February Profile: Mary Powers

Profiles in the Gap

Mary Powers

superbowl (1)

Mary Powers lives and works in Washington, D.C., and is a graduate of the University of Dallas.

Did you expect this time of singleness?  

I did not expect this time of singleness, though I didn’t know what I would expect either. I thought I’d marry just after college (at 25) like my mom. I  kept waiting expectantly when I was in my early twenties for “the one.” While I’m still waiting, there hasn’t been a dull moment yet. If I had had gotten married earlier, I wouldn’t be able to do all that I am doing now, so in the end my singleness has been a blessing. It’s funny, for a while I kept praying for my husband thinking, “There must be something that he’s working through that God hasn’t brought us together yet”…and then a couple of years ago I realized I also had  things to work on, too. So maybe I’m the one God’s still working on! Either way, I know it’ll happen in God’s time.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career?

Yes, definitely.

I work in the pro-life movement in DC, so there’s always something happening that I can help with or work on within the movement. I began working with pro-life students and now work in pro-life politics. Within each area there are such important groups of people to reach with the beauty of the pro-life message. It truly is the human and civil rights movement of our day, fighting for mothers and the rights of their unborn children. Both students and politicians are on the frontlines of the pro-life movement in different ways. Students are working to help their peers choose life on campus, reaching the most vulnerable in their community to show them the love and acceptance they hunger for. Politicians are on the front lines as leaders in their communities, in Washington, D.C., and the media as candidates and legislators working to protect Life at all stages. Each requires unique resources and constant encouragement and support. Even though I’m stuck behind a computer for most of the day, I’ve still assisted them in obtaining those resources in a small way.

I also volunteer in my parish by teaching CCD. I started by teaching 1st grade for two years and then moved over to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders who will be receiving their sacraments this year. Even though it’s difficult to give up beauty sleep on Sunday mornings, it’s so fulfilling. Seeing their excitement when they understand a piece of the faith or watching them recite prayers that they’ve memorized in front of the class is just so awesome. The first year I taught, there was a boy in class who was so difficult. My co-teacher and I were pulling our hair out every class trying to get him to sit still and not play with the toys in the classroom while he was supposed to be listening/reading/working on projects. But then, just after Christmas, we took a trip to Church to look at the manger, and as all the kids were battling to view the manger scene, I looked over and saw this trouble-maker peacefully praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I thought, “Wow! Who would have thought?” Ha! God is so good. I never cease to be amazed at the progress each class makes and the knowledge they soak up. People you think aren’t listening the whole year end up answering questions in the end that surprise you. It’s great. It makes the challenges that much more tolerable.

I also sit on the National Alumni Board at the University of Dallas and help coordinate UD activities in DC. It’s so fun to help continue the UD community here and foster relationships between the wise alumni in the community and those who are new to the area looking for work or internships. It’s also great to meet UD alumni doing amazing things—and meeting them in the most random places! I love hearing their stories. It’s always like meeting a friend at the Capp Bar on campus. I will never forget being new to DC, looking for a job, and connecting with a UD alum on the Hill who was a Chief of Staff for a Senator. He was so kind. His door was open and we chatted for 45min about UD and then had a brief conversation about jobs and his thoughts on what I should do. After that, with each new job, his door was always open and I constantly received invitations to his bible study or lunch on the Hill. He has since passed on, but it is my goal to continue his “open door” and be the person that people can go to for help—even if my connections aren’t as big as his. After UD gave so much to me, it’s nice to be able to give back.

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

Faith plays a major role in my actions and outlook. Following God’s plan and doing what He wants me to do is paramount. He seems to know exactly what I need all the time! It’s wonderful. I once read a letter in Flannery O’Connor’s Habit of Being where she described the Church as a Mother and said that, because of faith, we can sleep peacefully in our Mother’s arms. This is exactly how I view life. Even in the darkest and most turbulent times, we can sleep peacefully with the knowledge that God has everything in control. We are called to not only live and preach the Gospel, but also to trust in His will. We have so many wonderful resources to use and share as Catholics that it’s hard to stay silent. You just want to keep talking about how awesome life is!

