Do you travel a lot? I’ve got the prayer for you!

When I graduated from college, I moved to Knoxville, TN for my first “big-girl” job. I loved the area, my boss, my co-workers… everything about it was a perfect fit. Except for the fact that I was eight hours away from family.

tumblr mhn1mgD6bP1qg87eyo1 500 Random Inspiration 113 | Architecture, Cars, Girls, Style & GearLiving two states away from them resulted in a lot of driving (in fact, I’ve put about 90,000 miles on my car in just 5 years). Traveling by myself was so stressful… a lot of the time I would leave right after work, meaning I would not arrive at my destination until the wee hours of the morning. There was no one to help with the drive… and I had to be alert the whole time. My route was saturated with semi trucks. And I have to tell you there is nothing more frustrating or terrifying than a semi on a mountain road.

Besides being so far away from family, my best friends also scattered all over the country. In the past 5 years, I’ve traveled to Colorado, Kentucky (twice), Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and Tennessee all for weddings. I’ve also been to Georgia, DC, North Carolina and New York multiple times to visit family.

I’m sure one day, when I have children, I will laugh at myself for being such a wimp about traveling by myself and talking about how stressful it is. However, it was an emotional and mental strain for me at that time. And now that I am married and have my own personal chauffeur for the longer trips, I am even more of a wimp about traveling by myself.

That being said, I do have a way of coping… and I thought I might share it today since my own mom is making a long drive to visit my sister. My coping method relies on a prayer I was taught by my middle school religion teacher. In Italian, her last name literally means, “good friend” and she lived up to it.

She wanted all of us to arrive at our destinations safely after school. She taught hundreds- maybe thousands- of students this prayer. We’d all pray it together before we left school at the end of everyday: Image result for our lady of the highways

“Our Lady of the Highways,

be with us on our journeys.

For all your ways are beautiful

and all your paths are peace.”

To this day, my whole family uses this prayer. When I use it myself, I imagine Our Lady, riding shotgun next to me… like one of my best friends… and her grace and peace forming a kind of bubble around the car… protecting me as I go. It’s lovely.

 

(While writing this post I discovered there is a longer version of this prayer. If you’d like to see it, click on the link!)

 

 

Why I think Fashion is Useful for Evangelization

I grew up in small town Ohio and spent the majority of my time at school and sporting events. Either I was in my uniform, or athletic gear. When I went to college, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to wear required attire. It definitely sounds dramatic, but something about that really caused a change inside me.

Image result for catholic uniformsNow, I’m not knocking uniforms at all. I liked wearing a uniform; I think they’re pretty classy. Sometimes I even still wish I had one to fall back on when I feel like I have nothing to wear. However, I can’t deny that I saw inner growth once I was given free reign of my wardrobe. I actually did my hair, and put make-up on– neither of which I took the time to do in high school. My self-esteem grew, for some reason it helped me to realize my worth. I wasn’t basing my worth on how I looked… I think I just finally saw my own beauty…the beauty that was a reflection of my Creator and was meant to be a gift to this world. I enjoyed taking pride in my appearance.I felt stronger and more confidant, and the way I approached my daily responsibilities changed because of it. The way I approached people changed because of it… I felt as though I was dressed for the occasion– sort of like how we wrap gifts before we give them to our loved ones. It’s not the wrapping that is the gift, but it does seem to draw our attention to the fact that it is something special.

Once upon a time, I would have thought of my concern for my hair and my clothes as nothing more than vanity. Growing up active in my faith, I remember being told time and time again that inner beauty was more important than being physically pretty… especially during my preteen years, when all us females seemed to be going through our most awkward stages. I don’t know how or why, but my little brain misconstrued that message. Maybe it was to make my self feel better about my baby fat and baby face… but I took that message to mean that outward beauty didn’t matter at all. From that conclusion stemmed the thought that being concerned about my looks in anyway shape or form was vanity.

Obviously, I have since realized that this is untrue… and I think I have to give credit to two places: Our Lady of Guadalupe & The Song of Songs. These thoughts of vanity surfaced during a time when my self-esteem was low, and my scrupulous view of my life was high… Seeing these religious presentations of beauty, and the effect they had on their intended audience was both healing and freeing for me.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In 1531, Mary appeared near modern day Mexico city dressed as an Aztec princess– her beauty and loving message sparked the conversion of 6 MILLION native people who had rejected Catholicism due to the mistakes of the Conquistadors. Partial credit for the attention she got from these peoples must be given to the fact that when she appeared to Juan Diego, she was  dressed as one of their own.

