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!

Hundred Word Reviews: “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle

Challenge No. 4: A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

“A Year in Provence,” by Peter Mayle, finished May 3. It’s set in France. Of course I want to go there.

Hundred Word Review: In the late 1980s, Peter Mayle and his wife, Jennie, left the corporate rat race of England behind and bought a 200-year-old farmhouse in the sprawling countryside of Provence. This memoir details their first year in the village of Ménerbes, where they encounter bitter winter winds, moochy summer tourists, and laissez-faire construction workers. But there’s also mouthwatering regional cuisine, interesting new friends, and stunning scenery. It’s clear why this book is a classic piece of travel writing. If you love France, food, and richly detailed, funny writing, gobble this book up and wash it down with a glass of rosé.

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Next up, “a nonfiction book.”

Happy reading!

Vicky

A Functioning Roman Catholic, Among Other Things

Bonne année a tous! Happy New Year, everyone!

For those of you who are new to this blog, especially my fellow participants of Blogging U.’s Blogging 101 class, bienvenue! I hope you’ll comment on this post so I can get to know all of you!

Recently, I reached 50 followers on this blog. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a blogger whose most frequently used tags are “Catholic” and “God,” I am very grateful. Thank you so much to everyone! I also apologize for my “En Avant Pour L’Avent” series falling through. :/

So about me: I’m Vicky, short for Victoria. (You’d be surprised at how many people don’t make the connection.) I was born and raised in New Jersey. Despite my lack of French heritage, I’ve been obsessed with France for as long as I can remember. I started studying French when I was thirteen years old and double-majored in writing and French in college. I’m spending my first post-grad year teaching English to French middle schoolers in a small town about an hour north of Paris. My idea of paradise is a secondhand bookstore with a coffee shop. I text in full sentences using proper grammar. I’m either an outgoing introvert or a shy extrovert — I can’t decide. I have a head full of useless and random information. I laugh a little too hard. I love to bake and travel, but mostly I love to write. One of my life goals is to get a book published. It doesn’t have to be a bestseller; I just want a hot-off-the-press copy in my hands, none of this e-book nonsense.

Oh, and I’m also Catholic.

So why did I leave that part till the last? My faith is extremely important to me, but it’s not the only thing that makes me me. When I tell people I’m Catholic, they seem to lump me into a sort of homogenous box of people wearing beige sweaters and praying the Rosary. While I do love a good Rosary, I’m not some supreme holy being; I’m a human being. If anything, Catholics are a bunch of messed up, broken and very different people that know we need a Savior, Jesus Christ.

I do want to talk about my faith on this blog, but I also want to talk about other things I love, namely literature, France, travel, and (gasp!) feminism. My hope is that someone who isn’t Catholic will read my blog and think, “OK, this girl seems pretty normal. Maybe Catholics aren’t as crazy as I thought.”

I will look at Catholicism with a critical eye and a funny bone if need be; hey, Stephen Colbert has made a career out of taking shots at the Catholic Church, and he’s a devout Catholic! In fact, the title of this post comes from a segment about Lent on The Colbert Report.

Keep in mind that I am not an expert on anything. My opinions are my own, that of a 22-year-old (barely) functioning Roman Catholic still figuring it all out.

Thank you so much for reading! I can’t wait to meet all my fellow Blogging 101 people!

À la prochaine fois! See you next time!

Vicky

Question of the Week: What’s a question you’ve always wanted to ask a young person of faith? Tell me in the comments! I may answer it in an upcoming post.

Multiplying My Smallest Gifts

It’s my first weekend off since I graduated college.

I know, it sounds bizarre, considering that graduation was almost four weeks ago. I am blessed to have been able to spend a Saturday afternoon touring my new hometown — at least for this summer — in Florida. But God lead me through some rough spots over the past few weeks in order to bring me to a place of tranquility.

Back in November, I was offered a copy editing internship through the Dow Jones News Fund. It was a huge shock for someone who has never taken a journalism class. I was excited beyond belief to spend a summer in Florida working for one of the most prestigious news organizations in the world.

After I graduated college, I raced home to pack up my life in two days, and then headed to Temple University in Philadelphia for a week that can be best described as “journalism boot camp.” Imagine cramming a semester-long introductory course into just a week. I, along with 12 other interns from all over the country, had eight hours of class every day, and at least six hours of studying to do every night. We were tested on Associated Press Style, New York Times Style, spelling, geography, headline-writing and countless other subjects. I’ve always considered myself a good speller, but bombing my first spelling test eradicated that notion.