And as hard as it may be, our faith helps us to see life in a different way. It helps us never give into the darkness that secularism often brings. I often feel that Winston Churchill’s “never give in” speech explains that well: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Why shouldn’t we give in? Because we have something so much better…and an unimaginably wonderful place to look forward to.

Advertisements

Profile No. 9: Angela Lademan

Profiles in the Gap

Angela Lademan

Image

Angela Lademan is a youth minister living and working in Northern Virginia.

In my 26 years of life, I have learned one thing: Never. Make. Plans. The Lord always changes them. I don’t know if this is true for everyone (maybe most other people are more in tune to what God wants for their lives and plan accordingly from the beginning), but for me, I have rarely made a plan that ever worked out according to “the plan.” And you know what, it’s okay. God’s a little more creative than I am, and He has more confidence in me than I have in myself. So, it’s made for a much more exciting life than I could have dreamed up.

Six years ago, I studied abroad in Austria. The last day I was there, the Student Life Director said something I providentially needed to hear. He asked me what I was going to do once I graduated, and I told him that I didn’t know, I would just see what God wants. He gently but firmly replied, “But Angela, you need to do your part and let the Lord do the rest.”

This conversation has often replayed in my mind as I pick up the pieces of broken plans and gear up for another turn in the road. Sometimes I want to just stop walking and say, “What the heck, Lord! Fine, you pick me up and put me where you want me. I’m done and not contributing to this journey anymore.” But, Mark’s advice keeps me walking down the road and rolling with the punches. I have to keep moving in order to encounter the world, and to meet the new and unexpected people and experiences the Lord throws in my direction.

In the last four years of my life, according to the plan (you know, the nice little Catholic girl plan), I would have gotten married out of college and started a family and would be sitting at home all day in my perfect house in my perfect 50’s housewife outfit with my perfect “Leave it to Beaver” children (because those exist). Sorry, I know, can’t any of us women be a little more creative with the story we write for ourselves? While this is a beautiful story, what I think most of us women don’t realize is that in order to have this “perfect” little “Leave it to Beaver” family, you have to be ready to be a real woman, a real wife, and a real mother. Otherwise you are just playing house, and when the hardships come, you don’t know what to do with them (’cause, heck, nothing bad or unpleasant ever happened in “Leave it to Beaver”). Now, I still don’t know what the Lord is preparing me for, but I think there is no better boot camp than having a few years of singleness.

I wish I could say I’ve spent these years embracing every moment. I haven’t. It’s hard to detach from the plan. But even if I haven’t appreciated every moment in the present, I am looking back and am so grateful for every difficult experience, every unknown move, and every unexpected friendship. Every experience makes me ponder who I am, why I am doing what I’m doing, and what I want for my life. While I haven’t figured any of these things out completely, I have more and more opportunities to discover and become that woman the Lord wants me to be.

Highlights of the last few years: European travel and the Bahamas; missionary work with college, high school, and grade school students; living in four different states; deciding on a Friday morning to run away for the weekend (just because I can); speaking to large groups of teens and seeing them completely engaged; walking down the aisle in front of several best friends; letter-writing to close friends as they journey through discerning God’s will for them to be priests and religious; realizing that my workday consisted of listening to and praying with a young adult or teen who came into my office crying over something; finding myself in front of over 100 8th graders and bursting with joy to tell them that God wants so much for them; running around like a crazy person with paint all over my face followed by 10 2nd-4th grade boys because I was “Chief” for the week at camp; a half marathon; flying in a private jet; and the list goes on… But at the end of it all, finding myself in adoration and realizing that nothing else in my life has been constant except for the Eucharist, and realizing that at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

So, if one day I find myself in my perfect little “Leave it to Beaver” life with healthy children and a happy husband, it will be because I’ve had a few years to learn to persevere through struggle and hardship, and because I learned that most things are actually a gift, and that faithfulness, no matter where it looks like it is going to bring me, is the only way God can bring about the most and best in my life.

