Learning to Be My Biggest Fan

Self-hate. Insecurity. Self-confidence. I’ve been dealing with all these things ever since I was in middle school. Most people have, and will deal with them at some point in their lives, or through the whole of life. I was thinking about these things because I have found a way to at least steady my insecurities. I’ve found a way- through the love of Christ, to conquer the doubts, fears, lies and bullets shot by the Evil One. I think God wants all of us to get to a point where we personally know a little bit of how MUCH God is in love with us. Sometimes it can be hard to hear, hard to understand, and hard to accept. However, God is always there and always waiting for us to invite him in.

My struggle with self-confidence, first and foremost has been a struggle. Everyone has insecurities, and I am no exception. I’ve always been concerned of others’ opinions and worry what they think of me as I’m sure many of you do. I haven’t experienced the depth of self-hate, but the little taste I’ve had has been enough. I don’t want anyone to feel like what I’ve felt before, and again, I know I haven’t gotten the worst of it! Right now however, I feel more confident than I have ever been in my short life. I am 15 years old, and I’m sure there will be many more times to come when the devil will try and block my view of the Lord, combined with my sin and my doubt as well. The key is to learn how to love ourselves. How do we do that?

I was looking back on a few months ago at some of my journal entries. They consisted of a real longing to feel loved and appreciated. I blamed it on the fact that I wanted to impress this guy I liked. The truth was, I didn’t love and appreciate myself. I realize that now. The devil was pushing me into a steady cycle of self-hate that I didn’t even notice was happening until I realized that:

1)    My prayer life had fallen apart.
2)    I was always nervous, self-conscious and empty.
3)    I was putting my identity in my daily appearance and the standards of the world.

Looking back, I realize how much I thought I knew what I was doing. I’ve listened to so many talks and heard from plenty of testimonies at camp and retreats, and in books that reminded me how much God loves me. Just because I knew so many “facts” and principles, didn’t mean I had everything together. I had to go through it, for myself.

So, like most things that anger you for a long time, you just get fed up and decide it has to change. I woke up and decided that however painful it would be to have to change, it couldn’t be more frustrating then the mirror of comparison staring me in the face. A few weeks later, I got myself a new mirror. This may seem counter intuitive, but I wanted to start completely over and look at myself from a new angle. I started sitting in front of the mirror every day. I would speak to myself as I imagined God or someone who loved and supported me to be talking. I chanted aloud of my beauty and I renounced many evil spirits by simply saying, “I renounce this spirit in the name of Jesus my Savior.” I started my prayer time again, although I was very reluctant because of my constant downfall and I thought it would be too much work. Even today, my prayer time isn’t as amazing as I want it to be, but, I know when I feel like not praying, that’s when I need to pray the most.

A few days later, I wrote a list of facts about myself-- truths of who I am. I say them and sometimes look in the mirror at myself, and sometimes I pray them silently. Either way, I ask God to say them with me. I’ve also realized through this process that I should be my biggest fan. People always say God, or your parents are your biggest fans, which can be true…but why can’t I be my biggest fan?! I need to have a love for myself. I know a few people who have a love for themselves, and it’s beautiful. I know I have a little of this love when I walk in the mirror or see myself in a window- and I smile at myself, talk to and encourage the girl I see. I dance sometimes too, realizing that joy is so much more fun than sadness. I hope that if I do this, people will see me and know that they’re just so amazing. They can know that God is what helps me to love the person I am and who I will become. They can know that no one can compare; they are so unique.

A lot of the things I didn’t like about myself consisted of physical things, as in, I didn’t like my nose, or I was rather flat chested, I didn’t like how I looked in this, or whatever. To push myself out of the self-hate, I decided to embrace myself, whoever that was. I didn’t like that I was so anxious, so I told myself I would stop worrying, and I pray still about that! I am making conscious decisions to conquer these insecurities that were actually prohibiting me from being myself, not making me better.

