Sunday, September 25, 2016

On Waiting


Waiting.

That feeling of longing. That aching in your chest. That pining in your heart.

When there's something you want more than anything, or something you've been waiting for your whole life, and you don't understand why you don't have it yet.

When it's so hard to trust that God's timing is perfect. That good things come to those who wait. That God has a plan that's far more wonderful than yours.

When it's so hard to be patient as you wait for that plan to unfold. When you just wish that God would magically make something happen with the flick of a wand in the blink of an eye. So that you can have that something right now.

But you have to wait.

And waiting is hard.

I'm in a season of waiting right now, friends. And it's not the first time I've been in a season of waiting. In fact, I've been in a continual season of waiting for about a year and a half now, and it's been quite a ride.

When I look back how I was when this season of waiting first began, I can see how much I've changed and grown. I used to be so much more impatient, so much more frantic. Trusting in God was such a burden and a struggle, and I had to try with all my strength to do it.

I used to focus only on what I wanted, begging God to give it to me. I listened only to the desperate longings in my heart for what I thought I wanted, and I acted and prayed out of impatience.

But I have learned and grown since then. When my longings burned strong, I started to consciously choose God over what I wanted. I prayed my way to trusting him more and to truly surrendering my life to him. To desiring his plan instead of mine.

I have learned and grown even more since then. I went on my pilgrimage to Europe this summer and came home a changed person. I can still sense the fruits of that pilgrimage now, two months later. I can sense how deeply God changed me and molded me, and how the change is here to stay.

One thing I learned on the pilgrimage more deeply than I have ever learned it before is the importance of living in the moment. Of being content with my present circumstances. Of being at peace with how my life as it is right now. Of trusting in God for each next step, instead of worrying and over-planning and fretting.

So the way I'm handling my season of waiting right now is much different now. It's much more mature. It's much more peaceful.

Yet I still find myself struggling. Sometimes I feel myself growing frustrated or frantic or impatient. Especially when it feels like God is dangling a toy that I really want right in front of my face, and I try to grab it but it's just out of my reach.

That's the kind of season of waiting I'm in right now, friends, and it's really hard. I'm sure you can relate, with whatever season of waiting you might be in.

But I want you (and me) to always remember that God has it all under control. That he has a plan for our lives that's far better than anything we can imagine. That he has a purpose for everything, even if that purpose is unknown to us or doesn't seem to make sense.

I want you (and me) to always remember that God loves us infinitely and unconditionally. That all the time he is good and faithful. That he has a reason for our season of waiting right now, and that he will eventually, when we are ready and when the time is right, satisfy the desires of our hearts ~ and it will be beautiful.

So in the meantime, let's seek him first. Let's love him above everyone and everything else. Let's cling to him and continually surrender our lives and desires to him. Let's persevere in prayer. And he will not disappoint us.

Sincerely,
~Stephanie

Monday, September 19, 2016

Highlights of Europe: Lisieux

While in northern France, we made a day trip to Lisieux, where St. Therese of Lisieux, or the Little Flower, is from. I've loved St. Therese for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a little girl, and I took her as my confirmation saint when I was 12 years old (hence my name around the internet, Stephanie Therese). So naturally I was super excited to be able to visit Lisieux! And to make the visit even more special, we were there on the first-ever feast day of St. Therese's newly canonized parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin!

We went to the Basilica of St. Therese (which was an amazing sight to behold), where we were able to attend the Mass for the feast day of Sts. Louis and Zelie. It was so special, and truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

We also went to Les Buissonnets, the home where St. Therese and her father (St. Louis) and her sisters lived in Lisieux after St. Zelie passed away. It was also really special to go there, and as soon as we walked through the doors, I could really sense St. Therese's presence. And the garden in the back of house was so beautiful ~ and FULL of roses! Quite appropriate for St. Therese, of course!

Alongside visiting these amazing places, we also had free time to explore the city of Lisieux, which I found to be quite fun. It was especially exciting because the whole city, it seemed, was celebrating the feast day of Sts. Louis and Zelie! The Martins are definitely a big deal in Lisieux!

Overall we had a wonderful day in Lisieux ~ at least I know I did! I was super happy the entire day, and it was definitely one of my favorite stops of the whole trip.

Now some photos for you!


Sincerely,
~Stephanie

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tips for Staying Focused and Engaged in Class

Going to class can be a drag and a bore, and it's easy to zone out and miss the whole lecture. But even still, going to class is a crucially important part of succeeding in college classes - it's where you can get clarification on class readings, dive deeper into the material, participate in discussions, and get your professor's insights. I've come up with a few pointers that will help you to be more alert, attentive, and engaged in class so that you can make the most of every class!


