Lord, Come Soon

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I don’t know about you, but this time of year is hard for me. I begin to curl up and snooze when I would usually be ready for adventure. I say out loud to myself at least once a day, “Wow, it’s so dark”. When I look at the state of the world around me I am struck by the same darkness. The days are short and the nights are long; the darkness is overwhelming at times. Into this season, when the darkness is almost complete, the Church offers us Advent. Advent doesn’t come in with trumpets, it comes as a whisper, as just one candle, as an invitation.

The word Advent means arrival, and the season of Advent is about a word which I think we need to reexamine - anticipation. Whereas the world around us seems to jump straight from Halloween to Christmas- full out, with all the movies, all the lights, all the music, all the buying- Advent is slow and intentional. Instead of instant gratification, Advent is an invitation to anticipation, to allow the spark of light to grow and grow within us, to allow the hope within us to begin to burn until it blazes in the glory of Christmas. God knows us, He knows we need time and invites us to celebrate the feasts in their fullness. And so, we have Advent, which is both a little feast and a little fast. Advent is a time to make room in your life, once again, for God to not be an idea or a nice story, but the most real and present person to you. Every year I am grateful for this season to slow down and allow the light to grow in me.

To understand the anticipation of Advent, let’s set the scene a little bit. In the beginning...God made everything good and had a good plan for mankind. (You know this story right?) Long story short, our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, distrusted His goodness, and fell into sin- a sin which shattered that good plan for friendship with God and broke our humanity in ways that we cannot repair. When God comes and finds Adam and Eve in sin He is heartbroken, and He punishes them as a loving Father. In the middle of punishing the tempting Snake, Man, and Woman, God says something incredible, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) What does that mean? He’s saying a son of Eve, a human will one day strike at the very head of evil, he will walk on the head of the snake who brought us into sin. In the middle of the Father’s reprimand, He makes a promise that man won’t remain enslaved to evil forever. This is called the protoevangelium, or the first evangelization - the first Good News.

From this time onward mankind began to long for the fulfillment of this promise. The Old Testament is the story of this longing for the freedom God has promised- for fulfillment and reconciliation with God. Throughout the story, God begins to illuminate what His promise will look like: a king will come, a prophet, a priest, someone who will demonstrate God’s love, someone who will be great and small all at once. Think about the thousands of years of longing, of praying, of waiting and waiting for this promise. Jesus says to His followers, “Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matt. 13:17) Advent is a four week participation in that prayer of total longing. You know that feeling when you haven’t seen your friend in a long time and you say, “I miss you. I can’t wait for you to come!”? This is the feeling of Advent. As you live this season, allow yourself to enter into that anticipation, into the holy waiting for the promise of God.

Advent is thoroughly Christian because we know the One who was promised so long ago is Jesus the Christ. The Israelites didn’t know it would be God Himself made man. We wait with our eyes already opened to His wonderful light. We await the celebration of His first coming as a man, and we await His coming again in glory. Advent anticipates, on tiptoes, both the coming of Christ as a baby, and the day when He will come again as King to judge the living and the dead. Advent should call us to be awake and ready for God. We wait, while we draw nearer and nearer to Him, while we clean our homes and our hearts, while we decorate with love and with sparkly things. We wait as we pray, “Lord, come soon. Come into my darkness, into my suffering, into my family. Come Lord, and build your Kingdom even now in my life and in my world. I need the promise. I need a God who would stoop low and love me in my feebleness. I need the light, desperately.” I love Advent because for me it is a reminder of the whole Christian life; I am waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Christ.

Light is coming. I promise. It has already started to spark. I hope and pray that in each of us, the light of Christ would ever increase and the hope of the coming King would make us brilliant with joy. I want to invite you to think about three things with me this Advent:

  1. How can I make room for Jesus in my life?
    What are ways that I have cluttered up the home of my heart with sin, stress, selfish pride, anxiety, technology, and noise, and how can I prepare a place for my Lord to come and become incarnate in me?  
     

  2. What do I want to give to Jesus this Christmas? What would I ask of Him?
    There’s a tradition in Europe where kids write letters to Baby Jesus instead of Santa. What would I ask of Jesus this Christmas? What graces do I need in my life right now? What are ways I need Him to be more real in my life? Also, what do I want to give to the Lord at His coming this Christmas? What are ways that I can give more of my heart, more of my time, more of my life over to loving God and my neighbor?
     

