God in the striving, God in the resting

This summer, I participated in DotMagis’ annual celebration of the upcoming Feast Day of St. Ignatius on July 31. The series is called “31 Days with St. Ignatius,” and it highlights different themes of Ignatian Spirituality.

My piece, How Spanish Class Taught Me to Find God in All Things, can be found here.

I am learning there are moments for striving and active study, and there are moments for resting, for absorbing, for processing gradually, for trusting what has already been learned—and that God initiates and participates in both the striving and the resting. In this summer’s language study, I’m noticing shifts in my spiritual life as well. I find myself living in the tension between striving and resting, between initiating work and letting God work on me. I feel called to a deeper trust of what I already know to be true.

Happy Summer!


Saying Goodbye

Last summer, I embarked on some discernment. Lo and behold – it led me to accepting a position as a school counselor at a Catholic high school nearby. Below is a piece I wrote for my counseling practice, to process saying goodbye. Hope you enjoy!


“Is your couch heavy?” a colleague asks me. She is buying my office furniture, and needs to plan how she will load it into her borrowed truck.  I think of all the emotional weight the couch has bore during its time in the consulting room. “It’s pretty heavy,” I answer.

In a few days, I will be leaving my psychotherapy practice at Karuna. The process of physically disassembling my office has mirrored my internal process of saying goodbye. As I’m literally clearing space for Karuna’s new therapist to move into my office, I’m also making space within myself for the newness that is to come, in a different career direction as a school counselor.

Over the past ten years or so, moving among five cities, I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes. I have said goodbye to communities that shaped me, relationships that nurtured and challenged me, and cities that I grew to call home; to friends and colleagues and ways of life. Although I’ve certainly said some goodbyes better than others, a few were clumsy or heedless. Some felt too big to process, and other goodbyes felt too big not to process. I’m still working through some goodbyes; others I’ve even avoided altogether. Goodbyes are complicated.

And: I’m learning that the opportunity to say goodbye well is a gift. Like countless other lessons, I’m learning this in the therapy room, right alongside my clients. My friend and fellow social worker, Garrett Gundlach, SJ, MSW, writes that “Termination is transparency: This is coming to an end. Let’s talk about it.” Even though these conversations can be complicated, this conscious goodbye can serve as a healing mechanism in the context of relationship – grist-for-the-mill, in therapy speak.

For me, these termination conversations have been an ambiguous mix of grieving the loss of what was and celebrating the anticipation of what will come. I feel the tension of grief and gratitude, guilt over my decision to leave and also ownership of it, care for my clients and care for myself too.

In these ambiguous days, I find myself thinking often about the idea of making space for something new to be born. All newness requires some kind of undoing – disassembling – and the transition from psychotherapist to school counselor is no exception. This empty space, the time between what was and what will be, can feel like a void, and yet I also trust that the creation of something new has already begun. Much of the work that takes place in the therapy room, I think, happens in space between what was and what will be.

I am also aware that many clients I sit with have not had the opportunity to say goodbyes in the past – to “do grief well,” as one client stated in session. People in their lives have often left too soon, too abruptly, too un-consciously. Termination can heal; it can serve as an after-the-fact stand-in for the brother, the father, the pregnancy, the memory, or the marriage that left too soon.

I am learning that termination can heal our beliefs about ourselves, too. It gives us a chance to name what we have learned about ourselves over the therapy process:

“I am not ‘too much’ for you, and therefore I’m not too much for the world.”
“I am worthy of being cared for, even when it makes me feel like a burden.”
“I can show others who I am and like what I see.”
“I’ve learned there’s nothing wrong with who I am at my core.”
“I know now that a different life is possible for me.”
“I can name what I need.”
“I am unconditionally loved.”

Not surprisingly, this learning has been mutual. My clients have taught me that I am trustworthy, stable, and capable of holding space for others. This knowledge is a gift I will treasure. I hope very much that at least some part of our processes have embodied spiritual writer Henri Nouwen’s definition of listening as hospitality:

“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends.”

My clients have certainly welcomed me; we have made space for each other. They welcomed this brand-new therapist, and decided to trust me. They welcomed me when I may have been clumsy, when I said something challenging, or when I asked them to do hard things. They continue to welcome me even as I grope my way through termination. They are a brave group of people: artists, teachers, and seekers. It has been a privilege to witness their process, and they inspire me daily with their wholeheartedness, courage, and willingness to enter into this work. I will miss sitting with them.

I think back to my first few weeks at Karuna. Building my office space was like a barn-raising: my dad built my desk, my brother helped me paint the walls, my mom and I searched for throw pillows. Fellow Karuna therapists let me borrow their books, sound machines, and sage advice; they gave me their acceptance, friendship, mentorship, and loving-kindness. Every client that sat on the couch built up the space as well, trusting it could hold their sufferings and joys.

Now, as I disassemble the space in preparation for leaving Karuna, I’m struck by how similar it feels to building it. Indeed, space was then and is now being prepared for something new. During this season of goodbyes, I recall the words of spiritual teacher Anthony DeMello, SJ:

“Extend your arms
in welcome
to the future.
The best is yet to come!”


The Main Thing

For Lent this year, I’m blogging along with IgnatianSpirituality.com’s “An Ignatian Prayer Adventure,” an adapted, 8-week, online version of the Spiritual Exercises.

The post for Week 6, The Main Thing, can be read here.




This is a guest post by Lizzie McQuillan – a dear friend, fellow FJV, and pen pal extraordinaire. She has written here and hereand also lots of other places.

