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

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Sweet Endings: My Lenten Dating Fast Wrap-Up

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OH MY.

I HAVE NOT BLOGGED IN TWO MONTHS.

WHAT?

Between final exams, graduation and packing up my life, I never got to tell you all how my dating fast ended. Well, the short answer is that it didn’t.

True, I finished Becker’s book, did all the exercises and reflections and learned a great deal about myself in the process. But like the story of Jesus and his apostles, my dating fast didn’t end with the Resurrection of our Lord. I still have a long way to go in my walk with Christ, as does everyone else; anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves. I’m not perfect. I still have many wounds that need healing. I’m still a hopeless romantic and there are times that I get impatient or anxious to be in a relationship. But God has blessed me abundantly in the past two months with friends, fellowship, peace and academic success.

In a sort of catch-up post, I’ll share a few of those blessings here:

1. My school’s second annual Beautiful Women of God retreat, which I helped to plan. I also got to talk about my dating fast experiences and share my testimony with 50 other women, including one of my best friends from high school, who was visiting for the weekend!

2. Solidified post-graduation plans. More on those to come later!

3. A wonderful 22nd birthday, despite it being so close to finals. Celebrating with my roommates and newspaper ed board, and the countless birthday messages from my family and friends. Thank you from my heart.

4. A fantastic senior week with friends I didn’t even know I had, which included a wine tour, jumping in the fountains on campus (a tradition at my school) and senior formal, to which I wore a dreamy pink gown that I paid 40 bucks for at a thrift shop.

5. Getting to cut off 12 inches of my hair to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that makes wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer. For more information on donating, please visit their website.

6. Fruitful conversations with family members, friends, classmates, campus ministers, host family and most importantly, with Jesus. 🙂

7. A new laptop, which I am currently using to type this post. I’m officially an Apple convert. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

8. Graduating cum laude and getting all A’s and A-minuses for my final semester of college! God is SO good, all the time.

9. Spending graduation weekend with my four favorite people in the world: my parents, sister and grandma.

10. The new chapter of my life that begins tomorrow, as I head off to Philadelphia for training, and then to Florida for my summer internship. I won’t give away too many specifics because this is the internet and people are crazy.

BONUS 11: You, reading this blog right now. You are a blessing to me, whether you have followed this journey from the beginning, or have just started. Merci mille fois!

A bientôt!

– Vicky

What have been some blessings in your life lately? Share them in the comments below!

On Perpetuas and Felicitys: My Lenten Dating Fast, Day 26

The weekend before Ash Wednesday, I attended my Catholic community’s spring retreat. The theme was “Meant for Lent,” so we spent a majority of our time talking about different ways to go on a journey with Jesus during Lent. During one of our first small-group discussions, we went around the circle and shared our plans for Lent. One of the group members didn’t want to share. When we asked him why, he said that suffering in silence, where only Jesus could see his pain, was more noble than telling people he was suffering.

Biblically, this viewpoint is valid (see Matthew 6:16-18,) and I did debate whether or not I should blog about my dating fast. However, I found that my experiences just spilled out of me, whether or not I wanted them to, and that this sharing kept me honest with myself and with others. And that, I think, is the key: being honest and holding yourself accountable. When you put your experiences on the Internet for the whole world to see, there will be people asking you about it. One of the greatest surprises and joys that God has given me during this dating fast is the positive feedback I’ve gotten on my posts from several non-Catholic and even non-Christian friends. I thought that having “Catholic” and “God” as my two most common tags would scare most people away, but people whom I thought wanted nothing to do with religion have come up to me saying, “I really like your blog!” It’s amazing what the word of God can do.

So do I feel guilty about sharing my dating fast? No, and not just because of the positive reception I’ve gotten.

I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s very easy for me to make excuses for why I’m not accomplishing my goals if I shut myself in a box and not tell anyone about them. The race to get to Heaven is the longest and hardest race you will ever have to run. There will be times when you feel like giving up; I’ve had many of those moments over the course of this dating fast. However, I have always been able to find my cheer squad of holy women and men to egg me on. God doesn’t expect us to grow in faith all by ourselves. Someone else has had to teach us the Good News at one point, whether we were 0 or 100. In order for that faith to stick with us and guide us, we need a support system of people to whom we can vent, whose shoulder we can cry on, with whom we can rejoice, and who love us enough to give us a reality check when need be.

