When She Shows You Her Son: A Life with Mary

About three weeks ago, my fiance and I were privileged to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island in Manorville, New York. This was my very first visit to a Marian shrine, and as a recent convert to the Catholic faith, I found a particular warmth to the shrine property (I’ll talk about my visit in another post). As we walked among the trees and rain, I was so happy to have a space to reflect upon Mary’s role in my Christian journey.

Prior to my conversion, I possessed a deep admiration for Mary. “How special, I thought, for her to be chosen as Jesus’ mother! She just simply cannot be an ordinary person; There’s much more to her than we could imagine,” I often pondered. Yet, my faith community viewed Mary as someone who was just “nice.” We would dress up as her for the Christmas play and someone would sing “Mary Did You Know?” On December 26th, Mary would go back into the Nativity scene box, never to be spoke of or seen again until after Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, many Protestants see Catholic devotion to Mary as unnecessary, or even worse, idolatrous.

A friend once mentioned, “I just don’t like the Catholic emphasis on Mary. It takes away from Jesus.” To this, I responded by saying that Mary doesn’t distract us from Jesus. Instead, she shows us the way to her Son.

For example, in John 2, we see the wedding feast at Cana. The wedding has run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus this news. He replies with “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” Mary then responds to the servants, telling them, “Do whatever He tells you.” As the story concludes, Jesus performs His first miracle at Cana, turning water into the finest wine.

This is a powerful testament to Mary’s example for Christians. It seems, rather than fume that Jesus won’t comply with her immediately, she is patient, turning to the servants, saying “Do whatever He tells you.” In one simple statement, Mary spoke the essence of Christian life: to follow Jesus and submit our will to His. In today’s world, following Jesus unconditionally is difficult. We have so many distractions: cell phones, social media, our work, plans, worries, and anxieties. It’s hard to follow Jesus when we are preoccupied in our minds with everyday monotony.

As a personal example, I struggle with anxiety. Daily, I find myself worried over things both big and small. Little, nagging worries occupy my mind. Obviously, Holy Scriptures tell us not to worry. We are told not to fear (365 times, actually!). At yet, at this, I fail. In spite of my failures, each day, I like to remember the words of the Blessed Mother, just as she told the servants at Cana: Do whatever He tells you. These words encourage me to not worry and to put my trust in Christ. Mary always points you and I towards her Son, towards obedience towards Him, and to the knowledge of Him. I’m not a professional Catholic apologist or theologian, and there are so many more writings about Mary you could read that surpass my skill. However, for my Catholic and Protestant friends alike, remember that a Biblical Mary will always point you to Jesus, never to herself.

As I stood in front of the shrine in New York, I was amazed at the detail. As Mary stood tall, she carried the infant Jesus in her arms. Rather than hold Jesus to the side, Mary held Him in front of her, the center of our visual focus. As I looked up, I said a prayer that day, thanking Our Lord His mother’s life and for her fiat. May you and I both, as the faithful on earth, always do as He tells us with joyful, hopeful hearts.

 

Sunday Thoughts: Transfiguration

Today, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The Transfiguration is an odd story, and it’s always been one that has caused confusion for me. I never fully understood what the Gospel writers meant when they told the story of the event or even what the Transfiguration meant for me in my Christian walk. I foolishly viewed it another wondrous account of the life of Christ on Earth. From there, I would often scurry along.

In today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew (17:1-9), Jesus takes Peter, James, and His brother John on a “high mountain.” There, the men witness Jesus’ face shining like the sun, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Surely, this would frighten any one: On one hand, you have the Son of God, whose face is radiant, and then long-deceased Moses and Elijah show up. On top of all of this, the voice of God descends from the heavens, saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The men fall to the ground, but Jesus assures them, saying “Rise and do not be afraid.”

Until today, I rarely thought about the message God delivered to the three men: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, of course I believe(d) that Jesus is God’s Son. But, after spending time today thinking and reading other devotions on the topic, I thought: “What would God say about me?” When I reach the end of my Earthly journey, will Jesus say that He is well-pleased with me? Did I allow him to change, or transfigure, me from the inside-out?

This is a difficult thought because change is hard. It’s hard when you want to go to Adoration for an hour after work, and then you think of the extra 30-minute drive (one way!) it would add to your day. It’s hard when you want to follow the daily Mass readings, but then it would require you to wake up 15 minutes earlier. It’s hard when you feel the Lord urging you to put a little bit more in the offering basket, but you want to keep that $5.

Selfishness often gets in our way (Note: If you couldn’t tell, all of those struggles listed before? They’re mine). We want holiness and good fruit in our lives, but often, we’re overcome by what’s safe and comfortable to us. It’s comfortable for me to stay home from Adoration and kick back after a long school day. It’s safe for me to hold tightly to my money. If I want Jesus to truly change me, I have to let go and “do not be afraid” of what I imagine I’m missing.