Our Lady of Guadalupe - notice the light in her belly - this is one of my favorites, for Advent.

By no means do I think that trendy tops, skinny jeans, and booties are going to cause anyone to convert, but I do believe that  on some level, it affirms the fact that the Truths we proclaim and live are not “old-fashioned” or “out-of date.” Just as Our Lady did, we should dress as a true member of the culture, and that draws attention in and of itself, giving the impression that we are “relatable” and that desiring holiness is not something that has to make one awkward. One can still be “normal,” enjoy the goodness within the current culture and be striving for sainthood.

The Song of Songs

The Song of Songs is a beautiful “mosaic” of poems in the Old Testament about a young bride and groom that are madly in love with one another.

In the poem, the bride comes before her  husband completely decked out….

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She’s tan (Song 1:6), healthy, & strong (Song 1:9)

She is freshly bathed (Song 5:2-3)

Her breath smells good (Song 7:8)

She’s wearing a lot of perfume (Song 1:12-14)

Her hands are dripping with precious, expensive oils (Song 5:5)

She’s adorned with jewelry (Song 1:10-11)

Her husband thinks she’s the prettiest woman alive (Song 1:8), compares her beauty to that of both the dawn and the moon (Song 6:10) and praises every inch of her body (Song 4:1-5)

As a woman, I love that this bride is adorned from head to toe– and it’s not out of vanity! It’s out of love! She is completely dolled up as a gift for him! She knows her worth, and is using all the scents and ornaments to accentuate and communicate the enormity of the gift that is herself. The groom is mesmerized, showering her with praise, jewels and gifts of all kinds.

Isn’t this how our love for others should be– mesmerizing? Shouldn’t it be attractive, drawing people close in wonder and awe? We are material beings- the more senses that can be used to communicate a message of love to those around us the better!

Fashionable Saints 

I found further affirmation of beauty’s goodness while reading about different Saints… especially the more modern ladies. Venerable Teresita Quevedo was voted “best dressed” by her senior class before they graduated. St Gianna Beretta Molla would have her husband bring home fashion magazines when he was traveling out of the country on business. St Zelie Martin owned and operated a renowned lace-making business in the mid 1800s. While fashion was not the main focus of their lives, it was obviously still important to them, and they were able to incorporate it into their lives in a virtuous way.

Today, I even see “living saints” (with a lowercase “s”)– individuals striving to live holy and virtuous lives. In my opinion, these ladies are a few solid examples of faithful Catholics whose fashion and style make their messages all the more attractive.

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Immaculee Ilibagiza – A survivor of the Rwanda Genocide, Immaculee is an author and motivational speaker whose story stresses the importance of the rosary, mercy and forgiveness.

 

 

 

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Leah Darrow – Once a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, as well as a professional model in NYC, Leah now travels the country speaking about her experiences, her conversion, and the virtues of modesty and chastity in light of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body.

 

 

 

 

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Lila Rose – President and Founder of Live Action, a human rights organization dedicated to ending abortion and inspiring a culture that respects and protects life.

 

 

Even just by reading a little bit about these women and glancing at their pictures, it’s clear that their stylish appearance only accentuates what is on the inside….

 

 

But, what happens when this is not the case? What happens if we misuse this gift?

 

 

Look at this photo…

 

 

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's laid back denim look is all we want right now.

 

 

 

How does it make you feel?

 

 

 

 

(please keep that thought in your head for comparison)

 

 

 

 

Now look at this photo….

 

 

 

Beautiful picture of Mother Teresa, who once said, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family!!"

 

 

I’d bet money you felt better about looking at the second one…

 

Maybe it made you feel peaceful…

while the first photo might have made you feel a little uneasy… maybe even self-concious…

 

Was it a bad idea to use a picture of a nun in a post about the importance of fashion…? Maybe…

The point I am attempting to get across is that our physical beauty and the way that we dress does have an effect on those with whom we come in contact. Mother Teresa’s habit might not be the most fashionable, but I think it is still “attractive” in that it is inviting… When I look at her, I am drawn to her. When I look at the picture of the woman above her, I almost want to look away…

What kind of message does our daily ensemble proclaim? Do we look warm and inviting? Or cold? Or outdated?

It remains a simple reality that people judge us by our appearance. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, fashion sends a message about who we are to those around us. I believe we have a responsibility to do everything we can to “accentuate” the Gospel. If wearing cute clothes helps– why wouldn’t we do that? If we have an opportunity to present ourselves as being “current with the times,” I believe we should take it.

