Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Online at home again!

Dear readers, I am thrilled to report that I am currently blogging from the comfort of my own home again! Hurray! I will definitely still venture out to coffeeshops to blog on occasion, but now that I have internet at my apartment, I will have much more flexibility to blog when the inspiration hits. Hopefully this will mean more writing and more blogging!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Singles and being busy

I think that it is a well known fact that of all the adult population, singles generally have the most "disposable" amount of time on their hands, and freedom to schedule their days on a whim. Most young adult singles, I think, manage to fill up their schedules pretty quickly, sometimes very much stretching themselves thin.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I was very busy. Much busier than I am now. Some of this had to do with having an established group of friends, and living in a city where there were formal and informal events for Catholic young adults nearly every night of the week. I have gotten involved in the young adult group here in Nashville which is wonderful and has been such a blessing to me, but overall, there are not as many events here, and even informal gatherings are more spread out.

Some of my busyness also had to do with the frenetic pace of life in such a big city, particularly the length of my 1-hour-each-way commute. With a blissfully short 5-minute commute here in Nashville, I definitely have much more time on my hands during the week. Weekends are also less busy, since I don't have family around to spend Saturdays or Sundays with; there are less opportunities to carve out time during the weekend to spend time with family.

This being "less busy" can be both a blessing, and a curse. In many ways, as a single with free time on your hands, especially if you live alone, inevitably leads to more feelings of loneliness.

One of my friends, who is a very active extrovert, says that she specifically plans lots of activities and gets involved with lots of different groups, charities, and commitments just so she does not have to be at her apartment alone to experience the pangs of loneliness.

In some ways, I absolutely understand the rationale of planning out every minute of your day, particularly the weekends, to be filled with "something" so that you are so distracted that you forget your are lonely and longing for something more.

There is something to be said for making the most of your time; for using the gift of time that we have been given to reach out to others and touch those in need. I myself am looking for more ways to get connected with the community here; to find organizations and individuals that are in need that I can reach out to on a regular basis. I think that serving is a calling and a duty for everyone, but as singles we have to be especially creative and motivated to find the specific niches to which the Lord is calling.

But I do not think that the anecdote to our loneliness should or can be frenetically busy schedules. I truly admire singles who are able to take the time and courage to just be. With themselves. With the Lord. It takes courage to hear the echoes within our solitary hearts, and these moments of loneliness are moments that can be transformed from pain into grace.

In the end, I think that it is important that all of us, no matter what state of life that we are in, that we strive for a life of balance. As singles, who do have the luxury of having more free time but I think that it is a responsibility for us to cultivate moments of meditation, silence, and rest in order that our active lives might be more fruitful and intentional. Obviously, for the amount of time spent in activities versus rest will depend on our temperaments and preferences. Finding that balance is a challenge, though, and one that can only be reached through prayer, reflection, and receptivity to the Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Spring!

I celebrated the first day of spring by visiting Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I will definitely be going back to catch the landscape in bloom throughout the spring and summer!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lenten read for those who suffer

And since every one of us has their own unique suffering in this valley of tears, I would recommend this book to everyone: "Never Give Up: My life and God's mercy", by John Janaro.

I just finished reading this book, and I thought it was excellent; it really touched me, and had transformed the way I look at suffering in my own life.

In this book, Janaro, a father of five and college professor writes about his struggles with Lymes disease, anxiety, and depression. His reflections are refreshing honest and candid; it's a story how an ordinary man endures the sufferings, trials, and frustrations that he faces each day through his emotional and physical illnesses. I think I was most inspired by the way that Janaro is able to vivify the abstract concepts of suffering and "offering things up", and show readers, in a concrete way, both the struggle involved and the hope to which Christ invites us.

This a truly worthwhile Lenten read, which will particular strike a chord with those who have dealt with emotional struggles and chronic illness, but the message it contains will touch all who face the trials and drudgery of daily life. Janaro shows readers that suffering can be crippling and lead individuals to a very dark and lonely place; but ultimately he shows readers that suffering is infused with meaning, and suffering mysteriously brings about redemption.

Here is a section which particularly spoke to me:

"Suffering must be endured not because life is less important than we had hoped but because it is more important than we can imagine. It is the place where God is with us.

Our hearts long for happiness, for life. But what is life? What is happiness? Do we find it only in that space of time that belongs to us? Do we imagine that God sits in the background and allows us to play with reality, then starts taking our toys away when playtime is over? No! That is not what life is! Life is God with us at every moment - in every joy (God delights in our joy!) and also in the abyss.

...We are called to endure suffering not with stoic resignation but with abandonment to his loving presence. We endure in the conviction that God offers us his love - the only fulfillment of the human heart - here and now, in the midst of our suffering and the ploddings of our daily lives. We are called to put our hearts on the line, to allow ourselves to be wounded by love, and to be loved, because he is with us and he loves us now. And we know that love - in the end - is always worth the risk." ~ Never Give Up, pp. 52-53

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some reflections on the Solemnity of St. Joseph

Happy Solemnity of St. Joseph! Hope you enjoyed celebrating the feast of this inspiring patron.

I think most seriously Catholic single gals know of St. Joseph as the Patron of Fathers and husbands. I am certain that many a young woman has prayed earnest prayers to St. Joseph for his intercession in finding a good husband. And what a beautiful idea! St. Joseph was a model of courage, devotion, selflessness, and love for Mary and Jesus. He should be an intercessor for us as we look for our pure, devoted, Godly man to marry. I, too, prayed to St. Joseph this morning that if my vocation is to marriage, he intercede on my behalf.

