine, theI stand up and take notice.

This weekend a blip in someone else’s plans threw my own plans into a tailspin, and instead of reacting in genuine concern for that person, I had a fit because I wanted things to go my way. Granted, this other person would probably like for things to go my way, too. I’m not being completely selfish. But it wasn’t until the blip in their plans unsettled mine that I took this person’s long-standing intention to prayer with real fervor. Heretofore I’ve been comfortable with the more passive, “Please bless so-and-so in such-and-such situation.” But now my own dearest wishes were on the line, and my prayers were much more focused.

As a result, I’ve been taking a much deeper look at all my intentions and realizing how selfish I am…yes, even in prayer. It’s easy to say, “I’ll pray for you,” and it’s even pretty easy to tack names on to my daily rosary or Mass. But to really carry the people I care about to Our Lord and present all their needs to him and beg him to look on them in love and satisfy their deepest needs–needs that have nothing to do with me? I won’t say that’s hard, but it’s hard to remember. It’s hard to pull my selfish head out of my own goings-on long enough to focus on The Other.

It’s just so dratted easy to be selfish. And quite frankly, it’s childish. The child can center the whole universe on her own measly wants and needs, but the adult is supposed to know better. Not just outwardly — it’s one thing to volunteer at the homeless shelter, give your seat to old ladies on the metro, or let the person with two items get ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Those are good things, but they’re also external and therefore easier to see. What goes on inside is just as important.

Real Christian charity isn’t just an outside thing. It should be all-pervasive, all inclusive, and deeply selfless. I should have genuine concern for the people in my life in everything, not just the areas that impact me directly. So I was grateful, albeit a bit embarrassed, when a wise person listened to my tearful tale and chuckled and said, “You’ll be fine. But you should be worried about that other person.”

Ah, perspective. It’s still not all about me. Maybe some day I’ll learn that lesson for keeps.

– Mabel

Profile in the Gap: Blanca Therese Morales

Profiles in the Gap
Blanca Therese Morales
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Blanca Therese Morales is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Check out her blog! Also, be on the lookout for her to appear in EWTN’s new series, “Extraordinary Faith.” She’ll be featured with some friends in an episode later this spring. 
I had always expected to be married by my early twenties. I knew many women who had married out of college, becoming stay-at-home moms in a nice little towns. It always seemed ideal.  However, God had other plans for me.
Since marriage was not to be had, I planned a glittering career in broadcast media. I saw myself living a glamorous life in either California or New York, rubbing elbows with celebrities, attending VIP events and feeling “free” of commitment or obligations.
But God got to me before any of this took place. He let me see that a life without Him would have no meaning, no purpose and no merit. I decided to offer my future plans to him, including marriage. From that point on, every decision had to include Him. I would live my life for Him.
As I offered up a career on TV, God offered me a better career alternative: writing. I had always liked creative writing but never saw myself working as a writer. God led me to news writing and photojournalism, where I learned to hone this skill through experience.
While I had never planned this for myself, God knew what He was doing. This new path helped me to grow so much as a person, and also as a Christian.
I now see that this season of singleness was a blessing in disguise. I have been able to do things I would not have been otherwise been able to do, had I done things according to my own plan. I have had the time to travel, go on pilgrimages, have a career I enjoy, attend retreats, and to learn and grow in so many ways.
God has humored me even further, by letting me go in front of the camera as I had originally planned, except this time the opportunity came not to give myself glory, but to speak about the things that give Him glory.

Profile No. 22: Bill Gonch

Profiles in the Gap

Bill Gonch

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Bill Gonch lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area

Did you expect this time of singleness?  

I expected to be single, but I expected a different singleness.

The whole time I was growing up I was an atheist. I had some vaguely defined plans for what I’d do in my twenties, but they all involved my career, interests, hobbies, fun. I figured I’d get married someday, but I didn’t think too much about the timeline. More to the point, I didn’t think of using my twenties for anything other than whatever I happened to want.

Then, when I was almost 22, I learned that God exists.  I remember one night shortly after that: I was looking around at things in my room, realizing that each one of them was held in existence by a direct, constant act of God’s will. If He stopped perpetuating granting existence to my desk…pop! No more desk!

