Take Heart

Original Artwork by Iris Rhein

Original Artwork by Iris Rhein

Sin is like Fig Newtons. I hate Fig Newtons. (Okay, hate is a strong word for a cookie; I dislike the taste of Fig Newtons.) It's not a very good cookie. But, for some reason, my taste buds are convinced I love Fig Newtons. I'm a little embarrassed by the number of times I have bought a pack of Fig Newtons, seriously convinced that “No, I'm going to like them this time. I swear I have a memory of them tasting good!”, only to bite in and be severely disappointed.

What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. - Romans 7:15

St. Paul probably wasn't writing about cookies, but I'm reminded of this verse when I think of my longstanding feud with Fig Newtons. I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.

I sin. A lot. I struggle to be patient and kind. I'm prone to road-rage. Like a fly to a light, I run back to my familiar sins over and over, often knowing I'm just going to get burned. There was a time in my life when I really struggled with resentment and bitterness. I'd been profoundly hurt by someone close to me and it left a gnawing mess of resentment. I knew I ought to forgive them, but I was angry and bitter. The offender was unrepentant, even unaware, of the wound they had inflicted. For months I prayed for the grace to simply desire to forgive them. Over and over I found myself going to the confessional saying, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I have been harboring resentment towards ___.” My head might have understood what to do, but my heart remained stubborn. I grew frustrated with myself. Would I ever be able to heal from this?

I do not do what I want to, but I do what I hate.

The spiritual life is a struggle. My desire to do what is good clashes with my desire for what is not good. In the face of my constant failings, it's easy to get discouraged. “I'm always going to confession for the same sins. I'll never change. I should have been able to improve. I'm never good enough, there's always going to be someone better. I bet I'm the only one who can't get over this. I'm not strong enough.”  

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I often think of courage as another word for strength. A courageous person, I imagine, is like a wall. They stand tall and strong. Unmovable and unshaken, they exude strength and sheer willpower- like a firefighter rushing into a flaming building, a soldier gritting his teeth and trudging along, or knights charging headfirst into a sea of spears.

But I think, as women, we have a kind of courage that is soft. The root of the word "courage" is cor, or heart. Often courage is translated as "take heart." But whose heart am I taking?

Courage starts with acknowledging my own littleness. I am broken. I am sinful. I fail, over and over and over again. I am weak. But in the midst of my brokenness, Christ comes and offers His heart. When I am tired of failing over and over and over again, Christ is there with His strength. It is in Jesus that I can stand tall and proud. It is in Jesus that I find the strength to persevere; the courage to continue on.

So yes, I struggle. I still think Fig Newtons taste good. I still wrestle with discouragement.  But if discouragement means to lose heart, courage means taking the heart of Christ and letting Him be your strength. So, courage! Courage my dear sisters! Take heart.

The Miracle of the Here and Now

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Every year, after Thanksgiving and Christmas are over, and the excitement and magic of the holidays has passed, the following months (that are without any breaks or holidays) can seem never-ending and overwhelmingly boring. As I trudge through the cold, gray Michigan days, I have the tendency to focus on the next big thing that’s happening, with the mentality that once I get to that next break or vacation, then I will be happy and peaceful again. Many of my friends and I often say, “I just need break to come!” or “It can’t come soon enough!” Sometimes I am so focused on what is coming next in life that I forget to be present where I actually am.

Right now, as I think about the next couple of months, part of me wants to fall into discouragement, because my next break from school isn’t until March, and I have so much work to do before I get to that point. I can easily lose sight of the beauty in the present moment and all of the people that God wants me to love where I am right now!

The Lord doesn’t call me or any of us to live like this! As Christians, we are filled with the Holy Spirit by the nature of our Baptism, and in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians he tells us, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) With the Holy Spirit working in our lives, we can live every day full of joy and peace-both the exciting and the mundane, the happy and the difficult. The Holy Spirit can help us to see that every single day is full of many small miracles and exciting ways to spread the love and joy of the Gospel. I think that we, as Be Love Revolutionaries, are especially called to spread the love and joy of Jesus Christ-even in the difficult or boring times of life. Small, intentional acts of kindness can go a long way to bring Christ’s love to the world.

