My name -Francesca Elena. Francesca derives from the male name Frances. It means "free". I was named with my Italian heritage in mind after my great aunt, Francesca and the Italian saint, Francis (Francesco) of Assisi. My middle name was a derivative of my Nana's name Eileen. It means, "tree". "Free Tree". The name meaning never sounded as noble, valiant, or lovely as many others. Tree? I never felt like my name meaning revealed any significance of who I am.
"Free." Free." I want to mean my name. Free is something I have always longed for. As a young adult, I was studious, confident in my speech about all my dreams and aspirations, always active, always involved, always a sensitive soul who even had wisdom from her young years. A romantic and a bit hopeless for romance. I often looked ahead to all my big dreams, goals and hopes, determined accomplishing them would make me happy, or more importantly - free. What is this freedom I so desired? Success? Travelled? Educated? In love? Adventure? I thought accomplishing and going after such things would make me feel better about myself, know myself more, be respected, be...free.
With dreams and self-discipline and determination packed in suitcase, I set off over half way across the country to start this new life and ideal for myself. For college, I would go far from home to really show the world and myself, my new independence. I worked hard and was an accomplished student. I travelled much, the US and many places in Europe upon studying abroad in Rome. I found new interests that seemed to light new passions in me and it truly appeared like all I was doing was according to plan. However, I didn't feel "free". I was facing an imperative battle. A battle in the mind. I was faced with horrible, fear-driven, uncontrollable, racing obsessive thoughts; later to be found as OCD and depression. These years were not as I had planned. From the "outside" I was doing everything "right" to be a successful, happy person. Inside, I felt lost, alone, confused and down right a mess. I didn't understand. I had a growing relationship with Jesus. I knew the importance of the spiritual life. I knew He was important to my plans. He needed to be in the center of everything. However, looking back, I thought He was in the center, but only if all the things I said and I wanted could surround Him.
Needless to say, I didn't feel free, on the contrary, I felt trapped and suffocated. I was caught in a vicious cycle of expecting that "doing certain things" or a "certain someone" or "more of" would be the ticket to my train to freedom. As I was growing, I started very slowly to learn that it is not at all in the "doing" or the "somewhere", "the dream home", the "dream man". It is through the Creator who then shows us a unique path of freedom in the mind. Freedom is in the perspective we see the present moment, and life given to us directly from above.
I wanted to share this bit of a background about me for a specific reason. It is hard to write these words and share such a fragile time I experienced internally. I share this so you can understand a little more who this person is you read postings from every week. The woman some of you have written to over the last year and say, "I don't know how you do it, you are so strong." Or, "Your faith is so strong." etc. I want you to see clearly that I am NOT. I do not say this with false humility. I look at my past, who I am, who I was, what I experienced and I cry out to my Creator, "Lord! Look at me!!! Out of all the people in the world, some of whom I personally know would do better at this - why did you choose me to carry such a cross? Look at how weak my mind is! Fear, obsession and anxiety and depression were a staple food of my mind's diet for years and areas I still have much residue and stains from! Why me?!! Surely someone else is better suited than me."
After I ask this, the story of Gideon from the Old Testament came to mind. My sisters and I would watch his story as a cartoon growing up. That's still what I picture in my mind when I think of him. Gideon was a man who lived in abundant fear. He literally lived in a cave scared to see his own shadow. An angel appeared to him and told him he was to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistine's army. To make a long story short, against all odds, Gideon took only a small amount of men and with the Lord, destroyed the Philistines. Gideon did not understand why God asked him. The same question formed on his lips, "Lord, why me?! Look at me!" The answer for Gideon is the same for me. It sings loudly in my soul and I own it completely. It is so - GOD'S STRENGTH, GOD'S WILL, GOD'S POWER AND GOD'S GLORY BE SHOWN! Not Gideon's, not mine. He chooses the weak to lead the strong.
When I look back during that time in my life, without the illumination of God, I want to turn my head away because it is painful to look at it. But then the soft, strong, hand of my Jesus is placed under my chin as He lifts my head and turns my eyes towards that time and show me through His eyes, our victories won, not my failures I feel. He was pruning me, shaping me, transfiguring me. Although it may have seemed to me that I was missing out on so much and working tirelessly to all the things I wanted to be, He was showing me that all those things are simply illusions of freedom. They will die with my body. He was showing me not to be deceived. He showed me how all new life comes from dark places, from mystery. God called all of creation from darkness. Seeds are in hidden dark soil to nourish growth. Babies are fashioned in dark wombs on the woman. The light of dawn comes after the darkest hour of the night. Spring follows winter. Real life comes AFTER death. The cross promises resurrection.
So what was the new life that sprouted from that time? My Lord shows me. The things of the eternal nature, the best nature, the only nature. Things that will come with me to the Kingdom. Things that will never die, nor ever be lost. The discipline of prayer sprouted. The growing of a very real relationship with my God. The love of the depth and richness and tools of my Catholic faith. I clung to the Sacraments and teachings as my hope and daily food. I remember walking through snow storms to get to evening Mass. I had to, or I felt my soul would be lost. Perseverence shot forward from the dark soil inside my soul. Fear of God sprouted shortly after. I began to see that I am nothing and completely in His hands; that it is only He that has reign over all His dominion on earth, not my ego. I am simply blessed to be a part of it. Grace to endure a part in His Passion grew as well. I also received true and deep friendships during that time with souls who are kindred spirits. During that time, I was catching real glimpses of the reality that a soul does only find rest, find freedom in her God alone. In God, the creature drawing closer to its Creator becomes more like its authentic self and closer to the glory it was intended for from the beginning. The Creator knew I would need to learn those harder lessons young, so I could have gone through some training ground for what was to come on January 30, 2011 and for the rest of my life on this earth.
I've seen this last year that I will lose absolutely everything that has no eternal value. It will all return to dust. It is just a question of when. So I feel an urgency. I simply do not have the time to waste my time on deceptive endeavors the world lures and tempts me with. I know I will fall and at times will be deceived. But thank God for His Son and His Divine Mercy. I want Home, I want Him, and I want as St. Therese said, "I choose all." The only way to gain it all, is to lose all here and partake in His Passion, His time of transfiguring, passing, darkness.
In Christ, and the holiness of the magnificent, simple life and place God has me in, I finally find myself learning constantly how to live freely in the very present. I am finally learning and living up to my name meaning - "free tree". With eternal perspective as the glasses my eyes constantly try to adjust to, especially in this last year, my soul is breathing fresh, crisp, life-giving air. Iexperienving more freedom on more days than I EVER have. As deep and heavy the sorrow has been, the freedom days are extravagant. How wild is that? After such a life change last year, exactly this day, I can even say those words! Because real freedom doesn't change with the wind, freedom is in the complete abandonment to the will of God. It does not take away from all the agony, but I have beheld my Lord's face, in the face of true sorrow and real Truth. And yet, like a tree, I am still standing firm with roots journeying deep into the earth. Life has thrown ferocious storms, and with Heaven I have seen myself battered badly, but still standing. With glimpses and much hope of thriving into a forest. My roots continue to travel deep in the dark, mystery earth that is infinite, glorious, and ALL LOVE, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Free Tree - I like that.
Happy Feast of St. Stella!!!! THANK YOU!