I’ve also come to the awareness that, to know myself, I need to know God first. That he is the closest I can be to anyone else, or to myself. To know the Jesus within people, is to really know them. I was sitting this weekend with a beautiful friend who is a lovely dancer and she walks with purpose. I admire that about her. She has gorgeous freckles and a pure and sincere heart. She told me, “I want to know the parts of people that are Jesus. Whether they know it or not, it’s important to them. Even if it’s a lack of Jesus, it helps me to know them better. I also know myself this way, by knowing God.”

Through this conversation a firework went off in my brain.That moment in your life (I think everyone has at some point) when you have the revelation that a Divine Being full of Love, has created me uniquely and for a purpose. Somehow, I have been given the privilege to know him. I can’t pass that up. I will never be separated from him, because he loves me. Because he KNOWS me. Even the days I don’t want to pray, I try and remember that God wants me. More than I will ever want him. I pray the prayer, “Lord, give me the want, to want you.” That can sometimes be a hard prayer to pray, but to know God is the greatest gift of all.

So, through this appreciation and love for who God made me to be, I have found much peace. There are still times every day, that a lie or doubt comes into my mind. Sometimes I let them get to me, sometimes I don’t. It’s a constant battle and a gruesome war. However, we have to come back to that peace because God has invited us to it! Because no opinion matters as much as the Lord’s.

Why not boast of the greatness that we are able to achieve? Why do we not wear our crosses with pride and show the world our joy? Just as it says in 1 Corinthians 1:31: “Therefore, as It is written, “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

So I encourage you to find your place in Christ. He wants you so badly, and wants to give you unending love. Enough for everyone else, and yourself.

What Time is It?—Summertime!

For students, every year summer cannot come soon enough. I can’t remember a time, whether I was in grade school, high school, or now college, when I did not motivate myself to survive all the last papers, projects, and tests with the consolation that as soon as I was done with them, summer would arrive and I would finally be free.

Throughout the school year I idealize summer. Just one aspect of this stems from my love of reading. I always try to write down or remember books that people recommend so that I can read them as soon as I have enough time, which means, you guessed it, in the summer. But it isn’t just reading. There are friends I plan on spending time with in the summer, movies I want to watch, so many things that I think I will have time for in the summer.

But a curious thing happens to me every year. When summer checks in, I tend to check out. I have already been on my summer break for four weeks this year, and looking back on those four weeks, it’s true I have spent time with friends, read books, and watched some of the movies I wanted to, but there has also been more than one day when I spent multiple hours laying in my bed, scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest, feeling as if there were things I could be doing, but unable to find the motivation. It is so easy to default to sitting around, just looking at my phone. I’m not trying to say that relaxation is a crime, but that there is a difference between intentional relaxation and a lack of motivation.

I think purpose and intentionality are the two things that I tend to try and live without in the summer. Because there are so few deadlines in the summer, if any, I can continue to push back anything I had planned on doing from today to “tomorrow”, launching myself into a never- ending spiral of procrastination and passivity. I mean really, I would think if I had something like 70 days to do a single homework assignment I could not possibly end up doing it the night before. And yet, my high school experience can testify otherwise. This passivity or lack of intention is obviously a problem.

            However, there is a two-word phrase in a passage from the bible which presents a way of living that is quite the opposite of this passivity.

            In Luke’s account of the Visitation, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth immediately after discovering that she is to be the mother of Jesus. The encounter between these two cousins is profound, and they say many beautiful things, but there are two specific words which describe Mary’s actions which I find particularly moving: she goes to Elizabeth “with haste” (RSV Luke 1:39).

Mary does not dawdle. She is not frozen by indecision, she is not lukewarm, she is not passive. Mary acts “with haste”.

There is another reason I think that this is beautiful; Mary is doing something ordinary. The fact that she visited her cousin who was expecting a child is not strange or unusual, but it becomes an occasion of grace because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, as is the rest of her life. This is where Mary’s intentionality and purpose came from.

