Dear Class of 2016: Be a Work in Progress

Dear Class of 2016,

First of all, congratulations! You’ve probably been hearing that a lot lately, whether in person or in a card, and the well-wishes are probably oozing out of your ears. But seriously, take a moment today to say, “Yes, I did it.” I know you’ve just finished finals, res life is kicking you out of your dorm in 6 hours and you definitely don’t have enough boxes for all your stuff. But amid all the craziness, take a moment for yourself to soak in and remember the day by.

OK, that was the preliminary advice. Now for the actual point of this letter: be a work in progress. Yes, you’ve worked hard and accomplished amazing things, but you’re only at the beginning. And despite what you might tell yourself, it’s OK to not have it all together. It’s OK to be scared, confused, and anxious about your future. Not having a job or internship lined up after graduation doesn’t make you a failure. Delaying further education doesn’t make you unfocused. Taking a gap year doesn’t make you lazy (just ask Malia Obama.) And on the other side of the spectrum, it’s OK if your first job or grad school program isn’t right for you. Don’t measure your self-worth based on where you think you should be at this point in your life. You are more than your resume.

So what do I mean when I say “be a work in progress”? I mean that you should allow yourself to explore, grow, make mistakes, and change your mind. Nobody has it all figured out. And if you think you have it all figured out now, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and radically your plans can change. Being a work in progress does not make you a failure, or unfocused, or lazy. It makes you human. Even the top professionals in any field, who have decades of experience, are constantly growing and working toward the next goal.

Be a work in progress. Take a step toward your next goal every day, even if it is a very small step, like sending out three job applications or putting aside just a small amount for an apartment or for grad school. Make it a concrete step, not just a thought, but an action. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. You are not alone. Your small efforts will add up and you will start to see progress.

Be a work in progress. When you wake up every morning, try to be a more patient, more generous, more loving person than you were the day before. It is never too late to try again, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. It will be difficult, especially when everyone else around you is becoming more self-serving. But it is not impossible.

Be a work in progress. Don’t compare yourself to others. I know it’s tempting to social media stalk all your classmates and see if your accomplishments measure up to theirs. Don’t do it. If you find yourself scrolling through picture after picture of your friend’s chic apartment in a new city, step away. It’s OK to ask your friends about their post-grad plans, but that conversation is a lot better to have in a private message or even *gasp* in person. Trust me, I am not a social media hater; in fact, I probably spend way too much time on it. But as most of us have figured out, Instagram stalking is not the best confidence booster. As my best friend always tells me, “You have done enough. You are enough.”

Be a work in progress. Surround yourself with other works in progress. Inspire each other and cheer each other on.

In a world that constantly demands a finished product, be brave. Be a work in progress.

A bientot!

– Vicky

Congratulations to the Class of 2016, especially my sister, who graduated two weeks ago, and my cousin, graduating this weekend.

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The Scariest Four-Letter Word

All great conversations start over a bottle of wine, am I right?

OK, maybe not all of them, but many certainly do, like the one I had last week at a friend’s potluck.

Whenever the word “date” is dropped in a conversation, it seems like every head in the room turns to be a part of it. We all have something to contribute, even if our personal dating experience is limited.

In this particular instance, a girlfriend and I were sharing our frustration at many guys we knew who couldn’t pluck up the courage to ask someone out. One of our guy friends overheard this and immediately put his two cents in. Soon, the entire party – 10 or 12 people of different backgrounds and ages – sat in our hostess’s tiny living room debating until late into the night. Who should make the first move? Why are men so terrified to ask the question? Why do women guard themselves and expect others to read their minds? How does dating even work nowadays?

I do not have the answers to these questions. Sorry. However, the one thing I took from that discussion is that “date” is the scariest four-letter word. And we need to use it, now more than ever.