For all you ladies who hope,

"Trust in the Lord and wait for his light...and in due time your hope will bear fruit"
(paraphrase of Sirach 11:22)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dropping by at the beginning of Lent

I am sorry I have been so absent from the blogosphere lately! To be honest, having to go to a coffee shop ever time I want to use the internet is getting kind of old. Plus, inspiration hits at various points, and when I am inspired, I am often at home without the internet, and then when I am sitting in a coffee shop (like now), I feel strangely unmotivated and uninspired to write. Maybe it's that, or maybe it's that I feel more "under pressure" to write something brilliant and then just end up with writer's block.

The good news, though, is that it's looking like I will probably be able to get internet at my apartment within the next month or so. Hurray! Having an internet-free home has indeed been very fruitful, but I feel like I have reaped the benefits of the solitude, gained a worthwhile perspective, and am now ready to jump back into being "connected."

Lent has begun since my last post, and I feel as though I should write something about the Lenten season. Truth be told, though, I feel like what the Lord is calling me to this Lent is extremely close to my heart, and heart to put into words.

In a nutshell though, I have been thinking about how Lent is fundamentally a time to recognize the depth of the Lord's love. It means going to a place where you are honest with yourself about your faults and weaknesses, but by getting to that place, you recognize 1) your total dependence on the Lord, 2) your true, unshakable, unarguable, undeniable, fundamental worth as a beloved child of the Father and the immense love of Christ for you as evidenced by His sacrifice on the cross.

It means being stripped of all that clouds your understanding of this Love that is the foundation of your being. Of letting go of the lies that would let you believe that you need more than This to get by. Of letting go of the lies that tell you that you are unlovable and out of Mercy's reach. Rather, Lent is a time to let Love flood you to the core, and realize that it is the mercy of the Savior that has made you, sustains you, strengthens you, calls you, and ravishes your heart.

This is my Lenten prayer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chocolate and inspiration from The Cocoa Tree

This weekend while my friend was in town I had the pleasure of attending a chocolate tasting led by Bethany Thouin of The Cocoa Tree in the Germantown area of Nashville. What a delight! The Coco Tree is an artisan chocolate and truffle shop, and our tasting included some of the most delectable truffles created by the chocolatier herself. I have been to wine tastings before and been intrigued by the way that different wines hint at a wide variety of flavors, from raspberry, to citrus to coffee. I had no idea that the same subtle, rich, flavor hints could be found in fine chocolates.

During our tasting, Bethany shared with us a history of cocoa, information about the growing and harvesting of cocoa, the different agricultural practices of cocoa in regions from South America to Europe, as well as the truffle making process in her own shop. I learned so much! (And thankfully was reinforced by the fact that dark chocolate is indeed, quite healthy for you).

For each section of the tasting, we tasted the plain chocolate by itself, and then a truffle created using that chocolate. (See photos of the beautiful truffles HERE!) Chocolates included (as described on The Cocoa Tree website):

~ a white chocolate, followed by the "Beck's Margarita Truffle" (White Chocolate infused with a splash of tequila, dipped in white chocolate, dropped on sea salt, dipped in lime);

~ a milk chocolate, followed by the "Renee's Chili Pepper Truffle" (milk chocolate center infused with whole dried chile peppers enrobed with milk chocolate, sprinkled with chili pepper flakes)

~ a milk chocolate, followed by the "Liz's Milk Chocolate Truffle" (milk chocolate ganache with a splash of pure mexican vanilla rolled in chopped chocolate)

~ a dark chocolate, followed by the "Tina's Dark Truffle" (a blend of two of the world's finest dark chocolates accented with a splash of pure mexican vanilla, rolled in pure unsweetened cocoa powder)

~ a dark chocolate, followed by the "Amy's Balsamic Raspberry Truffle",

Bethany names her truffles after woman who have inspired her; the last one we tried was named after Amy Grant. Bethany has become quite famous in the world of chocolatiers, and the Nashville scene, and was even commissioned to create truffles for Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

The chocolate was absolutely fabulous, and the unique flavors creatively combined made for a most delightful culinary experience.

More than anything, though, I was thoroughly inspired by Bethany's story. She came to Nashville years ago in hopes of becoming a famous songwriter, but realized that she wasn't meant to make it big on that path. Instead, she decided to become an entrepreneur by sharing her love of chocolate and passion for creativity by opening a truffle business.

I was so inspired by her passion for her art, and her passion for life. It was beautiful to hear her testimony of the way that God has worked in her life through this chocolate endeavor and the ways that she has been able to share God's goodness with others through her business. She says on her website:

"As the chocolate pages turned, I found that I was essentially doing through chocolate what I longed to do through my songwriting. I was telling a story of humanity, of life, of heartache and of triumph. I was living through my art, which is the breath of creativity. The chocolate comes alive as I pour my heart into the creations, into the life around me, into my relationship with God - and then it comes right back around, making me come alive as I witness people around me being affected by the story that I am telling."

Bethany's simple joy and delight in the Father and His plan is infectious; I was very touched by her testimony, especially as she shared how God has provided for her in uncertain times, and how God can use your passion to touch the world -- whether it's through music, art, food, literature, or whatever brings you joy.

It was a delightful afternoon, and I will definitely be back to visit the Cocoa Tree. If you live in Nashville or ever visit, I would highly recommend you stop by for a worthwhile indulgence.

As Bethany says,

"Chocolate is Evidence that God Delights in Our Pleasure!"

flickr/by zapstratosphere