Like Mary at the Visitation, we also can live in the power of the Holy Spirit and act with that same intentionality. Throughout our daily lives, whenever we play with our younger siblings or sweep the floor for our family after dinner, it does not have to be passive, but rather can be elevated to an occasion of grace. Pope John Paul II once said when speaking about the Visitation, “In this act of human solidarity, Mary demonstrated that authentic charity which grows within us when Christ is present”.

If we truly choose to live imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ, it might not change how our lives look on the outside, but it will certainly elevate our ordinary, daily actions into occasions of authentic grace and love, and give us the motivation to decide to act based on love, rather than based on how we feel or what would make us the most comfortable.

And so, as we all continue through our summer, perhaps today, instead of wondering how we should spend our time, we should pray to the Holy Spirit for His guidance, and when we see what should be done today, rather than dragging our feet, we can by His grace, act “with haste”.

Rich in Love

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to Mexico City. Both of my parents and my two older siblings had gone and I expected it to be a life changing experience. But I couldn’t anticipate the way that my heart would be broken out of love for each person I encountered and how these encounters would change my outlook on my life.

We spent three days in the garbage dump, where thousands of people live and work every day, and from the first moment when I gave Giovanni a “caballito” (a piggy back ride), I experienced total freedom to love and be loved. These people have none of the things we often value as most important—money, homes, possessions, important careers, or status. Yet I have never experienced such rich and radical love as they welcomed each of us into their lives with loving, open arms. I never once worried about what I looked like or if I was saying the right thing, which I often worry about at home. These people just loved me, and despite their horrific conditions, they exuded pure joy and thoughtfulness. The way that these people love broke my heart, because although they have nothing, they love with a generosity and lavishness, while I who have much more, often love less.

On the last day in the dump, when we were saying goodbye, my friend Adriana looked and me and told me that I would always have a home in Mexico and that she was like my mother and her family—Valente, Daphne, and Ximena were all a part of my family there. I cried like a baby when she told me that she can’t wait until the day we are together in Heaven. This radical ability to welcome me into their lives was clearly Christ loving me through them.

I have become much more grateful for all that the Lord has given to me in this life. I now look at all the blessings that I have, and while it can be easy to sometimes feel guilty, I just think of the gratefulness of the people in the dump for the little that they have, and I am encouraged to thank God for all that I’ve been given.

Many people came to the medical clinic with serious physical ailments, and oftentimes we couldn’t do much to help them. But I learned that Christ wants to heal and he does heal if we have the faith and the courage to ask. Maria Guadalupe, an elderly woman, was suffering serious pain in her foot from falling in the garbage, and we prayed with her for healing. I saw her twenty minutes later and she showed me that her foot was totally better! But the most beautiful thing was that she didn’t stop praising God! She was so thankful for this miracle. These people have such great faith that God will heal them and I know that he wants to do the same in our lives each day!

As we prepared to return home, our team discussed the very real possibility that the Mexico trip had been an intensive preparation for our real “mission” which was at home—in learning how to love the “poor” in our midst daily. I’m learning that it’s about loving people when they’re annoying; it’s treating every person that I encounter with respect and kindness; it’s being generous with all that I have. This is what makes my daily life the real mission field. Returning to my “normal” life was hard, but I’m also excited about the challenge ahead of me. When I am struggling to love, I can think of the face of Christ in people in the dump like Adriana, Valente, Blanca, Brenda, Carlita, and many more, and I know that Christ wants me to love every person I encounter in the same way that these people loved me—with a generous, open heart, rich in love.

The Better Portion

There are many ways to seek God’s face: personal prayer time, nature walks, praise and worship music, reading the bible and spiritual books, as well as going to daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and praying the Rosary. When I think about these devotional practices, I want to do #AllofIt. The next thing I know, I am trying to incorporate every item on that list into my daily life and what happens?

I burn out. And then I do #NoneOfIt.

Is that bad to say? How can this girl burn out on Jesus?

The truth is, I’m not burning out on Jesus. I’m burning out on trying to do all these good things, and I am missing the point! The point is to not just DO things (even if they are good), but to learn how to BE with Him.