  3. How can I foster anticipation this Advent?
    Are there some decorations I want to wait to put out or some special treats I want to save for Christmas? Am I praying through a season of holy waiting or do I want instant gratification?

The Greatest Joy

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Have you ever seen The Pursuit of Happyness? The movie stars Will Smith as a father who loses his job and proceeds to navigate the struggles that can result from unemployment: a dissolving marriage, raising a young child as a single parent, homelessness, and poverty. Ultimately, the movie is a depiction of one man’s journey through profound suffering. While I have no qualms with the premise of the movie, I do take issue with the title.

The Pursuit of Happyness. Often times we are encouraged, whether by society or other individuals, to strive for happiness. Attaining happiness is easy when we are free from suffering, financially secure, and our relationships are going well. However, when adversity strikes, happiness quickly gives way to stress and sadness. The reality is that happiness is contingent upon our life circumstances, so why would anyone ever encourage us to pursue something that is so fleeting?

Interestingly, though, the Bible does not promise us happiness.

Happiness and joy are distinctly different. Happiness is an emotional reaction to the positive or negative impacts that events and individuals have on us as a person. Joy, on the other hand, is a constant, deep-rooted hope and trust that God’s goodness remains despite our ever-changing life circumstances.

Not only does Scripture promise that life with Christ will bring joy, but our joy will remain even in the midst of sorrow. This promise is best witnessed in the Christmas story, where joy became flesh in the lowliest of circumstances. Displaced from their home, Mary and Joseph made the arduous journey to Bethlehem. The expectant parents, exhausted and worn, desperately searched for housing, only to find that every room was occupied. The couple found shelter in a stable, resting among the livestock. It was there, amidst challenges and difficulties, that the Greatest Joy was born into the world.

As we enter into Advent, I challenge each of you to meditate with the Christmas story and the message of joy that it brings. Are you pursuing happiness or joy? What are the areas in your life where joy abounds? What areas in your life need more joy?

I pray that the joy of the Gospel fills your heart this Advent season!

The Door to Your Heart

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I had a kind of revelation the other day. I was at school, stressing about a test (per usual) when it occurred to me -- could I just … not … worry about it? Could I just … give it to God and ask Him to take it?

It sounds ridiculous. I'd given God my problems before, but as I reflected on past experiences, I always found little ways to place them back on myself. Perhaps the idea was incredibly simple, and small, but I am someone who constantly puts far too much pressure and stress on myself. The possibility of freedom from that shook me to my core.  

So I did. Right then and there, I placed my worry in His hands. A feeling of peace settled over me, and I resolved to not put that anxiety back on my shoulders. I decided to leave the door to my heart open and embrace Him at every moment of that day. When I woke up the next morning, I decided I would try and do it again. And the next day, and the day after that. I had found the desire in myself to live as intentionally as I could, and I was learning there was no better way to do that than in His presence.  

That is how He wants us to call on him: intentionally and in every moment of our days. It is not only in moments of trouble that we need to turn to the Lord, but in joy and thankfulness. God is always present to us. We are the ones who need to show up. As author Leigh McLeroy wrote, “[God] shows up even when we’re not ‘on retreat’ or ‘having a quiet time.’ He invades grocery lines and football stadiums, cry rooms and cafeterias. He speaks in ways we expect, and in ways we do not.” God, the one who breathed stars into existence, desires to speak to us. Even more so, He wants to hear from us!

It’s all about the little prayers, the ones that come in between breaths. I don’t want to be confusing or vague. I mean when we wake up, we take a moment to close our eyes and say, “Lord, please let me live through you today, in everything I think, do, and say.” And then we hold that feeling of prayerfulness at the forefront of our minds, and we hold the doors of our hearts open wide. In moments of weakness throughout the day -- our car windshield is frozen over, we didn’t get the grade we wanted on a test, a project isn’t coming together -- we send up a quiet prayer from our hearts like, “Help me, Lord. Make me strong.” In moments of frustration, be honest with the Lord! Tell Him, “I can’t be strong right now on my own. I can’t be calm in the way I need to be. I need You.” Ask Him for help. There are a thousand different ways to phrase a quiet prayer to the Lord, but there is no wrong way. Tell Him when you’re thankful for something. Tell Him when something makes you joyful. Tell Him when something brings you unrest, and He will grant you peace. C.S. Lewis said it best: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

If we are committing our actions to loving Him, then all aspects of our lives will be affected. It will be easier to stay quiet instead of responding to something in anger, and it will be easier to say yes to doing acts of kindness for others. We can learn to be “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:4) This quiet stillness in our hearts becomes a peace to which we can always return. This quiet stillness becomes a foundation that cannot be shaken.