I grabbed my desk. I don’t want to tell you how long I held it.

You see, when I first believed in God, everything changed. I mean literally everything: every single thing that I could see or touch or smell was a different thing than it had been before I knew that God exists. Before, things were just things—they were brute physical reality, and I thought about them or didn’t depending on whether I needed them for whatever I wanted to do.

But now, every thing that was depended on God’s action for its existence. Every thing is a gift from God: rain and sunrises and scotch tape and earthworms and my sourpuss great-aunt. It was like I’d moved to Mars. (Oh, right, Mars is a gift, too.) I spent my twenties in an entirely different world than I’d lived in as a kid. By the time I’d started exploring the new world—which is the real world—any expectations that I’d had up until that time were gone.

If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing? 

It’s been wild. I haven’t gotten married, but here are a few things I’ve done.

I’ve met incredible friends—people who are so good that they make me want to be better. Some people I know are so good that it frightens me, the way Aslan frightens the Pevensie children in Narnia.

I’ve sat with homeless men in a park late at night, giving out sandwiches and talking about our families.

I’ve learned—maybe it’s shameful that I needed to learn this, but I’ve learned—that homeless men have families, that they see them and care about them.

I’ve helped a man get off the street and into a homeless shelter.

I’ve learned that the devils who keep men on the street are beyond my power to defeat, and often beyond those men’s power, but not beyond God’s power.

I’ve organized church groups.

I’ve learned that I’m really bad at organizing church groups.

I’ve learned to pray the Hail Mary.

I’ve learned that one of Mary’s titles is “Exterminatrix of Heresies,” and that there’s a painting of her beating down a demon with a giant club.

I’ve been one of the crazy people who prays the rosary outside of abortion clinics, and I’ve learned that the stereotypes of those people are very far from the truth.

I’ve seen a woman approach an abortion clinic and then change her mind, deciding to bring her child into the world, because of things that my friend said to her.

For three years I lived with the Blessed Sacrament in my house. In my house!

I’ve counted among my friends men who wear brown dresses, giant rosaries, and no shoes. I’ve learned that they’re called “friars,” not “monks.”

I’ve become the godfather of little boy whose soul is immortal.

It’s been wild.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 

I’d have found a lot more if I’d listened to what God was telling me.

There’s a passage in A Man for All Seasons that has been playing in my mind for the past several months. Richard Rich has been seeking a position in the government from Sir Thomas More, but Thomas refuses, believing (rightly) that Rich does not have the moral fiber for an intrigue-ridden court. Instead, he offers to appoint Rich to a teaching position. He says, “You’d make a good teacher, Richard. Perhaps a great one.”

Rich: “But who would know?”

Thomas: “You, your students, perhaps your colleagues, God. Not a bad public, that.”

I came to DC to work in policy two-and-a-half years ago. I thought it was the right move…and at first it was. My employer has an important mission and I work with wonderful, talented people; I’ve learned an awful lot from being there. But it’s been clear for a while that policy is not what I should be doing. For a couple of years now, I’ve felt a pull to return to school, get a Ph.D. and, well, be a teacher. At the end of this past summer the Lord hit me with a series of hammer-blows: it was time (past time, maybe), to apply. Lord willing, I’ll start classes in the fall. It doesn’t feel too good to be in the same spot as the villain in one of your favorite movies. But now, for the first time, I have a strong sense of vocation. I’m finally doing what God intends me to do. That does feel pretty darn good.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 

Goodness! You might as well ask, how does oxygen play a role in your life?

I mean that pretty close to literally. Faith gives me joy in good times and strength in hard ones. Faith constitutes the world: by it I know that each person I meet deserves my love and compassion and respect because each person is made in the image and likeness of God. I’m not sure I’d agree that it plays a role in my outlook: it’s more that faith is the very grounds by which other things can play a role. It’s not one of the things out there in the world, but the means through which I understand anything else that’s in the world. Faith is the pair of eyeglasses that lets me see the world clearly, and my soul comes with the same fine-print notice as my driver’s license: “Restriction: corrective lenses.”

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

I’d talk to more people. I’m very shy, and I have a hard time knowing what to say to people whom I don’t already know well. It’s an INFJ thing, I guess. But when I do meet new people, I’m always glad to have done it, so I’m trying to be more outgoing.

