About ceciliairene

American twenty-something who reads, knits, sews, teaches, drinks tea and coffee, and loves Jesus

An Inconvenient Blessing

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

-G.K. Chesterton

On Saturday, I had the great blessing of attending the Beatification Mass for Blessed Solanus Casey. The Mass was celebrated at Ford Field in Detroit. Because of the stadium’s security guidelines, I didn’t take my purse in with me, but I just stuck my cell phone and drivers license in my coat pocket. (In retrospect, I should have put my drivers license in my pants pocket. Oh well!) When I got back to the car, I discovered that I’d lost my drivers license at some point during the day.

My natural high maintenance inclination is to panic, but for some reason (probably because I’d just left Mass) I found myself with an overwhelming sense of peace. I tried to call Ford Field, but I quickly learned that path would be useless until 10am on Monday. So I said a quick prayer asking St. Anthony, the finder of lost things, to help me. And then I asked Blessed Solanus to pray for me.

Thank God ahead of time.

-Blessed Solanus Casey

And then I did something that was decidedly of divine inspiration. I took a piece of advice from Blessed Solanus. I took a minute to thank God for however he was going to work through this situation. I then took advantage of a few methods of social media to contact Ford Field since I couldn’t leave a message via phone. (They responded this morning; they don’t have it but they’ll let me know if they find it.) And I prayed a bit more.

The weekend continued on, and no one seemed to have any idea where my license was. But I just found myself feeling calm and entirely unlike my usual self. To be fair, every time I found myself thinking about the missing drivers license I asked the intercession of Blessed Solanus and then thanked God for however he was going to use this inconvenience in my life.

This afternoon, I left work a little early and went to the Secretary of State (or as I told a kid, the worst place in the world) to get a new drivers license. Again, it’s a place and situation that should have stressed me out, and I found myself feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, but I found myself feeling really grateful for the peace I was experiencing.

Ultimately, the situation was easily resolved. I filled out a form, sat quietly in a waiting room for an hour, dealt with some paperwork, paid $9, allowed someone to take a bad picture of me, and replaced my drivers license. But I’m also well aware that smoothness of the situation was largely due to my prayers. It was a good reminder of the importance of prayer and the importance of seeking the intercession of other members of the Communion of Saints.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

And let me tell you. I’m now convinced of the great value of thanking God ahead of time. I’ll be doing it much more often. Thanks, Blessed Solanus!

And Blessed Solanus, pray for us!

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Looking to St. Joseph

Every year, I try to find a focus for my Advent. Because Eastern Advent (or the Fast of St. Philip) begins on November 15, I start looking for something at the beginning of November. This year, something fell into my lap.

When I lived in Spain, I developed an odd but strong connection to Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. The chorus particularly struck me. On a recent November day, I was driving home from work feeling frustrated with life and I found myself listening to that song again. And again, the chorus struck me.

Father, show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. How can a man be father to the Son of God? Lord, for all my life, I’ve been a simple carpenter. How can I raise a King?

Show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. I have not been called to raise a king, but I have been called to a life that I don’t always understand. As I thought about that line and prayed into a bit, I found myself thinking of a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva:

“It is not given to everyone to imitate Teresa of Avila or Vincent de Paul, but each of us can easily follow St. Joseph.”

St. Joseph’s life has lessons for each of us. Joseph was called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. And as I drove, I felt called to spend the Fast leading up to the Nativity focusing on St. Joseph and his lessons. A dear friend wrote a book about St. Joseph that I plan to reread.

My hope is that by focusing on St. Joseph I can learn to better live out the call to holiness in daily life. I believe that the Good Saint will pray for me to grow in this area, and I hope that by focusing on him, the Lord will guide me to a better understanding of living out the call to holiness in the midst of the challenges of daily life in the world.

The Most Disagreeable Month of the Year

At the beginning of Chapter 15 of Little Women, Meg March declares November to be the most disagreeable month of the year. Jo returns some comment about that being why she was born in November.

But as I get older, I begin to think that Meg and Jo are wrong about November. November gets a bad rap-probably because of the weather. But if you try hard enough, November doesn’t have to suck. You might have to work on it a little, but you can totally find ways to alleviate the bleakness of November.

Personally, I try to make a concentrated effort to make February and November (my two least favorite months of the year) suck a little less. That means that I try to do things that make my life a little more exciting and distract me from the bleak state of the natural world. When the natural world has a tendency to make me sad or just feeling blech, I’m trying to actively seek out things that give me joy.

