Monday, May 30, 2016

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

You, Lord God, have done
many wonderful things,
and you have planned
marvelous things for us.
No one is like you!
I would never be able to tell
all you have done.

Psalm 40:5 (CEV)

A couple of weeks ago, the Catholic Church celebrated Pentecost on Sunday, May 15th. Like most Pentecost Sundays, we were reminded of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as the twelve fruits which follow. I enjoyed the reminder and promptly went about my busy life as usual. When I began writing this post, it had nothing to do with Pentecost Sunday, or the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit. I simply started by writing about all the things in my life that I recently felt grateful for, and as it turns out, many of those areas in my life coincide with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Makes sense. Gratitude usually comes when one has received a gift. Now I see that I have received seven very meaningful gifts. I feel blessed, as if God has leaned over to kiss the top of this silly girl's curl-laden head, placing upon it a heat that feels like tongues of fire.

"L" is for Love!
One gift that I've recently come to cherish even more is the community of sisters I live with. Let's face it, no one gets things right all the time, but especially not me. Ever since high school I have had difficulty getting up early. It seems that the earlier I have to wake up, the harder I struggle to do so. Now that I've had to be in chapel for morning prayers no later than 5:45 a.m., that struggle is definitely real. I'll be honest, some mornings I make it, and many mornings I don't. But you know what? None of the sisters here has ever come to me and asked, "Why aren't you making it to morning prayers on time?" I mean, it's a valid question. It's a question I would almost expect to receive, but instead the typical question is more like this: "I've noticed you're having a hard time getting up for prayers in the morning. Is there anything I can do to help you with that?" The forgiveness and support around here is top notch. But it's not just a gift for me. I've realized that this means I need to start rephrasing the questions I ask, too. When my students turn their work in late, I usually ask, "Why did you turn your work in late?" Instead, I should be and will be asking a question more like this: "I noticed you've been getting your work in late. How can I help you to get it in on time?"

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of understanding which can only happen when we join together in communion.

I have always had a wonderful circle of friends. My best friend Jenny has been a source of joy ever since we joined forces in the 5th grade. (We knew each other in 4th grade, but we didn't like each other. She thought I was trying to steal her best friend and I simply didn't like her haircut. Just goes to show that jealousy and vanity can be overcome!) Jenny has always been a model of strong faith. Her passion continues to inspire me even from miles away. My lovely friend Vanessa and her generous heart first helped to foster my love for the Spanish language and culture. Eventually, she became a great support as I pursued the joy that is my religious vocation. My fabulous friends Erin, Christine and Chanelle have contributed to my life as a dancer and as a Christian. Our late-night talks and silly shenanigans could never be replaced. My new bestie
Stephanie has made me laugh enough to keep me awake for nights on end. Our chats and pizza splurges give me energy and make me wish she'd just join the convent so that I could hang out with her more. There are so many of you with whom I have worked, learned and grown that I could not possibly mention all of your beautiful names here and the meaning you have given my life. The movies we've watched, the conversations we've had, the times we've laughed and cried together -- these are all so much a part of who I am that you're still with me. All of you, including those of you I took the time to mention, have contributed the many vibrant fibers that color who I am today.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of wisdom which flows through the faithful and sturdy shelters that are our friends.

My role as a mentor is one that I have sort of grown into over the past couple of years. I didn't know how important it was to create that boundary of authority until I realized what my classroom looked like without it. I know I still have a lot to learn, but as my third year of teaching comes to an end, I can see how the clearer lines of authority have strengthened my role as a mentor. Instead of my students coming to talk to me about drama with peers, now they talk to me about the deeper joys or sorrows that are taking place in their lives. Every time one of my students fell apart this year, tears streaming down her face, and she chose to bring that to me, I felt like the big sister God knew I could be. I felt like my students trusted me, but I knew that all along God had trusted me. God had trusted me to love them this whole time! I feel so honored that God would place such tender and fragile hearts in my care. That I would be one in a handful of people who gets to guide these girls along this part of their path still fascinates me. And yet, they are not the only ones who  gain something in the process. They teach me on a regular basis how to be more relaxed, how to be more responsible, and how to be more generous. Seeing them stand up for themselves
and each other, or signing off on their hours of service, even watching them play volleyball at lunch; it all reminds me of who owns the kingdom of heaven.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of receiving and giving counsel, especially when it comes in the form of a child.