I’d write and publish more. Ray Bradbury once encouraged young writers to write a story every week for a year, because “No one can possibly write 52 bad stories in a row.” I’ve decided 2014 will be the year I get my fiction published, so I’ll be writing a lot and submitting things I’ve never submitted before. I’m just hoping I don’t prove Ray Bradbury wrong.

Finally, I’d listen to God more. It’s weird—I listen a lot when I’m talking with other people, but when I pray suddenly I’m doing all the talking. Talking in prayer is easier than listening…after all, if you’re just sitting there listening, pretty soon you find yourself thinking that you need to pick up some chicken cutlets on your way home, and how are you ever going to finish that report by Thursday, and—darnit—you left the dishes in the sink again, and hey, that girl by the Mary altar’s pretty cute. And then your mind’s entirely distracted from God and it’s time to start over on your page of Francis de Sales and see if you can salvage a bit of this Holy Hour for some actual prayer.

But I guess distraction isn’t the real reason I’m afraid to stop talking in prayer. The real reason is that sometimes, when you stop talking, God starts.

Profile No. 21: Dustin Siggins

 Profiles in the Gap

Dustin Siggins

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 Dustin Siggins is a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Did I expect to be single at the age of 28-and-a-quater? Simply put…no.

I had my first crush in September of 7th grade, and at 15 started looking for the right woman to marry. I figured it would take some time to find the right young lady for me, and by the time I got out of college we’d be ready for marriage.

Over the next several years, I was met with disappointment after disappointment. Starting in February of 7th grade – 1999, which was when the aforementioned crush and her boyfriend of several months broke up – a string of failures found me at every turn. At one point I was 0-17. For you non-sports fans, that’s zero “yes” answers and 17 “no” responses to my asking girls on dates.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I analyze. A lot. More on that later.

Finally, for a period of approximately eight months, good luck was mine. I dated a young lady for a month – she was vacationing for the summer in my hometown – and then dated my then-best friend for several months. The end of this latter relationship left me quite depressed for months, a state of mind that was finally broken by the stress and distraction of Basic Training after high school graduation.

I entered college quite optimistic about dating. My string of bad luck was over, if the prior year was any indication! Alas, by the time I graduated college I had dated one young lady for a month, and that was about it. Turns out, being an abstinent, pro-life, weekly attending Catholic made me a radical even among my fellow Catholics.

Thus it was that by the time I was a junior in college my regular commentary on dating was that I had accepted that I was going to be the 80-year old virgin. I told people I would make a movie out of it, and make lots of money – the PG version of “The Forty-Year Old Virgin.”

When I came to D.C. my optimism had rebounded, especially as I learned how culturally and geographically unaware I had been. Here I was not a radical, extreme Catholic – who knew the Northeast was more liberal than the rest of the country? Not me, at the time – and I hoped I had matured enough to change my dating luck around.

Again, luck was not mine. Turns out women don’t like it when a guy shakes hands on a first date (something I have remedied since). The Southern women found me a bit…blunt…and too intense. And despite my preference to become friends with a young lady before formally pursuing a relationship, my personality was putting me so far in the dreaded Friend Zone it was like being in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by sharks. With chains.

In other words, women liked being my friend. But not my girlfriend. (Though this has its own advantages – the benefits of friendship, the benefits of hanging out with very attractive women, and none of the emotional stress of trying to date said friends.)

In 2011 I utilized online dating for seven months, and finally started “playing the field.” Effective though these tactics were, they never felt comfortable, though online dating did lead to a short-lived long-distance relationship. And then, finally, luck was with me as I dated a woman for almost five months and almost fell in love with another later in 2012, despite the brevity of the second relationship (two months). In early 2013, one of my closest friends and I discussed dating, but because of our religious differences we decided to simply maintain a very close friendship.

So where does this leave me, as 2014 nears? It’s been a tough year, I’ll admit. My younger siblings are both getting married next year. The average age of marriage for men is 28, which puts me behind the eight-ball, and for most of my life I’ve thought that guys who are unmarried in their late twenties are losers or have gigantic personal flaws. And the constant discussions of discernment in the Catholic community mean the subject is dating is always on my mind.