Tonight, God gave me a serious reality check, and He chose to use a human mouth to give it to me. I had arrived at the chapel very early before Mass and was sitting in the office with a friend — let’s call her A. Another friend came in, and the three of us started talking about the women’s retreat this coming weekend. The other girl began to talk about her discernment of a romantic relationship, and A was reminding her that it was not on her schedule, but on God’s schedule, that this relationship would blossom or not. I was totally absorbed by A’s words. Trusting God with my love life has been such a struggle for me throughout my dating fast and throughout the past few years.

After the other girl left, A and I continued our conversation. Though A had only come into my life this semester, within 10 minutes, I was bawling as I opened up to her about how hard loving Jesus over anyone else was. She just talked to me, assuring me that even though I sin daily and run away from Jesus, He never abandons me and never loves me less, but MORE. It turned out she was struggling with many of the same issues I was. It was so comforting to know that I wasn’t alone, and that I think is why I felt compelled to blog about this dating fast; I want anyone reading this who is struggling with letting Jesus take the wheel in their love life to know that they are not alone, that God loves them unconditionally and though the road to Heaven is treacherous at times, there is forgiveness, healing and joy waiting at the end of it.

I think of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, the North African noblewoman and her slave who were martyred in the 3rd century. There’s a reason we remember them together; they depended on each other. They couldn’t have fulfilled God’s will for them without one another’s support. They stood side by side as sisters in Christ, even as the wild beasts in the arena tore at their flesh and the swords of the soldiers finally ended them. As women of God, we need to stick together. We need to hold each other accountable. We need to cheer each other on, pick each other up when we fall and trust that there will be others to pick us up when we fall.

So to A, and you at home reading this post, thank you for cheering me on in this journey to Heaven. Know that I am praying for you and cheering you on as well.

A plus tard!

– Vicky

Who’s on your personal cheer squad? Tell me in the comments below!

 

 

You Were Worth Dying For: My Lenten Dating Fast, Day 20

I needed to reach a breaking point in the dating fast. And I did.

My dare for Day 17 was to meditate in front of a crucifix. The idea was to imagine Christ on the cross saying to me, “I did this for you. Just for you.”

My problem is that I really, really suck at meditating. My brain is always buzzing with 10 different ideas at once. When I try to focus on my post-Communion prayer during Mass, I inevitably think about something else the whole time and then do a quick father-son-holy-spirit-amen after the priest says, “Let us pray.” However, I’ve found that my brain is more inclined to focus, especially during prayer, when my hands are occupied. So to combat any mental wanderings, I brought my journal with me into the meditation chapel on campus. After a minute or two in front of the cross, I opened up my journal and began to write: “Are you just as you were when you were 15?”

At age 15, I felt called to take ownership of my faith in a way I hadn’t before, which is a story for another time. As I wrote in the meditation chapel, the question that plagued me was whether God had really made me a better, more holy person in those six years. And for the first two-thirds of the time I spent there, I thought that I was the same person as I was at 15, just with more sin.

As I wrote, I felt the weight of all the things I had done wrong in the past six years, even the ones that had been absolved through confession. My heart felt like lead. I began to cry. I’m generally not a crier during prayer, but God brought me to my knees in that moment. I asked Jesus, “Why was I worth dying for? I have all this sin on my heart. I hate myself for all the ways I’ve hurt You and others. How can You say You love someone like me? I don’t deserve it.”

I was writing furiously and sobbing alternately. Here I was trying to grow closer to God, doing all the right things — going to Mass three times a week, praying, going on a dating fast, listening to Christian music, etc. — yet I still felt like a horrible human being. I couldn’t see God working in my life. I wasn’t a saint, therefore, I had to be the worst sinner in the world.

Suddenly, everything changed. I began to write out the lyrics to “By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North: “Why are you striving these days? Why are you trying to earn grace? … Look at these hands and my side. They swallowed the grave on that night, when I drank the world’s sin, so I could carry you in and give you life.” After I had written out a good chunk of the lyrics, I turned the page and wrote five words in huge letters: “YOU WERE WORTH DYING FOR.”