Bring your book(s).
Make sure you don't forget whatever book(s) you're working on in a particular class! Whether it's a novel (literature majors represent) or a textbook, be sure to bring it with you to class. Follow along whenever your professor references a certain page, and underline or bookmark any passages read aloud or discussed in class. Doing this will not only keep you engaged in class, it'll help you with studying for exams down the road.

Take notes.
While some people claim they don't need to take notes, I believe note-taking is really beneficial because it forces you to pay attention to the lecture or discussion. Write down everything the professor writes on the board, any definitions he gives, and any other important facts and details that he says. Develop a system of note-taking that works for you (whether that's handwriting or typing, bullet points or paragraphs, etc) and use it every class.

Eat beforehand.
Come to class fed so that you're not starving all through class, and so that you have more energy. This is especially important if your class is just before or during a meal time. So make sure you eat breakfast before that 8:00am so you're not dragging and falling asleep, and get lunch before a midday class. Then your stomach will be full and happy, you'll be more energized, and your mind will be better able to receive and process information during class.

Drink water.
Make sure you've had enough water in your day leading up to class, and also bring a water bottle with you to class. Being hydrated will keep your energy levels up and prevent you from feeling sluggish, so you'll be more alert in class.

Put your phone away.
Most professors have a rule against phones in class anyways, but I'm still throwing this one in here because secretly playing with your phone under the table is a real thing. Nothing will take your mind off of what's going on in class more than your phone. Put it on silent, and either put it out in front of you on the table (where your professor can see it and where it'd be totally obvious if you were to grab it), or put it in your bag.

Participate.
Ask and answer questions in class, or offer comments. Or if you're like me and you're not comfortable talking in class, that's totally okay, as long as you participate silently. Whether you're a verbal class participator or not, just be sure to be engaged. Actively take notes and follow along in the book. Always be looking either at the professor / the board, or the book / your notes. Participating in these ways is sure to keep you engaged in class.

What helps you stay focused and engaged in class?

Sincerely,
~Stephanie

Friday, September 9, 2016

August Recap and September Goals

It's already time for another monthly goals post! Like I said in my last post, I can't believe August is over and it's already September! August was a crazy month for me, which unfortunately meant that several my goals didn't get done. (Though in my defense, I was in Europe for the first chunk of August and didn't get around to setting my August goals till halfway through the month.) But now that it's September and my school year has just begun, I'm super motivated to tackle school and life with a new vigor. (Nothing like the beginning of a new school year to get you pumped up, right?)


As always, with a new month comes a new set of monthly goals. As I mentioned in this post and in this post, 2016 is all about focus for me, and about delighting in being a student. To help myself grow in these ways, I'm setting concrete, baby-steps goals for myself in some key areas of my life. This includes monthly goals, which I share here on the blog, partially to hold myself accountable and also in hopes that it will encourage you in your goals too!

Once again I'm joining forces with some fabulous bloggers to bring you September's monthly goals post. Be sure to check out these gals' goals for September as well!


A U G U S T  R E C A P
  • Finish journaling about my trip
While I did work on this, I did not finish journaling about my entire trip. I just have so much to write about! But I do plan to finish up while all the memories are still fresh in my mind.
  • Finish reading the books I started on my trip
Again, I worked on this, but being the slow reader that I am, I haven't finish these books yet. But I brought them with me to school to keep reading during my down time / prayer time.
  • Say a prayer in the morning as soon as I get up, and one at night right before I go to bed
I crossed off the second half because I did well on saying a prayer right before bed...but I was pretty bad about doing it in the morning. Praying at night is more of a solid habit for me, but in the morning I'm in the (bad) habit of getting up and starting to go about my day without giving God much of a thought. I hope to keep improving on this one in September!
  • Blog 3 times a week
Check! The only exception was last week when I only published one post. But last week only included the last like 2 days of August, so I'll still consider this goal completed!
  • Get rid of some more clothes
Nope. I never got around to taking my last few bags of clothes out to sell or donate. Maybe over Christmas break.
  • Visit with my cousins + home friends at least one more time
Yes! I got in lots of visits with my cousins and my friends from home before I went back to school, and it was lovely.
  • Do my back-to-school shopping
Check! A trip to Target, two trips to Walmart, and a little bit of Amazon got the job done,
  • Get my planner, notebooks, etc. ready for the new semester
Yep! As always I was super excited about getting a stack of new notebooks and a brand new, beautiful planner (seriously guys, I found the planner of my dreams at Target) and getting them all ready for the new school year!

S E P T E M B E R  G O A L S

(Last school year, I divided my monthly goals up into categories (personal goals, academic goals, and spiritual goals), and then over the summer I switched to making bullet point lists of my monthly goals. Now that it's the school year again, I'm going to go back to breaking my goals down into three categories.)

