Love Notes

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This award-winning essay was written by Be Love Revolutionary Grace Schoenle and was published in the November issue of Faith Magazine.

SCENE: Barnes & Noble, the Christianity and Religion shelf. A teenage girl, Grace, bumps into another teenage girl, Anna, who is squinting at the C.S. Lewis books.

Grace: (Shyly) Excuse me. (Reaches in front of Anna and grabs a book.)

Anna: Is that Till We Have Faces?

Grace: By C.S. Lewis? Yes.

Anna: Is that the only copy? I have to get it for my Literature class.

Grace: Really? You’re reading this in school? That’s awesome.

Anna: I guess.

Grace: I think it is the only copy actually.

(Awkward pause.)

Grace: Here, you can have it.

(Holds out book to Anna.)

Anna: (Clearly wanting the book) No, that’s okay, you had it first….

Grace: Really, take it. I’m not reading it in school.

Anna: Alright. (Takes book.) Thanks. Wait, so, you were buying this book because you like it?

Grace: It’s one of my favorites! (Trying to hold in passion about the book) You’re going to love it!

Anna: Well…I don’t know. I’m not into this weird mythology stuff. What is it even about?

Grace: (Excitedly) So, it’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, but C.S. Lewis does it in this really great way so that it has to do with desolation and us wanting answers from God. I also just love the Psyche myth because it’s basically about this god, Cupid, his love for a human and in the end he takes her up to Heaven! It mirrors Christianity so beautifully! It’s really good.

Anna: (Realizing she does not want to be part of this conversation) Okay. I hope my teacher explains it.

Grace: Do you go to a Christian school?

Anna: (Uncomfortably) No.

Grace: That’s a weird literature choice for a public school. The Christianity is so obvious.

Anna: Oh…there’s no way I’m going to understand it then.

Grace: So, you’re not Christian?

Anna: No. (Awkward pause.) But my grandma is. She’s always trying to talk to me about Jesus. It’s annoying.

Grace: (Smiling) It’s hard not to talk about Jesus sometimes.

Anna: Hmm. Apparently. (Noticing Grace’s crucifix) My grandma wears a cross too.

Grace: What has she told you about Jesus?

Anna: Just that he loves me and stuff. And that I should go to church with her.

Grace: That’s a good start.

Anna: Do you believe all that stuff? That Jesus loves you?

Grace: Well, yes, I do. I see the evidence every day.

Anna: But how do you know?

Grace: Because…you know the Bible?

Anna: Of course. There’s one right there. (Points to bookshelf.)

Grace: (Grabbing the Bible) Okay, so, one night, I was thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made, and wondering how God could really love me. And as I was sitting there, I looked at this picture of Jesus on my wall, and started crying, because in his eyes there was so much compassion. And then I opened the Bible and this is what I read. Isaiah 54:6. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will bring you back.”

(Pause.)

Anna: Wait, so that verse was just there? Like randomly?

Grace: Yes. He was talking to me. It was such a relief in that moment.

Anna: Well maybe it was a coincidence.

Grace: When I was going into my junior year of high school, I was absolutely terrified. I felt like the world was too hard to handle. I didn’t know what the Lord wanted me to do. So I opened the Bible and I read Micah 6:8. “Do right, love the good, and walk humbly with your God.” And I felt so much peace. That was all I had to do.

Anna: How many times has that happened?

Grace: A lot, actually. It’s what made me fall in love with Jesus. I kept reading all his love notes.

Anna: (Sarcastically) So you’re in love?

Grace: (Serious) Yes, I am. What else can I do? He’s doesn’t stop pursuing me even when I mess up or decide I’m okay without him. Because really, I’m not okay without him. He loves me no matter what I do, and I need that. I need him a lot, and as soon as I accept that I can be happy.

(Pause. Anna is unsure of how to think of Grace.)

Anna: Okay. So you’re one of those “Jesus is my boyfriend” girls.

Grace: Actually, I have a boyfriend. (Grins) A human one.

Anna: (Actually curious) So, do you love Jesus more than him?

Grace: (Laughs) Yes.  The only reason I am able to love Owen is because I trust God and put him in charge of our relationship.

Anna: (Baffled) So, Jesus is in charge of your dating relationship.

Grace: That’s the way it has to be with all of my relationships.

Anna: Why though?

Grace: I have a little sister who can drive me absolutely crazy sometimes. Just based on my own feelings and my own strength, if I try to love her, I usually fail.   But Jesus gives me his love for her, so that I can see her the way he does. And then I can be a good sister.  And with Jesus’ love, I can also be a good friend and good girlfriend and good daughter.