 This is not to say that the Gospel will only be accepted if proclaimed by a woman in Gucci stilettos and a Dolce outfit from this season, but I think the way we take care of our bodies, as well as our overall appearance can greatly reflect the wholeness of Christianity.  Of course, someone with a “faulty” sense of fashion can still be a powerful tool for evangelization (hello- John the Baptist dressed himself in camel hair); but by-and-large, I think fashion plays a role in helping people be open to the concept of a God who isn’t stuck in the 15th century, especially in today’s Western culture.

St. Paul says, “… become all things to all men, that [you] might by all means save some”  (1 Cor 9:22). 

I think a trip to T.J. Maxx is in order…

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Uprooting the Weeds is not our Job

My husband and I went to the Saturday night vigil Mass this weekend and the gospel was a familiar one: the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-43).

The servants ask the master– “didn’t you sow good seed? Where did the weeds come from?”

He tells them, “An enemy has done this.”

The servants, wanting to defend their master and save the seed he planted,  ask another question– “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”

As someone who has spent time weeding in my parent’s garden, I find the master’s response surprising…

“No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along wRelated imageith them.”

The type of wheat that Jesus’ audience would have been most familiar with is barley. It was the most prevalent in that part of the world… and while I didn’t remember the name of the weed and had to look it up, I did remember that at it’s earliest stages it looks identical to the wheat it is growing alongside…

That is why the master doesn’t want the servants to go back and pull out the weeds… they might tear out the wrong plant by mistake.

He also doesn’t want them to wait until the weeds and the wheat are distinguishable from one another, and then go pull them up. By then, the roots of both plants will be deep and intertwined. Pulling up the weed in this case will either harm or kill the wheat. The master doesn’t want to loose a single stalk.

“Let them grow together until harvest,” he says… at which time he will separate the good from the bad. The weeds are burned, since consuming them would cause death by poison. The wheat will become bread and give life.

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I’m not entirely sure why, but last night I realized that I had missed an understanding of this parable my whole life.

I had always remembered it as a parallel to the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25; I thought that the weeds and the wheat were exactly like the goats and the sheep– two different kinds of persons.

Since the goats and the sheep represent us, mankind, I had always assumed the weeds and the wheat did too. The weeds were the wicked people, and the wheat were the virtuous people. The wicked people will burn at harvest and the good people get to go to the barn/heaven.

That’s where I messed up. That’s only one meaning behind the parable. Last night, our pastor shared another lesson that can be drawn from this passage.

Mankind is the wheat, but the weeds are not.

The weeds are original sin and the results of it… seeds scattered by the Master’s enemy.

I am the wheat…good seed planted by the Master, with roots intertwined with sin and vice. No matter how strong I become, I will always have my own weeds to deal with and slow me down in my progress upwards, towards the “Son”. In this struggle, what a comfort to know how much the Master cares!  He wants to give me every opportunity to survive until harvest (ie: the Church and the Sacraments). At that time, and only then, will I be completely free from the roots of my weakness, my vices and my sin. His “sorting” frees me.

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[Side note: this passage supports the doctrine of purgatory; the weeds in the parable are separated from the wheat and burned… just as sin is separated from the faithful who die in a state of grace. Until those sinful roots are destroyed, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.]

I continued to meditate on this passage and I saw a second meaning…

As a Catholic, a disciple of Christ, I am also a servant of the master. I used to feel that as a Christian, it was my duty to serve the Master and love my fellow man by trying to “uproot” his vice. I was only trying to get rid of the seeds sown by my Master’s enemy. But after years in ministry, and hearing stories from my students past experiences, I realized how damaging this approach really was. It uprooted a lot of the good that already resided within these individuals– even resulting in bitterness towards Catholicism.

That is exactly what the Master didn’t want to happen…Image result for bad evangelism picture

The Master’s main concern was with nourishing the good seed. As disciples and evangelists, ours should be too. Even when we are aware of the sin of another, our focus should always be on the good, and making sure that it is exposed to Water (John 4:10) and the Light (John 8:12). In this way, that wheat will make it into the Master’s barn.

Now by drawing this conclusion, I do not mean to say that we cannot speak of sin and vice. They are there and they are harmful, just like the weeds. Think of Mary Magdalene. The weeds around her were plentiful. Western Christianity has long regarded her as a prostitute, but there is actually no evidence of this in Scripture. Still, she is the patron saint of sexual temptations. It’s probably safe to say that even if she was not charging money, she most likely slept with many men who were not her husband.