It’s no secret that the dating world is confusing as anything and no one’s clear on how to navigate it. Therefore,  more than anything else in our relationships, we need clarity. Across genders and sexual orientations, all people, we drive ourselves crazy trying to classify our relationships: “Well, we’re seeing each other, but we’re not together, and we’re hooking up, but he’s not my boyfriend, but he asked me to hang out tonight so I guess we’re a thing …”

Ugh. That was a frustrating sentence to type. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if one of them had said, “Will you go on a date with me?” or even “Is this a date?” Boom. Problem solved.

I and others I know have been on way too many “non-dates”: meetings that seemed like dates, but neither party used the word “date.” And let me tell you, there is nothing more maddening than trying to figure out what that non-date meant.

Let me be clear: I’m not attacking men in particular. Women, or the person on the receiving end of the offer of a date, should be able to demand clarity. I’m also not saying that men and women can’t go out as friends. I’ve gone out with men as “just friends” and had a great time! In those cases, the guy’s intention was clear, the pressure was off, and I could just relax and be myself. And the same goes for actual, romantic, I-like-you-that-way dates.

A date is just a date. It’s not a marriage proposal, and it doesn’t even mean you two want to be in a long-term, committed relationship. It’s just a date.

So if you are planning on asking someone out, please, please use the word “date.” Conversely, if you receive an invitation, please ask for clarification: “Is this a date?” It’s a scary word, but we need to use it. Even if someone says no, I guarantee they will appreciate your courage and honesty. And, if that person says yes, congratulations! Now your first-date jitters will stem from butterflies when you see your date coming toward you and not asking yourself whether you’re on a date at all.

Bonne semaine!

– Vicky

What’s your most awkward first date story? Share in the comments below!

Why I Get Excited About Lent

Many self-improvement programs feature a 30-day challenge (30 days of fitness, clean eating, life organization, you name it.)

I myself am in the midst of a 40-day challenge, the same one I do every year. It’s called Lent.

Growing up Catholic, Lent was generally seen as a dreaded period of depravity. Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, as you prefer) was usually celebrated in my family by a trip to Wendy’s to stuff our faces with burgers and Frostys before the long 40 days of meatless Fridays and no chocolate. As a kid, you were pressured to “give up” something you loved for Lent, and there was always that one smart aleck in your CCD class who boldly declared he was giving up school for Lent.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to understand that Lent is just as much about what you add as what you subtract.

My first serious foray into doing something extra for Lent was my senior year of college, when I followed the 40-day devotional outlined in Katherine Becker’s book, “The Dating Fast.” (For my blog series on this book, click here.) Though I didn’t know it at the time, this book laid the groundwork for my hunger to learn more about the Catholic faith, and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in particular. And it all began with me following my God-given curiousity and typing “dating fast” into Google! Granted, I still have a loooooooooooooooooooong way to go in my discovery of TOB. However, without that “little something extra” for Lent, I wouldn’t have started on the journey.

Lent is not the end. It is the beginning of renewal, of conversion, of realizing more fully our God-given potential for greatness.

This year, I found myself less excited for Mardi Gras and more excited for Ash Wednesday, or as I like to call it, Catholic Awareness Day. I had my Lenten sacrifices and “somethings extra” all planned out, and I was so ready for the challenge. More than anything, I was excited to see what kind of person God could mold me into in 40 days. Instead of looking at Lent as a miserable period of depravity, I felt like someone about to start Whole30 or P90X. What could I, by God’s grace working in me, become in just 40 days?

Some of you reading this post may be thinking, “That’s great, Vicky, but Lent is more than halfway over. And I’ve already caved and ate a huge piece of chocolate cake yesterday.” All I have to say is that Lent isn’t over yet. Remember that talk we had about New Year’s Resolutions? The same applies to Lent. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to try again.

If you can’t get into the spirit of the season, think of the last three weeks of Lent as an extra challenge. Get back on track with the goals you made on Ash Wednesday. Maybe set a new goal for yourself, even something small, like doing one random act of kindness every day. These next three weeks are Catholic crunch time, preparing for the most glorious celebration of our Church year: Easter Sunday!