At times, I can feel that it’s not enough if I only focus on one of these actions.

It’s totally enough, especially if I try my best to be fully engaged in my time with Jesus.

Why is it so hard to do less? Why do we think that more is always better?

It is tempting to put activity before intimacy. But I’m here to remind you, and I need the reminder myself, that intimacy with God is the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end) of my “to do” list.

This is what Jesus said to a woman named Martha who was running around, trying to do everything for Him: One thing is needed; she (Mary) has chosen the better portion and it will not be taken from her [paraphrased, Luke 10:42].

So how can we refocus and reconnect to God when we are feeling distant or have burnt ourselves out with activities?

I invite you to choose ONE item from this list and put it into practice.

1.     Go for a nature walk. Allow yourself to stop periodically and thoughtfully consider the way the wind gently caresses the leaves on a tree, pick a bouquet of wildflowers, or sit and gaze at a stream or lake. Invite the Lord to be with you as you walk, and be content knowing He is with you, even if He is silent.

2.     Dive into a daily devotional such as Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, God Calling by A.J. Russell or Blessed Is She and prayerfully reflect on it. Reread the Scripture verses it references, asking God to draw you closer to Him through His Word.

3.     Find a local Adoration chapel and spend some time with Jesus in quiet. Bring a journal or a book or don’t. The point is to do less, so if bringing it feels like work, leave it at home. If you use it to help facilitate prayer with God, then bring it!

4.     Attend daily Mass. Arrive early and spend five minutes centering yourself, leaving whatever came before this moment behind you. Take your heart and mind off automatic pilot and allow yourself to be fully present and to enter into the celebration of the Mass.

5.     Listen to a good Praise & Worship playlist. Sing along, these words can be your prayer. If you are musical, play an instrument or sing. Find my Praise & Worship Spotify playlist here or create your own. 

These are five ways that truthfully always bring me back to the Lord when my focus has been on other things. Less is always more, at least in my life. He is here, in the present moment. He is here, in my heart, when I allow myself to just be.

Remember that all of these activities are put in place to bring us closer to Jesus – it is the relationship that is the most important. Intimacy over activity. How can you be a friend to Jesus today? And how can you let Him be a friend to you?

The Challenge of Change

While in Pennsylvania visiting my family last week, I had lunch with a friend who had just graduated from college. “I was ready to graduate,” she said, “but I’m scared because I don’t know what’s next.” Ah, the great paradox of graduation—wanting desperately to spread your wings, but being terrified to actually fly.

Graduation, I think, is a concrete example of one of the great mysteries of the human person: we desperately desire change while simultaneously hating it. But the thing about graduation and all change is that we can’t avoid it.

I once had the pleasure of talking to Fr. Michael Scanlan, a very wise and holy priest. I was rambling on about how I had just moved across the country to start law school in Florida. I expressed to him how challenging life had been since graduation because so many things had changed. He responded with a nugget of wisdom that I will never forget: “The only thing that’s constant in life is change.” What truth!

To take Fr. Michael’s wisdom even further, I think that not only is change constant, but it is incredibly needed. The Lord works in change. In the Book of Revelation, the Lord says that if we are lukewarm, he will spit us out of his mouth. The Lord has no taste for complacency.

The Lord desires his followers to be radical, to have the zeal and the courage to effect change and live a life of constant conversion and betterment of self. The Gospel shows us just that. Reflect on the story of Christ. Just when his apostles were getting used to living in physical day-to-day communion with Christ, he pulled a radical change on them and was crucified, died, and rose, leaving his earthly ministry behind.

No doubt this change hard on the apostles. Scripture tells us they hid because they were afraid of what was next. Was this change needed? Definitely. The Lord knew that his followers were growing complacent and that the radical change of his passion and resurrection was needed to help them grow more into the men and women they were called to be. After working through the difficulty of change, the disciples flourished and proclaimed the truth of the Gospel across all nations, forming the foundation of the Church.