It’s not a coincidence, I think, that this past week I’ve been more intentional with my life and work habits. Personally, I use the Blessed is She liturgical calendar planner. I use the to-do list for each day to write out my daily spiritual goals: read the Mass readings, pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, write Mr./Mrs. XYZ a letter. I can immediately tell so much more peace has entered my life in the past week when I choose to put God first and allow Him to dictate my schedule, not the other way around. This may not work for you, but it helps me grow closer to Our Lord.

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, I pray you have or will encounter Jesus in a way that leaves an impression on your heart and soul. May we all change inside and out for His glory, so that one day, he will look at us say that He is pleased.

 

 

You Don’t Have To

This afternoon I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I hadn’t been since June 2001, and even then, it was a brief visit. Today,  I ducked into the Cathedral after crossing the street and fighting tight throngs of tourists. It was nice to sit in the church and take in all of the images and sights I ignored as an 11-year-old: The high ceilings, the shrines, the beautiful altar, and of course, the stained glass windows.

Around us, hundreds of tourists (many traveling in from outside of the United States), took pictures. The time spent of the photographs was often detailed, even with a high quality camera. As I knelt at my pew, I felt the urge creep up in the back of my mind.

“If you snapped a picture of the altar right now, it would look great on Instagram. Especially with the right filter. Think of the ‘likes’ you’ll get!”

As I live and breathe, the very thought crossed my mind. I don’t hide my love for social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve connected with old friends and friends I’ve never met in person. I enjoy posting photos of my travels, and I enjoy that other people enjoy the posts, too. Likes and hearts are nice.

However, I often find myself under pressure. Pressure to find a perfect Instagram filter, pressure to word a caption just right, pressure to share every event.

But, as I sat in the pew this afternoon, I mentally sat on my hands, thinking,  “You don’t have to document every single event, every single moment. It’s okay to let life fly ‘under’ the radar.”

As difficult as it was (and I struggled), I kept my phone in my purse. I didn’t take any photos at St. Patrick’s today. And the result is clear: I still feel as fulfilled and satisfied as if I had taken a photo, doctored it up with filters, and posted it on Facebook. More the same, while eating dinner at a kitschy new Korean restaurant in Manhattan Koreatown, I sat on my hands. I can eat galbi and bibimbap without posting a picture of it on Twitter. It tastes the same, and I enjoyed it without all of the pressure of “Is this lighting good enough for this picture?”

In conclusion, has this moment of clarity “cured” me? No. I have a picture of a flower and chocolate box window display in Rockefeller Plaza I’d like to post. I may, I may not. We will see. Only time and Instagram will tell.

But…

Next time, when you feel hurried or pressured to post an update or photograph of an event, remember: It’s okay. You can live life in peace, without the worry of likes and external validation.

 

On the Island of Peace: Thoughts

Every July 13th, I remember my Korean host father.

It was the day he died.

When I was a Fulbright teacher, I lived on Jeju Island, dubbed the “Hawaii of Korea” (and the namesake of this blog). One of the highlights of the Fulbright Korea English Teaching Assistantship is that for your first year, you must live with a host family. As I’ve said in past posts of past blogs, I truly hit the host family jackpot. I was seamlessly knitted into the fabric of my family, and I was welcomed into every aspect of Korean family life. Chuseok (think Thanksgiving), New Years’, Christmas, birthdays, I was present. Unlike other teaching assistants, who were sometimes pushed to the side during the year, I was blessed with a warm home.

In August 2014, as I was moving into my new apartment in Western Kentucky, I received a KakaoTalk message from my host sister saying that her father had died. I was stunned, as if a pile of bricks had hit my head. Just some 400 days earlier, my host father (whom I called Bruce), had dropped me off at the Jeju International Airport so that I could meet my connecting flight in Seoul back to the United States. While I won’t linger on the shock and aftermath in this post, you can read more about it if you click here. Today, instead, I’ll ramble for you.

I had lost family members before, sure. It hurts. For example, I still think of my paternal grandparents each and every day. But, when I found out that Bruce was gone, it was unbelievable. Young people die, but not young people that I know. That is far from fair, and not the life I planned. I imagined reunion upon reunion in Korea, and now, that is but a dream.

The family I lived with has shifted dramatically. The house I stayed in for my year is no longer occupied by my family. Last June, I stood outside of the house, wondering who lived inside.

Now, my host brother is now serving his mandatory 2-year military service. My host sister and host mother have moved to a large city, about 50 miles outside of Seoul. As for Bruce, he rests on Jeju Island: where he born, where he lived, and ultimately, where he died.