In that moment, Jesus’ mercy penetrated all the layers of shame and self-loathing that had been weighing me down just a few minutes prior. Mark 2:17 reads, “‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”

For much of my spiritual journey, I have battled the false idea that I need to cross off every item on a spiritual checklist before God can love me. God never said, “I will only love you if you don’t sin.” If that was the case, He wouldn’t have sent us His only Son, Jesus Christ, so that we might be free and forgiven from our sins.

This is our faith. This is amazing grace. Believe it. Jesus’ mercy is yours. Take it.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

What are some of your favorite ways to pray? Tell me in the comments below!

“I Want Heaven for You”: My Lenten Dating Fast, Day 9

‘And like I can’t force the sun to rise or hasten summer’s start, neither should I rush my way into your heart,’ – Brooke Fraser, ‘Love is Waiting’

Over the past few months, I’ve been obsessively watching talks from the Steubenville Conferences on YouTube. For those of you who don’t know, the Steubenville Conferences are a series of Catholic youth conferences held through the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. They have amazing and faith-filled speakers every summer. Seriously, if you ever need a spiritual pick-me-up, just watch one of their many, many videos.

Two of my favorite flavors of Steubenville talks are the Men’s and Women’s Sessions. As you might expect, these talks focus largely on God’s plan for love and marriage, and as you also might expect, the speakers tailor their message to suit each gender. For the women, the speakers focus on chastity, modesty and body image. The men’s session focuses on chastity, lust and pornography. These aren’t the only subjects they talk about, but they’re themes that I’ve seen across the board.

I now think both talks should be required viewing for both sexes. Why? Because on the most basic level, men and women deal with exactly the same things.

A theme that comes up frequently in the Men’s Sessions is seeing a woman as a beautiful human being to be loved instead of an object of lust to be used. Praise God that that message is getting out there! But I think a similar discussion of lust is missing from most of the Women’s Sessions: how do women fall into the trap of lust, and how can we get out of it?

Sarah Swafford is one of the few Women’s Session speakers I’ve seen talk about how women use men physically and emotionally. Since I saw the video of her 2013 talk a few weeks ago, I’ve noticed how I use guys without even realizing it. Have you ever met a guy for the first time, looked into his eyes, and immediately thought, “Is this the guy I’m supposed to marry?” I have, and I don’t think I’m alone here. Swafford calls it “The Emotocoaster,” where you go from meeting a guy, to mentally planning out your whole relationship, to Facebook-stalking, to texting, to spilling your soul on the phone every night, and on and on. And it repeats for (almost) every guy you meet.

Now of course, this “emotocoaster” looks pretty similar to how many romantic relationships begin. But what’s the difference? Most of the time, when women get on the emotocoaster, we see the object of our affection as just that — an object to be had, a trophy male specimen to be won, instead of a human being with emotions, needs, opinions and desires.

Jason Evert says that, as Catholics, human sexuality is not something we should try to get rid of, but something we should take control of and refine in order to fulfill our true calling for authentic, life-giving love. One naive reason why I wanted to go on this dating fast was because I thought that by not dating, my attraction to guys would go away. I know, sounds backwards, right? It is. But I have been so angry at myself because I still look at guys I know and wonder if they’re “The One.” I haven’t been loving Jesus because I’ve been so focused on not liking guys. My “dare” for Day 2 of the dating fast was to write a love letter to God. I still haven’t written it.

My goal for the next week of the Dating Fast is to focus more on Jesus’ love for me and my love for Him, instead of worrying about not being attracted to men. I know that God put that attraction to men and desire for marriage and love in my heart, and He will realize it in His own time. In order to combat my emotional use of guys in the present moment, I’ve started looking at guys I find attractive and thinking, “I want Heaven for you.” In other words, “I want what’s best for you, even if it doesn’t include me.”

I’ve come up with percentages to keep in mind: 33.3% of the heterosexual guys I meet are called to marriage with a woman that is not me; 33.3% of them are called to a religious vocation; 33.3% of them are called to a single life; .1% are called to marry me. 

My math-major roommate has full license to pick apart my hackneyed calculations, but they’ve helped me put things into perspective. I’m going to hold out for that .1%, the one man Jesus has picked out for me, and only me. Until then, I’m going to let Jesus, the only man who can satisfy all the desires of my heart, love me.