He is calling us to a greater purpose of love, to live in a constant state of prayer.

Will we open our hearts to Him?

True Humility

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A few weeks ago, I started paying more attention to the ways that I talk to myself (sounds a little silly, I know, but go with me here). I’m not referring to the talking out loud I do while I’m doing a task at home by myself, but what I say to myself on a continual basis mentally. What I came to realize is that I’m pretty mean to myself. Most of my thoughts sounded something like this:

“Wow, Melisa, you’re dumb. Why would you do that silly thing?”

“Melisa, you are so weak. I can’t believe you let that happen again!”

“Dang it, I messed up big time. I can’t do anything right.”

I wasn’t trying to be self-deprecating or make other people feel bad for me (because no one could hear these things I was saying anyways), but I realized that after a continuous stream of these messages going through my mind, I generally felt pretty crummy about myself.

Jesus says to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Most of the time when we hear this verse, we take it as a reminder to be loving to our neighbor (which we should!), but do we ever think about the subtle assumption Jesus is making here- the one that we love ourselves, so therefore we can love our neighbor in a similar way? What if I went around saying the things I said to myself to other people? I definitely wouldn’t be loving them, so then how do I get away with feeling like I can do that to myself?

I’m not advocating for all that “love yourself” nonsense that seems to be spreading around these days like crazy, but that we begin to recognize our true value, have true humility about it, and therefore be able to love others better.

As you’ve probably heard before, true humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. When you practice true humility, you recognize the areas where you struggle, but you also recognize the areas where you have strengths. Most importantly, you recognize that all of these things (your strengths AND weaknesses) make up the person that you are and through both, Christ can bring about goodness.

Chew on this verse for a minute: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

That means that Christ’s power is made manifest in our weaknesses. Yes, even in the areas of our lives where we struggle the most, where we are most weak, where we feel most ashamed, that’s where Jesus can work the most. I can honestly attest to the fact that I’ve experienced God’s grace most powerfully when I am challenging one of my weaknesses or using it to help someone else.

So should we be ashamed of our “failings”? No. St. Paul goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10)

The bottom line is that, if we are willing, God can use us in amazing ways to be love to those around us and spread his Kingdom. We need to be humble in recognizing that we are instruments in His hands, but be aware of how valuable we are to Him when we allow ourselves to be used for His good. On our own, our weaknesses look like blemishes and flaws, but in His hands, they make us all the more beautiful.

So the next time that you start to say something negative to yourself, stop yourself and say instead, “I am a valuable instrument in God’s hands. I pray that He uses me- in my strengths and weaknesses- to be love!”

The Lens of Gratitude

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As an adventure enthusiast who loves making new memories in new places with new people, I so often find myself infatuated with the prospect of living a “more exciting” life than the seemingly monotonous one I’m actually living. However, when reading a book recently, I stumbled upon a quote from a renowned French novelist that really struck me. Marcel Proust famously said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

In a culture that romanticizes adventure and glorifies going after new thrills, our day-to-day living might not always seem glamorous. But, Proust argues that the key to appreciating our lives as they are instead of comparing them to the life we wish we had is simple: it’s gratitude. To truly appreciate something (about ourselves or the world around us) we simply need to open our eyes a little wider and see the world through a different lens!

In my own life, I sometimes struggle to see the gift in each day; instead, I juxtapose what I have with what I wish I had. I mean, it’s impossible to be grateful when trudging through another boring day in high school if I have friends vacationing in Hawaii, right? (WRONG!) The very beauty of each school day lies in the fact that it isn’t a tropical vacation; school is an opportunity to further our knowledge and foster our friendships. Of course, I don’t mean to argue that school is always better than a Hawaiian vacation! But, being grateful for the here and now completely transforms the way we think of it!