One small thing that I’m doing is knitting with brighter shades of yarn. It’s hard to feel gloomy when there are bright blues and greens in your hands. It might be dreary outside, but surrounding myself with bright colors inside helps me to feel more cheerful. I do have a piece of “obligation knitting” that’s in a less cheerful color, but I try to work on that while watching movies or reading things that make me happy.

I’m also seeking out activities that make me happy. Knowing that I have a concert and my cousin’s fall play this weekend and a beatification Mass for a local Saint the following weekend is helping me feel like November is flying by. Sure it’s only the eighth, but I’ve got plans! There are exciting doings ahead of me. I’m not going to let November get me down; I’m going to enjoy it.

Two important people in my life have November birthdays, and that’s another source of excitement. (It’s also a source of stress. What am I going to give these people for their birthdays?) I get to celebrate people that I love. That’s something that I enjoy.

And then there’s Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. It’s a great holiday. I love the food and the family time. I love the emphasis on gratitude. I enjoy getting to talk about gratitude with my students. I love getting to be with my family. It’s a good day.

In short, Meg March is wrong. November, when properly considered, is not the most disagreeable month of the year. It’s a great month; you just have to look at it through the right lenses.

Praying for Unfulfilled Desires

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I begin praying once a week for women struggling with unfulfilled desires. I took the challenge thinking primarily about women who aren’t married but want to be and women who are struggling with infertility. This intention has challenged me and has shown me that struggling with unfulfilled desires is far more than just those two desires.

There are so many types of desires, and so many women struggle with unfulfilled desires. While one friend might struggle with unfulfilled desires for a child, another friend struggles with unfulfilled desires for a better job. To someone who is longing for a child, the desire for a job (especially coming from a woman who does have a job) might seem petty. But to the one seeking the job, the unfulfilled dream or hope causes an immense ache.

The reality is that each of these aches is real and intense to the one struggling with the longing. My longing to be married may seem selfish to someone seeking a job that better allows the woman to serve the Body of Christ. But that doesn’t mean either of our longings is any less real to us or any less present to the Father. We as women feel the pain of our unfulfilled longings, and the Father knows that pain intimately. He knows that we suffer, and he longs to use that suffering to act in our lives.

As I’ve prayed for this intention, I’ve found myself led to pray for comfort and peace for these women. I ask the Lord to fulfill these desires according to His Will. But primarily, I pray for the peace of the women struggling. If I’m to be a good wife to my maybe-possibly-someday husband or another woman is to be a good mother to a longed-for child, we need grace. We need peace abiding in our hearts. Before anything else, I need to surrender my dreams and desires and goals to the Lord and trust in His perfect plan. (Am I good at this? No. I pray “God, make me good and do it now” often. I pray for a husband to come “soon because I just can’t do this anymore” but who said that I was ever supposed to do this alone?) Unfulfilled desires are not easy to bear. They just aren’t.

We have only to look to the Bible for examples and role models. Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth each longed for a child. Leah longed for the love of her husband. Ruth longed for stability. Esther wanted to save her nation. Deborah wanted to lead her people well. Abigail wanted to be loved. Did Leah ever really get what she wanted? Rachel died when Benjamin was young; she gave birth to two sons but didn’t live to see them grow to adulthood. God’s will doesn’t always line up with our plans. I may never get married. Or if I marry, I may never have children. Esther saved her nation, but that didn’t permanently eliminate suffering from the lives of her people.

Mary washes the feet of Jesus

Ultimately, the biggest thing that I’ve learn is that when I’m praying for women struggling with unfulfilled desires, I’m really praying for all women. We all have unfulfilled desires. We all feel empty or abandoned at times. But we have a God who sees and knows our desires. He loves us, and he longs to give us good things. Sometimes the things we desire are not right for us. (I’d like to thank the Lord for saying no to some prayers that my younger self prayed.) Sometimes the season isn’t right even if we don’t know why it isn’t. (Some questions will never be answered on this side of Paradise.) But at no time will we be unloved or unwanted by the Lord.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6

From this day to the ending of the world…

On the morning of October 25, 1415, I doubt that King Henry V of England had much thought of surviving to the end of the day let alone having his name eternally associated with the date of October 25. Much of the credit for that welcome to one Mr. William Shakespeare, but the fact remains that Henry did something that ensured his connection to October 25.

