Simple Faith

“Our perfection does not consist of doing extraordinary things, but to do the ordinary well.”

— St. Gabriel Possenti

The other day while talking to a friend, she made a comment on how her life is so boring, the same basic routine over and over again. My immediate response was “no, it’s not boring, it’s simple. You choose simplicity and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Although I was quick to change how my friend thought of her boring life, being simple is something I struggle with at times. I love my simple life but I often think how dull and uneventful my life is compared to others. At times, I wonder if I am ignorant by not always questioning everything in life, by choosing to be grateful for every moment even if it isn’t perfect, and trusting that things will work out how they are meant to be. I especially worry about this in regards to my faith, that I’m too simple. Some things are not meant to be fully understood and in my simplicity (or ignorance) I don’t desire to have an answer for every little thing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I learned at a young age that sometimes all you can do is hope and trust. To be simple and have simple yet bold faith.

While reflecting on this dilemma, a thought came to me about The Stations of the Cross where Veronica wiped Jesus’ face. Such a simple and kind gesture in response to a basic human need of wiping off a face but it showed so much love, compassion, and boldness. Veronica was most likely just a faithful follower of Jesus who happened to be in the right place at the right time. She saw a need and an opportunity to help someone whom she loved and to give all she had, even it was only a cool, damp cloth. She might have even been afraid or discouraged by getting in the way of the Roman centurions or not being able to reach Jesus but instead of listening to her fears, she listened to her heart and acted with bold faith. Veronica did not question or hesitate, she trusted and simply did what she believed was right.

Sometimes I feel as though our society frowns on simplicity. We are told that in order to have an impact on those around us, we have to do a number of extraordinary things. What I love about Veronica is her simple act of charity and faith and yet somehow she got her own station! She is the complete opposite of what society tells us. Veronica is a beautiful model of what many of us are called to be, to do small things with great love whether it is by doing the laundry for your family, helping a struggling neighbor, or saying hi to a random stranger.

It is easy to be discouraged, to feel unworthy, or to think we’re boring. However when that happens, remember the words of Mother Teresa, “there are no great things, only small things with great love”

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Cherishing a potato chip

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”

-Dr. Seuss

Memory is a funny thing. Isn’t it weird how certain smells or tastes can bring back a memory from years ago, bringing back every little detail, almost like it just happened yesterday? My grandma used to make the best stuffed peppers and I remember walking into her house after a 6 hour car ride, being overwhelmed by the delicious smell and her warm hugs. Every time I have stuffed peppers, I’m reminded of her, my dad, and the comfort of family. Smells can bring back not so great memories too, like whenever I smell burning plastic, my mind goes back to going through radiation treatment and every detail comes back. Such lovely memories.

Well, the other week while eating barbeque potato chips I had one of those flashbacks. Growing up, my dad was addicted to Wise barbeque potato chips. Made in Pennsylvania and usually hard to find in Maryland, we used to stock up on bags of chips when visiting relatives. Because of ALS, my dad lost the ability to use his hands shortly after he was diagnosed with the disease. As a result, my family became his hands. At one point shortly after his diagnosis, I remember  we had to rearrange the seating at the kitchen table. Instead of my mom at one end and my dad at the other, my mom moved seats in order to sit next to my dad so she could feed him. Thinking back now, it was probably very frustrating, humiliating, and a humbling experience to go from completely healthy to having your wife and kids become your hands. Some people may say that is an awful way to live and it is not fair for a family with small children to have such responsibility but I disagree. Some of my greatest memories of my dad are of when I had to feed him or be his hands. There is something so personal and intimate about feeding someone. I remember having to feed him Wise barbeque chips, the smell of the chips mixed with his bad breath. My hand getting covered in a mix of seasoning from the chips and his spit because that’s impossible to avoid when you’re feeding someone.

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As disgusting as this memory may sound, I cherish it. In the midst of a really difficult time in life, this is something I think back to and smile because at that moment in time it was just me and my dad. Because at a young age, the tables were turned and I was able to care for him the same way he cared for me.  I honestly think everyone should experience something similar to this, it teaches so much about service and builds character. It’s pathetic that I get emotional over potato chips after almost 20 years.