Real Community

Last night my home parish hosted the annual diocesan young adult Mass with our bishop. Every year I’m touched that the bishop would care enough about the young adults (mostly single young adults, though there are quite a few young married couples) to make the time to say Mass for them, to pray with and for them, to preach to them, and to mingle with and meet them afterwards. A warm thank you to Bishop Paul Loverde for that.

Here he is with a few of the YAs who attended this year’s Mass

But this year something else struck me in a way it never had before: what a gift it is to come together to pray in communion with young adults from all over our diocese.

I guess I’ve always known this in my head, but for the first time last night  it touched my heart. I’ve been in this community for about four years now, and had plenty of time for drama, upset, hurt feelings, aggravations, and all the nastiness that comes with people living, working, or socializing together. I’ve sat around with my single girlfriends and complained about the Catholic men and their lack of initiative in asking girls out. I’ve attended awkward parties and attempted to pump life into more stilted conversations than I can possibly remember. I’ve gossiped and (probably) been the subject of gossip. I’ve hurt feelings, and my own have been hurt. I’ve suffered through unrequited crushes, and perhaps been the subject of one or two myself. I’ve been better friends with X than with Y, and forgotten to invite Q to this or that party, while L never even gives me a nod, and K can’t be bothered to acknowledge my existence.

And yet at the end of the day, these people are my community. Many of them are my friends. And regardless of our various hurts and frustrations, we can come together and be one in the Eucharist–not just at the annual young adult Mass, but every time we attend Mass.

As a dear friend of mine said when we parted ways last week (she’s leaving the area to move home to the Midwest): “We’ll see one another in the Eucharist.” Whether we’re sitting next to one another or on opposite sides of the globe, whether we’re the dearest of friends or veritable strangers, this remains true: We are one body.

And that is worth celebrating and thanking God for every day.

Christos anesti

The heady scent of lilies that greets you when you walk into the dark church…

Cold wind outside, and the crackling of a roaring fire, the prickle of goosebumps on your legs, the muted voice of the priest reading out words you can barely hear…

Hot wax dripping over your fingers from your tiny vigil candle and the  sweet smell of the burning wick…

The heady sound of bells and organ music and the slight pain behind your eyes as the lights come on and the priest intones the “Gloria”…

The delicate noise of water poured over foreheads and the muttered words, “I baptize thee…”

Cold drops of water falling on your head, your arm from the priest’s aspergillum…

The thick smell (almost a flavor) of incense as the altar is prepared…

The taste of Jesus hidden in bread, dissolving in a soft mound on the tongue…

And the triumphant sound of “Alleluia” shouted by the choir, by the people, pounded on the organ until the whole building shakes with it and you feel the vibrations of it reverberating in your own chest…

Easter crowds in on all the senses, so that even when understanding fails, you can’t miss it. This is human life, the life He took on and raised up: spiritual and bodily.  He is risen. Alleluia!

 

It’s all noise

Confession: I am a comparer. As in one who compares herself to other people all the time on just about everything. I know I’ve at least hinted at this before, but bear with me–I’m going there again.

I’ve been a comparer since I was eleven. Maybe longer, but that’s about when I remember starting to do it consciously. At eleven I began comparing myself to my three best friends and found them all: prettier, smarter, more athletic, thinner. I compared myself to my teammates on the soccer field, and found them faster, more agile, more confident, less afraid. Infinitely more cool than I could ever dream of being. As a teenager I compared myself to friends and acquaintances, to classmates, to everyone, and I found everyone else, quite simply, better. Better-looking, better at sports, better at school, better dressers, better musicians, artists, writers, better friends, better adjusted to their environment, better at witty comebacks and insightful answers. And I viewed all my relationships with suspicion, because it seemed clear all my friends liked all their other friends better than they liked me. On really bad days, I even suspected my family members of loving one another more than they loved me.

