22 August 2016

How Auschwitz Helped Me Let Go

Sometimes kids get obsessed with certain trends, games, or movie characters growing up. As a little girl, for me it was WWII history + the Holocaust.

May we never forget...

My Grandpa was a proud veteran of the war so maybe that had something to do with it. 

As I got older, I watched a lot of war movies growing up with my Dad and loved reading Anne Frank's diary. Watching documentaries or meeting survivors of the Holocaust always deeply impacted my young heart. For my first real research paper in 8th grade, I wrote about the history of anti-Semitism and what led up to the tragedy of the Holocaust. Our family patron saint was Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who gave up his life in Auschwitz to save a fellow prisoner. 

So for the longest time, I have told myself that I needed to visit Auschwitz someday. 

In preparing the last two years for World Youth Day in Poland, one of the things I was most anxious to see was Auschwitz. And having since been there, reading about a place and then visiting it are two radically different things.

It was also really important for me to see where St. Max died both personally and spiritually.

You see, St. Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of those who struggle with addictions. And when I was married, I developed a deep relationship with this humble priest always asking his prayers for healing and restoration to my former husband and our marriage.

Walking through this place I read about my whole life was one of the most sobering experiences of my life. The only way I can describe it was that this is the grave reality of what happens when we let hate, bigotry, and racism fester in our hearts and minds. It destroys people, it destroys our very humanity.

As I approached cell block 11 (where St. Maximilian Kolbe died) I knew I wanted to stop and spend some moments in prayer, but had no idea what would come out of my mouth.

I walked up to the brick building, put my hand on the wall and just began to cry. Throughout this year, I felt like God was calling me to really pray for my former spouse. I stood there crying and felt like God was somehow releasing me of that here in this place. I turned over the spiritual care/healing of the man I used to be married to St. Max; knowing he could not be in any better or safer hands.
I started crying harder. 

I prayed for this man's healing, and total restoration. I prayed my heart would be able to trust again and not be hardened to men moving forward. I prayed for myself and the healing work I still have yet to do. I even prayed for whomever that man is I would someday re-marry. I prayed for people trapped and battling with addictions. I prayed God would someday be able to use all of "this" to somehow help and minister to other people.

In place of great pain and suffering, it was like God was helping me detach emotionally and spiritually from the last several years of my life. In this place of death, it helped me accept a particular chapter of my life in a new, peaceful way.

Visiting Auschwitz helped me detach, accept, and show mercy. It was such a radical reminder of what happens when hate and unforgiveness lingers in the hearts of humanity...but yet, it also showed me that the only answer to pain, evil, and suffering is mercy. Divine Mercy.

Mercy doesn't erase evil and suffering, but it is a soothing balm that helps heal shattered hearts of anger, bitterness, and resentment. 

I am so grateful to have been able to visit this place and for all it is teaching me right where God has me right now.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!

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19 August 2016

Sometimes life just gets away from you...

Life happens and that's a-okay.

I came home from Poland almost two weeks ago and survived yet another World Youth Day pilgrimage, although it definitely came with its own set of challenges this time around for me (another story for another time ;). 
No matter what, I still wouldn't have changed a moment of the journey.

Wanna get an inside peek?? Check out a video documenting our journey here
Who's ready for #Panama2019?! Hello malaria pills and boiling water!

Less than a week after coming home from Poland, I moved into my new apartment. I am mostly unpacked and looking forward to making it into a cozy, sweet sanctuary for myself. It is the first time I have ever really lived on my own because I lived with my parents until I had gotten married.
So this is just another step on a new adventure for me:)

I have been really blessed by making some new friends, specifically other Catholic young women who find themselves in a similar situation like me. There is something sacred and powerful when you realize you're not the only one walking a particular path. 
My annulment is moving forward and I am really grateful (and surprised!) for the healing process that has been for me too.

I was offered and turned down a job potential where it would have been a good career move + higher salary, but at the end of the day I just didn't have peace about it. I am really excited for another year of youth ministry to kick off in the next few weeks and am excited for what God has in store!

While summer has been full and felt crazy sometimes, it has been good to laugh with friends, relax, read good books, and explore new, funky coffee shops...

Thanks Cris for taking!! :)

Right now I am just trying to stay focused with training for the Detroit Half Marathon in mid-October and finish unpacking/settling in my new place.