However, tough times allow for growth, and this year has also been one for large personal growth in certain areas. They include:

  1. A priest told me in July that our goal in life is to be a saint. Everything else helps us on that path. It was a good reminder about priorities.
  2. Despite rumors to the contrary, I talk far less than I want to. The filter between my brain and mouth is gigantic – which should scare those of you who know how much I talk. I find this filter necessary to strategize how best to talk to people in life, especially since my default setting is to be extremely choleric, and this can alienate people. However, a friend recently told me I should not worry about filtering because of what other people might think. While we all have our flaws, by being so tactical, I am not being who God designed and intended for me to be. To a degree, I’m letting the flaws of others dictate my behavior, which is not productive for anyone.
  3. Clearly, I am someone who analyzes and thinks a lot. While this is naturally part of who I am, and thus does not paralyze me as it might others, it can also create an inefficient style of behavior. As my friend Isaiah once put it: “Dustin, I love you, but you have got to learn to take yourself less seriously.” To put it another way, by thinking and analyzing so much, I’m essentially trying to control my life to a fault, instead of putting it in God’s hands.

In short, I need to learn to relax and go with the flow instead of always trying to create the flow. For example, my one romantic idealistic trait – wanting to be one of those old couples that’s been married for 70 or more years – may need to take second-fiddle to the rest of my life. And rather than get frustrated when people who don’t follow key Church teachings get engaged and married, while I follow them and remain single, I need to remember being a saint is the first and foremost goal.

Marriage is not a competition I have to win. We’re trying to be saints. Comparing myself to my siblings, or the average age of marriage, is to miss the forest for the trees.

So where am I as we enter 2014? Frustrated, absolutely. Recognizing that even at the age of 28 – a full-fledged adult – I have a lot of growing up to do? Grudgingly, yes. I’m trying to not miss the forest for the trees, and remember that people mean well when they say contradictory things like “Be yourself, but be low-key,” or the falsely uplifting “The right girl is out there for you!”

So what should I expect out of life right now? I don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions,” as self-improvement should be a continuous process, but I think I’m going to prioritize a few things this year:

  1. A friend gave me a piece of advice recently that I’m going to take into consideration: Rather than focus on multiple aspects of life at the same time, try to focus on one aspect to make it as successful as possible. She suggested one’s career path, and indicated this would be a good idea in order to be happier, and happiness is attracting to the opposite sex. I think I’ll take her advice, with a twist – prioritize everything but dating, and let the dating happen as it will.
  2. I’m going to work on being more aware of why I act as I do. I always apply my friend Ben’s advice – “Don’t care what people think, but don’t give them reason to think badly of you” – but I’m going to try to keep the latter mindset balanced with greater emotional awareness.
  3. A retired priest advised me to just be Dustin. Let’s see what that looks like, rather than being “Dustin who’s constantly being hard on himself.”

In the end, the goal of every human being should be to walk on the path God has for us, and be happy regardless of what life throws at us. We should be whole people as much as we possibly can – and, in my case, if a cute girl walks across my path, life’s a little more attractive right now. And if she becomes my wife, my ability to walk on the path of God’s Will will be more complete than it was before our paths crossed.

Profile No. 17: Morgan McFarlin

Profiles in the Gap

Morgan McFarlin

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Morgan McFarlin is a Pro-life Missionary on college campuses in Illinois. She blogs at Follow and Believe

Did you expect this time of singleness?

No, I did not. Not at all. I fully expected to be either engaged or nearing engagement by the time I graduated from college. Some of this expectation came from how my parents’ love story had played out, but never did I imagine that I would be nearly two years post-undergrad and single.

I struggled all through college watching my friends meet their future spouses. It was something that I so inherently desired, and to be one of only two single folks in my friend group caused me to think there was something wrong with me. Essentially, I began to base my worth on my relationship status. I spent years searching, hoping, and waiting for my life to begin. All because I was “alone.” Sometimes I want to go back in time and slap my former self across the face. If only I’d attempted to live in the “now” rather than for the future…

Only recently have I fully come to truly enjoy and embrace my life…yes, my single life. But even more than that, I’ve stopped allowing my relationship status to define who I am. My life is good, just as it is. And actually, I’m perfectly content being single. I’m really loving my independence, and since I travel a lot for work, it’s nice to be able to pick up and leave whenever. Plus, this period has been really great for investing in my non-romantic relationships. Making friends post-college can be tough, but that’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow as a person. Of course, if Mr. Wonderful walked into my life today, I’d be overjoyed…but clearly, if we aren’t together right now, it’s because God has other plans.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career?