As I was eating handfuls of chips and reflecting on this memory, a couple different thoughts came to me like the dignity of life and how the simplest of things can create such beautiful memories.  I’m sure my dad had moments where he felt like a burden but being able to be with him throughout his disease and watch him fight to the end gave me memories I will treasure forever and invaluable life lessons. Something as simple as feeding my dad a handful of chips, which was disgusting back then, is now a cherished memory. Because in this small moment, great love was expressed and words weren’t even needed.

It made me think ohow many little moments we overlook an opportunity to express our love because we don’t know what to say or feel like we can’t make an impact because we are only one person. But sometimes words are not needed and the simplest of acts can say more than any book, letter, or essay ever will.

“Do small things with great love”

-Mother Teresa

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Excuse the tunnel vision

“God is not always fair but He is generous

-Anonymous

The other day while talking to a friend, she asked “What do you think your life would be like if you didn’t have cancer when you were little?” My immediate response was I would probably be really mean and would have missed out on many important lessons at a young age. She laughed at my honest answer about being mean, saying that is impossible to imagine because I’m too sweet; she’s obviously never lived with me.

As I celebrate another birthday and time goes by, I find myself reflecting on everything in life. I often look at other people my age and wonder how different life might be if I never had cancer and wasn’t physically disabled. Where would I be now if I my disabilities didn’t keep me from making certain choices? What if I never experienced cancer? What would I have missed out on? Would the same things that are important to me now, still matter if I wasn’t disabled?

Because of my disabilities, there are a number of things that don’t seem fair a majority of the time. I get annoyed by the fact that I can’t drive due to poor vision, the fact that I struggle to confidently walk from point A to point B (especially at night), that I will probably never run again, that everyone can see my disabilities, sometimes causing unfair judgement, and the list goes on. But despite that long list, there always seems to be something good that comes from every bad thing.  I’ll never have to pay car insurance, people have a tendency to wait on me so I don’t have to walk a lot, and it’s easy for people to remember me.  

When I was younger, my whole family used to get together and go camping every summer. It was not like what most people consider camping like renting a cabin, etc. The only way to get to our campsite was by my uncle’s boat and then hike uphill a couple miles. We had a portable kitchen, used outhouses, saw very few people besides family, and embraced the outdoors for a week. It was not unusual to wake up with a deer sleeping on your tent. Looking back, it seems crazy to have done all that preparation for only a couple days but what great memories I have of those times being with family. It was so beautiful and peaceful looking at the sky at night, every star shined extra bright because of the little light pollution around. Obviously between me getting sick, my dad’s ALS, and other reasons, we stopped taking those trips. With all my balance issues now, it would be very difficult for me even to walk around the campsite on uneven terrain. I’d be too worried about being like Hansel & Gretel and falling into the campfire.

Thinking about those memories with my family, it’s not fair to have them taken away from me because of  cancer. However, I am still thankful I can stand out on my patio at night and see the stars. It may not be the same as being in the middle of nowhere, staring at the sky  but it is still equally as incredible. When God takes certain things away from us, our immediate response is to say that’s not fair, I don’t deserve this. But if you’re patient and wait for it, you’ll see His generosity and how He gives us things we didn’t even know we wanted or needed. 

Life never turns out the way we expect it or hope for it to go. Because of this, it’s in our nature to experience doubts, compare ourselves to others, or wonder what if.  Growing up, I never dreamed of becoming disabled, that  definitely came out of left field. But as I’ve learned to embrace my disabilities over the years and focus on what I have instead of thinking about what I don’t have, life has brought me so many wonderful adventures that I never even imagined existed. It’s easy to see only what is in front of us, to have tunnel vision, and to throw a pity party because life doesn’t seem fair. But at those times, take a look at the bigger picture, trust God, and wait for Him to make his next move. 

“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”

-St. Teresa of Avila

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Walk this way

“Did you know that to worry about a situation you are making a conscious choice to do so?”

-Mike C. Adams

Sometimes I can be so indecisive, putting off making a decision until the very last minute. And once I make a decision, I find myself second guessing it, debating whether it was the right choice. Worrying what might happen as a result of the decision or what people around me might think. Every decision we make can have such a ripple effect. Having a choice is a great thing but it can be stressful at times.

The other day I was talking to a friend. Somehow we started to talk about the birds in the sky and how they fly without really knowing where they’re going or having a choice. Yet they seem at such peace, careless, and free. Sometimes I feel like our ability to make choices often weighs us down, complicate things, and hold us back from making the right choice. There are so many times when our ability to choose is influenced by fear, anger, anxiety, or our desire to be in control. But birds just seem to trust and not worry. Not concerned with where their next meal will come from, overthinking everything they have to do, and faced constantly with having to make choices. They just fly and trust.