It’s been a very women-oriented Advent season for me this year. I keep thinking about Mary and her pregnant journey to Bethlehem, the quiet welcoming that followed, and all of the women that must have helped her along the way.  I’ve reflected on poems like this, and laughed about quotes like this. I’ve thought about my role as a woman, daughter, friend, sister, stranger at the gym, customer in the Dunkin Donuts line, and so on. How would I have been there for Mary in her moment of joy and uncertainty? How can I be there for the women in my life now?

I’ve let these questions settle as the holidays approach, and especially this past weekend when I attended a Bridal Shower for my friend Whitney. I’ve known her, the host, and the fellow attendees since I was little from spending summers in Drakes Island, Maine. We became friends while playing spit, swinging on handle bars, and jumping in the ocean. And then there we were, twenty years later on a crisp Sunday afternoon in December, drinking champagne and eating finger sandwiches and wishing her the best.

From my humble observation, I think that bridal showers have gotten a bad rap. These celebrations have spurred eye rolls since The Grand Rapids Michigan Press referred to the shower as “mistaken hospitality that the wedded couple is forced to attend.” But the tradition comes from humble beginnings, starting with the Dutch legend of a young girl who fell in love with a poor village miller. The miller was well known in the community for lending his hand when a hand was needed. She wanted to marry him and he wanted to marry her. Her father was not as excited about the coupling and told the girl that she was on her own. When the rest of the village heard they held their own celebration for the soon-to-be bride, each person contributing what they had—plates, towels, pots and pans—to help the pair to start their home.

I like imagining the stack of second hand goods and how it must have gleamed in its handing over. I like picturing this neighborhood crowd, young and old, married and widowed, dusting off their shoes as they came in the door. I’m sure there was bread and laughter, wine and secrets, and that in the end, the presence of each guest allowed the once fearful bride to realize that the best truly was to come.

I’m sure she would have not expected the quaint celebration to unfold over the years into fancy invitations, Pinterest posts and thirty-seven message long Gmail chains. And yet, here we are. The showers for today’s brides probably look nothing like the gathering the 1860. But the experience invites us to do what we would have done if we were with Mary on the night that there was no room left at the inn: gather around those who are about to embark on a new and uncertain journey and fill that space with love.

That’s what happened this past Sunday as we arranged the gifts by the fireplace and passed them to Whitney in a graceful assembly line.  Maybe if we listen closely enough, we’ll find more chances to step into the circles that need us, and we’ll be surprised about how far our strings of hope can stretch.



Artwork by Bro. Mickey O’Neill Mcgrath, OSFS

This past month, Mary DeTurris Poust (from her blog Not Strictly Spiritual) asked to interview me for an article to be published in the One Sunday Visitor Newsweekly.

At first, I was skeptical that I could possibly provide any helpful tidbits on gratitude; then, I was hesitant because I wanted to learn more about the publication; then, I procrastinated because I felt too busy; then, I was hesitant because…you get the idea.

Well, thanks to Mary’s graciousness and J.’s encouragement, I finally sunk into the idea, and you can now read the article online here.

Grace brings us what we need when we need it, and the opportunity to reflect on gratitude was a gift. Thank you, Mary! Hope you enjoy reading her article here.


Harvesting Treasures


I’m over at the dotMagis Blog this morning, reflecting on acorns, autumn, and the Examen. Read the reflection here!

“Just as the Examen calls us to review the places in which we experience closeness or distance from God, autumn invites us to harvest what is life-sustaining and to release that which should fall away…In prayer, we clear out that which holds us back and we make space for what is to come.” Continue reading.

Happy fall!


Bricks and Labor


Earlier this week, I stopped by my dad’s most current job site. He is rebuilding a home, originally built in 1924, that recently burned to the ground after a fire. As I pulled up to the site, I noticed my dad deep in the cement foundation, tossing up burnt pieces of wood, one by one, into the excavator’s shovel. My dad is no stranger to physical labor; hauling, climbing, and digging still remain part of his work even after almost 40 years as a contractor.

On this particular afternoon, seeing this reminder of my dad’s daily labors deeply moved me.  I was struck by the sweat and the dirt on his shirt, the starkness of the burnt scene, the metaphor of rebuilding after a fire, the fact they had to clear away sky-high piles of debris, salvaging reusable materials and discarding the ruined. I asked my dad how they cleared out all the remains of the former house, because it seemed like an impossible task, and he said, “One brick at a time.”

Of all the parts of this sight that impacted me, though, one reflection stands out: that I am the product of his laboring. That everything I am stems from a gift from my parents: my education, my faith, my disposition to my work, and even my new family with J.  This moved me to a profound gratitude, and I became aware of a new sense of responsibility – like a call to action – rising within me, to use these gifts and to maximize these opportunities to build beauty in all the places that I possibly can. Experience, contemplation, gratitude, action, transformation: the pastoral cycle on a construction site.

If seeing my dad laboring for my sake moved me so deeply, how much more moving is a glimpse of God’s laboring and toils and groanings on behalf of each of us? How much more moving is the reminder that everything I am is a gift, given freely from a generous, active, and laboring God? How aware am I of how hard God is working for me, of the innumerable ways God is quietly or not-so-quietly laboring in the world, making all things work together for good?


May the God of Surprises Delight You


This past month, two of my former JV housemates (who met during our JV year!) were married. They asked me to offer a closing reflection and blessing at their wedding mass, which was such a heartfelt and joy-filled opportunity for me to share with their community just how special they are. Today, this final blessing was published on dotMagis, the blog of IgnatianSpirituality.com. I am so grateful to LB&B for providing me with the opportunity to share these words. Here is the link

God of Surprises, indeed.