Growing up as a baby-loving Irish-Catholic, I never gave much thought to the idea of developing a “career.” Sure, I always had ambitions and dreams, but above all, I desired to be a wife and mother.

So, imagine my surprise when I realize that this “stepping stone” job I got straight out of college happens to be what I now believe to be my calling. I love my work! I’m currently based on an Illinois college campus, working to build up pro-life leaders. How awesome is that? Every. day. I have the opportunity to make a difference. I’m actually living the unconventional ministry lifestyle that I longed for in my early collegiate years! Who would’ve thought that those dreams would have been fulfilled?

As content as I am now, when I first acknowledged the love I had for my work, I was a little freaked out. After all, I’d only ever planned on working temporarily before having babies and being a stay-at-home mom. This threw a bit of a wrench in my plans! But that’s the thing about our plans: God loves to mess ’em up and redirect us toward His original plan.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?

My everyday life requires me to continuously trust that the Lord will provide (support raising, anyone?), and my love life, or lack thereof, is no exception. Trust is ultimately what it all comes down to. Worry and fear comes from a lack of trust in Our Lord and His goodness. After all, if I totally and completely trust that God won’t forget about me, why would I need to worry or fear for the future?

But I can only be at peace with where I’m at in life by choosing this peace daily. It is a daily challenge to choose peace over fear; to choose peace over worry; to choose peace over frustration and bitterness. In the same way that I choose to be at peace with my “singlehood,” I have to make the daily choice to trust God and His faithfulness. I have to choose every single day to allow Him to guide me instead of my feelings. Every day is a struggle to step into the unknown and see where He takes me.

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself?

More than anything, I’m just trying to take this time to continue becoming the best version of myself. I still have a long way to go, and some days I hope that Mr. Wonderful takes a bit more time to find me so I have longer to prepare. Many singles, myself included, tend to think, “I’ll finally be complete when I’m with my future spouse.” But really, God should be the only one who completes me. And in the end, shouldn’t He always be my main man? 🙂

Profile No. 14: Ashton Mallon

Profiles in the Gap
Ashton Mallon
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Ashton Mallon is a campus minister living and working in Northern Virginia. You can read some of her other great writing here.
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
I think I have known in my heart from a young age that the Lord would give me as much time as I needed to prepare me for whatever Vocation He has in store for me. At the same time, I also know that at times I can get impatient with every passing year. I have always understood, in my heart, that I am not perfect yet, so I expected to have years of being single that can prepare me for my vocation and spouse. I grew up not dating often, and only dating intentionally, so it comes naturally in a sense for me to embrace singleness.
If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?
I am very appreciative because very rarely do I get frustrated with being single; it must be some extra grace! Rather, I have always seen it as a time to grow into the person that God desires me to be, the one whom He desires me to be to my future spouse. I honestly am not one to make too many expectations, because the Lord always seems to surprise us in life.
If I were to look back, though, and then look to now, I do think that being single is what I thought it would be. It consists mostly of dating when I feel called to, continuing to discern my vocation, and most importantly staying plugged into prayer and the community, particularly through friendships. This is what I mostly imagined it to be, though to be honest, I wish that I was able to have more time to meet new people. I work in ministry, which I absolutely love, but it does mean odd hours in my schedule and often means that other (most!) things come after my students. In an ideal world, I would appreciate more time to spend meeting other women, dating, and or visiting religious orders to discern better. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way–the Lord is working beautifully!
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
I work in college ministry and I absolutely love my career! To be honest, I sometimes forget that it is a “career” because I go to work every day to, what feels like, just hang out with friends. Much of my job is spent personally growing so that I can continue to be an example to my students of what it means to seek after Christ and allow Him to fulfill you…. it’s intimidating! My only goal is to inspire them to desire and pursue Christ, hopefully first by my own example. The conversations I have about their questions inspire my own faith; the Bible studies I have led enrich my own relationship with Christ; the situations I help them work through remind me of what I need to be doing in my own life, how much more I need to depend on Christ, and how much more I have to grow. It’s beautiful!
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Faith plays a monumental role in my actions and outlook! I honestly could not name much else that does. All that I do, all that I think, and all that I am is because of and influenced by my relationship with Christ. When I am struggling with loneliness as a single young adult, I turn to Christ. When I am trying to discern a relationship more seriously, I pray even more. Particularly as a single young adult, I feel that I have even more need to depend on my faith because it is a difficult time of decisions; jobs, housing, relationships, morals–it all has to flow from my prayer life, community, and beliefs.
For me in particularly, working in ministry allows me to see my faith as a crucial aspect to my single life, because I am able to be almost radically available to share my faith with my students, something that I know I will be unable to do when I am in my vocation. Faith motivates my choices, since sometimes there is no one else there to help you (I am not married or part of a community, so it’s often me and God). Faith and my relationship with Christ motivate my discernment of my career, my charity towards and relationships with my housemates, fulfills my loneliness, and strengthens my pursuit for a spouse, amidst so much else.
 