Several hundred years later and a few hundred miles northeast, another group of men ensured their eternal connection October 25 for a less exciting reason. While Henry V is remembered for his military victory, the Light Brigade of 1854 is remembered for their defeat in the Battle of Balaclava in Crimean War. The Brigade would probably be simply relegated to the lesser pages of history books if not for Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Tennyson took a moment of confusion and brought it to life. He took a disastrous battle and made it unforgettable; he made its warriors immortal with his pen. The story of the battle is not commonly taught in American schools, but the poem is. The poem lives on and carries on with it the memory of all those who died as a result of the battle.

A few years ago, one of my high school students looked at the poem and said, “Oh, I know this! It’s from The Blindside.” Naturally, my response was “Great, but do you know the story?” I slid a few Raglan Cardigan jokes in there and told the kiddos the story. Then we talked about how the story lives on due to literature.

I love literature, and this day (October 25) reminds me of one of my reasons. Literature carries messages to the future. It tells stories to people who might never have otherwise heard them. The British sense of duty is conveyed to future generations by The Charge of the Light Brigade. It tells us what mattered to the world in which that tragedy occurred. Yes, a group of brave men died, but they were committed to their cause and they did their duty to Queen and Country.Those were important values for their society.

I know and love the story of Henry V because of the Shakespeare play of the same name. If not for Shakespeare-and subsequently Kenneth Branagh and The Hollow Crown, I might have encountered him briefly on the pages of a history book as a high school freshmen, but I never would have been enchanted by his story. Literature brought Henry to life for me, and I was enchanted by him.

On October 25, I find myself rejoicing in a victory that happened six centuries ago. I find myself saddened by the loss of innocent lives at the Battle of Balaclava. But most of all, I find myself grateful that literature in all of its various forms helps us to preserve history. And may that continue to be true from this until the ending of the world.

Me too.

When “me too” started buzzing around the internet as a way of saying that I too am a woman who has been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I knew that I should chime in. It’s two words. All you have to do is type them and share them. People need to know that this sort of thing is far more common than anyone wants to believe.

But I was scared. I knew that I should tell my story, but it’s hard. It is hard to tell the truth about something when for far too long you’ve been told to be silent about that very thing.

See…here’s the thing. On Saturday, September 20, 2008, I was sexually assaulted. I was not raped, but I was taken advantage of. I was young. I was naive. And I was in a foreign country. I was in a place where everyone said that I had to experience the local culture. I had to explore. I had to try new things. I had to do things that I wouldn’t normally do.

So I bought a dress, a dress that was very pretty. I put on the dress. I let someone do my hair. I did my makeup. I went to a club. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to avoid Red Bull and Vodka.

By the end of the night, I had managed to avoid Red Bull and Vodka but not the smell of that pairing. And I had not had fun.

I’d gone into the evening with an idea that I’d dance with a few girl friends and maybe a cute guy. But I just wanted to have fun. I thought I was safe because I fit in with Spanish women. I was olive-skinned and dark-haired; surely, Spanish men would find me boring. They’d have no interest in me in my pink and brown halter dress with my brown sandals. Oh, I was wrong.

Instead, I’d had a random man I’d never even spoken to pull me away from my friends and stick his tongue into my mouth and his hands in places well…I wouldn’t want to tell my mother about. I was scared stiff. I went along with what he was doing because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking. I don’t know if I was. I just know that I was scared. I don’t know what would have happened if not for Colorado Boy.

Colorado Boy was a boy in my study abroad group who was nearby when this happened. I don’t know if we’d ever even spoken before. (I don’t even know if he was actually from Colorado; that’s just what my brain named him for this post.) The first time that I was aware of CB that night was when his hand was on my shoulder and he was saying something about his girlfriend. He pulled me away from Spanish Dude #1 telling the guy to get off his girlfriend. Who knows what SD#1 thought of CB? I don’t care. What I care about is that CB pulled me into a circle of girls who asked me if I was alright. They was kind. They were gentle. They reassured me that they were there if I needed any help.

The night went on. Another Spanish Dude wanted to dance with me. I wasn’t yet smart enough to say no, and I didn’t realize how far he’d managed to get me away from my group of friends until he asked me if he could take me home to meet his mother. I’m not dumb; I knew what that meant. But I couldn’t see any of my friends. I didn’t want to pay my taxi fare back to the hotel alone, and I didn’t want to disappear on my friends.