Sometimes, when I’m using Google Maps or Naver (the Korean equivalent), I’ll use street view outside of the house. I’ll see Bruce’s truck, or my host mother’s car. Often, I’ll just smile when I see the little island on the map. It reminds me of a time of goodness and love, a time that I’ll never get back. In a way, I think that’s a very good thing. I treasure my time on the island, and with my host family, even more. Maps are good for that nostalgia.

Today, life is different. It moves on, rather we want it to or not. Sure, the home stay is empty and my host family is gone. But, in my heart, Jeju is the island of peace. It’s where I formed lifelong friendships and bonds. It’s where Bruce’s life touched mine, if but for a single moment in eternity. And for this, I am perpetually grateful.

 

 

 

 

Goals

For a Type A personality as myself, happiness is a to-do list. Even more happiness is a to-do list with completed tasks. For 2017, here are a few goals I have formulated:

  1. On December 26th, my boyfriend of 14 months asked me to marry him. I said yes! My goal? Read five books about marriage and relationships. So far, I’ve read two this year. So far: Things I’d Wish I’d Know Before I Got Married by Gary Chapman and Lists to Love by For Busy Wives by Mark and Susan Merrill. Suggestions appreciated for any future reads.
  2. Attend Eucharistic Adoration at least once a month. For non-Catholics unfamiliar with the practice, click HERE for more information from Our Sunday Visitor.
  3. Pursue peace: Often, I am wracked with thoughts of everything that can go wrong. I’ve been convicted that worry is a sin. It means that ultimately, I do not trust God to take care of my needs. Little-by-little, I’m pursuing peace from worry.
  4. Lose 40 pounds.
  5. Hit the gym 3-4 times per week.
  6. Continue daily readings from the Abide in my Word Mass readings for 2017.
  7. Blog once a week. We’ll see how this goes.

How to Be Happy: Learn a New Language

Note to readers: I know, I haven’t posted anything except a smattering of book reviews since September 1st. My profound apologies.

I love languages: acquisition, history, alphabets, sounds, shapes, grammars, linguistics. I spent 18 months of my life acquiring a master’s degree in English as a Second Language just so I could understand, and it’s all very fun to me. Once upon a time, I owned a book and inside it’s pages were poems written in English and another language. I remember one little poem was translated into German. While in the car with my mother and grandmother, I proceeded to read the poem out loud, convincing everyone I could read German. Though I knew little about the different sounds that different letters owned in different alphabets, but in my mind I was reading German. And I liked it. It was fun. I experimented with sign language a bit, though I never reached fluency.

In high school, I took two years of Spanish and loved it. To this day, I can’t understand why I never spent a whole four years in Spanish. Side note: Ms. Zuelly, if you catch this on my Facebook page and read this, I’m kicking myself in the pants for not taking both Spanish 3 and 4.

Surprisingly, learning a new language can be fun and rewarding when approached the right way. Currently, I’m studying Mandarin Chinese with the Yoyo Chinese online platform. Here’s what I’ve learned while learning Chinese.

Pacing. Don’t expect fluency overnight. Because I learned a select few phrases with my boyfriend’s help, I foolishly thought I could jump right into intermediate beginner’s Chinese. Wrong. I, like everyone, else had to start at square one. While I wanted instant fluency, right now I can say “I like cola” and “I have four wives and a younger brother.” Every little bit helps.

Drill. When learning a new language, repetition and drills are key. Flash cards? Yes. Staring at worksheets? Yep. May I suggest using the online tool Anki? This helps me and paces my flash cards so I don’t become overwhelmed. I’m not for sure how it works if you’re not provided the electronic flash cards, but it’s a wonder. Finally, even when it’s most frustrating, you’ll have to press on.

Talk. In both Spanish and Korean, reading is my strong point. I can read most signs in Spanish and sound out most of the phrases in Korean. However, I am terrified of speaking in a foreign language. When I lived in Korea, I would take the bus instead of a taxi. If I took a bus, I didn’t have to speak. I find speaking painfully nerve wracking and I hate failure. If I speak, I want to be flawless. I don’t want to be just another laowai butchering the mother tongue in the Chinese restaurant while ordering chicken lo mien and wontons.

For example, the boyfriend and I went to a Chinese restaurant nestled between a liquidation store and a fruit store. I wanted ice water, but he had ordered hot tea in a kettle. Instead of asking the server for water, boyfriend called the server over and then stared at me.

Are you going to ask her for ice water, or not?

Me: Mute, internal dialogue: why can’t I find contentment with hot green tea?

*Instense stares*

Me: Wo yao bing shui.

Water acquired and very few blushes had. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

If you’re looking for happiness, I suggest learning a new language. Learn something typical: Spanish or French. Learn something wild and rare: Esperanto or Latin. Learn the language your grandparents spoke when they came to the country you live in: Maybe Italian, Greek, Korean, Russian, Chinese, or Mixteco. The possibilities are endless, and when you learn a language, the potential for happiness is endless.

Happy learning!

Zai jian!