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Some challenges that I give myself during the time of being single are not allowing myself to get too discouraged. It can sometimes take more prayer than I would like, but when I really think about how much God loves me (as corny as it sounds!) I am reminded that this loneliness is only a reason for me to draw even closer to Him; to perfect myself through His love and grace, and to let HIM lead the way.
Another challenge I give (though I need to be better about following through…) is to make time to hang out with people. It’s difficult, but it’s important. Particularly as a single woman, I think I need to be better about going out and meeting people, cultivating those friendships, and possibly even meeting people of the opposite sex … what a concept!
If I didn’t have to worry about failure, I would also go to more young adult things to meet new friends… I just get so shy! I would also like to speak in public more often. I love speaking about femininity and chastity, two great passions of mine. I come alive when I give talks on retreats, and I feel so encouraged in my own faith journey when I do. I also think that when I share about my prayer, my relationship with Christ, or about things that I have come to believe and love, I just see myself so strengthened in those areas and I love trying to inspire that in others. Ultimately, I would just put myself out there more–ask more people to hang out, etc!

A hot mess

At the risk of sounding negative and petulant and all the things I’ve been trying to avoid on this blog for the past three years, I’m going to admit something: This year has not been an easy one for me.

I always thought growing up meant getting to know yourself and settling into a life-long sort of routine, not just in outside things like when you wake up in the morning and where you buy your gas, but internally. I thought I’d reach a point in my late twenties or early thirties when everything about me just clicked and settled into place, and I could get comfortable with who I am and what I think and want and sort of “cruise” through anything life might throw at me.

Okay, so I never “thought” this in so many words, but I definitely carried the idea around with me in my subconscious, and I sort of staked a lot of my plans on it.

I’ll get serious about pursuing my vocation when I’m finally grown up, I thought.

I’ll be more comfortable in my own skin and have an easier time facing things like confrontation, leadership, suffering, and (gulp) relationships when I’m finally grown up. 

I’ll be worthy, when I’m finally grown up. 

I’ve always known life and outside circumstances can throw all sorts of curveballs our way, but I thought as long as I could maintain a good grip on myself, everything else would be okay. It never occurred to me that I might be my own biggest curveball.

Not until I found myself sitting on my bed in the dark one Friday night this past spring, surrounded by a pile of clothes I’d tried on and decided against, dreading the prospect of smiling and chatting my way through yet another crowded house party. Five years ago I would have killed to have the social life I have now. On this particular night, I would’ve sold my right arm for the promise of a few hours’ peace and solitude. But we were the hosts, and already I heard guests arriving downstairs. And I lost it. I sat up there for at least half an hour, sobbing over everything and getting angry with myself for losing it and completely unable to figure out why I couldn’t just get it together and drag my butt downstairs and have a good time. I finally had to sneak out of the house for an hour, and showed up late to my own party, with a brave enough face that I didn’t frighten off too many of the guests. But my own inability to control my reaction that evening really scared me.