Are you in? I’m in.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Dear Future Wives: Rules for Making “The Husband List”

After my Lenten dating fast in 2014, I decided to start seriously praying for my future husband. If I’m meant to be married, it must mean that the guy I’m going to marry is out there somewhere, even if that somewhere is Mars. I remembered a Steubenville Women’s Session led by Jackie Francois Angel, where she talked about a prayer journal she kept for her future husband. On the first few pages of the journal, she wrote out her “husband list,” or everything she wanted in a spouse, and she wrote prayers in that journal every month for three years. She re-met her future husband when the journal was almost full.

I don’t know if the timing will be as awesome as that for me, as I have a lot of pages left in my own “future spouse” journal. But as I’ve written in this little book over the past year and a half, I’ve realized this practice is much more common than I thought. After doing a little research among Christian female bloggers, I’ve found that Christian preteen girls are generally encouraged to make their “husband lists” way before they’ve started dating, so their filtering system for any future love interests is all based on speculation. I had gone through several relationships and many awkward dates before I started my prayer journal, so I had a semisolid idea of what I wanted and didn’t want. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it would be seen as totally antiquated in today’s culture. So imagine my surprise and relief when my best friend since sixth grade, who isn’t Catholic, told me she had made her own future husband list!

As with any trend in Christian culture, the husband list has gotten some backlash in recent years. Some say that these lists hold men up to impossible standards, much in the same way pop culture has done to women for years. Others argue that checklists set girls up for disappointment because, as one blogger put it, we all want a perfect, fictional man who doesn’t exist. (Yes, my little fangirl heart is broken because Gilbert Blythe doesn’t exist.)

I get the criticism, but I think there are merits to writing such a list. It’s a good way to organize your thoughts and keep yourself honest about any crushes that come your way. However, I think we need to lay a few ground rules before we draw hearts in pink gel pen all over an old notebook. (Do people even use gel pens anymore?)

So without further ado, here are my 10 rules to keep in mind while making a “future husband” list.

1. Eliminate any physical characteristics.

It’s OK to be attracted to certain physical traits moreso than others, and mutual physical attraction is important in a relationship, but don’t write someone off because they have brown eyes instead of blue. If that seems silly, maybe some secondary characteristics have made it onto your list. What if God handed you your perfect partner, but he was several inches shorter than you? Would you really turn him down over that? I hope not.

2. List traits that YOU are looking for, not what makes other people happy.

One of the merits of the future spouse list is that it’s a great personal reflection exercise. If you’re someone who keeps a to-do list or writes down the pros and cons when making a major decision, this is a wonderful way to organize your thoughts. Remember, this list is for you. It’s not for your mom or your parish priest, and your professor isn’t going to grade it. So don’t put anything on your list that you are not truly looking for in a lifelong relationship.

3. Don’t treat your list as a binding contract.

I wrote my future husband list in the summer of 2014, but even after 18 months, there are several things I would add, delete, or change. It’s so easy to overthink this list, as if dating or life experience won’t fill in gaps along the way. God won’t give you a husband who has a gambling problem simply because you didn’t think to put it on your list! That said, if you’re still holding onto that list you made when you were 11, it might be time for a revised edition.

4. Separate the negotiable from the non-negotiable.

Any physical characteristics? Negotiable. Common core values? Non-negotiable.

Oh, and for the record, you two don’t have to like all the same things. Sure, friendships and relationships usually begin due to common interests, and it is important to have some similar interests with your spouse. However, our individual hobbies and interests are what make us, well, interesting. Don’t expect your husband to give up one of his interests because you don’t share it, just like you wouldn’t want him to tell you to give up a hobby that you love because he doesn’t like it.

To recap: A guy who will binge-watch Gilmore Girls with you? Negotiable. A guy who is your biggest fan even if he doesn’t like/understand what you like to do? Non-negotiable.