Think back on the biggest instances of change in your own life. Those moments were difficult, right? But, given the chance, would you take them back? I think all of us would give a resounding no. Those moments, despite how challenging they might have been, are the moments that have shaped and formed us the most.

Instead of being afraid of change, I challenge you to see change as an opportunity to grow more into the woman that you are called to be—whether you are graduating from high school or college, or just beginning; moving up a grade or starting a new job, Next time you’re facing change, pray this simple prayer: Lord through this change, how do you want to change me?

Forever Friends

How often are you concerned about making it to Heaven?

Okay, that question was a softball. Here is one that is a little bit tougher:

How often are you concerned about your friends making it to Heaven?

Our guess is that you answered: “not very often” to the second question. If that is the case, don’t worry, we probably would have given the same answer just a few months ago. The “we” here refers to and Rachel Herbeck and Julie Schweich! We are current roommates and (fortunately!) also good friends. Recently, through our friendship and our friendships with others, we both have been seriously convicted about the need to run the race toward Heaven with our friends. The Lord uses our friendships to draw us nearer to Him and therefore into eternal life with Him. He places our friends in our lives so that we might make one another holy. If I am in relationship with Jesus, my goal is to be with Him forever in Heaven, so wouldn’t I want the same for my friends? That being said, we want to share with you three ways that we try to live out our friendship on the path to holiness. To show you how this looks practically in our lives, we’ve included some personal examples.

1.     Talk with your friends about how Jesus is working in your life on a regular basis.  

(Rachel) This point is one of my favorites because it has borne an immense amount of fruit and joy in my life. Regularly sharing how the Lord is working in our lives gives God the glory and honor He is due, renews a spirit of gratitude and awe in our hearts, and offers our friendship to the Lord in a deeper way. Speaking about the works of the Lord is an expression of praise. We can thank God in our heads and our hearts, but when we actively speak the name of Jesus out loud and tell of His great works, we join in the unending praises of the angels and saints. We then start to see the consistent faithfulness and goodness of the Lord and are led to wonder and awe of Him. As we consistently recognize the Lord together in our relationships, we not only honor Him rightly, but we bring our friendships more and more under the Lordship of Jesus.

(Julie) My friendship with Rachel would not be nearly as joyful or fruitful if it were not for our regular conversations about the Lord. I distinctly remember her asking me about my experience on a retreat I had just attended. Even though we had never shared in this way before, I was so grateful to be able to tell her about a significant experience that had truly lit a fire inside of me and had given me a new zeal for my faith. Since then, we regularly share with each other the ways the Lord is working in our lives and discuss how we want to live out our lives glorifying Him. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to share what feels so personal, but it has brought me so many graces and has allowed me to grow deeper in my personal prayer life.

2.     Love your friends in the little things.

(Julie) We are made to love and to be loved. Part of being loved is being known. I don’t just mean when someone knows your name, but when someone knows you were named after your great grandma and your dad’s favorite saint. The knowing is in the details, right? I am sure you can think of a time someone has remembered a detail about your life that made you feel loved and honored. I would also bet one of your friends could point to a time you remembered a detail in her life that made her feel the same.  We all have a deep desire to be known by our friends. The deepest desires of our hearts will only be fulfilled by the Lord, who will know us totally and love us perfectly in Heaven, but we can give one another small glimpses of Heaven when we love as Christ loves. He works through our friendships to give a foretaste of His great love.

(Rachel) When I read over this section, I automatically get that one song stuck in my head, “Ooh baby do you know what you’re worth? Ooh Heaven is a place on earth!” If you can’t hear it in your head, then wow I feel old. But how true is that? I experience being loved in this way a lot. And I’m lucky because Julie has an amazing memory for details. For example, about a week ago, I had a long day at work and was not in the greatest mood. When I got home, Julie gave me a mug with a little lion and the words on it: “Aslan is on the move.” 1. I LOVE LIONS. 2. Julie knew that I loved lions and that imagery has been powerful for me in my spiritual life, so she took the time to find the mug and order it online. It was a small thing, but those little things communicate to us that we are listened to, cared for, and known.

