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Archive for the ‘Future’ Category

I have to admit, I can get scared sometimes.

It is strange how fear works. I can travel around the world all by myself and hardly blink an eye, while I have friends who would find just getting on the airplane to be nerve-wracking. Forget spending months on end in a foreign country all alone.

Yet sometimes, if I am reading or discussing a scary topic, all my bravery goes right out the window and I am left wishing I had purchased more lamps for my bedroom. Like maybe 10 more.

This happened to me last night. Too many scary topics and too much thought.

The former Pope John Paul II was known to say, "do not be afraid!"

Then suddenly, I saw the former Pope John Paul II in my mind. I imagined him standing there saying “Do not be afraid!” as he did so many times during his pontificate. My creative version of his person seemed to show him looking up towards heaven, and I felt strongly the impression to just focus on the goal and never turn away. Just focus on Heaven.

Tunnel vision. Heavenly tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision can actually be an incredible help, and I have used it many times in other situations. For example, when I moved to London I went through a myriad of challenges that could have sent me packing back home if I had not been determined enough to stick them through. But I did, and it was largely due to my repeated focus on my goal. I forced myself into living life with nothing but tunnel vision for the future.

I was so completely into utilizing tunnel vision that I would stand on the underground platforms morning and evening, silently bopping to my iPod, and just focus on my dreams, as if I was looking through a tunnel and had to filter out everything but my goal. Much of why I succeeded was because of that.

So the thought of using tunnel vision in the spiritual life really caught my attention. Was this what the saints did? Did people like Pope John Paul II always have Heaven as their one goal, ever before their eyes?

And when thinking about Heaven as their goal, what did they think about? Did they think about the joy of meeting Christ in person? Of finally getting to know Mary, the Mother of God, face to face? Of wiping away every tear they had ever shed and every fear that had ever haunted them, and living eternally in peace and bliss? Of finally seeing all the scoffers gaping wide-eyed in awe at the truth they had denied?

St. Therese of Lisieux even used to say that as a young girl, she dreamed of Heaven. When she went through her dark night, and her mind was clouded by dark obsessions, it was the thought of Heaven that had once given her such great joy that she most seemed to miss. And not the Heaven of rewards – for her it was the Heaven of just loving and being loved that she dreamed of, without anything to stand in her way.

Heaven. Tunnel Vision. Heaven.

Yet tunnel vision is not always easy to maintain. Anyone who has read the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis knows that life has many plots and plans to divert our attention away from the meaningful to the trivial and the mundane. The TV, news, the internet, the radio – anything, said the little devil in the Screwtape Letters, to distract souls from their goal of Heaven.

So what can we do to fight back? How can we develop such tunnel vision for Heaven in our lives if we are so inclined?

One tactic that always helped me in the secular life was to make a list of my goals, with the most important at number one and then descending in their value to my life. Not only did I make this list once, but I re-wrote it over and over. Changing it, editing it, copying it – it did not matter what I did to it. I just wrote it time and time again.

I would be hanging out with friends and all of a sudden I would start making my list (I was not rude though – I only did it if the opportunity was right), or at night I would sit and re-write. I would pin it to the wall in my bathroom, and read it while I was brushing my teeth.

While I did not accomplish every goal that I made on that list, and there are places where I failed, I accomplished enough of them to feel good about it. Yet I also accomplished enough secular goals to know that they alone do not make a person truly happy.

This is why Heaven is my true goal. The Heaven of love, where all is love and no one can think a thought or lift a finger without love for God and others.

If more people had this goal ever in their sight, what would the world be like? If we all had little “Post-Its” on our TVs, computers, mirrors, notebooks, day planners, iPods, cell phones – everywhere – that said “Goal: Heaven! Is what you are doing right now going to help get you there?” I wonder how that would change our lives.

I for one am going to start making a new list, with Heaven at the top and my vision of why Heaven is so amazing underneath it. This is my new tunnel vision for my spiritual life, and I am liking it.

Goal: Heaven! To one day live forever in a place where love is given and received endlessly, and without any selfishness or ugliness ever interfering. HEAVEN!”

I wonder if the great Pope John Paul II is smiling in Heaven and saying, “you go girl! Adjust the focus of your mental lens! And always remember, do not be afraid!”

High-five to you John Paul! The focusing is on!

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While it may seem unusual, I can literally pinpoint my obsession with Europe to one single day in the fall of my 21st year.

At 21, all I wanted to do was sail off into the sunset.

From the summer after I had graduated high school just over three years prior, there had been a constant tug of war between both my mother and myself. I had dreamed of heading off to the islands and gaining my “education” through adventurous experiences, crewing on a boat around the world. However, this free “diploma” was not the one my mother had intended to hang on her wall. Being the coercive leo that she is, she did everything she could to literally stuff me in the car and drive me off to college right on time with everyone else, at the young age of 18 (while I played Jimmy Buffett tunes and sang about how “I don’t know where I’m a gonna go…”).