As William Ward once said, “Gratitude can… turn routine jobs into joy, and turn ordinary opportunities into blessing.” Even the most repetitive and annoying of tasks can prove beautiful if viewed with an attitude of appreciation. Whenever I find myself falling into this trap of ungraciousness, I try to re-center myself in the reality that there are so many people in the world who cannot even imagine having the privilege to do so many of the things I grouse about. Whether it’s waking up “too early” to go to school, or having to do the dishes each night after dinner, we have the choice to see the “chore” or the gift. Being able to wake up in a warm house and a comfortable bed in order to advance my education in a safe, clean, and engaging school sounds pretty amazing when I think of it like that. Having food to eat each night (and the means to clean the dishes in which the food was made) is also a blessing. So, why don’t we see more moments through that lens of appreciation? Because only we can decide how to view each situation, and choosing to see with gracious eyes truly does transform what it is we’re looking at.  

To end, I want to leave you with a popular quote that is used to discuss gratitude. It goes, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.” Of course, nothing in life is all sunshine, but choosing to focus on the good of the situation, instead of the bad, allows us to experience infinitely more joy and peace, and frees us from the burden of comparing our life with someone else’s! Seeing with eyes of gratitude encourages us to focus on the good and be grateful for it; to see each thing God gives us as a gift, and to be glad for His generosity.

A Cloud of Witnesses

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. We look to Heaven and think of those men and women who have gone before us, running with perseverance the race marked out for them with their eyes fixed on Jesus. We look to this “cloud of witnesses” and see people from every walk of life; with backgrounds similar and different than ours, and see in them inspiration, hope, and holiness.  

But what exactly is a “cloud of witnesses”? Why are we given the image of a cloud?

A cloud is something that we look up to. We lift our eyes and gaze at their beauty, their uniqueness, their simplicity and simultaneous complexity. We look for familiar shapes in them, we watch their movements and study their patterns. We learn from them. They are above us, and yet they are so earthy and natural.

We look up to the saints. We gaze at their beauty, we recognize their uniqueness, we ponder their simplicity (St. Therese of Liseux) or their complexity (St. Teresa of Avila). We see ourselves in them sometimes. We study their lives and the patterns that helped them gain the prize of Heaven. We learn from them. They are in Heaven and lived holy lives, yet they were human too- earthy and natural.

God has given us this cloud of witnesses as a gift. They are surrounding us like a great, dense fog, praying for us and cheering us on. When we look to the saints, we shouldn’t see these pristine statues of unattainable holiness and purity, like perfect, fluffy, still clouds with no imperfections in them and no signs of rain. Clouds move and clouds change; they aren’t stagnant. They influence the world around them in big and little ways. The briefest moment of shade can be just as much a blessing as a great storm that washes away a drought.

Many saints did almost nothing of “significance” during their lifetime- they didn’t start a revolution, save hundreds of people, or found an order. They were clouds that passed peacefully by, their shadow lightly flitting over the landscape. It wasn’t until later that their holiness was recognized. And yet, now that they are in Heaven, they a part of a huge thunderhead, a massive pillar of strength, a sight of wonder and awe. From them comes a torrent of grace; we are called on through that grace to join that great cloud. It’s not unattainable. God desperately wants us to be saints. Therefore, He gives us (in plenty) the tools we need to reach sainthood. All we have to do is ask.

There’s one more image of a cloud that I want to leave you with. Clouds are inherently free. They are not tethered to anything. We are called to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we can be free and run the race that has been set before us. When we aren’t held down, we can be freely moved and directed by Christ on the path to join that great cloud of witnesses that waits for us. So I challenge you to look at the clouds today. Let them remind you of all the saints cheering you on, the grace that awaits you as soon as you ask, the freedom that you are offered, and the goal of Heaven.

 

The Day I Finally Chose

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It all started on a Sunday night, when I was doing my makeup in the bathroom of my dorm room. The door of the bathroom was open and I could hear my roommates talking, curled up in their various chairs, scraping the last bits of food off their plate as they talked about Korean dramas. Randomly, I heard my name in the conversation. I poked my head out of the bathroom: “Yeah?”
            My roommate looked up from her phone. “Oh, I was just saying that it’s 6:30. Isn’t that when the church service starts?”