5. Look for constant effort, not perfection.

Laraine Bennett, a blogger at the Catholic Match Institute, wrote an article against the idea of the husband list, in response to another blogger who had listed 12 ideals that should be on every girl’s future husband list. Bennett writes, “My husband and I would never have gotten married if we had required that we already possessed these twelve ideals, and we have been happily married now for 36 years. We were working on many of those supposed ‘non-negotiables’ at the time we met.”

As the chaplain of my college’s Catholic community always used to say, we’re not perfect yet. Faith is a journey. There are going to be good days and bad days, and you won’t always be the best version of yourself. Don’t look for someone who doesn’t ever make a mistake because he doesn’t exist. You will both make plenty of mistakes in your dating relationship and especially, especially in marriage. The key is that both of you choose to love, choose to forgive, and choose each other, no matter how many times you screw up.

6. Be your future husband’s prayer warrior, not a seeker.

Seriously, your husband’s not a Golden Snitch. He’s a human being with thoughts, feelings and issues, just like you. Let’s face it: being a young person of faith can be really hard in today’s world. We need the prayers and support of others, and I guarantee your future husband needs your prayers, even if you have no idea who he is yet.

A few months ago, two of my good friends and I completed a 54-day Rosary novena for our future husbands, wherever they were. It was a powerful experience because every day, not one, not two, but three Rosaries were being said for each of our spouses! For Lent, we’re doing another 54-day novena, this time for ourselves, that we can become the best daughters of God we can be, which brings me to …

7. “Strive to become the woman of your dreams, and you will attract the man of your dreams.”

This piece of awesomeness comes from another Steubenville talk by Sarah Swafford, and I think it nails the point of making the husband list. It’s a form of discernment — not just of who you want to marry, but who you want to be, regardless of marital status. If you want a husband who goes to daily Mass, you should be at daily Mass. If you want someone who’s close with his family, make sure you carve out time to spend with those you love. Make a separate list of goals that have nothing to do with getting married. Whether God calls you to marriage or to a different vocation, you should constantly be working on yourself, while remembering that you are a beloved daughter of God.

8. Forgive yourself and him.

Once again, people make mistakes. We’re broken. Getting into a relationship doesn’t make your problems go away; in fact, once the honeymoon phase is over, all your faults, issues and insecurities will rise to the surface. It’s up to you to decide whether you will stick it out, or walk away. Granted, if the guy you’re into exhibits any of the traits on Crystalina Evert’s “Dump Him” List, well, do as the title suggests. But don’t expect a perfect partner. You’re not perfect, either. I once read a quote from a woman who said that she knew she found “the one” when she found a man with faults she could live with and virtues that she didn’t want to live without.

9. Remember who the real Bridegroom is.

One of the most frustrating pieces of advice you hear as a Christian single person from well-meaning adults is, “Make Jesus the love of your life.” The frustration is twofold; on one hand, you don’t know how to do that, and on the other, despite this advice there is an unbelievable amount of pressure to date someone, anyone, just to have a relationship. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this one out. But one thing I’ve learned is that a relationship with Jesus takes effort, just like any human relationship. Walking humbly with God is a daily choice. Jesus is not going to be the love of your life if you don’t let Him. And believe me, you, as part of His Church, are already the love of His (everlasting) life.

10. It’s not all about you.

Repeat after me: Marriage is not just about making you happy. The sacrament of marriage is beautiful, but it requires hard work, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and putting someone else’s needs before your own — even when you don’t feel like it. If your list sounds a lot like a Meghan Trainor song, you might want to scrap it and start over.

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So to all my single ladies and gents (and those in relationships), Bonne Saint Valentin!

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: I just want to hear your thoughts on this topic. There’s so much to talk about, so leave me a comment!

Rethinking The New Year’s Resolution

Bonjour, mes amis!

At the end of my last post, I mentioned that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to post on this blog every Friday.

Clearly, that hasn’t happened. I apologize for that. I’m not very good at keeping resolutions in general. But on the upside, I don’t think I’m alone.