Apparently, no matter how hard we try, we never have complete control over ourselves. Sickness, physical incapacity, emotional disturbances, mental unrest all just happen, and they force us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we’d like to be. I have discovered this year that no matter how hard I try to build fences and construct barriers and make my own personal corner of the universe safe and pleasant and full of nice people and things that make me comfortable, I can’t change the fact that I am not and never will be perfect.

The worst part? Apparently I’m the only one who’s been fooled into thinking I might be, or at least I might be close.

As I wrote recently, it’s been a humbling year. It’s been a year of learning how to ask for help, or at the very least to admit that I need it. It’s been a year of letting people see me cry. It’s been a year of taking criticism and critique as an opportunity to become better, instead of letting it cripple me. It’s been a year of letting myself  voice an opinion or a desire or a need without apologizing for it. It’s been a year of going on dates even though I tend to find them uncomfortable. It’s been a year of asking family and friends for prayers on the really tough days.

I’m not there yet, but I want to look back later in life and see this as the year that I finally learned, as St. Paul says, to “boast in my weakness.” I don’t know where I’m going or what my Vocation will look like, but I do know that I will be a weak, sinful, redeemed woman, in every circumstance. I’d like this year to be the turning point in a life that bears fruit because I’ve finally, finally begun to understand that I’m a hot mess.

Yet somehow, I’m still worthy of love in spite of it.

-Mabel

Catholic social guilt

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So I’m looking at my weekend calendar and seeing back to back to back events and I’m getting this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I’ve once again given away every free minute I had and I don’t know when I’ll get any time to myself to get things done and just recuperate before another Monday. What, that sounds like your weekend, too? Funny. How’d you get into this mess?

Wait, don’t tell me: you felt bad.

You felt bad for always telling friends you’ll get together and then not doing it. You felt bad for the family you never get to see and probably even thought, “I’m such a bad daughter/son/sister/brother/niece/nephew/grandchild….” You felt bad the way you always feel bad because there’s a world full of people out there you’re supposed to love somehow, but no matter how much time you give away, there’s never enough of it — or you — to go around.

In short, you’ve piled your social plate far too full for yet another weekend because you feel … guilty. Of course, you also did it because you genuinely want to see everyone you love. You genuinely want to do everything you’ve agreed to do, and you only wish you could be in three, four, five places at once to accomplish even MORE. But the one thing that keeps you from bowing out at the last minute as your stomach sinks when you look at the clock and realize you’re already late, and you’d really rather just curl up on the couch and order takeout and watch old movies, is that awful feeling of guilt. It’s something I like to call Catholic social guilt.

My friends, you deserve better than this. I for one don’t want all my friends to feel guilted into seeing me or coming to my parties. Granted, I’ll shamelessly guilt friends into reading this blog or volunteering with my parish group at the local soup kitchen (October 27, 8:00 a.m., St. Rita’s. Be there.), but your free time ought to be a gift freely given. You don’t owe it to me. Some weekends you just need to wear fuzzy socks and sweats and have solo Downton Abbey marathons. Sure, we’re single and have no spousal/parental obligations making demands on our time, but we work, we volunteer, we take classes, we’re busy and we’re tired and it’s perfectly all right to scream, “Uncle!!!” and run inside and pull down the shades once in a while.

If you do this every weekend? Okay, it’s probably time to feel a little guilty. But otherwise, cut yourself some slack. In all seriousness, human beings simply can’t have that many close personal relationships. We’re not built that way. (It’s not just me: it’s science.) So focus your energy on the people you’re actually closest to, the people with the strongest claims on your time and attention, the people who maybe have a right to guilt you out of some of your free time sometimes. (Think: Grandma.) Everyone else? Rejoice in their company when you can and don’t sweat it when you can’t, or when your weekend planner is so full you’ve started writing in tiny letters in the margins to get it all in.

For myself, I’m going to have to do some schedule purging this weekend. That means reneging on some things I agreed to. I feel guilty about it, and I will continue to feel guilty about it, but there’s no other way around it. Social life imposes some obligations, it’s true, but sometimes we have to look at the hierarchy of obligations. God, family, church, friends…and self is in there, too. Take some leisure time. Call a time out. Breathe. And don’t apologize for it.