All this made me…small. I resented people, and in my resentment I developed a biting wit and a cynical worldview. Every instance of being ignored, overlooked, or forgotten only added to my anger and cynicism. This attitude followed me out of high school and into young adulthood.

Here’s the story I’d like to tell against that backdrop: Then, at some point in my young adulthood (maybe during college, or just after I graduated), I looked around and realized that, while other people are great, I’m pretty great too. This epiphany occurred on a windy autumn evening, and somewhere in the distance an orchestra played a deeply stirring symphony. Weeping tears of gratitude I opened my arms wide and embraced the world in which I now realized I could live as everyone’s equal. No more comparing. No more setting myself on the bottom rung. No more jealousy. No more inertia caused by that crippling sense of inferiority…I was a reformed young woman with a deep-rooted sense of her own self-worth.

Cue record-scratch.

Here’s the real story: I’m twenty-six years old, and I still compare. All the time. And I’m still surrounded by people who are smarter, prettier, thinner, more athletic, better dressers, better writers, better musicians, better artists, better organizers, better professionals, better at juggling eight and a half million things and still maintaining a gracious attitude, better friends, holier … just all around better people. I still hang back when I ought to jump in because I know I won’t do it as well as other people do. I still make self-deprecating comments. I still assume that just about all my friends like all their other friends better. I’m still learning to love the me God created, complete with her big feet, wide hips, boring hair,her natural fear of everything, her incessant chatter. It’s going to be a long journey.

But here’s where the story gets kind of amazing. You see, I always expected to wake up one morning and discover that I suddenly was the beautiful-confident-popular-talented-amazing woman I yearned to be. When that day came, everyone would love me. I’d be noticed. I’d be loved. Picture any complete-makeover movie you’ve ever seen, complete with that scene where the ugly-duckling female character appears at the top of the stairs decked out in her knock-em-dead dress and everyone sees how truly amazing she is and the guy (whoever he is) sees her and loves her: yeah (okay, minus sweeping staircase and ball gown…maybe even minus guy), that’s what I figured was coming to me. Aaaaand it didn’t.

Obviously that’s not the amazing part. The amazing part happened in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance over a retreat, when I was made to understand that it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if all my friends actually are all-around better people than I am (and let me tell you: they are. I have amazing friends, praise God). It doesn’t matter if everyone else gets noticed and I get ignored, or if everyone else actually does love all their other friends more than they love me. Because the “everyone else” factor has nothing to do with who I am, with what I need to do to become the person God wants me to be. Beyond that, what other people notice about me has absolutely no bearing on who I am. And in fact (I love it when God whacks me across the head with these 2 x 4 “no-duh” moments), wouldn’t I be an incredibly vain, proud, self-centered person if everyone did notice me? Some people have been given personalities that absorb notice without becoming conceited. I am not one of those people. So if my actual goal is to become the woman he created me to be, wouldn’t attention actually deflect me from that journey?

Of course, that’s my own version of this story. But I think it has pretty universal applications. Don’t we all catch ourselves at least sometimes peering from side to side and discovering that the people around us just seem better? Or maybe we peer around and discover that others are worse. In either case, we bog down the equation with all these irrelevant factors.

Because, cheesy and trite as it so often comes across, it’s just about me and Him. That’s it. Do I believe that He loves me? Do I think I am a joy to Him?

That’s the only comparing that needs to happen–before the God who loves you, compare yourself today to the person He’s calling you to be. Then work to become that person. The rest? It’s all noise.

A 6-week love story

Did I ever mention that I fell in love last year?

Yeah, I did. It was Advent, just two and a half weeks before Christmas, and I met him on a cold—really cold—Tuesday night, the vigil of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  We both showed up at a D.C. church for a holy hour, only to find out it had been cancelled. He had an “in” with the priest and got permission to stay and pray, provided he locked up when he was all finished. In a highly unusual burst of courage (I hate hate hate asking for special favors), I asked to stay, too.

We ignored one another during our prayers, of course. Though I couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t bad-looking… Afterward, as he locked up, we exchanged the usual pleasantries: names, jobs, home parishes. I liked him right off. He was open and chatty and obviously holy. Once outside, we shook hands, said, “Maybe I’ll see you around soon,” and went our separate ways.