Years ago, a friend got me a plaque with the verse “show me the way I should walk”. Although it’s meant to be a spiritual insight, it was kind of an amusing gift because of my issues with walking.

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Watching birds fly in the sky reminded me of this verse. They are not concerned with making choices or worried about anything beyond the present moment. Sometimes I feel as though our ability to choose can be our downfall in life. There’s so much chaos going on in our world right now, differing opinions, and so much of it is affected by choice. Seeing birds flying carelessly in the sky reminds me to trust. To not obsess over making quick, rash decisions or worry about things outside of our control. But instead to ponder all things in your heart and to trust.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding

-Proverbs 3:5

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Sunrises and gratitude

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin”
-Mother Teresa

I love to wake up early during the summer and watch the sunrise, there is something so beautiful and breathtaking about it. Sunsets are equally incredible but watching the sunrise just sets the tone for the day. Sunrises are full of promise, full of wonder, and each unique in their own way, To me, a sunrise is God’s way of saying “Good morning, this is for you”. Sunrises on the water are my favorite though, the sun reflecting off the water. Even on the days where it’s slightly overcast or rainy, I still love seeing the sunrise.

As my mom and I were watching the sunrise at the beach, we both wondered if people who live on water take sunrises for granted. Do they enjoy them each day or do they just become used to seeing the sunrise and become so concerned with other things that they don’t have time to enjoy watching the sunrise? But that made me think how much do I fail to see the sunrise even when I’m not on vacation or I’m in a rush? Worried about taking care of a, b, and c, wanting to be in control of the day, and not taking time to enjoy the present moment.

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Friday I celebrated 25 years since undergoing my first surgery to remove my brain tumor. Over the years, so many people have told me how unfair it was for a child to experience something so scary. Yes it was scary but I will always say that it was the greatest blessing of my life because of my age. First of all because I don’t remember much except the few things that mattered to me. Like the love of my family, the kind nurses and doctors, and having to wash my hair in the kitchen sink to avoid getting my stitches wet. Second of all because that’s when I first learned what it meant to be strong, courageous, and to have hope. My parents both made sure to remain calm and brave in front of me despite knowing I had a rapidly growing brain tumor. Because of the way they acted in front of me, that made me believe everything would be alright and to stay strong and fearless. It also tested my faith at a young age which looking back, I’m grateful for that because it helped me to understand what it means to have childlike faith. At a young age, I learned what a gift life is and to not take life for granted because it can change with the blink of an eye.

I’d like to say being a childhood brain cancer survivor makes me never take life for granted but that would be a lie. It’s probably safe to say we all take life for granted at times. It’s easy to get caught up in the politics of life, the difference in opinions, and, in our everyday anxieties. I try to be grateful everyday but easily get distracted by worrying about things I can’t control which only lead me to feeling discouraged, uneasy, and hopeless.  But with each sunrise I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to be alive, even if it’s a rainy sunrise.

“The secret to happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all He, in His goodness, sends to us day by day”

-St. Gianna Molla 

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Taking chances

Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.”

― C.S. Lewis

Life has a tendency of giving you moments that you never see coming. Undxpexted moments that make you stop and smile.

The other day, a friend of mine was able to attend a last minute prom that had been postponed by quarantine. It reminded me of prom my senior year when I was prom queen. It was a moment I totally didn’t expect and I actually nearly missed. I had no plans on attending prom my senior year. I didn’t feel like dealing with the drama of finding a date and all the other things that go along with prom. Plus, I had swim practice that night and at the time, that was more important than a dance. It was not until the week before prom that my friend convinced me to go. Good thing she did because there would have been an issue if I was a no-show. Being prom queen was never something I really cared about or spent my time thinking about. I always thought it was a ridiculous high school thing, and it is in the long run. But in a way, being prom queen was an unexpected honor and surprise.