3.     Be intentional about your time together as friends.

(Rachel) It is so easy to spend time with someone without actually spending time with that person. I know you are catching my drift here. I can’t count the number of times I’ve hung out with friends and we’ve spent the majority of our time on our phones, or talking about nothing that matters. This is where we must be intentional about our time together. Honestly, it’s much easier to hang out, look on Instagram, gossip a little bit – but then there is no fruit and growth in that. Over the past few years, I have learned from incredible people in my life that so much of being intentional in friendships is pushing yourself to a place of vulnerability with the other. This goes along with Julie’s point above; we desire to be loved, to be known, but often times, we feel uncomfortable letting people know who we truly are. In order for us to truly grow in relationship and in discipleship, we must learn how to lean into the discomfort we feel when we approach vulnerability. God’s one desire is to love us and give Himself to us, and when we intentionally use our time to know and let ourselves be known we not only open up more to each other, but we open up more to Christ.

(Julie) Rachel and I have really tried to be intentional in our friendship by leaning closer into deep conversations that naturally occur. One night at dinner, we ended up discussing what makes us feel most vulnerable. We could have let the moment pass, but we both dug in and asked follow-up questions to show we were genuinely interested. If we hadn’t leaned into that, I wouldn’t have known how to love Rachel as well and vice versa. We put down our phones and made a real connection by being present to one another in the moment and purposeful with our conversation.

Leon Bloy once wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Holiness is our goal, Heaven is our goal, and it will be a tragedy if anyone misses out on union with God, let alone you and your friends. Being a true disciple of Christ means genuine and constant conversion; continuously turning our hearts more and more toward the Lord. We need good friends to help us in that process of conversion, to help us fix our gaze on Jesus.

God has reserved a seat for each one of us in Heaven, don’t let your friends’ seats be empty.

Required Reading

Every year, at the last all-school Mass at my Catholic elementary and middle school, the priest gave the same homily. It was a sermon meant to send dozens of antsy schoolchildren into the unstructured months of summer with some final lessons that might stick. They were words of wisdom like: pray every day, get outdoors and don’t park in front of the television, help your mom and dad around the house, and read books. Recently, in the final month of my freshman year of college, I heard similar wise words (somewhat adapted) directed towards a bunch of my fellow college students. I thought it was kind of funny that similar summertime advice could be applied to a third-grader bounding into a wide-open summer and a high school or college student whose summer had two jobs, three family vacations, and weekly activities with friends. But for as long as we are students, the truth remains that during the school year, we’re going a million miles an hour (about the speed required to exit the milky way galaxy in a spaceship, incidentally) and there’s a significant speed differential when we pass into the time warp that is summer. Don’t let all that extra time you have be applied loosely to Netflix binge-watching, Mario-karting, or sitting inside with the shades down and the AC up, gazing at the wall with a vacant, dead-eyed expression. It’s a beautiful day out there!

While all the things people will tell you to do in the summer are quite important—spend time outside, wear lots of sunscreen, help out around the house, exercise, eat salads and whole grain bread... I’d like to present to you one important item that may not be most important, but, perhaps, most ignored: Reading. Sure, we do it every day, whether it be stop signs or textbooks, Facebook feeds or articles online, but I’m talking about books.

Seriously! Pick up something by C.S. Lewis, if you’re feeling like a very rewarding challenge. The Screwtape Letters was the first book that made me look up after every other line and ponder the mysteries of the universe and the greatness of God. Maybe take the classic route—Dandelion Wine, for example, is a book in which the simple joys of summertime themselves have been compressed purely and wonderfully between the pages. Start a book club! My good friend and fellow blog contributor Grace Schoenle and I started a very tiny book club (there was just the two of us) in order to read one book a week and have good excuses to get together at cute coffee shops and talk about things vaguely book-related. Sure, we lived forty minutes apart and it didn’t always work out, but it was lots of fun and not dry or stuffy at all. The point is, whether you’re already a voracious consumer of literary material or not, books can often be big ways we learn about the world, ourselves, our faith, and grow. Don’t read for a grade or a test or a book report, read for the pleasure of discovery and learning, and for the adventure of immersing yourself in a different world. If you want to spend some of your summertime building yourself up with things good and true and holy, I highly recommend a good old-fashioned book.