A priest once gave me the advice to try to walk around my college campus without looking at my phone or looking down, but to try and look up, look at people, and smile as they walk by. When I do this intentionally, my day is always brightened by the smiles of others, and I am often able to pray a little. This little habit has helped me to relax, let go of those things that are worrying me and occupying my mind, to be more present to those around me, and to pray in between classes during a busy day.

How many miracles do we miss by being too caught up what is coming next, instead of living in the here and now? It could be the miracle of a beautiful sunrise, a good laugh with a friend, or an opportunity to spread the love of Christ with someone who needs to be loved. This year, let’s strive to be more present in the moments that God has given us, and remain ever-watchful for the miracles that God gives us each and every day. With this mentality, the next months don’t seem so daunting or exhausting, but beautiful and chock-full of exciting opportunities to be a revolutionary of love! Let’s start right now!

I am praying for each of you every day!  

A Resolution

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Happy New Year Be Love Revolutionaries! I hope your 2018 is off to a lovely start!

I’m sure you’ve been hearing and thinking about resolutions for a couple days now and are probably reading this thinking something along the lines of… “Oh great. Here comes another idea for a resolution that I probably won’t keep and then feel kind of like a failure when I realize in the middle of February that I forgot about it.” If you are thinking of that, then I get where you’re coming from. I’ve often thought the same thing about resolutions. I always make them in the beginning of the year with these high hopes and then promptly forget about them a few weeks later.

Well this year, my fellow revolutionaries, I present to you yet another idea for a resolution, but this time, I intend to keep it and I invite you to join me. I invite you to join me in a resolution to choose hope, choose joy, and choose love this year.

I’ll be honest- this last year was a bit of a toughy for me. There were a lot of amazing blessings, but also a lot of challenges and trials. Jesus was with me through them all, and I am so grateful for His loving presence, but I’ll admit that I’m really looking forward to a new year and a fresh start. Even if January 1st is just another day and really no different from December 31st, I like to take every opportunity to look at things in a new way, or to give myself a chance at starting over.

When I was praying in Adoration the other day, I really felt a call to look at this year as a year of choice. A little background information… I have a tendency to look at the negative things that could happen in life- or the worse case scenario- and worry about how I’ll be disappointed or hurt or challenged. But that’s not how Christ calls us to live. He calls us to be like little children, and little children have hopes and dreams about the future that are full of laughter, joy, peace, and love. If He is our loving, caring, and doting Father, then why do we fear that the future will hold anything but what is good for us, His children? “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

When we encounter difficulty in life- whether big or small- we have a choice. We can choose to look at the ways things could go wrong, or we could choose to look at everything with eyes of hope, joy, and love. For example, say you find out that you did poorly on a big test that you thought you would do well on. Instead of thinking, “Wow. I bombed that. I thought for sure I had it in the bag! Ugh. That probably means that I’m going to do poorly the rest of this year too,” choose hope! Remind yourself that one mistake doesn’t mean everything is ruined forever, but that you can get back up from a little bump and still look to the future with joyful anticipation. Maybe that bad test grade was the motivation you needed to study harder and get A’s on the rest of the tests all year.

No matter what last year held for you, look at this new year with the eyes of faith. Think about all the ways that God will surely bless you and look forward to them with the expectancy of a child. Be excited about 2018! God is a “good, good Father” and we are “loved by Him”, so you know that there will be many proofs of His love in this year. There will surely be challenges too- but that’s when you get to make your choice.

So I’m going to ask you to make your first choice right now: will you join me in my resolution to choose hope, joy, and love this year? Practice making that choice right now: do you choose to envision this year as a year when you will succeed in sticking to your resolution: choosing hope, joy, and love in even the toughest of situations or will you resign yourself to another “failed” resolution? (Although, even if you only remembered your resolution for a few weeks- you still gave it a shot, which is better than nothing at all!)

I’m even going to suggest another tool to help you keep to your resolution: accountability. If you feel called to join me in this resolution, let’s keep each other accountable. Find a friend to make this resolution with and encourage each other to choose hope, joy, and love. With someone else to support you, you’re much more likely to keep to your resolution, so take advantage of the wonderful gift of friendship and community that the Lord has blessed you with (and yes, you do have friendship and community- right here in the BLR!).