There was only one other non-journalism major in the room, and from my perspective, he could rattle off terms like “pica” and “refer” with as much finesse as any of the others. I was so intimidated, so afraid that whatever I said in class was insipid or wrong. I was terrified that, because of my lack of a journalism degree, I would personally be responsible for the undoing of a prestigious internship program that has been running for more than 50 years.

I know, it sounds dramatic, but we all have been in that situation of feeling inadequate, especially when we are surrounded by the best in our field, any field. We feel like our own God-given talents are insufficient to distinguish us as the best, the brightest or the most talented of the group. And we get angry at ourselves, even at God, for our lack of perfection in a culture that thirsts for and esteems it.

I was brought to this low point after the second day of class. I needed Jesus, but He seemed so far away. Then, I remembered something I had packed in my suitcase.

It was a little blue pamphlet, “The Catholic Devotional,” that I had thoughtlessly picked up at the church downtown in my last few weeks of college. The final prayer in the book caught my attention:

‘My Jesus, how often I feel very small and inadequate before great tasks and responsibilities. What can I do but bring all that I have, even though it isn’t much, and place all this in Your hands, wait for Your blessing, breaking, thanking and receive back again with amazing power to reach all who depend on me, fill them with goodness and still have more than what I started with. May I never hold back my gifts from You. May I believe that Your blessing multiplies my smallest gifts to maximum powers. May I rejoice that You return the task to me and I have the personal thrill of seeing many satisfied by my ministrations. I adore Your wisdom, Your power, Your sharing. Amen.’ – Father Gerald Keefe

I said this prayer out loud once, twice, and was filled with strength and peace. I may not be the most talented or most informed journalist, but God can still use me. And He has been using me, even in my first week of work. I haven’t been as harsh on myself as I tend to be because I know that the job will get easier as time goes on.

And my limited journalism experience hasn’t hindered me or made me lose credibility at work. As it turns out, many of my colleagues never took a journalism class either! They just saw an opportunity, worked hard, learned as much as they could, and got to where they are today.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the idea that God did not give us our gifts to glorify ourselves, but rather to use them to spread the Good News. The Bible is filled with little people making a big difference, simply because they had faith that God would multiply their simple gifts for His glory. Even one of our greatest saints, Paul, knew that God chose the weak things of the world to conquer those which are mighty (1 Corinthians 1:28).

If you are feeling small and unworthy, remember that Jesus died on the Cross for the small and weak because He knew they were worth it. God gave you gifts. Use them.

A plus!

– Vicky

What is your go-to prayer or verse when you’re having a bad day? Let me know in the comments, and let’s give the Internet a dose of inspiration and love!

P.S. I haven’t been able to find any information on Father Keefe, who wrote the above prayer. If anyone knows a good resource, please share it in the comments. Thanks!

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!

A Postcard from … Freeport, Maine

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy New Year, friends! The semester and the holiday madness are over, so now I get to give you guys some updates!

I spent last weekend in Freeport, Maine for a family reunion. This is the third year (not in a row!) that my dad’s family has had its Christmas shindig in Maine. My uncle, who lives there, has rented the same house on the bay every year, although this year, we had to rent two houses because there were almost 30 of us! Yep, it’s a party.

The Basics: Freeport is located on Casco Bay and is nicknamed “The Birthplace of Maine.” Today, it’s best known for its outlet shopping, which may make travel snobs groan, but many of the stores are housed in historical buildings, such as the Abercrombie and Fitch outlet that lives in the former public library. (I’m not thrilled about it either, but at least they preserved a historical site and Freeport still has a community library.) In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean opened his first store in Freeport Corner, one of the four original villages that developed into the town. The L.L. Bean flagship store and corporate headquarters are still located in Freeport. If you’re like my dad and hours of shopping make you cringe, the town is also home to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, which offers the most beautiful sunrise ever over Casco Bay.

Vicky’s Itinerary: I didn’t get to do too much tourism as I was, you know, doing family stuff. However, I will share with you a few highlights, starting with waking up at 6:30 a.m. on Friday with my grandma to catch the sunrise.

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This is the view from the first-floor dining room in the second, smaller house I was staying in. You can’t argue with this!