Here’s my pledge to myself and to you: Starting today, I’m renouncing Catholic social guilt. I will no longer start every email with, “Sorry this took so long,” will send no more apologetic text messages to friends I keep glimpsing at Mass but can’t ever manage to say hello to, will not leave penitent notes on people’s Facebook walls because I haven’t gotten together with them in a month and don’t see any free blocks in my schedule any time soon. No, friends, starting today I’m just going to do what I can, love where I am, and leave you all in God’s hands. Because try as I might and much as I want, I just can’t love everybody all the time exactly the way they need to be loved. And no one else  can love me that way, either. We’re not built that way, and that’s okay.

Please do know that in my heart, I’m hanging out with each of you, all the time.

If that sounds creepy, I’m sorry.

As promised …

At this point, reader, you have probably forgotten both that I went to Jamaica earlier this summer, and that I promised to write about it. I have not forgotten. I have, in fact, started at least four posts on the trip, and I’ve deleted every one about three lines in, with exasperated sighs and much eye-rolling. I guess one reason why I haven’t been able to write about it is that I can’t remember (or describe) the trip as a cohesive whole; I remember it in pieces, like snapshots, and the best I will ever be able to do is assemble them in some jumbled sort of order for other people to squint at and try to make sense of.

The first moments, flying in low over the mountains into Kingston, an endless, rolling line of green mountains that look soft to the touch, and here and there a large white house and smoke drifting up into the sky. A woman behind me, frantic with excitement, just kept saying over and over, “Pretty. So pretty.” On the tarmac, waiting for the aisles to clear, I watched the cleaning crew assemble beneath the plane’s wings, half a dozen young people all laughing and dancing with their mops and buckets.

We slept beneath mosquito nets and listened to barking dogs and the odd siren out on the Kingston streets.

My first morning, my first “work,” the brothers sent me to their home for sick and orphaned children. I was so afraid and so ashamed of being afraid. A small boy in a stained T-shirt sidled up and put his arms around me before I’d even made it through the door. The tiled floors echoed the assorted sounds of children laughing and crying and adults talking and laughing and the constant sound of music. It stank. The whole house smelled of urine and sweat and spicy food.

One little girl who couldn’t walk or even leave her bed sat and held my hand and bounced up and down and up down to some song only she could hear. Another lay very still and hardly seemed to notice what went on around her, but she smiled whenever she heard her name.

Another day a sweet teenage girl with Down syndrome twirled me ’round and ’round in a crazy dance. When I tried to stop, she’d only shake her head and laugh, and we’d dance even harder.

Of course, the inevitable Great Guy among my fellow volunteers, who sat next to me once during mass and talked to me another time for a few short minutes. Then I went away to my day’s work and a three-day retreat, and he went off to his work and an early flight home, and that was most emphatically that. God, I mused often over the course of that long week, has such a mean sense of humor.

There were long afternoon moments spent sitting in doorways, waiting for a cross breeze, letting the empty moments drift by. Sometimes the emptiness of those moments scared me. I’ve never known leisure like that, where I couldn’t put some kind of work or activity or something into the stillness if I really wanted to. This was rest, and it was frightening.

And of course, in each center, the brothers–in their bright white habits, their blue scapulars, the gentle clinking of their rosaries and their shy smiles… The quiet shuffle of feet coming in to morning prayer… the sweet restfulness of vespers… above all, the steady reassurance of the red sanctuary lamp.

I went there to serve. Maybe in my pride I wanted to do something great, though I swore I knew better. Maybe I had questions and wanted answers. To be honest, I’m not really sure. All I know is I came away knowing as I have never known before that I am so terribly small. And I got to see as I have never seen before how Christ works through that, regardless. All he needs or wants is a pair of feet willing to go when and where he asks, and a pair of hands that he can use as he needs them. I certainly didn’t change any lives performing my few small tasks over a few short days. I doubt even the good brothers remember me, dealing as they do with a constant flow of volunteers from around the world. But I know I came away a little bit better. And while I can’t put most of it into words or write a decent blog post about it, it’s another something I can tuck away with my other life-changing experiences, and hopefully continue to grow from it as I reflect on it through the coming years.

Maybe it won’t take me two months to finally get around to writing about my next life-changing experience. But I’m not holding my breath…