Academic Goal: Stay on top of readings.
Seeing as I'm already slightly behind on some reading, I already have to play catch-up a bit on this one. But I'm still determined to actually complete all of my readings in a timely fashion and not let myself slack off and get way behind!

Personal Goal: Establish consistent morning and nighttime routines.
I want to get into regular, structured morning and nighttime routines with quiet / prayer / no-tech time during each. Ideally I'd like to keep my phone on airplane mode while I'm getting ready both for the day and for bed, and also take a few minutes for prayer and reading in the morning and before I go to sleep. In the mornings I'll also do things like make a to-do list for the day, eat a good breakfast, etc. Basically, I'd like my mornings to be prepare me for a productive day, and my evenings to be a time for recollection and reflection.

Spiritual Goal: Do a little bit of spiritual reading every day.
I just mentioned how I'd like to read a little bit in the morning and at bedtime, and I'm going to make it spiritual reading. I'll probably start by finishing some of the aforementioned books from my trip that I have yet to finish, and I'll also include some Scripture reading. I've been realizing more and more the importance and value of spiritual reading, and I'd really like to incorporate it into my day every day.

What are your goals for September?

Sincerely,
~Stephanie

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

August Roundup

Guys, can you believe it's September?! Seriously, August flew by so fast and I'm in shock that it's already September. August was a bit of a whirlwind for me ~ I was in France for the first week of it, then I came back home to Michigan for 2.5 weeks, then I headed back down to Florida for school, and promptly started my senior year of college. Talk about crazy!

Even though we're already a few days into September, I still wanted to publish a roundup of all my favorite links from around the web in August. So take a gander at the following awesome articles and blog posts...


Erica's post has some tough love about why your blog audience isn't growing, and great advice on how to change that. It's given me a lot to think about with my blog and how I approach it!

This post and video from Brooke of World of Wanderlust about whether it's safe to travel in Europe right now are excellent ~ and I very much agree with her. Many people were concerned about my being in Europe for such a long time this summer (myself included, honestly), but as Brooke puts it, you can't "live in fear of what may happen to you. Life is to live, not just exist."

This article from Verily about being an introvert and FOMO (fear of missing out) is spot-on. I'm an introvert (possibly an extroverted introvert), and I've definitely experienced my share FOMO, especially in college. This article offers a great perspective on introversion and why missing out is sometimes perfectly okay. I recommend checking it out, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert!

Here's another good one from Verily. This article lists 7 important things that should invest in in your 20's. It's really insightful and helpful for those of us who are twenty-somethings and just entering the adult world (or are in school and soon to be entering it).

This post by Amelie is full of excellent tips on how to improve your writing! As a literature major who has written many a paper in her life, I can testify that these tips are game-changers when it comes to writing papers in college. These tips can totally apply to blogging as well!

Grace's post on how to establish a good morning routine is super helpful. Getting into a consistent, productive morning routine that prepares me to have a productive, fulfilling day is something I want to work on this semester, so I'll definitely be using some of these tips!

This post by (another) Grace made me feel so peaceful just reading it. It's a beautiful and thoughtful reflection on the tranquility of rainy days, and the way beauty and goodness stir our souls.

Last but not least, I discovered a couple new blogs last month that I am absolutely loving and that you should definitely check out:

because im addicted
Style Bee

Also, here is a list of all the posts I published in August, in case you missed any or would like to read any of them again!

I'm Home from Europe - and I am Forever Changed
July Recap and August Goals
5 Things World Youth Day Taught Me
Instagram Roundup: Europe Edition
Random Observations about Europe (after Spending 5 Weeks There)
A Weekend on Mackinac Island
Highlights of Europe: Prague
What I Learned about Pilgrimage on My Trip to Europe
Highlights of Europe: Paris

Sincerely,
~Stephanie

Friday, September 2, 2016

Highlights of Europe: Paris


Anything you've ever heard about Paris being dreamy, elegant, captivating, or some such adjective ~ all of it is 100% true. My group stopped in Paris on our drive from Poland back to southern France, and while we were only there for the equivalent of about a day (an evening, an overnight, and then a morning), it was still enough time to fall in love with the city. 

The evening we got there, we went to see the Eiffel Tower (which was in no way anticlimactic ~ as soon as I saw it from the train, I had to muffle my shrieks. #tourist). That night, we were privileged to be able to stay overnight in Sacra Couer, a monstrous, beautiful basilica set at the top of a steep hill (with a killer panoramic view of the city). The next morning, we stopped at Notre Dame Cathedral, then had breakfast (crepes, of course) at one of many, many, many adorable Parisian cafes. Then we went to the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, where we had Mass and then departed for southern France.

