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

Study Abroad: Cure for Political Apathy?

Note: I know it’s been a long time since my last post. Thank you to all my followers and readers for your patience.

My French homework for today was fairly simple: write a paragraph in French using transition words (par exemple = for example, en somme = in conclusion, etc.) However, anyone who knows me personally knows that I can’t write about just anything. Even if it’s just one sentence, I want to say something. I was not going to write a paragraph called “Why Cats Are Better than Dogs” just to use the required vocabulary.

So I wrote about the Steubenville trial.

I don’t need to summarize it here; we’ve all heard about it and watched the news reports, (and if you haven’t, Google is a magical thing.) Though it is an extremely important subject to discuss, that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Today in class, I handed in my paragraph. My stone-faced professor, who has made every student nervous since the beginning of the semester, picked up my paper and read the first few lines. Then, she looked at me. Her ice-colored eyes twinkled with the oddest look I’d ever seen, a cross between so-the-quiet-one-is-a-little-activist-now and I-just-asked-you-to-write-a-paragraph-why-didn’t-you-write-about-cats-and-dogs?

But she just said, “OK,” and shuffled my paper in with the rest of the tamer, friendlier paragraphs.

****

There are two things you don’t talk about, ever: religion and politics.

I had that lesson firmly fixed in my brain since high school. Then, in college, I got into a few heart-wrenching political and religious debates with people that I cared about, and after that, I kept my mouth firmly shut.

In America, your beliefs become a part of you, a way to identify you. Joe Schmo: accountant, Giants fan. Republican. Once you identify with a certain political or religious ideology, people automatically associate you with a slew of values that you may or may not agree with. And if you happen to identify with a different ideology than the other person, there is an awkward, embarrassed pause that is interrupted when someone brings up the weather.

During my first week in France, the staff at the study abroad center encouraged us to voice our opinions. The French love to debate, they said. If you disagree, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You can argue about something over dinner and go back to being best friends in the morning.

And so far, it’s worked out well for me, at least with my host family. Political issues are brought up all the time at dinner, and we watch the news together every night. We’ve touched on all the big no-no’s this semester: abortion, gay marriage, war, you name it. Many times, we’ve disagreed. AND IT’S OK. We still all get along so well, and seeing them is the highlight of my day.

Being in a foreign country has made me take ownership of my American nationality. Yes, America’s screwed up. Yes, we have many complex problems. And we need to talk about them. Shoving politics and religion under the rug for the sake of politeness isn’t going to change anything. We need to talk, discuss, argue, whatever, to find the best solution. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge that every single opinion is valid, because every person is valid. I’d like to close with a quote from the best history teacher I ever had: “I have the right to disagree with you, but I will fight for your right to say what you believe.”

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Alors, nous commencons…

(Before anyone asks, YES, the title of this blog is taken from the Emily Dickinson poem.)

Bonjour, mes amis! Bienvenue à mon blog!

Okay, enough of that nonsense. I am a student. I am a writing major. I am in a foreign country (i.e. France) for the next four months. Therefore, necessity — as defined by university marketing bigwigs and career advisors — dictates I should start a blog to tell the world wide web about all the magnificent and magical adventures I’m having while skipping across the Old World.

Well, I will. But not in the way most of my friends and family are expecting.

Alas, as much as I love all of you back in the States, I can’t have 20 Skype dates a week. This blog will keep you updated on my overseas shenanigans, but I’m also hoping to talk about other things I love: stories, theatre, music, FRENCH FOOD, etc.

I also hope to start one project here that I’ve wanted to for a while: short story reviews. Over the past year, I’ve watched many reviewing series on YouTube — most notably those that review books and movies — and have wanted to take a crack at the whole reviewing thing. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to approach this, but you can expect a review sometime in the future.

So, although this will not be a chronological blog, I hope that these little pieces will give you some idea of me, my musings, and my life in France.

À tout à l’heure!