What books would you recommend for summer reading and why? Comment below! 

Finding God in the Hard Times

"That very day two of [Jesus' disciples] were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him."  - Luke 24:13-16

There are a handful of times in the Gospels after Jesus' resurrection where His closest friends don't recognize Him. I always thought that was a little strange. How could they not recognize Him? I think that it would be hard not to recognize someone you had spent the past three years with, especially someone that you believed to be the Son of God—the Messiah. 

But, how many times in our life are we are walking along with Jesus and don't recognize him, just like Jesus' disciples on the road to Emmaus? Think about it.

During the hard times, when we feel so alone, we look up to Heaven and question whether God cares or if He's even there. We trudge along, dragging our crosses, defeated and irritated. But in actuality, He's walking faithfully beside us and helping us to carry our crosses, just like He promised He would.

Why is it so hard to see Him in those moments? What keeps our eyes from recognizing Him?

It could be pride, self-reliance, comparison, or a lack of faith and trust. Maybe it's the people you are spending your time with, or the lies that fill you head...the list goes on and on. How can we learn to recognize Him walking beside us during those hard times?

Here are a few ways that we can begin to recognize the Lord walking with us during the difficult times in our life:

1.     We have to believe that we have a God who is real, who loves us, and who is worthy of our trust. He is good and he keeps His promises. If He says He is going to be there, He is going to be there. End of story. We're not going to remember this all the time, but this is the constant Truth that we need to remember and fall back on.

2.     We have to be looking for Him. He is always there, but He has a quiet persistent presence beside us. If we are constantly looking inward or filling our ears with our own voice, we are not going to be able to recognize Him there with us.

3.     We have to be open to what He wants to teach us. In every difficult time, there is something to learn and ways to grow, even if it seems like the smallest suffering. In order to grow, we have to be open to what the Lord is doing in our lives. By believing that God does want the best for us and trying to find Him in every situation, we will be more open and more aware of what He is trying to teach us.

It is not always easy. Sometimes I've dragged my cross down the road, completely unaware of the Lord walking next to me. I knew He had a plan, but I wasn't seeking Him out for comfort and help. When I reached the end, I realized how foolish I was that I didn't notice His presence. He was with me the whole time and I didn't even see.

But even in those times, I learn a lesson. The Lord won't stop walking with me. He loves me even still and desires my heart. He won't stop pursuing me and He won't stop pursuing you either!

I challenge you to recognize Him on the road with you, especially as we are nearing the end of the semester and all that will entail. There are finals, stress, deadlines, sleepless nights, big sister sufferings, little sufferings—do not be afraid. He is there and desires to reveal Himself to you.

A Beautiful Destination

As Christians, we look to the cross as a symbol of our faith. The image of Christ, held to the cross by our sins, serves as a reminder of the torture and death Jesus endured on our behalf. But, the same Christianity represented by this portrayal of death, is embodied by a renewal of life. The same Christ who is bound to the wood by our sins, rose from the dead to conquer the sins that held him there.

I think oftentimes when we hear “Jesus died and rose from the dead,” we dismiss the true meaning of the phrase, simply because we’ve heard it so often. But, Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus ROSE from the dead!!! Just think about that for a second. Jesus, the very one who gave us life, descended into death and then overcame it, FOR US! God took on flesh, accepted death, and then rose victorious.

The cross isn’t so much a symbol of death and sorrow, but a signal of life and hope and the light which is to come! If it weren’t for the Passion, there would be no Resurrection; if it weren’t for His death, we would not have life!