Anna: Oh, I guess that makes sense.

Grace: That’s the way relationships are supposed to be.

Anna: So, this religion is real for you.  It affects your life.

Grace: Shouldn’t it?

Anna: I just don’t get it. Even if he is real, you can’t see him or touch him. What’s the big appeal? Why does Jesus make people so happy?

Grace: Because that’s who he is. The lover, the Savior, the one who satisfies us.

Anna: Well, he satisfies you. He might not satisfy me.

Grace: That depends on if you let him.

(Pause.)

Anna: Thanks for the book. (Turns to leave.)

Grace: Enjoy it. It’s really beautiful.

Anna: (Hesitates, then shakes off her thoughtfulness) Okay.

(Anna walks away.)

End Scene.

Calming the Storm Within

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"On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him.  And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm" (Mark 4:35-39).

In just a few lines, this passage captures an important reality. We all face “storms” in our lives, which manifest themselves in different ways. For me, this story used to evoke only what I call external storms, or suffering and chaos caused by outer circumstances. But I have recently come to recognize the call to allow Christ to calm interior restlessness that we experience, bringing peace to “the storm inside.” 

Now, let me say upfront that I am not a terribly peaceful or “still” person. Rather, in His mercy, God showed me my need for His peace through my own experience with inner disquiet. 

Over the past several years, my faith life has wavered between “highs" and “lows” –between times of enthusiasm and those of difficulty and depletion. While God continually makes His presence clear to me, I have repeatedly responded with phases of re-dedication to Him, followed by progressive decline into being more lukewarm. After powerful spiritual experiences, such as Pine Hills and retreats, I always struggled to maintain the fire of the Holy Spirit. I would return to everyday, stressful life at home and school and quickly become distracted, my priorities scrambled. I pushed prayer increasingly toward the bottom of my to-do list, and as my prayer time shortened, a corresponding distance lengthened between God and me. Of course, because this downward spiral was gradual, I never noticed a sudden change. Instead, a nagging restlessness slowly snuck into my being, replacing peace with a lonesome disquiet. In an effort to re-stabilize, I fell into believing the tempting societal lies that uphold material success and perfection as the cure-alls to loneliness and anxiety. Thus, I sought to control every aspect of my life, from grades and friendships, to my relationship with God.

Ironically, in trying to possess and contain my life, everything became uncontrollably compartmentalized and disconnected. Instead of feeling more peaceful, this need for control only brought about more fears –of being judged, of failing. Though I still went to church and squeezed in prayer here and there, I was failing to remember God’s place in the ordinary. I would leave Him in the chapel, separate from my daily interactions, activities, and stresses.

Over time, my faith became more of a stale religious practice than a live relationship, and though I so wanted to grow in my ability to love, I felt stuck with little to give. I was like someone trapped underwater with a lost sense of direction, frantically searching for the surface, but only swimming downward as I tried to grasp fleeting successes. Missing the Father’s love, I prayed that He would grant me the freedom to be loved and, most importantly, to Be Love.

Fortunately, God created each of us for this freedom. No matter how broken or lost we are, He just wants to hear our cry for help and to envelop us in His love, often in unexpected and wonderful ways.

Though I encounter His surprising love everywhere, I saw it with clarity this past January and June during week-long mission trips to Mexico. Perhaps most would expect to be moved by the physical destitution in the garbage dumps, orphanage, and senior men’s home we visited. Yet, rather than focusing on what these people lack, I was most moved by their spiritual wealth. The freedom with which they love clarified how God loves perfectly in humanly imperfect situations. 

One interaction at the orphanage particularly illustrated this for me. Run by the crouched and wrinkled 95-year-old Madre Ines, the orphanage houses over two hundred children and adults, most of whom are mentally handicapped. From a worldly perspective, the orphanage insults our sense of efficiency and cleanliness, of success, desirability, and even personal value. Yet, in all its chaos and seeming limitations, the orphanage holds a special sacredness. The children love so simply and directly, and in contrast to the spiritual poverty and fears I see in daily life, they are purely unhindered.

One of the residents, a man with Down’s Syndrome, was near me, with one of my team members standing between us. While standing together in a quiet moment, I suddenly felt his hand sneak onto my shoulder. I raised my hand up to meet his, but then he quickly yanked away. He then snuck his hand up again, and I again tried to meet his; we started playing a game. After a time, I decided to give up and just let him keep his hand there. He first rested his hand on my shoulder, but then started to stroke my hair with his fingers. I put my hand up, and this time he grabbed it. Yet, he didn’t stop there; as we were holding hands, he then took his free pinky finger and, with it, stroked my cheek.