Some of you may know, and some of you may just be finding out right now, that I really enjoy shopping. Seriously, it's one of my favorite things to do. Lately shopping online has been my preferred method since it saves me time and I'm able to find items that are difficult to find at the store. I've also been trying to change my shopping habits because of what I have learned concerning production behind the items I purchase. It started with a documentary I saw a few years ago called "The Dark Side of Chocolate". Ever since then life as I know it has come undone. To think that my purchases contribute to child slavery around the world; or to deadly working conditions in developing countries; or even force field workers to endure harsh chemicals in our own country; it makes me yearn for change. And how else will things change if I don't? So here I am now, browsing Etsy for organic cotton shirts; spending money on fair trade food and household items; using everything I have until it falls apart; all because I like to shop but saw a documentary that demanded I do things differently. It makes me happier actually, knowing that because I buy and promote brands like Alaffia, two or three women somewhere in Africa have healthy, stable jobs. It's not easy, and it costs more, but if I'm going to spend money I'd rather it go to individuals who need it rather than to large corporations who seek it.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of knowledge and for those who help bestow that knowledge upon us in their creative and varied ways.

Art by Katherine Skaggs
I think my image of God has been evolving. While I was in the novitiate, I saw God as someone who understood my hardships and cared for me. However, God was still just "someone". There was no personal relationship even though I knew God was active in my life. Now, I have been coming to see God as a parent. It's interesting because even though I have been calling God "Father" my whole life, I have never felt God's presence in my life to be that of a parent. Mostly, I think this was because I didn't see myself as a child, let alone God's child. Thankfully, this is shifting. Memories of myself as a kid have reminded me of the precious joy and innocence that still reside within me. Now that I see myself as a little girl in need of God's providential care, I can better appreciate everything God does for me. At the same time, I work harder to please God the way a child would her mom or dad. I think, "God would be happy if I tried harder to be generous with my time," or "God would probably not be happy if I choose not to get up for prayers today". In this way, I am a child who fears the disappointment of her parents, but also one who rejoices when she pleases them.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of fear of the Lord, which is strengthened and nurtured through love.

This year has been one of the easiest and happiest of my religious life. Having a few years of experience behind me, most of what I accomplished this year was like putting a cherry on top of a cake. Of course, that cake first had to be mixed together and baked in just the right way so it wouldn't come out lumpy, raw, or burnt. That means if this year was the cherry on top, the years before were the hard years of mixing and measuring. During those times I thought I'd never make it. I said to myself, "This is it, the cake is going to topple. The fun is over." But even then I stuck around. Even when I thought the world as I knew it was coming to an end, I didn't give up. I attribute that to God's grace. God always seemed to place people and events in my life exactly when and where I needed them. If I needed someone to talk to or commiserate with, I had someone. If I needed to be reminded as to why I joined religious life, a vocation event always seemed to remedy the issue. I still have at least three years remaining in discernment, but I sure am glad that I've stayed put for the past six. I'm glad, not because this year was easy and I'm glad I made it to this year, but because instead of believing that I shouldn't have to work to be a part of something I love, or that I shouldn't have to stay in a commitment if I'm "unhappy", I'd rather do the work that strengthens me than avoid the work and remain weak.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of fortitude, even and especially when it blooms in the midst of adversity.

This post would be incomplete if it did not include my family. Without them, my vocation to the religious life and my current state of peace would not be
possible. I have them to thank for my appreciation of solitude, for my love of people, and for helping develop my gifts of dance and writing. They are the ones who worked with God to prepare the soil where my soul would be planted. Here's a story to give an example of how my mom helped me grow: I was in first grade. We had reading time every day for some specified amount of time, and we got to choose our book. We were supposed to read a book from the shelf specific to our grade level, but I had happily chosen to read a sixth grade book - "Where the Red Fern Grows" - without any qualms. When my teacher noticed this, she asked me to put the book away and pick a different one, one that was specific to my grade level. Apparently I didn't think that was a good idea, so I did what she said, but I hid my copy of "Where the Red Fern Grows" inside of the first-grade level book. When she found out I was doing this, she spoke to my mother. Here's the best part! My mom wasn't upset with me. Instead, she asked my teacher why I should read lower level books if I was capable of reading books beyond what was considered my grade level. As a result, we settled on a compromise. I had to read the lower level books at school, but I could take "Where the Red Fern Grows" home to read. This tells me that my mother always believed in me. She pushed me hard (how else was I able to read 6th grade level books at my age?) because she knew I had the ability. Not only that, but she wouldn't let anyone deny my abilities. My entire family continues to believe that I am capable of great things and have in turn led me to believe this about myself.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of piety and for those family members who teach us how to believe in ourselves.

Come Holy Spirit
Fill the hearts of your faithful
And kindle in them the fire of your love!