I think that this concept can be applied to our daily lives as well. Whenever we are faced with a struggle, we are simultaneously given an opportunity to yield great beauty. Often, exceptional struggles are what open the door to extraordinary success! So many times in life, God walks us through a difficult time in order to bring us to a beautiful destination. Just as on the cross, Christ had to endure immense pain and unquantifiable suffering, so too in life are we faced with struggles that sometimes seem indomitable. However, through Christ’s great suffering, came an even greater beauty, light, and abundance of LIFE! And through our own suffering can come a greater sense of strength, a more joyful heart, and wisdom beyond that which we can even comprehend.

So, this Easter season, I invite you to not grow comfortable with the beauty of the Resurrection. Allow yourself to be moved, to be inspired, and to be awestruck that JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD! FOR YOU! I encourage you to look at the cross and each time, be reminded of the beauty and the victory which was won for us there. Remember that rather than portraying death, Christ’s crucifixion points to the Resurrection: the single most hopeful, beautiful, life-giving, and enriching event of human history. And please, don’t lose heart amidst your own darkness. For without darkness, there’s no light; without struggle, there’s no victory! Look to the cross and face whatever is lying ahead with full confidence that the Risen Lord will not fail you, and be assured that whatever difficulties you’re facing are only indicative of the indescribable beauty that awaits if you persevere.

Your Most Epic Love Story

The joy and hope of this glorious Easter season blasted into my Lent-weary heart at the Easter Vigil when Emily, one of my close friends, was welcomed into the Catholic Church (!!!!!!!!). She wore white and glowed like a bride. Seeing her journey to this beautiful step has really brought me to the realization that the Lord was pursuing her. He is so in love with her, He just had to lead her right to Himself. As I watched Emily receiving the sacraments and committing herself to the Church, I saw a revolutionary. I saw her become even more His, even more free, and even more full of Love! He brought her to this through His grace and mercy! This is a love story!

            This brings me to my point; Easter is the time to fall in love again. It’s spring, there are flowers everywhere, and God has done the most romantic thing any guy could ever do for us! He gave everything to save us, and then rose again so that we would never have to be without Him. Ladies, I’ve been watching my share of Jane Austen movies, and though Edward Ferrars’ proposal to Elinor is pretty adorable, it is nothing compared to how God is wooing us through the beauty of His sacrifice!

            My explanation of course is not doing justice to Jesus as a sweet lover, so I invite you all to explore the depths of this yourself. And how? By my favorite way to pray... JOURNALING! So here are some concrete steps for those of us who like methods and guidelines:

1.     Reflect on your whole Lent experience. Think about it week by week. What did you learn about yourself? How did you progress in loving God, yourself, and others?

2.     Journal about Lent. What do you think God was trying to tell you? How was He showing you His deep love?

3.     Make a plan to keep up the good work you have begun in Lent. Don’t worry; you can eat ice cream now! Just keep working on the virtues that sprouted up from your Lenten resolutions.

4.     Meditate on God’s love for you. Will you let this love story continue?

Take the time for this journaling session during this week, or break up the steps across different days. Hopefully it opens your eyes just a smidge to the epically romantic gestures the Lord has made to get your attention. He is kind of crazy about you. It’s crazy that He gave up His own life for us when we didn’t deserve it in the slightest.

Reflecting on my own Lenten experience, I see how God was trying to show me His love. During the last six weeks, I became aware of the many ways in my life that I am weak and insufficient – my pride needed to be broken down. Each week left me feeling even more pathetic than the last! But once my pride was out of the way, the Lord could finally get his message across. As Holy Week approached, a recurring theme was brought up in prayer and by others in my life. YOU ARE LOVED. That’s all…because that’s all that matters. My attempts, my failures, even my successes, are about as helpful as a matchstick in a tsunami.

Like a true romantic, the Lord loves us without even giving a thought to our merits. Lent reminds us that we may be basically the worst sometimes, but Easter reminds us that He already saved us regardless! He is bringing us to that happily ever after of our love story. That is what we’re celebrating, after all.

Now go celebrate! Go eat jelly beans for breakfast and sing Alleluia!