Though at the time, I did not experience a profound reaction (I thought it was sweet and funny), later reflection prompted me to recognize it as an illustration of God’s persistent, tender love.

I think we often expect that when God calms our inner storms, he will come crashing into our lives and shatter our problems with a sledgehammer. I have heard many testimonies in which someone describes this awe-inspiring “God moment.” However, I think most of the time, God calms our storms calmly. He doesn’t need to rush in because He has always been there, looking on us with love. Very often, we are like the disciples on the boat, so wrapped up in the storm that we can’t see that Christ is right there, just waiting to be called on.

For me, this realization was extremely humbling. Here, I had been trying to control and drive everything, but God showed me that He takes the first step. The ball is not always just in our court; our relationship is not one-sided. In fact, to learn how to love, we need to first allow Him to love us more.

In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, “To love Thee as [you love] me I must borrow [your] very Love - then only, can I find rest.”

So, I invite all of you to find comfort and peace in the Father’s love for you, and in your primary purpose— to be united with Him. Like the children in the orphanage, God loves us, not despite our brokenness, but in and through it, without condition.

We need to allow ourselves to be loved and to love even though we are all imperfect, even when we are struggling with our grades or friendships, when we haven’t showered in two days (or more), or when we are raw or unfiltered. Do not shield yourself from His gaze, but enter a relationship of mutual love, surrendering through daily prayer and remembering Him in everything.

Eyes Wide Shut

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“Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.’” (Mark 8:23-24)

The leaves are beginning to change early this year. It’s like an early Christmas gift, except I feel they are turning half-heartedly, almost like they aren’t quite sure it’s really the end of summer. I don’t blame them, seasons tend to blur together, especially here in Michigan. The poor trees are confused.

I imagine the man from Mark’s gospel was pretty confused too. For after Jesus laid hands on him, he could see—well, almost. “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” I imagine that for a minute, his faith must have faltered. Jesus laid hands on me, shouldn’t I be healed? That is, completely healed? Was he disappointed? Was he afraid to show Jesus that he was disappointed? Was he grateful, even for the sliver of sight he was granted?

But Jesus finishes what he starts.

“Then again, He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.” (Mark 8:25)

I wondered, why did He heal him twice when He has the power to heal with one touch? I popped over to Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary to see if it could shed some light:

“The cure was wrought gradually, which was not usual in our Lord’s miracles. Christ showed in what method those commonly are healed by his grace, who by nature are spiritually blind. At first, their knowledge is confused; but, like the light of the morning, it shines more and more to the perfect day, and then they see all things clearly.”

Many mornings I have prayed for the Lord to “open my eyes” to see the path forward, to know His will. As I pondered this Scripture passage and the commentary above, I began to see how my prayer for the Lord to “open my eyes” has been answered, although not in an instantaneous way like I would have expected. It is an ongoing and gradual process.

Many nights I prayed for community, for lasting friendships, and most importantly, for a way out of this town where I've lived for the last 10 years. It was difficult to watch all my friends graduate and leave, and even more difficult to stay behind and wonder what to do next. I felt completely alone and “community” was a foreign word. What’s a community? Where do I get one? I thought the answer was to move away, to start afresh.

But God had other plans for me.

He closed the “moving away” door for me, multiple times, despite my best efforts to forcefully reopen it. 

Fortunately, our God answers prayer. He heard my (sometimes ugly) cry. Through my faith and becoming involved in my parish, I have been able to grow in community with others. In particular, Be Love Revolution and its network of amazing young women has allowed me to see the flourishing community that already exists here. I feel like I'm looking at my life with fresh eyes. God has renewed my strength and my spirit, He has transformed the brokenness and confusion of this season into something beautiful. 

Is there something you need to look at with fresh eyes? Is there something you need to let Jesus heal, even if it takes time? Spend some time journaling the answers this week.