Thank you so much for your overwhelming support of my last post. I’m keeping all of you in my prayers this Lenten season.

À la prochaine,

– Vicky

Blessings Come Through Snowflakes: My Lenten Dating Fast, Day 1

“What if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?” – Laura Story, “Blessings”

This is going to make me lose some of my Catholic street cred, but this is the first year I’m taking Lent seriously.

I know, I know, where the heck have I been for the past 21 years? Well, I’m not going to make any more excuses.

Throughout my college years, and especially this past year, I’ve often caught myself throwing spiritual temper tantrums. It’s odd, because I never really threw tantrums as a kid; one look from my dad squashed all thought of rebellion. Yet here I was, fighting my Heavenly Father as He tried to draw me closer to Him, to call me to a deeper understanding of my faith, to help me be satisfied with His love before anyone else’s. This last point has kept me from a deeper relationship with God for a long time. I’ve been single for about six months now, and I don’t think I ever fully healed from my last breakup. It sounds backwards; why wouldn’t I want to get over it and move on?

The truth is, I have wanted to move on. I just haven’t allowed myself to.

Our culture has a hostile attitude toward grief of all kinds: breakups, death, illness, divorce, financial troubles, loss of a job, etc. We’re given a grace period of two or three weeks before we begin to hear silent remarks of “That was ages ago! Why are you still crying over it? Can’t you just move on?” Anyone who has ever been through grief knows that these things don’t just vanish in two weeks. A scent, a look, a thought will trigger a memory months, years or even decades later. Bottling it all up does no one any good. So this Lenten season, I am allowing myself to heal, to grieve, to run into Jesus’ arms and find rest.

I stumbled upon Katherine Becker’s book “The Dating Fast” while browsing through Catholic articles on the Interwebs one night. I’m sure there are other types of dating fasts out there, but Becker’s is a 40-day devotional about healing from past relationships, building a deeper relationship with Jesus, and rediscovering God’s true plan for love and marriage. Oh, and by the way, no dating, no crushing, for 40 days. I’m serious. I ordered the book from Amazon and it came in on Valentine’s Day — too perfect, right? So for the next 40 days, I’ll be reflecting at random intervals about what Jesus has been revealing to me and how I’ve grown.

Day 1: “Love is patient, love is kind, yadayadayada” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Ah, the classic wedding passage. I admit that I rolled my eyes when I saw this as my first reading. Wasn’t I supposed to turn away from taking BuzzFeed wedding quizzes and focus on God? But as I reread it slowly, I realized that the passage is not just a bunch of rules about how two married people should love each other; it’s a reflection of how God loves us. Becker’s reflections suggested replacing the word “Love” with “God.” “God is patient. God is kind, etc.” This is how God loves each and every one of us, even if we are not patient and kind and loving to Him or to others.

But I was still frustrated. I didn’t know how to let Jesus love me. Jesus couldn’t take me out to dinner and give me a big hug and kiss at the end of a rough day. How could I be satisfied with just His love if He was up in Heaven and I was stuck down here? I finally said, “Jesus, You need to show me how much You love me, because I can’t see it.”

When I left my apartment to go to my first class, it was snowing. I felt the snowflakes hitting my cheeks and lips, and I imagined they were little kisses from Jesus. I know, I’m so corny. But Jesus kept showing me little ways He could love me, through a stranger who held the door open for me, or a classmate who ran to get me paper towels after I had spilled my coffee. Of course, I also received His love at Ash Wednesday Mass, through ashes, Communion and the faces of my beloved community.

I wouldn’t call today the best day ever: I took a grueling Italian midterm, snapped at one of my colleagues, and dragged my feet on answering emails. But through it all, Jesus made my day better. He’s not stuck up there in Heaven; He is with us, always. He is ever-vigil, always scheming new ways to show us how much He loves us. He wants to show every single woman how beautiful and loved she is; He’s just waiting on your “Yes” to His love.

How are you preparing for Easter during the season of Lent? Tell me in the comments!

A plus!

– Vicky

For more information on Katherine Becker and “The Dating Fast”, please visit www.thedatingfast.com.