Like most people in high school, I struggled with fitting in and finding who I was. Let’s be honest, high school is a very awkward and difficult time for the majority of people. It’s filled with emotions, drama, and struggling to find yourself. For me, I definitely went into high school as quiet, shy, and not really knowing where I belonged. It was so important to me to fit in that I usually pretended to be someone I wasn’t. Like I was hiding the real me, afraid people wouldn’t approve. At some point, I started to ask myself “how do you want people to remember you as 10 years from now?”. And it was with that thought I started to reinvent myself, let people see the real me. So being prom queen my senior year, as crazy it sounds, it gave me confidence in knowing that my peers appreciated who I am, despite my disabilities and all the other flaws.

The other week, I was watching a Q&A with a wise old priest. Someone asked him what advice he would give to young people. Although I don’t really remember his word for word answer, basically he said find your confidence and you’ll find your vocation. Many people associate vocation with religious things but most don’t realize vocation applies to all. Vocations describe our careers, our livelihoods, and discovering what we are called to.

So you’re probably wondering how this relates to prom queen. The moment I started to consider how I wanted to be remembered is the moment I unknowingly stopped to think about my vocation. By making a change and taking the chance to be who I really am instead of what people expected, I took a step towards finding that confidence and my vocation.

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
― Thomas Merton

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Watermelon and being in control

“You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the winds.”
-St. Thomas More

Life is such a gift. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by all the  ways I’m blessed each day. But sometimes it is a little more difficult to see the blessings. I’m typically very grateful for life but like most people, I have those moments where gratitude is a struggle. Moments when I wish I could control everything in life and am so caught up in thinking about the bad things in life that I become blind to all the good, positive things. Well, there’s nothing quite like nearly choking to death on watermelon to help keep my gratitude in check.

The other day, I was just enjoying some fresh cut watermelon and a tiny chunk got lodged in my throat. One of my lesser known disabilities is I actually don’t have gag reflexes so as a result of this, I tend to eat slower than most people. It’s really not much of an issue, I’ve learned how to work around not having gag reflexes, however there are times when it causes problems. But because of this, it is not weird for me to cough a little after drinking water because it went down the wrong pipe. So when I started to cough after swallowing a piece of watermelon, I thought nothing at first. But within a couple seconds, I went from coughing to gasping for air. Thankfully, my mom was in the room and being used to my random coughing after eating, thought nothing of it until I started gasping. While asking if I was okay, I pointed to the container of watermelon and she knew exactly what I was saying. Next thing I knew, she tapped my back and out flew a tiny piece of watermelon. It was an exciting couple of seconds.

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Earlier that day, I had been overwhelmed with worry and anxiety about little things I have no control of and focused more on the future instead of the present moment. But choking on that watermelon made me realize how there are so many times in life we just need to let it go and not always worry about being in control. When you’re choking, it is our first instinct to immediately panic and start coughing but that often causes our throat muscles to overwork or become irritated which only makes the issue worse. But by remaining calm and not worrying about being in control, it makes it easier for your throat muscles to relax and slowly respond on their own time. This might seem like an odd train of thought to some people but after wasting my morning worrying about things I can’t control, it felt like someone was trying to tell me something. To let it go, relax, and stop wanting to be in control. “I’ll take care of this for you.”

“God is still writing your story.
Quit trying to steal the pen”

-Toby Mac

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The best is yet to come

“Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come.”

-Unknown

It is so easy to fail into despair and depression at different times in our lives. To feel overwhelmed by uncertainty of the future and the constant change life throws at us. 

This weekend I was reflecting on life and feeling a bit anxious. With this whole virus still going on, so many things seem to be up in the air. I should be grateful I’m healthy and for my life but it’s so easy to throw a pity party for yourself sometimes, worrying about things you can’t control.

In my random thoughts, I remembered a time in college I felt this way, overwhelmed with life, worried about my future, and feeling lost. After a rough semester at another college, I transferred to Mount St Mary’s University and I wasn’t in the best state mentally. I felt disappointed in myself, depressed that things didn’t work out better, and stuck in life, like my present situation would never change. I’ve always had a very strong faith but at that point my faith was more like something thrown to the side instead of at the center of my life. One of the things I loved most about Mount St Mary’s was always having some sort of social event that would help you grow in your faith. One evening, as I was throwing a pity party, my friend asked me to join her for praise and worship. I didn’t really feel like doing my work and thought why not. As I sat in the chapel, listening to music being played, I poured out my heart to God. My fears about the future, my doubts, and anxieties. In the midst of my complaining and being dramatic, I felt something in my heart say “the best is yet to come”. 