Jesus, open my eyes to see the way You are working my life. Help me not to overlook all the wonderful blessings you have given me and to be patient in receiving healing and clarity. For I trust and believe the plans You have for me are for my well-being and to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

Uncharted

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“Compare where you are to where you want to be and you’ll get nowhere.”
-Sara Bareilles

A few months ago (nearly three to be exact), I was faced with a big life change. To spare you the back-story, what this big life change entailed was me going from a working mom to a stay-at-home mom. Coupled with this transition was a move to a new city and a new house. I literally went from working one day and living in one place to not working at all and living in an entirely different place the next day! At the same time, I had decided that this move/change would be the perfect time to say goodbye to all social media. As you can imagine, this is a lot of change happening at once (talk about uncharted territory)! I was not naïve about all of this change. I knew it would be both difficult and challenging, but I also knew that I would find both beauty and joy. I tried to have my mindset be positive instead of fearful—to not be afraid of the challenge and instead embrace it.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Don’t be ridiculous! Of course it has been hard, but anything that is worth anything is going to have some level of sacrifice! I chose this quote by Sara Bareilles because I think it is perfect for venturing into uncharted territory. Instead of thinking about where you are now and where you want to be, start being in that place right now. Another way of looking at it is to stop waiting to live and start living now. If we keep waiting until a specific time to make a change, we may never make it! So, with that said, here are a few things that I have found to help me live life to the fullest and venture into this uncharted territory in the last few months.

1. Put away technology in all of its forms.
This one is simple. I’m not saying don’t use technology at all, I’m saying put it away as much as you can. Change your mindset to think of it as something positive. Instead of thinking about not being able to use technology, think about how you are trying to be present and experience every moment to the full without distractions!

2. Be a friend of silence.
I think that for some, practicing silence is easy and for others, it is very difficult. When I say silence, I mean any and every distraction. I mean phones, laptops, music, siblings/kids, homework, to-do lists, podcasts, etc. Mother Teresa says, “We need to find God and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” For those of us who have minds that love to race from one thing to the next, this one is a challenge. But this is where God speaks. It is not the only place He speaks, but who really wants to argue with Mother Teresa? Practice being with God in the silence and I think you will be amazed by how you will be able to hear Him speak. I always am.

3. Practice contentment instead of seeking adventures.
For someone like me who spends her days dreaming of her next vacation, this proves to be quite the challenge. Why must exploration, adventure, and wanderlust always occur far away from our everyday lives? Of course there is something special about going away on a trip, but there is so much beauty to be found in the everyday. This is something that I need to practice more and more as my everyday life gets smaller and smaller. I need to find joy and beauty in my own backyard and on my own street (literally)! I need to find excitement in trying a new recipe or sipping a glass of wine! I need to stop looking at all of the amazing things other people are doing and start living my own adventure.

4. Read!
Before moving, I spent most of my free time talking or on my computer.  To put it simply, this is not the best for the imagination. Reading or even listening to an audio book is amazing not only for your imagination, but for your perception of the world around you and for your vocabulary. Getting lost in a book is very different than getting lost in a Netflix series. Don’t just read any book though. Find one that is about something you’re interested in. I am always on the hunt for romantic novels about Italy, so if you know of any, let me know! 

5. Do things that make you come alive (but avoid posting it to social media)!
Since moving and getting off social media, I have been very aware of the fact that no one knows what I am doing. I am not even sure how many people cared to see what I was doing everyday or realize that I haven’t posted anything in a while. A goal of mine has been to start making more things from scratch. Some things I’ve been working on are bread, granola bars and butter. I am so thankful to have the ability to make delicious things to eat and I have been able to fully enter into the process. I never once thought about what others would think about my bread. I am doing something that is helping me to feel more alive and to become more authentically myself, without the influence (consciously or subconsciously) of anyone else.  

If we just compare where we are to where we want to be, we will get nowhere. Start living where you want to be. Venture off into uncharted territory. What ways have you ventured off into the uncharted?

It’s Your Turn

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I always thought that to be an evangelist and tell people about Jesus, my conversion story had to be super radical — like I was hooked on drugs, didn’t believe in any god, and actively hated the Church, and then in a moment of blinding light, I was knocked off my horse and God spoke to me in a big, booming voice and BAM, I’m now a disciple of Jesus.

The problem, thoug­­­h, is that my life didn’t look ANYTHING like that. I grew up in a loving family, was introduced to Jesus at a young age, and my life was simply growing deeper in relationship with Him. It was a simple conversion from any stand point. There weren’t any dramatic, life altering “come-to-Jesus” moments, but rather, consistent, everyday choices for Jesus, even when life got hard.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that the beauty of a personal testimony—my unique story of how Jesus has changed my life—is that as many different people are on the planet (about 7 billion), there will be that many different stories.

How Jesus has worked in your life, how you’ve encountered Him, how you’ve grown closer to Him through prayer, the sacraments, and fellowship with other believers is a story that only you can tell. When you share Jesus with other people, when you use your gifts and talents to glorify Him, you are showing a unique face of Christ that ONLY YOU CAN SHOW!