Life is in a good place...even if its not where I thought I'd ever be:)

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29 July 2016

It's More than Catholic Woodstock

World Youth Day itself is amazingly incredible as well as equally chaotic and stressful at times. Sometimes it can be hard to explain to folks who have never been.

My sweet friend Laurel went to WYD both in 2000 (Rome) and 2002 (Toronto). I am so excited to have her share her WYD experiences here today:)
Take it away Laurel!

During my teenage years, I had the privilege of attending two World Youth Days -- Rome in 2000 and Toronto in 2002 --which would radically change my life. Youth ministry was an important aspect of my life throughout this time, but these two events were the cherry on top, so to speak, of that period. It was during (and following) those pilgrimages that I became more firmly convicted in orienting my life toward Christ, in searching Him out and truly discerning the vocation He was calling me to live.

Rome in 2000
They call us the John Paul II Generation, and rightly so, for his words and example have struck us to the core. Our dear Holy Father seemed timeless, maintaining that vigor of youth that accompanied him in his twenties and thirties as a young priest. We connected with him instantly. (And, incredibly, I don't think this was an exclusive experience for the youth.) He spoke directly to the hopes and dreams of our hearts, and inspired us to follow Christ daily.

In both WYDs that I attended, the closing homilies given by our Holy Father, St. Pope John Paul II, touched my heart deeply. His words seemed a personal letter written just for me, from a loved one who cared immensely for my spiritual health and general well-being.

He spoke words of truth that I could not ignore. Nor have I been able to ver all these years, having gone back over those homilies numerous times. Even reading them once again today, in preparation for writing this, I am struck by them. They fill me with emotions as I remember how they moved me--how they still move me with a desire to live my life in Christ.

During the first one I attended, we were celebrating the Jubilee Year. The Holy Father emphasized over and over again the importance of making the Eucharist the center of our week, the focal point of our lives.
“Dear friends, when you go back home, set the Eucharist at the centre of your personal life and community life: love the Eucharist, adore the Eucharist and celebrate it, especially on Sundays, the Lord’s Day. Live the Eucharist by testifying to God’s love for every person….

You yourselves must be fervent witnesses to Christ’s presence on the altar. Let the Eucharist mould your life and the life of the families you will form. Let it guide all life’s choices. May the Eucharist, the true and living presence of the love of the Trinity, inspire in you ideals of solidarity, and may it lead you to live in communion with your brothers and sisters in every part of the world.”

I was inspired to attend daily Mass often and make time for Adoration at least weekly. During my college years, with a chapel just steps from my dorm, I was able to follow His beckoning with great regularity. This closeness to Christ helped me through my formative studies and influenced some wonderful relationships I formed with others during my college years. I miss this as it has become more difficult for me to make regular visits, but makes me realize just how powerful connection to His Heart in the Eucharist is for my life.

In Toronto, the Holy Father spoke on the Gospel where Christ calls us to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world." Drawing back to Vatican II's "universal call to holiness," we were reminded that every one of us is called to be a saint. We are called wherever life takes us to be saints in those very moments, to enliven the world with the flavor of Christ's love.

“It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God's love. It needs witnesses to that love. The world needs salt. It needs you - to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Salt seasons and improves the flavour of food. Following Jesus, you have to change and improve the "taste" of human history.”

Getting ready to leave! (Toronto in 2002)
He reminded us that holiness is not just for the elderly, something to do once you've lived your life, but for us, right now.
“[H]oliness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, one of our greatest assets to the living Church was our youthful hope. He called us to embrace this and continue to look towards it in the midst of difficult situations, in the midst of our faults and failings.
“I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope.

Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Even when I stumble, even when I neglected my relationship with God, I am reminded that He is constantly calling me back to Him. There have been some dark times in my life since 2002, but recalling these words of St. Pope John Paul II have always helped me return to a place of hopefulness for the future. They have reminded me of what the Lord wants of me, of the importance of always drawing near to Him.

World Youth Days are like large Catholic rallies where one can connect with like-minded Christians. But they are so much more. With an open heart, they can be a turning point that changes the rest of one's life. Carrying on the zeal that was enlivened there, taking to heart the wisdom shared, they became for me the opening act of a life lived in Christ.
(If you have a moment, take a read through the homilies yourself {2000 and 2002}.)

I love the perspective of people who attended WYD's I myself have not. I never had the experience of being at WYD with its founder, St. Pope John Paul II, so I cherish hearing stories of those who were present. 
So thank you for sharing those precious memories Laurel!

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