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The backyard of the main(e) house. Ha ha. Puns.

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I caught the sunset later from the other house. Gorgeous, right?

And after a day or two of Christmas presents and pierogis — in case you can’t tell, it’s my Polish side — my immediate family hit Main Street for some shopping!

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A view of the L. L. Bean flagship store from Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern, founded by Leon’s granddaughter. The store has a gigantic sculpture of the famous Maine Hunting Shoe (aka the Bean Boot, not pictured.) I got my first pair of brown Bean Boots on my first trip to Freeport in 2010.

And of course, you can’t leave Maine without a nice hot bowl of …

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… CHOWDA! This bowl I had at Linda Bean’s, but there are several clam chowder and lobster places lined along Main Street. In the great debate of chowda, I am so Team New England. Sorry, Manhattan.

Hidden Treasure: Need a shopping pick-me-up? WALK PAST THE STARBUCKS. WALK PAST IT. Continue down Main Street in the opposite direction of L.L. Bean, and about 800 feet away, you’ll see a sign shaped like a donut. It’s Frosty’s Donuts, which has made hand-cut donuts since 1965. My favorite is the maple cream donut. Mmmmm.

Stay tuned for more Postcards From … as I travel in 2014!

A plus tard!

Vicky

The Difference Ten Years Makes

I’m so happy to be home for Thanksgiving break, but today was a bittersweet day in my house. This morning, my family — one grandma, two parents, two aunts, an uncle, two cousins, one me — piled into our minivans and arrived at Mass uncharacteristically early (9:17 for a 9:30 service!) at my grandparents’ church. No, this is not our usual Sunday routine.

Today was the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It also marked ten years since the death of my grandfather.

Perhaps it’s because I’m only 21, or because the aforementioned decade spanned all my hormonal and formative teenage years, but ten years seems like a lifetime ago. As I stood by Grandpa’s gravesite after Mass this morning, I remembered the day of his funeral. I could not convince myself that the little girl of twelve who placed a rose on a black coffin carefully for fear of falling into the gaping hole in the ground was me, had been me. I feel like I don’t know that girl anymore.

Ten years never seems like a long time. It’s a drop in the world history ocean, and when older adults talk about how they’ve been at this job or lived in this place for ten years, our limited human understanding compresses that time into a more digestible span of six months or a year at most. I’m writing this post at midnight, so I could possibly dive into a long-winded theory about how technology and the hyper-connectivity of the world have altered our perception of time, but I’m not going to.

In an attempt to grasp the change that can occur over the span of a decade, I’ve listed a noteworthy event from each year of the past decade of my life. It has been…

Ten years since my grandpa died only a few days before Thanksgiving. Before going up to bed, I called to his hospital bed in the living room, “Goodnight, Grandpa. I love you!” The next morning, he was gone.

Nine years since my parents tore down the tiny two-bedroom ranch house I grew up in and built our current house on the same property. We moved back in after living with my grandparents for ten months. When we first moved in, everything was cold and whitewashed, and I didn’t know if I could ever call that house “home.”

Eight years since my town built a new middle school and I had to leave all my friends behind for eighth grade. It was awful, but least we had our eighth-grade dances on the same night. J

Seven years since I had my first boyfriend for a grand total of three weeks.

Six years since I had the best freshman year of high school. I reunited with my old friends, made some new ones, and had a few teachers who were so inspiring that I go back and visit them to this day.

Five years since I made my NYC theatrical debut … in a tiny theatre tucked into a corner of Greenwich Village.

Four years since I attended an intensive acting conservatory for high school students for the month of July. It was a crazy thrill ride, but I ultimately decided that I wasn’t called to be an actor.

Three years since my disheartening senior year was infinitely brightened with the arrival of an acceptance letter to my beloved college. Sadly, it was not to Hogwarts.

Two years since I became heavily involved in my college’s Catholic community, where I found my second family — my brothers and sisters in Christ.

And in exactly one month and fifteen days, it will be one year since I arrived at the Orly Airport in Paris, loaded down with two huge suitcases and a fever, made the two-hour train ride to Nantes, and met my adored French host family for the first time.

It’s amazing what ten years can do.

Grandpa, I know you’re up in Heaven, and I hope you’re proud of me. Thank you for watching over me. I love you.

À plus!

Vicky