Friday, February 26, 2016

The art of detachment

The last two months have really driven home to me the necessity of detachment. St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit (Society of Jesus) order, was staunch supporter of detachment.
I was first introduced to the concept while reading “My Life with the Saints,” by Fr. James Martin, SJ (SJ means Society of Jesus, btw). 

Each chapter of the book details a saint who has had a significant impact upon Martin’s life. As a Jesuit, the life of St. Ignatius has impacted Martin. There are many areas of Ignatian spirituality that resonate with my soul; one particular challenging way is the practice of detachment. [I started typing “idea of” and realized my challenge not the idea – it’s making the idea a reality.]

Part of the ways that God has been shaping my life/heart is opening my eyes and heart to remember that this life is not all there is. Post-college, I was pretty detached. It was easy to say “whatever you will, God” when it was just me. …and then, I got what I wanted. I got married! …and, suddenly, (perhaps it wasn’t sudden at all) I wanted my way. I wanted Dan. I wanted this life. I wanted all the things my dreams were made of, and I could never be satisfied with less.

As a result, my relationship to God suffered. Why? How? Well, it’s quite simple. I didn’t want Jesus. I wanted everything else – with a side of Jesus. A helping of righteousness alongside the main dish of Jessica’s desires. Dan as the main course seasoned with a dusting of God’s miracle blessing dust.

[Excuse me while I puke.]

It has taken me awhile since the diagnosis to get to a point of accepting detachment. July 28 – January 8 was filled with a lot of rosaries. As those who are familiar with the Rosary know, that means 5 “Our Fathers” a day. Five times a day, I was asking that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven…but, what I really meant was my will. I meant that he bring about the outcome I wanted: miraculous of healing for Dan, preventing him from suffering, deliverance from this trial.

This meant that my faith, my hope, my trust was all circumstantial. If Dan was getting better, Yea! God is good. But, as he continued to get sicker December 19th through January, faith falters when depended on an outcome like that.

On January 5, we met with the bone marrow doctor – and if you want a reality check: that’s where you need to go. I can’t speak for Dan, but hearing that what we had put our hopes in as a cure could potentially kill – it rocked me. I’ve blogged about this before, so I won’t go back there – had it not been for God’s mercy in providing me a new perspective, I do not know how I would be so full of hope now.

I started the following on January 15 about detachment:

Today (Friday) is our new chemo day, which means that on this day we meet with our doctor and we find out news. Approaching these days can be 'hard' - especially on days when you know results are coming. How do you prepare your heart for good news or bad news?

This fall, I read a little bit about St. Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits, aka 'Society of Jesus') - and his response would be to detach from the outcome. Detaching from the outcome does not mean giving up or accepting defeat. It simply indicates this greater understanding that the outcome of a test doesn't need to disrupt my faith: love for Jesus.

Dan and I were discussing this idea today: if treatments don't go as planned, it doesn't mean God isn't for us. ...and when we get bad news or there is confusion - that also doesn't mean that God isn't for us. ...but, it can feel like it.

So, rather than pin my hopes on an outcome (favorable or unfavorable), I have been getting back in touch with the unchanging, unwavering God who is. This God revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ - who demonstrated a radical way of loving - the Father and humanity. How did he do this?

Detachment. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times that the Father's will be done over his own desire. Through this, he submitted to a plan bigger than his own life. When he came to earth, he emptied himself of his rights as the second Person of the Trinity. Being found in the likeness of a man, Jesus practiced obedience to the Father. He accepted every part of what it means to be human - even dying (a horrible, excruciating, humiliating death).

The hope of His suffering and death was the resurrection: LIFE can come from death. Death is not the end. “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” [not to say that life cannot be lonely for us  in the wake of death – but death is not the end]

Learning to practice detachment has helped me not only reconnect with the God who is, but, once again, God Himself has become my hope. Yesterday’s (2/25) reading from Jeremiah reminded me that our hope can be unfailing, when it is in the right place.

Reading 1 Jeremiah 17:5-10
Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind
and test the heart,
To reward everyone according to his ways,
according to the merit of his deeds.