To be an evangelist, a Be Love Revolutionary, you don’t have to make it complicated. How you live your life speaks louder than your words. You can talk a lot about Jesus, but if your life and what you’re saying aren’t lining up, people will notice the hypocrisy. Choosing to be joyful, cheerful, loving, patient, kind, etc., speaks VOLUMES. One of my favorite authors, Dr. Peter Kreeft said this, “The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity: what you are speaks so loud, I can hardly hear what you’re saying!”

One of the coolest things I love about the Saints of the Catholic Church is that they’re dead.

Hear me out on this one.

The Saints are no longer living in this world and they’re living in the unveiled presence of God in Heaven. They’ve accomplished the task given to them when they were here on this earth. They fell in love with Jesus and loved the people around them so radically, that the Church sets them up as people of influence to model our lives after. Who are the Saints of today’s generation? Who will be the Saints that the Church will look back at in 100 years and point to as models and inspiration? It’s your turn. The Lord is raising up a new generation of Saints and He’s calling you. You are called to be an evangelist, you are called to BE LOVE, to BE HIS, and to BE FREE.

So, dear readers, no matter what stage of life that you’re in, know that the Lord is using you mightily — if you let Him. So, keep loving Jesus, keep pursuing a daily, consistent prayer life (which is just a conversation with God!), and keep sharing your talents and gifts because the world so desperately needs you.

A Mini Guide to Being a Revolutionary for Love

Claire: And we’re live from Ellery’s basement.

Ellery: Home sweet home. So, let’s start with introductions! Claire, tell me about yourself.

Claire: I’m a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Michigan, studying nursing. A fun fact about me is that I just bought a new bike—it’s a real sweet ride. Biking is my favorite mode of transportation. Actually, it’s my only mode of transportation. How about you, Ellery?

Ellery: Interestingly, I bike to work almost every day so I guess we have that in common! I’m 22 and I just graduated from college and I’m working in the ECMO Lab at the University of Michigan this year with hopefully medical school in the future. But we’ll see what the Lord has in store!

Claire: Let me throw a random ice breaker question at you. Who do you admire?

Ellery: I know we’re both tempted to say Debbie Herbeck, but right now, Maggie Ronayne comes to mind. That girl has such a contagious joy for life, and her faith and hope are so anchored in Jesus. She inspires me!

Ellery: Here’s another icebreaker. What are you most excited about this year?

Claire: I can’t say I’m too thrilled for school, but I’m excited because I live with 5 other girls in our tiny cute house and I’m really excited to get to know them this year. How about you?

Ellery: I’m really excited to be living in Ann Arbor for the year, and to be intentional about growing in friendship with the wonderful women in this Christian community.

Claire: AHEM! BE LOVE REVOLUTION!

Ellery: Shameless plug! So, I think we’ve broken the ice sufficiently, let’s jump into our topic of the Be Love Revolution for our blog post!

Claire: I think there’s a key word there that we want to get at—REVOLUTION. It’s an inflammatory word, so it’s interesting to combine it with Be Love. The word revolution denotes rebellion and conflict, right? In this context, I think the point of the word is that it’s seeking after change—in this case, the transformation of hearts by unconditional love.

Ellery: I definitely agree; the word revolution carries a lot of weight. There’s action behind it. I think the words Be Love also require action. So, Be Love Revolution is a fitting name because we’re opening ourselves up to the transformative Love of God, which creates a revolution, an upheaval in our own lives. From there we create change through spreading our message of love to others. To call ourselves revolutionaries, we’re saying that we want to spread this message of love and hope to all of those around us.

Claire: Talk about the connection between revolution and hope.

Ellery: Well, in my mind, we can’t have a revolution if we don’t have hope in something bigger, something worth fighting for. For us, it’s Jesus. He’s the one at the heart of this revolution, our love, and our mission.

Claire: I love the motif of hope as an anchor—a total revolution is no easy feat, and we need to be anchored in something strong, unchanging, unmovable. The anchor of our souls is Jesus Christ.

Ellery: Here’s a Mini Guide to Being a Revolutionary for Love! 
Step One: BE HIS. Grow in your own relationship with Jesus. We can’t give what we don’t have. Recognize that we need Jesus in every moment, and that when we’re weak, He’s strong. Be intentional about asking Him to fill you. Starting my mornings with a personal prayer time grounds my day in the truth that the Lord is beside me in every step I take. Outside of our Beloved events it may be harder to remember where our hope and inspiration for our revolution comes from, how can we continue to spread the Revolution?