            My heart started hammering. “Whoa, what? I thought it started at 6:45 and it takes at least fifteen minutes to get there. I was just about to leave.”
            My roommate flipped her phone’s calendar towards me. “No, no it starts at 6:30.”
            The reality sank in, and I suddenly didn’t feel well. In my life in general, I strive to be punctual; in the three jobs I’ve had, for example, I’ve only been late twice. But thanks to my family’s well-kept Sunday routine, I had never, ever been late to church.

            “Oh no, have to leave right now!” I announced. My friends started to catch onto my growing anxiety as I ran to my room, frantically hunting for my shoes. “Hey, Sam, it’s okay, you don’t have to go.”

“Don’t worry about it so much!”
            “Yeah, you can always go next week, right?”
            Their kind words made me hesitate. Maybe I didn’t have to go. The church was still relatively new to me, so unlike my old church; my friends wouldn’t notice if I was gone. Plus, staying back at the dorm and eating food sounded a lot better than gunning it to church. The thought crossed my mind: It’s not that big of a deal.

In my mind, there are two dimensions of our faith lives-- one is principle, and the other is practice. Principle, is the things we believe in--our morals and the more head-knowledge part of our faith. Prior to this fateful Sunday night, I felt I was doing pretty well with the principles of my faith when faced with my new environment. For the past two weeks, I had been making friends who believed totally different things than I did, and for the first time, I had been explaining what God, prayer, and being love *cough cough* meant to me.

But, of course, it isn’t enough to just believe in things: you have to act on them too. Most importantly, you have to choose, even when things are hard or inconvenient, even when the things we choose seem small or insignificant. The choices we make every day stack on top of each other to create the lives we make, and thanks to free will, Jesus can only help us if we choose to let Him in.

So as I finally found one of my shoes, took a deep breath and told my friends. “No guys, I really need to go.”

“I guess I’ll go too then.” One of my roommates said, grabbing her jacket from the other room.

My other friend turned to me, confused. “But Sam, why do you have to go? Are your parents going to be upset?”

The temptation came back. You’re an adult. It’s all up to you now. In that second, I saw that the choice, for me, wasn’t so much about going to church or hanging out with my friends, but it was time spent with God or time not spent with God. And it all came down to me. My choice. My life.
            “No,” I said. “My parent’s won’t be upset if I don’t go. I’m going to be upset.”
            And for one of the first times in my life, I owned my faith. I chose God, and surprisingly, I didn’t feel a big rush of power, or a great sense of peace. Instead, I just speed-walked out of my dorm with my roommate, with temptations and doubts still lingering in my head. But my story doesn’t end there.
            Even after I had made my choice, I was tormented by the thought that I was alone, even though one of my roommates was coming with me. There was no one who understood how deeply I felt about Jesus, there was no one who I could talk to about this, and most prevalent, there was no one at this church who would even recognize me, so why bother?

And yet, I walked into church at 6:45. My roommate and I shuffled into a seat she picked out and we sat through the remainder of the homily. As we stood up for the next part of the Mass, I noticed that just three rows ahead of me was one of our youth ministers from my old parish. I smiled a little. At the sign of peace, a voice behind me said, “Hey, Sam!” and I turned to see sitting directly behind me, two BLR revolutionaries to shake my hand at the sign of peace. As if that wasn’t enough, as I was waiting for communion I saw a friend from my old parish walk up to the front of the church with her dad. Tears came to my eyes. Just as the cock crowed three times after Peter’s denial of Jesus, I could feel Jesus recognizing and eliminating my doubts. I could feel my choice being affirmed. Over and over, I could feel Jesus saying to me, “You belong, You belong, You belong.”

Today, BLR ladies (and gents, if you’re reading) I challenge you to choose as I did. Choose faith, choose love, choose hope and choose Jesus. Own your faith, even if it’s in the tiniest way.  Even if you’re not in a phase of life yet, like college, where there are tons of choices to be made, you can practice by making little choices, until the big ones come along. Jesus knows the hesitation, doubts, and anxieties you feel, and He will reward it, even if it isn’t obvious right away.

Still, no one’s going to make you do it. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you.

Are you going to own it?

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).