Feeling defiantly boxed into a corner, I made good on my outspoken promise to be seen but not participate. I went through the motions of heading to class, but engaged all of my effort into my fraternity boyfriend, throwing the biggest parties in the dorm, and living the “coolest” new-found life of freedom that I could.

While my shallow existence could have easily continued on for a lifetime of trivial pursuits, a series of unexpected events that would quickly unravel over the next few years taught me first-hand the meaninglessness of the path that I was on. It was as though someone grabbed ahold of the steering wheel and made a very sharp, dramatic turn, setting the car that was my life onto an unknown road I had never seen before.

Once I was on this unexpected road, however, I never had any interest in turning back. The road began to hurriedly climb a steep mountain which I now knew had always been near at hand, but had never noticed. As I sat helplessly in the passenger seat, I turned my head to gaze out the window where I could see everyone I had left behind, all so far below. They seemed to be congealed together in a great mass, all struggling and writhing for the little bits of happiness that they could find here and there. It looked miserable, almost shocking really, and I wondered why I had never viewed it that way before.

And then, suddenly, the car stopped someplace far up the deserted mountain, surrounded by a dense, misty grey fog. Like a magic trick it disappeared and I was left standing alone never to know who the driver was or why I had literally been abandoned there. All I knew was that I now only desired to continue journeying upwards.

Symbolic metaphors aside, daily life continued on and my mother, still desperate to hang on to her dream of seeing me through college, found a school she thought I would like and suggested their program to me. A little more open to the idea of education at this point, which stemmed from a burgeoning intellectual curiosity about life, I wandered through the catalog until something caught my eye. At first it was religious studies, but then it was humanities. Before long, I was registered in courses for both European history as well as European art history.

And that leads me to the day that I mentioned earlier. The one day where it all definitively began.

My mind filled with so many fascinating subjects, I now felt a deeper calling to be in a place with so much history and culture.

Completely alone, I had locked myself in my bedroom to study. Sitting on the small round carpet on my floor, I leaned against the wall, tilted my head to the right and gazed out the window next to me. The textbook I had been reading lay idle in my lap, its pages open to an image of medieval Europe and the great universities that had once paved the way for the educational system that we know now. My mind seemed to bob gently up and down in a sea of art and history, the middle ages and the Roman times, culture and legendary figures. I gazed at the blue sky so far above, dotted with gently drifting clouds and thought to myself both dreamily and yet with a deeply profound determination that I did not recognize yet, “I am going to live in Europe some day. One day, I am going to be at one of those universities. One day.”

It was as simple as that. A seed was planted in fertile soil and I never could forgot that moment and the call to Europe that I had first felt. That one, single thought lingered in my life, like an anchor that I somehow knew I needed, and continued to grow. It was a part of me in a deep, hidden way that was unexplainable, and still is.

I hung on to it through many trials. Such a radical turn in an individual’s life as the one I was experiencing was hard to prove stable to others, but I began to work seriously at my studies and eventually was accepted to a solid American university where I graduated Magna cum Laude.

But I was not done there. I continued to hang on to it even when others told me that it never could be. My boyfriend used to laugh good-naturedly at my insistence that I would go to school in Europe some day. Acquaintances thought I was full of smoke and enjoyed gossiping about how it was all a pipe dream. Maybe a study abroad program for a semester would be nice, but to get a full degree somehow seemed unreasonable to them. Yet the more that small seed grew, the more I hungered for what was trying to manifest itself into my reality.

I hung on to it as I made my applications to graduate school abroad, hand shaking from a fiance who had tried to tear all hope out of me. I continued to hang onto it on the airplane the day that I finally left, as the engines revved and the aircraft began to slowly pull away. I hung on to it as sitting there in my window seat the realization that this was it brought a sledge-hammer down on my life, tearing it apart and dividing it in two.

I hung onto it that first night in Ireland, when all I could do was lay on the unmade bed in my dorm room and stare at the ceiling, too overwhelmed to understand where I was or what I was doing. Through homesickness, culture shock and a multitude of challenges to complex to describe here, I refused to let it go. I hung on to it because it was the one thing I knew I could not let go of without loosing apart of myself. It was truly apart of me. It was my dream. The anchor of my life.

In the end, I walked down not one but two aisles to receive two European degrees. And when everyone had thought it was over, and it was time for me to stop living in a dream and to take up reality, I still hung on to it. I ran with my gut and listened to what it was telling me, and went in that direction only. And today, I write this from my flat in Rome.

I will always hang onto it. It is apart of who I am. You know you were destined for something when it comes true despite what everyone else is telling you. Promises are like that. They only whisper to the promised and no one else can hear them but the one they are speaking to.

It can be hard to listen and let yourself be led. But a call will lead, if you allow it, as mine is still leading, up that misty, mysterious mountain, to a destiny shaped only for you.

As I fall asleep tonight, I cannot help but wonder what it is that I am journeying to. What awaits me at the highest peak of the mountain? It is a question whose answer continues to elude me, in the most tantalizing way, and so I am thankful for the still unknown journey that lays ahead.

And, for mom.

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