Claire: It’s a matter of reminding ourselves what it is (or Who it is) that we have decided to give our lives to. Realize that even though your fuzzy feelings might subside, the truth is still the Truth. Establish routines like having a daily prayer time. As soon as I wake up, I need to be asking the Lord, “Help me to love those you put in front of me today.” I won’t be able to do that unless I ask Him for the grace—it’s not my love, it’s His.
And then, Step Two: BE LOVE. Do what you were BORN TO DO: show that love to others! We have been given such Good News! We have a responsibility to spread it.

Ellery: We have what the world is searching for— something deeper, something more lasting. Think about the people that God puts in your life as those He is calling you to love today and try to share the Revolution with them personally. I try to begin every interaction that I have with a brief silent prayer asking Jesus to help me be Christ to that person.

Claire: That prayer can be so chill sometimes. If reciting familiar prayers is one side of the spectrum, this is the other. It’s almost a mindset thing: once you learn to rely on God for the daily interactions, your heart will begin to turn to the Lord for help, even before you can form the words of a prayer in your head.

Ellery: Here is Step Three: Recognize that every moment is a MOMENT FOR THE REVOLUTION. That person I’m passing by on the street or somebody serving me in a coffee shop, or a friend who asks where I’m going when I’m headed to church, or maybe someone who comes to me hurting and in search of help--is a person that God has put in my life. Even if it’s just a brief encounter, it is still an opportunity for me to be love.

Claire: And in the end, we must give thanks. Being a revolutionary requires us to change our lives before helping others change. Spread the Truth fearlessly, and do it all for the glory of God. As revolutionaries, let’s be bold in what we believe!

 

Be Still—Even Though It’s Hard to Do!

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“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

The school year has begun. The slow pace of summer has been replaced with early mornings, late nights of homework, deadlines, and a busyness that can make anyone feel like they’re drowning. 

Often during the school year, we can’t seem to find the time amid this busyness for prayer. We put everything else on the throne of our hearts, expecting good grades and everything else to fill and satisfy us, when it only leaves us emptier. We forget that the peace, joy, and grace that we need comes from Jesus, and from the time we spend with Him in prayer.

Personally, daily prayer has always been a struggle for me. When I go to pray, suddenly everything else in the world seems like a “better idea.” My room is a mess, I have to do that one other thing, and SOCIAL MEDIA…these are just a few distractions I have on a daily basis. But as I’ve grown in my faith, I see how messy and miserable my life is without daily quality time with Jesus. 

John 15:5 says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing.” In this verse, Jesus didn’t say that without Him we can’t do some things, He said we can do NOTHING. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes try to do things on my own. I try to “prove myself” to a God who holds me into being; without whom I can do nothing. Looking at it like that, I guess it sounds pretty silly. 

Here are three things to remember as you think about personal prayer:

  1. Prayer is all about RELATIONSHIP. Jesus wants to spend time with you. He wants you to share your heart with Him. He wants to be in relationship with you. He wants your heart, and in return He wants to give you everything. 
  2. In order to BE FREE and BE LOVE, we have to BE HIS. We can’t BE LOVE if we do not first spend time with Him who IS LOVE.
  3. Be consistent and be honest. There’s no magic formula or “right way” to pray. Find something that works for you and DO IT. Every. single. day. 

Remember to take some time, if even a few minutes, in silence. Just sit quietly in the presence of Jesus and let Him love you. Slow down in the midst of the busyness that life brings and be still. Make Jesus the King of your heart; your everything. 

Mother Teresa said, “In the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God fills you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”

I’ll be praying for you all during this school year!

A call to action: Come up with a plan for your prayer time, keeping in mind the three tips listed above. Then, schedule a specific time every day to pray. Write it down in your planner or on your phone calendar and stick with it, just like you would a class, an appointment, or a coffee date with you BFF. It might be hard at first, but being consistent and faithful will definitely bear fruit in your life. 

The Coveted “C” Word

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What does it mean to be creative? Well in my case, in this moment, it means agreeing to write a blog post even though I don’t have Microsoft Word on my computer. To be creative means to reinvent something, to take part in figuring out a new way to do, say, build or see something. To be creative means to go beyond the capacity that you currently feel like you possess, so you can discover what you’re capable of. To be creative means to join forces with the most Creative Power in the Universe.