Nothing special. Really, nothing. Except that I have this awful habit of assigning deeper meanings to events that have no actual meaning. Part of that Catholic upbringing of mine: I love signs, and asking for signs. And I guarantee you, if you ask for a sign, you will find one—whether it’s real or not. It’s amazing what you can read into something when you’re determined to find “meaning” in it.

It was the vigil of one of Our Lady’s feasts, and I just happen to be consecrated to her: a sign!

It all happened in a church, and one of my prayers as a romantic and overly pious teenager was to meet “The One” in church: a sign!

He mentioned in the course of our brief conversation that he’d just gotten out of seminary after two years, and I’ve always wanted to end up with a guy who gave the priesthood a try: a sign!

He had a really cool biblical name, which wasn’t in itself anything I’ve “always” wanted, but was nevertheless fascinating and therefore probably significant.

So even though the chances of me ever seeing this fellow again were pretty slim, the incident stuck with me for weeks and weeks—and yes, the hope that this “nothing special” might be repeated or followed up and become something.

It didn’t.

In a turn of events that will surprise no one, when at last I did see him again (at the same church about six weeks later), he was with another girl. C’est le vie.

Why am I bringing him up only now? Honestly, I’d almost forgotten all about him, and then I ran into him at a house party some friends threw a couple weeks ago. Literally. The room was very crowded and at one point I took a step backwards and bumped into someone who said “’Scuse me” in a kind of peeved way, and I turned and said, “So sorry,” but he was already walking away. No flicker or gesture or movement of recognition. You fall in love with a guy for six weeks, you at least hope for the eyebrow raise and the, “I think we’ve met before” handshake when you see him again a year later.

It’s amazing, the way we can take a fellow human being and stick him (or her) in a particular role in our own imaginary worlds. And even more amazing how angry and sad we become when that fellow human being gets his lines wrong or misses his cue. Don’t you know God gave me a sign? As if everything in the universe boils down to me and my silly daydreams.

And this all came over me as I watched him walk away at this party, clearly not even interested in introducing himself. Humiliating? You bet. But also incredibly freeing in its own way. I spend so much time asking what significance this or that event has to me in my life. But maybe this particular event wasn’t about me at all.

Maybe God just wanted someone to carry that boy around in her heart for a few weeks.

You just never know…

Mass

I caught myself doing it again this week–what I’ve taken to calling “praying past” God. It’s an awful, insidious habit, and I suspect I’ve been doing it pretty much my whole life. I guess it boils down to treating my relationship with God as a means to some other end, and not as the end in itself.

Do we strive for perfection as Christians in order to reach heaven and thus be eternally happy? Of course. But in the end, what’s more important? My happiness? Or the fulfillment of the will of God, who created me and wants me to be happy? It’s a funny, fine line, and one that I was never really aware of until I came to the point in my life as a single young adult where I realized I didn’t want this to be It. And I laid it all out before Him and said, “Look, I’ve done everything right. So what are you waiting for?” And He said, “You’ve got me. So what else are you looking for?”

I”ll admit, this has been one of those weeks when hope is pretty hard to muster. The future is a great big unknown, and the hardest part isn’t not knowing what’s coming–it’s not even knowing what I want to be coming or what I’m hoping for. Now this isn’t meant to be a pity party or anything of that sort; I’m incredibly happy and blessed in my life right now, and I know it and thank God for it. But I know a lot of you know what I’m talking about when I say that some days the sense of aimless drifting in a blind fog can be a little bit overpowering.

Isn’t it great to be Catholic, though? While all other things are hazy and intangible, we have one thing that’s delightfully concrete and utterly simple: the Eucharist. We get to hold God in our mouths, every day if we want to (and are properly disposed). Such a funny anchor, a tiny pillar of strength, but there it is. When there’s nothing else, here’s everything, disguised as an insignificant piece of bread. What else am I looking for?