Detachment, then, is not the art of being separated from all things – but separating our dependence, devotion, and allegiance from all the things that cannot bring life (eternal satisfaction). The art of detachment is being fully attached to the Lord, from whom our help comes. Detachment is hoping in the Lord – not only for deliverance from a trial – but even more, for communion with the One who is…Life, Love, Truth, the Way. 

May this be the prayer for us all:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord!

Friday, February 19, 2016

To my twenty-somethings...

Well, the time has come for me to write this post. I’ve been teaching a course focused on professional development for juniors and seniors for the past 6 weeks; I’ve advised college students for nearly 5 years; I’ve informally advised my TRIO kids as they progressed through college for 13 years. AND I’ve lived my own life. So, the time has finally come for this announcement:


So, Beloved Student, just STOP. STOP with the freaking out already. STOP with the posts about panic attacks and how “grown-ups” just don’t understand the pressure you’re under. STOP ruining college by obsessing over the things that don’t matter – like every point you miss. Because why? You are missing the point.

1)      The point of college – of your freakin’ life, actually – is to LEARN. It is to GROW. To be a better person tomorrow than you are today. So you know what? No one actually expects you to have it all together? None of us expect you to know it all – and we’d like it if you would actually chill out and listen to us when we try to talk you off the ledge.

So, the next time that you miss a point because you didn’t read directions that clearly, just own it – and don’t do it next time. The next time that you get a 2.5 (or C+) on a test that you thought you understood, go to office hours and ask your professor or TA to show you what you missed. Explain to them how you understood to do it – and then pay attention to the example they give – and notice the gap from what you did to what they did.

That gap that you just noticed? That’s where learning can take place now. When you address the “dissension” between what you thought and the reality/right version is where learning can take place.

All those reflection papers you have to do about the process? Again, that is to help you acknowledge learning. The person you are at the end of the semester should be different from the beginning because you have discovered more about yourself. Processing how your writing, speaking, application of information has improved recognizes the growth – learning – that has taken place.

2)      More schooling does not help you know what you want to do with your life. If you’re not employable with a BS, what makes you think an MS will make you employable? Being employable is about experience, skills, and talents. So, get out of the library and get some experience!

3)      Your elders – parents, bosses, professors, advisors – are not unreasonable, unfeeling monsters that lack an understanding of just how “real” “the struggle is.” I. GET. IT.

I vividly remember telling my mom as a 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29-year-old just how much SHE did not understand what it was like to be my age and have no idea where your life was going. Truthfully, her life was very different from mine. She married at 22, and a lovely, delightful daughter at 23 – and, to me, her life was just pretty settled after that. I don’t know that my mom ever struggled with the feelings of restlessness and unease, anxiety and doubt, like I did. Because, you know what? She made a choice and she lived it. She didn’t obsess about the goodness or badness of her decision. I imagine that she reasoned if she was really on the wrong path, God would make it abundantly clear to her.

I remember, as a 23-year-old, feeling desperate in my singleness – alone and wondering how I would ever meet that person – having dinner with an older (read: 29 or maybe 33) single person, and wondering how in the world this person could be so content. It seemed to me that would be the end of the world. (hahaha, God. I was 31 when I got married and the timing seemed just fine then)

So, I can’t speak for all the adults in your life, but I do “get it.” I completely understand the turbulent twenties, and that is why I write this post. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be this:

Eliminate RIGHT or WRONG from your life plans.

The “right” college? Is a college that fits your interest and has your major.
The “right” major? Is a major that you enjoy learning about and prepares you to get a job.
The “right” job? Is a job that pays you a living wage and allows you to contribute to society (oh and benefits are a plus, too). Preferably that job is in your field – but it doesn’t have to be. It’s okay. You can get a job for a tech company and be an animal science grad – and still be engaged in the animal world.

I obsessed so much over doing the right thing and wondering if it was what God really wanted for me…and much of the time, I believe His response to me was: you have a vast space that I’ve put you in. I’ve given you talents and desires; I’ve give you My Word to guide you and My Spirit to direct you. If you are in line with me, feel freedom to choose.

If the decision you are about to make really matters to the outcome of your life – and you are about to go contrary to where that is: God will let you know.

There are many examples of God intervening in individuals’ lives throughout the Bible and lives of the saints in dramatic fashion. In one instance so far, God has also done this for me.