We don’t know for sure, and I know many Theologians think otherwise, but Mary Magdalene could have been the woman caught in adultery… the one the Pharisees bring before Jesus and are about to stone. The weeds of her life were so obvious, the mob was failing to see the good wheat that was also present.

Jesus keeps them from uprooting everything…

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The mob leaves… begrudgingly… and Jesus is left alone with the woman.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” he asks.

She replies, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, from now on do not sin any more.”

Jesus did not condone her sin, but he also did not condemn her. He did not act as though she was not at fault… she was, and she knew that he knew that. He simply loved her anyway.

She had been looking for love all along, in all the wrong places… she had been looking for acceptance, happiness, fulfillment, and love among the weeds…

Then she experienced it fully for the first time in her encounter with Christ.

That is good evangelization.

He loved her. He encouraged her. He nourished her… reminding her that she was wheat, not a weed… and that the weeds were never meant to be a part of her…

.Related image..and sin did not win. She changed her life–completely— and became one of Jesus’ most faithful followers. Most likely she was there when he was crucified… and she was there Sunday morning to finish the burial process. She found the empty tomb. She ran to tell Peter and the Apostles. She wept, mourning the disappearance of the body, and the loss of the man who had changed her life. She was the first to hear see the Resurrected Lord, the first to hear him speak. She was the first evangelist, delivering the good news of the Resurrection to the Apostles. She is a legendary example of God’s mercy and grace, so much so that she is also the patron saint of converts and repentant sinners.

Jesus’ approach is the one we should imitate, being more concerned with the saving the wheat than pulling out the weeds. Just like Mary Magdalene, most people are caught up in their sin because they are searching… seeking happiness… fulfillment… acceptance…love…

Rather than vocalizing their wrong, we can give them what they seek, and put them in contact with the Master… who planted the good seed and has good plans for them. Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you do.

Love changes hearts… not correction.

That is what the New Evangelization is all about… this is the kind of evangelization Pope Francis has promoted since the beginning of his papacy.

Heal wounds, nourish growth, pour out love and acceptance, and hearts will soften. Conversion will happen.

Remember… the Master doesn’t want to loose a single stalk.

The Origins of the Name

I don’t think there’s really anything extraordinary about me– and I don’t mean this in sad way. What I mean to say is that I feel as if I am a lot like other people.

My life is run-of-the-mill; nothing too flashy or exciting. The details of my everyday life won’t keep anyone on the edge of their seat.

I’m a young wife and working professional who spends way too much time watching  TV…

The Office is my favorite TV show. For me, it’s a rare day in which I do not quote from it.

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The show is  a gold mine of sarcasm, wit, and wisdom. Which is why it should come as no surprise that this blog begins with a quote from one of my favorite characters, Pamela Beesley Halpurt.

If anyone reading this is also a fan of The Office, you probably remember the last line of the show. Pam is speaking to the documentary crew for perhaps the last time, and expressing her original thoughts from the beginning of filming. She found it weird that they picked a boring, mid-west paper company to follow around and film. But in that moment, as she reminisces about the past nine years…and all the ways in which her life changed, and all the memories the crew was able to capture… she says,

“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things… Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Like Pam, I believe my ordinary life is beautiful.

I think that every life is beautiful.

I think our world, with all its faults and failings, is still beautiful.

I see God…beauty himself… in the ordinary happenings of every day.

And though I  believe this, too easily I forget. I start to love the beauty of the things around me for their own sake… and slowly… slowly… slowly… I become unhappy.

I am fully aware of what causes this slip because it has happened too many times:

a lack of prayer.

How does one find beauty without knowing beauty himself?

I should know better… a cradle Catholic who’s always loved and practiced her faith… who’s had majorly profound experiences in prayer…who has a theology degree and spends a lot of time evangelizing and catechizing, both professionally and as a volunteer… I should know better than to fall back into the same old trap…

…at least that’s what I tell myself. Although, judging from the fact that these thoughts result in my hiding from prayer in shame… it seems most likely that these words are lies from my own personal Screwtape.

But when I turn to Christ– whether it’s been a few days, weeks or months– he restores me. He tells me I am lovely, and though I’ve chased and chosen lesser loves over Him, nothing will ever change the fact that I belong to him.

He takes my faults and failings… and all the lies that I’ve been believing… and he swaps them out with his grace.

That is how this blog got its name. My hope for The Swap, is that it will serve as a reminder, for myself and anyone who wants to follow along, to consciously exchange weakness for grace during the fragile and frustrating moments of every day life.