Though our time in Paris was short, we still got to see and do quite a bit, and I know I just fell head over heels for this city. Everything about it ~ from the classic Parisian architecture to the classic Parisian cafes and everything in between ~ was simply enchanting. I can't wait to go back someday for a longer visit!

Now I'll let my photos do the rest of the talking...



Have you ever been to Paris?

Sincerely,
~Stephanie

Friday, August 26, 2016

What I Learned about Pilgrimage on My Trip to Europe

My trip to Europe this summer was not a vacation or a touristy trip. It was a pilgrimage. While it certainly had its share of adventures, excitement, and seeing/doing/experiencing cool things, the trip was meant to be a pilgrimage and therefore a spiritual journey. Thus the main focus of the trip was deepening our spiritual lives and growing closer to God through prayer and a spirit of pilgrimage.

I learned a lot on this trip about what pilgrimage is and about what it means to have a spirit of pilgrimage. And through it all, I grew and changed significantly. Allow me to share with you some of what I learned.


Going with the flow is part of pilgrimage.
Sometimes you don't know what's happening next in the schedule, or how long it will take to get somewhere. Or maybe you do, but then the schedule changes unexpectedly, or you take a wrong turn and it takes twice as long to get where you're going. Whatever happens, just live in the moment. You are always right where you're meant to be. Embrace the journey and don't worry. Adopting this attitude is part of embracing a spirit of pilgrimage.

Suffering is bound to happen, and it's part of pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is certainly not free of struggles and sufferings. On my trip, nearly everyone got sick (sometimes more than once), and there were a multitude of other illnesses and injuries people experienced. A few people had a family member back home that passed away while they were abroad. And everyone endured sufferings like exhaustion, being annoyed by someone, being homesick, and plenty of other small annoyances and trials. But it's all part of the journey and part of pilgrimage ~ especially because these sufferings made for excellent opportunities for sacrifice.

Living simply is part of pilgrimage.
We ate and lived quite simply most of the time, with a few moments of "luxury" in between. Most of the time we were staying in monasteries with a religious order, so we ate their simple meals with them. Or sometimes we bought food for the whole group on the spot at a grocery store. Furthermore, all of us lived out of a hiking backpack, with about a week's worth of clothes and a couple pairs of shoes, for 5 weeks. This pilgrimage gave us a chance to take a step back from our comfortable, convenient lives in America and experience the joy and grace of living simply.

Pilgrimage is less about tourism and more about God.
While there were some touristy moments and excursions (like freaking out when we saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris), tourism is not the purpose of pilgrimage. In fact, on this trip, we spent more days at the monasteries where we were staying ~ praying Lauds and Vespers, doing chores, having time for personal prayer, and spending time together ~ than we did seeing all the sights of Europe. Because the purpose of pilgrimage is to grow closer to God and to deepen our spiritual lives.

On pilgrimage, God speaks to people's hearts in different ways.
There's no denying that God worked in the hearts of every one of us over the course of our trip. And oftentimes it varied from person to person. Some people received certain graces or gifts from God that I did not, even though I might have liked to. Some people endured extraordinary sufferings, physically or emotionally, that I did not, and God used it to speak to their hearts. God spoke to everyone in a different way ~ a unique way. And the unique way in which God worked in each person's heart was perfectly fitting for that person and exactly what God wanted for that person. This aspect of pilgrimage that was beautiful to watch.

On pilgrimage, graces abound during and after.
There were times on my trip when I didn't or couldn't make the most of a moment that would have been very special and grace-filled. For instance, during the prayer vigil with the Pope during World Youth Day, I was still reeling from experiencing heat exhaustion earlier in the afternoon, and it was hard for me to enter fully into prayer and be fully present at the beautiful event. At first it saddened me as I felt like I had missed out on fully experiencing the beauty and graces of the vigil. But I realized something ~ that grace is available not only during a moment, but also after. God can (and often did on this trip) bestow graces on you as you go back and reflect on a certain experience and pray about it. Graces can abound both during and after a spiritual experience or encounter.

Pilgrimage is a reflection of our pilgrimage to heaven.
Our lives are a continual journey toward heaven, toward eternal, blissful union with God in heaven. And pilgrimage, like the one I made this summer, is a reflection of that. We were on a physical journey through France and Poland that culminated in World Youth Day, seeking to encounter God, to deepen our relationships with Him, to receive His graces, and to grow in the love and joy of Him. And this very much reflects the way in which our lives are lifelong pilgrimages to God in heaven.

Sincerely,
~Stephanie
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