Making a New Year’s resolution is founded on a great idea: looking forward to the coming year, and trying to be a better, kinder, healthier, more organized person. However, we seem to have entered into a sad mindset where resolutions can only be made at the beginning of the year, and if they’re broken after two weeks, one week or even a few days, it’s over. We’ve failed. We’ll try again next year.

When did we start giving up on ourselves so quickly? When did we get the idea that we only had one shot to get our New Year’s resolution right, and not a whole 12 months of trial and error?

Making big life changes is difficult. There’s a period of adjustment, when we’re still figuring things out. We forget, we get lazy, we say we’ll start over tomorrow. And we see this as complete, total, unredeemable failure.

The more I thought about my own New Year’s resolutions and my successful and not-so-successful attempts at fulfilling them, the more I realized that I was putting the focus on the wrong thing. These resolutions or tasks I wanted to complete in 2016 were merely stepping stones that directed me to an area of my life that I wanted to improve upon.

For example, I am the worst at responding to messages: text, Facebook, email, snail mail, passenger pigeon, you name it. I read the message, mentally process the information, and then never respond. My thoughtlessness has received several well-meaning complaints from friends and family, and this is not something I want to carry into my professional life. Therefore, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to respond to every short message within 8 hours, and every longer message within 24 hours. Side note: I avoid answering personal messages at work, but any work-related message deserves an immediate response.

This month, I’ve had some success with this resolution, but many, many failures. My ultimate goal is not to get better at responding to messages, because I honestly find writing messages really stressful and time-consuming, like every sentence that I send out into the universe has to be perfect. Crazy writer, I know. However, I deeply value my relationships with others, personal and professional, so if answering people’s messages in a timely manner makes them feel valued, respected and loved, it’s so worth the minor stress and little time taken. My ultimate goal with this resolution is to be a more trustworthy and reliable person, and to mend any rifts in my relationships that I’ve caused by not responding to messages. 

If you’ve been struggling to keep your New Year’s resolution(s), whatever it is, don’t give up on yourself. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what your ultimate goal is. Maybe you want to lose weight because you know it will avoid future health problems. Maybe you want to spend more time in prayer because you want to become a more peaceful and holy person. Don’t look at your resolution as a task to be accomplished, but as a small step toward becoming the best version of yourself.

So what’s my ultimate goal with posting on this blog every week? To sharpen my skills as a writer, and most of all, to connect with you — my wonderfully patient and supportive readers. Thank you for following me on this journey, even when I fall short. In the words of JJ Heller, “Let’s fight a good fight, train our eyes to find the light, and make this year the best one yet … starting right here, Happy New Year!

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: Share your New Year’s resolutions with me in the comments! Let’s hold each other accountable. 🙂

 

 

 

The Purpose of Unexpected Joy

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy 2016!

Despite growing up 25 miles away from New York City, I never spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, much to the chagrin of my European friends. I never felt a desire to stand in the cold for 10 hours in the middle of a drunken mob, waiting for an event that was over in a blink. This year, being a part-time New Yorker changed that.

One of my friends from my NYC Catholic book club was the organizer of an annual New Year’s Eve party at St. Malachy’s Church, one block away from Times Square. I expected a fun night with a few good friends. Little did I know that God wanted to give me an NYC afternoon adventure with a new friend from out of town, a sparkly disco ball mask to wear, Mass in a beautiful church, drinks and dancing, and the crown jewel of the evening: getting to pass through the police barricade around Times Square and watch the ball drop in person with a million rejoicing people and probably a billion pieces of confetti.

I never asked for it, but God decided to give His little girl one last gift to celebrate the end of the year.

Today, I kept asking myself why I of all people received such unexpected joy at the end of the year. A few weeks ago, my book club discussed the purpose and beauty of suffering, how it can shape us into better people and teach us to rely more heavily on God, among other things. After this discussion, I expected God would bring some suffering in my life in order to put these ideas into practice. But the end of my year was so joyful that I got a little confused. 