As simple of a reminder this is, it has stuck with me for years. That following weekend, I went on an incredible retreat that changed my outlook on life. It made me realize my faith needed to be at the center of my life and how I needed to trust God more. The best is yet to come. Years later, I was trying to distract myself by shopping for useless things. Someone very close to me died and as much as I saw it coming, it was pretty devastating. I love tea and drinking out of pretty mugs just make a cup of tea so much better. As I was looking through a shelf of mugs, once again throwing a pity party, I found one that said “the best is yet to come”. Ironically it was the only cup left with that saying. Thank you for that beautiful reminder.

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It is this simple and cliche saying that I cling to so many times in life. It is easy to fail into despair, to be overcome by our emotions, our anxieties, and fears for the future. But with faith and hope, remember the best is yet to come.

“Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence.”

Pope John Paul II

 

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Strength in meekness

“What we do in life echoes in eternity”

-Gladiator

Growing up, my brothers and I used to spend our time together watching the latest movies. Having three older brothers and their friends always at our house, I rarely had a say in what we watched. Typically it was action, comedy, something bloody, or sometimes horror. The other day, a friend was talking to me about the movie Gladiator. I think he was kind of shocked I even knew about the movie, let alone that it’s probably one of my favorites. One of the greatest scenes is in the beginning, where the main character says “What we do in life echoes in eternity”. Although it is taken from a quote by Marcus Aurelius, that line is extremely powerful. I remember my brother printing this quote out and taping it to his wall as a daily reminder of the impact our actions can have on others. Throughout life, it’s always been something I’ve kept in mind as well.

As this quarantine goes on, I’ve been trying to find ways to educate or challenge myself every day, listening to different talks, reading scriptures, etc. This week, I listened to a talk on being meek and meekness that really resonated with me. So many times we hear meek and automatically think weak. Like someone who is meek is a complete pushover. It went on to explain how when we are meek, instead of acting in anger, we are able to step back, listen to others, and act accordingly. By being meek, we resist our anger and our impulses to act out in rage or based on our knee-jerk reaction. By being meek, we have control over our emotions and are not driven solely by our desire to lash out in rage. Meekness is not weakness but strength, courage, and self-discipline. My mom once told me “anger is one letter away from danger”, it seems rather fitting when applied to meekness.

In listening to the video, I realized how much I need to work towards being meek. Controlling my emotions and instead of responding in rage, approaching every situation with gentleness, patience, and humility.  It is easy to respond in anger, in our immediate rage, and desire to act. But it takes courage, strength, and meekness to step back, listen to others, and act accordingly.

“Faced with their rage, be meek; faced with their arrogance, be humble.”

-St. Ignatius of Antioch

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Simple doubts

“Doubts and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.”
  -Helen Keller

The other day, my brother sent me an email titled “free online courses from Harvard”. He and I both have a love for always learning new things or somehow bettering ourselves. And since I have plenty of free time lately, why not take a class from Harvard? But after taking a look at the courses listed, Neuroscience, Law, Biology, etc. , I quickly decided maybe I’ll just stick to reading books and other projects around the house. While I love learning and was interested in some of the courses, I’ve found myself to be more simple the older I get and no longer wanting to know or understand everything.

This past weekend, the Gospel was about doubting Thomas, the Apostle who has trouble believing without actually seeing. Poor Thomas, he gets such a bad rep because he was only doing what we do best, doubting. Recently, my mom introduced me to a series called The Chosen. It is about the life of Jesus and the Apostles. The way Thomas is portrayed, he appears to be very analytical in his thinking, business-minded, and struggles to believe what he cannot see.

I think it’s safe to say we’re all guilty of being a doubting Thomas at some point in our lives. Wanting to see the physical evidence in order to understand or needing to know every reason behind a belief. Although there’s nothing wrong with wanting to fully understand everything in life, there are moments where we have to take that leap of faith and find peace in the fact that we don’t have all the answers. With COVID-19, it’s so easy to get caught up in knowing the latest statistics and all the mass hysteria and anger surrounding the situation. I believe there is a fine line between being informed and being over informed, where knowledge is no longer beneficial but actually harmful because it leads to anxiety, worry, and despair.

Like my brother and Thomas, we all have a desire for the truth but at what point does our thirst for the truth cause us to doubt our every thought and the world around us? At what point do we sacrifice simplicity and our humility in order to gain more knowledge?

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

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