It was February 2008 and I was ready for a change – career change, mostly. I was 27, had just finished as Iowa MAEOPP President, and really had gotten a sense for my ability to accomplish real work. I started to get a sense not only of my calling, but of my desire to be more than what I’d thought in college.

At the beginning of January, I started reading [Journey of] Desire by John Eldredge. The premise of this book is to realize that the desires you’ve “always” had, your natural talents – those are gifts from God. You have been created in Christ Jesus for good works – and those don’t require you to divorce yourself from your self to be from God. This was a revelation from me. You mean the things that I’d always desired – to be married, to be involved in the ag community, to help others enact their potential – those could be good? Those could be used by God? He gave them to me?  Whoa. [When I was becoming Catholic, I realized this part of the beauty of the incarnation of Jesus as man.]

Fast forward to mid-February. I had a job interview to be an Upward Bound Director in Minneapolis on the 12th; interviews for assistantships at the Ohio State University’s Student Personnel graduate program (or whatever the full name is) on the 14/15th; interviews for Iowa State University’s Educational Leadership & Policy Studies’ assistantships. BIG deals. BIG game-changers for my life path.

One night, I woke up around 3am and could not get back to sleep. Try as I might, sleep evaded me. So, I decided to pray. I prayed for EVERYONE and everything I could think of (except my upcoming interviews), and still no sleep.

“God! Why can’t I sleep?” I demanded. I had the prompting of a thought: “What do you have coming up this week, Jessica?”
“Well, I have these 3 interviews….”
Then, this vision popped in my head:
I was in a hallway with 3 large, heavy, wooden doors – closed – in front of me. I knew what each door represented, what was behind them – and I could sense just how heavy and how closed they were.
“What would you like?”
“Ugh. I don’t know, God! Show me which one to go through!”

Jessica, if you knew the One who was showing you these, who had the power to…”
Then, I saw it: a window appeared beside the doors. But, the window – though also closed – I could see through to a field basking in full sunlight; rolling, golden-green hills. I knew: this was my desire. This was what I really wanted. And, this could only be mine if opened by God. Only God could make this window into an open door.

“Open the window, God! God, I want you to open the window!” I cried out pleadingly.

Like that, the vision was gone. It was 5am. I was wide awake and full of energy. I knew that I would go to each of those interviews – but I would not be choosing them. I didn’t know exactly what I would be choosing – but within a day, I did. I chose to get a Master of Science in Ag Ed with an emphasis on Extension.

If I had gone to Minneapolis or Columbus, it is highly unlikely that I would be where I am today. If I had done ELPS, I don’t think I would have been happy in what I learned. I truly love learning about learning – and teaching to engage learning. ...and, who knows if I would have met Dan?

In Dan’s life, he had a similar redirection – but not quite as spiritual. He was all set to go to grad school at Colorado State and study meat science. ONE WEEK before he was to move to Fort Collins, Dr. Hogberg called and offered him the Graduate Shepherd assistantship – and he came to Iowa State instead.

So, my dear young friends: when God needs to change your path, HE WILL.

Until then, go forward with some confidence that if life was a series of do or die decisions, He would give you a blueprint. Remember that He is a loving God; He isn’t cruel. As my dad said once, “If you are faced with a series of choices – and none seem to be closed, and none are out-of-line with His plan (outlined in the Bible), and none are immoral – then, God is allowing you to use your God-given intellect and freedom to choose. So, choose with confidence.”

Lastly, I would love to urge you to find joy in this time of life.  Personally, I worried so much about how my life would turn out at times, and if I could speak this truth to me, I would. Would I have believed this sage advice? Probably not. Some things, I am unfortunately hell-bent on learning MY way – through experiencing all the feelings, and feeling all the bumps in the road – until I let God shine some light upon my understanding.

But, 14 years after being a senior in college with no life plan after August: I now see that what God has guaranteed us is this moment (and eternity). So, find the lesson in this moment. Feel the feelings – and then find the peace and the joy only found in the presence of Jesus – and just live this present circumstance.

…and above all, ENJOY COLLEGE. At the very least, listen to your friend who wants to take you out for your 21st birthday even when you have a final the next day. That’s what college memories are made of. Right, Pam?