I think we’ve become a culture that divides people into two groups when it comes to the coveted C word: Creative, and Not. The big bad NOT. We submit ourselves to the boxes that others put us in, or the even more confined boxes in which we put ourselves. And once we think we are defined, we have the overwhelming tendency to believe that we must remain enclosed within that designation. My sister was always the rhythmic one, the good dancer, the funny one who could entertain an audience, the insightful one, the strong one, the wise one, the _________ one, the list could go on. It’s so easy for me to decide there are talents and qualities that I’m “not allowed to touch” because I’ve repeatedly concluded that those belong only to her. I’ve clung to the belief that because someone else is so capable, that somehow means that I am not. But what if the bounds of others’ creativity in no way limit my own abilities? What if it is possible to choose to be creative and to allow others’ creativity to inspire and motivate me?

Recently, I’ve realized how many times I have found myself in a box and chosen to stay there. I’ve believed that boxes somehow help me and I’ve refused to climb out because somewhere inside me, I think I belong there. Here’s an uncomfortable idea to entertain; what if instead of remaining in a box, or several boxes, I can choose to climb into a creative process that I want to know, and, as scary as it is to dream, a creative world in which I can even be considered important.

So, as I write this creation of thoughts in the Notes program on my hand-me-down Mac that I don’t fully know how to use, I ponder what creativity really means. I can maintain the mindset that people are either good at something—or not. I can craft my “I’m only good at this” list and remain within its confines. But instead, I’m going to propose to myself and to you, that we all have the capacity to be creative. I’m not just thinking about those who paint, or take photos, or make jewelry or clothes, or sing, or play an instrument. To be creative means to invite God to use you— to step into the creative power He has given you as a daughter of God—and then be courageous enough to be used.

I doubt that St. Mother Teresa or St. Catherine of Siena would be considered creative by most, but I think they are perhaps 1,000 times more creative than Lady Gaga, The Beatles, Rembrandt, or whoever is on your list. What these people all have in common is that they stepped into a position that could have been considered already defined, and then completely turned it upside down, sideways, and inside out. They revolutionized a role that had previously been known and understood, and courageously (and sometimes outrageously), created something new and beautiful. One of my favorite quotes from St. Mother Teresa is: “I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” If God is the author and we are the conduits, his power flows through us and the creative possibilities are endless.

It’s tempting to leave revolutionary ideas to “the masters.” But creativity can take shape in a myriad of ways throughout an ordinary day. Creativity finds it shape and comes to life in laughter, in the way you choose to look at a situation, in a friendship, or where you choose to sit today in school, even though you’ve sat in the same spot for the past two years. Creativity springs forth when you try an activity, even though you are terrified of failing, or by finding a new way to do something that seems impossible. And perhaps most importantly, creativity is accessed simply in the way you choose to love someone. *Mind Blown.* What if some of the most creative people the world has ever known, never created a single tangible or audible product, but rather loved more fiercely and bravely than they ever dreamed they could? Creativity happens when we submit ourselves to being a pencil in the hand of God. Let’s not leave creativity to “the masters” but instead let’s invite the Master Creator to write a love letter through us. When we do that, the possibilities are endless.

Confessions of a Very Reluctant Adventure Seeker

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This past school year when I was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, a lot of people started to talk about applying to study abroad. Several of my friends were planning on it, and I thought to myself, “Why not? There’s no harm in filling out an application, plus studying abroad would probably be amazing.” So I applied. Then, lo and behold, I was accepted to the London program, and I thought to myself, “Oh! Well, I might as well accept, since London would be pretty cool and makes a lot of sense since I’m an English major.” So, I accepted. But as I approached the date of my departure, I slowly found that as I faced all the changes that living in London will demand, my desire to go, which was not exceptionally strong, began to dwindle. As person after person asked me, “Aren’t you excited to go to London?”, I have been forced to come to terms with the reality that I am not.

I do not even remotely suffer from wanderlust. In fact, I would probably be incredibly comfortable if my parents let me live in their basement for the rest of my life, and all I did there was read books. And so, when I start thinking about that, the idea of traveling about 3,500 miles to London seemed daunting, if not ridiculous. Why on earth am I going to London, especially when no one is forcing me to go?

I think that in life, we come upon many situations like this. Now you, dear reader, probably didn’t do something silly like decide to study abroad without thinking through your reasons for doing so, but there are many times when we come face to face with the opportunity to do something that we are sure will be good for us, and could possibly be be amazing for us, but we hesitate because we want to be comfortable. But as Pope Benedict XVI once said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness”. And that is important to remember.