Of course, this is only the first day of 2016. A lot of suffering can happen in the near future. But is there a purpose to joy? Are we supposed to just appreciate joy, or is there a responsibility that comes with joy?

The comparison between my average expectations for the evening and what I experienced reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from his book The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about … when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We often don’t expect to find joy because we don’t think we deserve it. We’re not miserable, so we don’t need anything to bring us joy. We’re just moving through life trying to get it all done, and that’s enough for us. Besides, why should we be so happy when so many people in the world are suffering? But those who have experienced deep joy know that it’s impossible to hide. It shows in your face and your smile and your eyes, and other people can see it.

That’s the great responsibility that comes with the great power of joy: to let our joy spill over into the lives of others, to use our light to cast out, even partially, someone else’s darkness. One of my coworkers told me recently, “Your smile is the first thing I see when I walk into the office, and I know it’s going to be a good day.” In 2016, I hope to continue to bring joy to others, no matter what suffering I may have to face.

God doesn’t just want us to feel “fine,” he wants to give us joy! Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.” So as we move into 2016, I challenge you to expect joy. Expect love. Expect positivity. Expect laughter. Expect friendship. And when you or someone you know is in a tough situation, use your joy to make a difference.

Thank you to all who have followed this blog for the past three years. I wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to making 2016 the best year yet!

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on this blog every Friday. Share your resolutions in the comments below!

Dear HONY Girl: An Open Letter

I’ve followed Brandon Stanton’s photo blog Humans of New York for a very long time and I love it. I’ve always believed that people are far more interesting than meets the eye if you know how to ask the right questions, and this blog is proof. There have been so many moving and funny stories shared thousands of times on social media that come from this blog. HONY was even able to raise more than $1 million for a school in Brownsville, Brooklyn after a photo of its valedictorian went viral.

So why do I bring it up? Last week, one post broke my heart. The subject was a young woman, though she didn’t show her face, only her hand. On her finger was a silver ring that spelled LOVE in curlicue letters. In the accompanying caption, she said that she had been in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship for five years. Please read the original post here.

I commented on the Facebook post, like more than 33,000 others, but I wanted to write more. Please share this post with anyone who is in a similar situation:

Dear sweet sister,

I’m so sorry this is happening to you. But I understand. I understand because I’ve been there.

I know how it feels when love is romantic and exciting when you’re together, yet you cry for hours when you’re alone. I know how it feels to believe that your worth is directly related to your relationship with another person. I know the fear that if the relationship ends for any reason, it would be all your fault and you would be a failure. I know how complicated your feelings can be; how can this person hurt me so much if he says he loves me? I’ve bought the lie that physical harm is the only kind of abuse. I know rejection, self-loathing, anger, and despair, and I know wanting to get up the next morning and do it all again, thinking this time will be different.

However, it seems like it hasn’t been different. It will never be different with him. You can’t change his behavior, but you can change your perspective.

Many comments on your photo, mine included, told you to get out. It’s not too late. You CAN get out. You say you’re scared to leave; I understand that too. But let me tell you some truths about you that may help you.

You were created, beautiful and worthy, fearfully and wonderfully, by a master artist. By your very existence, you have value and deserve to be treated with respect. You know deep in your heart that you were made for free, total, fruitful and faithful love. You know that you deserve more than a relationship that robs you of your self-worth, your joy, your goals and dreams. You deserve a partner who celebrates YOU, all of you, as you were created to be. You are worth celebrating.

It is only through believing these truths that you will find the courage to break free. Trust yourself. Trust my words. The longer you wait to break up, the harder it gets. This relationship does not merit another second of your time. Seek help. If you think your safety is in jeopardy, have an authority figure go with you to break up. Reach out to family, friends, a clergy member, a counselor, anyone who will support you. If you can’t find anyone to help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

I wish you all the beauty, joy and love this world has to offer, and I wish for the world all the beauty, joy and love you have to offer it. I love you. I’m praying for you.

You are enough.

Love,

A sister