And somehow, I figured out a way out. I told SD#2 that I’d go home with him to “meet his mother.” But first I needed to tell my friends where I was going so that they wouldn’t worry about me. I walked off where I claimed I saw my friend and hid in the bathroom for ten minutes. When i came out, SD#2 was gone. Who knows what he thought about me in that moment, and honestly, who cares? Then, I went off in search of my friends. I eventually found them, and one of my friends and I agreed that we were ready to go home (being a bit bored of the club thing). So we began (slowly, it took over an hour) collecting our friends and back to the hotel we went.

I woke up the next morning tired and a little wiser and much sadder. I threw away the dress and shoes. Over the next several months, I battled an odd sadness that I couldn’t understand. Why was I so sad about what had happened? I’d been willing to dance with those men at first. I’d gone along with what they wanted. Sure, I jumped every time I heard a song (that I don’t even know the name of) that had been playing in the club that night. Vomit rose in my mouth whenever I smelled Red Bull. But I couldn’t understand why; I’d let those guys touch me.

Odd as it might sound, it wasn’t until I began watching Downton Abbey that I began to realize why I was so sad. It was 2011, more than two and a half years after my Spanish escapade. As Lady Mary’s storyline with Kemal Pamuk began to unfold, I heard so many of my friends condemn Lady Mary as impure or unchaste for her behavior in that night. And through that, I finally came to understand the sadness that even a good and kind therapist hadn’t been able to help me through.

If Lady Mary’s behavior with Kemal had been all her fault, then so had mine with those men. I had gone along with their actions because I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do, and so I let them do what they were doing. I hadn’t fought back because I hadn’t known how to. And I’d never told my story because I was afraid of being judged as impure or unworthy. That I hadn’t ended up hurt more badly or in more trouble was purely an accident of grace-CB’s timely intervention and an open bathroom stall where I could hide.

It took me a long time to accept that I’d been assaulted. It took me a long time to accept that what had happened was not my fault. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t my fault. None of the stories that have come out recently about women who suffered sexual harassment, assault, or abuse were the woman’s fault. Too many women (myself included) haven’t told their stories out of fear of being judged or not being believed. Someone once told me “You were in Spain. You just didn’t understand the culture.”

I don’t know that the problem was my lack of understanding of Spanish culture. I think the problem was that far too many people forget that every other person with whom they meet is a person, is an individual. It is too damn easy to treat others like objects and forget that these are individuals with rights and dignity. We need to change that. We have to change the narrative-not just for women, not just for men, but for all humans. We need to treat every human with respect and dignity.

Far too many people-both male and female-have stories like mine. We need to change the narrative so that more people feel safe saying “Me too” and so that fewer people have a reason to say that.

The Pursuit of Excellence

It’s my favorite week of any year that doesn’t contain the Olympics. It’s Nobel Prize week. Nobel Prize week (and the Monday after aka Economics Monday) is my favorite week of the year. I’ve always liked the Nobel Prizes because they celebrate what’s great about humanity; it’s a week of celebrating great accomplishments of the human race.

But my love affair with Nobel Prize week really took off in 2014. It was a rough year for humanity and for me personally. I was quite honest when I told my students that week that I didn’t expect anyone to win the Nobel Peace Prize that year because I didn’t know that anyone really deserved it. And then Friday rolled around and the award was given to one of my personal heroes, Malala Yousafzai, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children’s and education activist. That won my heart because in that moment the Nobel Institute had, in a really hard year, found something really and truly great about humanity.

The more that I thought about it, the more I came to love Nobel Prize Week. I love this week when we focus on what humanity has done well. In years when there are no Olympics, it’s probably my favorite week. I think that it’s really important to focus on our strengths, to look at what we do well and honor that. If we want to become better people and do better as a human race, we need to focus on what we do well.

Similarly, I love the Olympics. Yes, they’re imperfect. They can be surrounded by corruption, bribery, and steroids. But they can also be surrounded by beautiful reminders of the resilience of the human spirit. The heart-warming stories that come out of the Olympics serve as reminders of what we as humans are capable. We may not all be able to run like Usain Bolt, but we all have greatness inside of us.

That’s what I love about weeks like Nobel Prize Week and the Olympics. I love weeks that remind us that we are born with the ability to do great things and to be excellent in side of us. Greatness and excellent don’t look the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We have to find our strengths and our greatness inside of ourselves and use those things to the best of our abilities. Some people may be great writers, others are great runners while others are great doctors. We won’t all be in the Olympics. We won’t all win Nobel Prizes. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for greatness or celebrate the greatness in others when we have the opportunity.