Monday, February 1, 2016

FFA is from Mars; 4-H is from Venus

I wrote about FFA Saturday, so in my reflective, "what made Jessica" state I thought I'd weigh in on 4-H, too. I'd like to begin with a ground-breaking statement:

4-H and FFA are not the same.

Just like men and women are not the same; 4-H and FFA are not the same. Like men and women are similar, 4-H and FFA are similar. Like men and women are different, 4-H and FFA are different. A man isn't the same as a woman; one cannot replace the other. If the world was full of all men, where would the reproduction be? Similarly, if the world was full of women, where would the reproduction be? We must co-exist to co-create (and procreate). Men and women are wonderful complements to each other; similarly 4-H and FFA are wonderful complements to each other - but one cannot replace the other.

For me, 4-H fostered the skills necessary to be a competent and competitive FFA member. Without 4-H, I never would have joined FFA. FFA was attractive to me as an arena to take my skills to the next level. FFA would not have been attractive to me if I didn't already have those skills - or the self-confidence to pursue competition.

Iowa 4-H is different from Arizona 4-H is different from Michigan 4-H. Iowa 4-H county to county is different, as well. (And, in my humble opinion, I like it that way. Of course, I was in a county with an excellent leader - and that does make all the difference.)

My 4-H experience looked like this: I was part of an all-girl club (yes, really; those were rare 20 years ago and now they're like a unicorn; people hardly believe they ever existed). Our club was a community (technically township) club - compared to a project area club. As club members, our projects ranged from food & nutrition to clothing to horticulture to livestock projects. As a club, we performed service activities for our community and county. We met once a month (in someone's home at first; later at our church), discussing club business, learning something new (from members' demonstrations), and enjoying each others' company.

My club required that every year, we had to do a demonstration (read: a presentation where you teach others to do something) - and for the first few years, we were assigned a general topic that correlated to a project area (food and nutrition, clothing, etc). My first presentation was about measuring ingredients. (I had no idea what to talk about; my mom picked the topic)

I joined in the 4th grade, which was the first year that I could join. My 4-H age (a real thing) was usually an entire year younger than my actual age. (That's a good idea now that I think of it; I will go with that and be 35 a for another 9 months.) When I joined, two of my friends were also new members. Nearly every other member was at least 4 years older than me.

I was a really shy kid. This may surprise some people who have known me because when I am comfortable around people, shy would not be the word that would cross your mind. Opinionated. Loud. But, shy? Yes. One of my strengths (winning others over) also causes me to get anxious about social situations (I-just-want-to-be-liked-what-if-no-one-likes-me?). So, giving a presentation in front of high school students that I looked up to (idolized is probably a better word) could induce a panic attack. But, my mom instilled in me the importance of the great speaking anxiety reducer: practice.

So, I practiced. I gave my presentation with confidence. I learned that I can do this. I was less nervous about speaking. I started creating my own presentations and choosing topics. I looked forward to giving my presentation and sharing my knowledge. I took more 'risks' - and did communication projects with my club (Share-the-Fun) and with a friend (working exhibits). I found success.

4-H taught me that with practice you can master skills. 4-H taught me that everything is scary at first; practice makes it less scary. 4-H taught me that life is about process not the outcome.
(Okay: now let's look at interesting juxtaposition. Ironic that now Extension is so focused on outcomes that states have decimated what made their programs so successful?)

Learning those lessons gave me confidence in my abilities. I became a less shy kid. In fact, when given the opportunity to shine (thank you Deb Hall), I actually sought people out. My WOO strength bloomed thanks to opportunities provided through Adair County Youth Council, Area 4-H Council, SOFA, and State Council.

It was through County & Area Councils and SOFA Planning Team that I learned how to be a collaborative leader. My strength of ideation went into full-force dreaming up day camps, workshops, field trips, and t-shirt design. Implementing these camps and trips allowed me to practice my adaptability strength - and learn to welcome the unpredictable.

4-H allowed me grow into the person I am by fostering opportunities to develop talents. These talents were strengthened through county, area, and state opportunities. FFA provided a platform to exercise the talents in a competitive setting. 4-H is collaboration; FFA is competition. (Kinda like the feminine and masculine energies, huh?) Both are valuable; both teach essential life lessons - but different lessons and through different methods.