Whenever we come across these moments when we are approaching a dramatic change, whether that be going to a new school, moving away to college, or, goodness forbid, having to live in London, it’s important to recognize that in every moment and in every opportunity, there is a call from the Lord to draw nearer to Him and to learn to rely on Him more completely. Sometimes change is exactly what we need in order to learn how desperately we need Him, and when we approach these situations (or really, any situation in life at all), we have to recognize the call from Him. And each time we are called by Him, it’s also important to remember that we have the freedom to either accept His call and live it out, or to reject it and choose to continue living in mediocre comfort, and wallowing in our own pessimism. (As someone who all too frequently wallows in pessimism, I can assure you that for at least some people, that is not too harsh a statement).  

So, as I settle into my new life in London, I need to recognize that in all the challenges and stresses that I will face as I learn to live there, I must trust that Jesus is going to take care of me in the practical things—like trying not to get lost in a city that has over 8 million people, balancing an internship, and traveling and taking classes without losing my sanity. But I also need to trust that He will take care of my heart—He will provide the comfort, companionship, and solace in a place that in many ways I would rather not be.

I don’t know how this whole study abroad adventure is going to turn out. I don’t know if learning to live in England is going to be a breeze, or if it’s going to be challenging for me. I don’t know if I’m going to make lots of new friends, or if I’m going to feel a little bit lonely while I’m there. I don’t know if I’m never going to get lost the entire time, or if I will end up in the wrong country at some point in my travels. Maybe I’ll come back from studying abroad and read over this and laugh because studying abroad was actually terrible, or maybe I’ll come back and read this over and cry because I want to go back so badly. However, no matter whether I love it or if I struggle a great deal, right now all I can control is my response to the Lord’s call. So I’m going to resolve to try my very best to place my anxiety and stress and worry in His hands, and if I continue to do that each day, then I will come back from London at least a little bit closer to Him, and honestly, I know that there is not anything else that I need.

Be Love from a Distance

The turning of the calendar to August has always been a reminder that the school year is just around the corner. Since childhood, the beginning of a new school year has been both exhilarating and daunting. There is excitement that comes with buying new school supplies, preparing for new classes, and moving up to a new grade. However, with that excitement also comes a fear of all the changes ahead.

Throughout my education career, one the hardest changes I have encountered has been long distance friendships. In both high school and college, some of my best friends were older and younger than me, leaving me to graduate before or after them. Inevitably, long distance friendships were created. After sharing life together every day, it was challenging to learn how to maintain and grow a friendship from a distance.

While some people may believe that long distance automatically limits or ends a friendship, I've found that long distance friendships are entirely possible. In fact, with a little TLC and creativity, they can become some of the most meaningful and beautiful friendships you have. Here are some practical pointers on how to be love from a distance! 

1. Snail Mail. Even though are world is so techy, nothing beats a handwritten letter. Letters show intentionality and thoughtfulness on the part of the writer. How exciting is it to get a handwritten letter in the mail?!

  • Pro Tip: Sneakily obtain an unsuspecting friend’s address and write an affirmation note during your prayer time. I find that when I do this, the Lord uses me as an instrument to write the words he wants my friend to hear. Try it!

2. Phone Call or FaceTime. Texting is fine for day-to-day chatting, but actual voice conversations are where “inner deepies” are shared. Plan a date and make a point to clear your schedule for a few hours, showing your pal that she’s a priority, not just another item on your schedule.

  • Pro Tip: Be bold and make a random phone or FaceTime call. While scheduled dates are good, a random call can make someone’s day. The next time a friend crosses your mind, give her a call and let her know you’re thinking about her. 

3. Visits. If you have the means to go visit a friend who is long distance, go for it! It’s one thing to hear about your friend’s life from you friend, but it’s another thing to take a visit and experience it for yourself. 

  • Pro Tip: Plan a surprise trip and expect tears of shock and joy.

4. Intentional in Person Time. When you do have the chance to reunite with a long distance friend, be intentional about your time together. It’s easy to keep it to group activities or to do an activity together. While those are good things to do, it’s important to also make time for lengthy conversations. Make a point to share a meal or grab coffee together. 

  • Pro Tip: Dare to have an open schedule. In Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly writes that we are in the habit of limiting the time we spend with our friends. He says that what friendships need are carefree time. When you ask your friend to hang out, pick a start time, but not an end and see where the day takes you.   

 So whether you are heading off to college, or to a new school, or just saying farewell to long distance friends, remember that friendships, like most worthwhile things, take work and effort.

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter;
whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price,
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
those who fear God will find them.