So will you join me? I’m hopeful that you will.

On Being Little

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My Dear Friend,

Merry Christmas! I hope that, wherever I find you right now, you are well.

Currently, I’m sitting in my room under my blanket and a cup of tea that long ago turned cold sits next to me. I’ve spent a long time staring at this page in prayer, asking the Lord what He wants me to say to you.

In my life recently I’ve felt so little. (It doesn’t help that I’m 5’2”.) But more than physically little, I’ve felt spiritually little. I can’t quite describe the feeling to you, but it's one I’m not shy to. The feelings of weakness and helplessness are also felt deeply in my littleness. It’s hard in a world of “being big” and self-reliant to feel little and weak and, well, broken.

But as I’ve been praying and meditating on Jesus’ birth, I’m realizing that maybe this littleness I’m feeling isn’t such a bad thing.

In the song Winter Snow, by Audrey Assad, she sings:

[You] could’ve come like a mighty storm

With all the strength of a hurricane

You could’ve come like a forest fire

With the power of Heaven in Your flame

 

But you came like a winter snow

Quiet and soft and slow

Falling from the sky in the night

To the earth below

Jesus was born in a cave. There were animals that smelled and only scratchy, prickly hay to lie on. His Mother had no one but Joseph to attend her in the birth of our Savior. It was cold and unnoticed and LITTLE.

Jesus is God. He could have come as a grown man, on a mighty horse, waving a banner. He could have come riding on a lightning bolt in the middle of a storm. He could have been born a king in a palace with warm blankets and a bed. At the very least, He could have been born in a house.

But He didn’t.

Jesus chose to come little. A little baby. A little stable. With very little notice. Jesus came for the little. In fact, his first visitors were shepherds who had nothing to give but themselves.

He came little to give you permission to be little.

Jesus is calling to you and me: “Come! Come in your littleness! Come in your weakness and brokenness and shame. Come and bring everything you are, your best and your worst; what you’re proud of and everything you’re afraid to let anyone else see. Come as you are!”

Dear friend, I challenge you to bring your littleness to the manger this Christmas season. Let our big God who chose to come little meet you there and love you. Let Him be your strength. Let Him be big for you. There, by the manger, may you find peace and joy and strength.

With love, Abby

Following the Wise Guys

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When we think about the Christmas story, I think some of the most underrated characters are the three wise men. Have you ever stopped and thought about what they did or how random they were? In recent years, my only encounter with the wise men on Christmas was through the cheesy Justin Bieber Christmas lyrics, “The wise men followed the star, the way I followed my heart, and it led me to a miracle”. I know, not a great thing to associate with the wise men. But this year I’ve been intrigued by the role of the wise men in the nativity.

So, what exactly do we know about these guys? Tradition holds that three Magi (wise men), saw the Star in the sky and followed it all the way to the baby Jesus, where they worshipped Him and offered Him gifts. Matthew discusses the wise men in his Gospel:

“Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11).

St. Augustine tells us that the wise men most likely followed the star for 1,000-1,200 miles, a journey that would have taken at least three to six months on camel. He also points out that they would have needed to prepare extensively for this kind of journey, and that when all was said and done, they probably would have reached Jesus a little over a year after first seeing the Star. To summarize: these guys spent over a year following a star in the sky to an unknown location, unsure of exactly what they were looking for, and made it to the newly born baby Jesus.

In this Christmas season, I’m particularly convicted and called on by the wise men. The faith and trust it took to follow that star is often unnoticed. I want to lay out three lessons we can learn from the wise men this Christmas:

  1. Prepare for the Journey: The wise men saw the star, and spent at least six months preparing for their journey to follow it. They packed food and gathered all of the necessary items for a successful journey. While during Advent we journey toward Christmas, it is only a part of our larger journey toward Heaven. How we receive Jesus on Christmas helps to keep us strong and nourished for the entire journey. So how are we preparing for the Christmas journey and how are we continuously preparing for our heavenly journey? Just as the wise men gathered food and survival items, we need to nourish ourselves with daily prayer, the Word of God, and participation in community life.

  2. Follow the Star with Renewed Faith: Through our entire lives, and particularly throughout the Advent and Christmas season, Jesus provides us with lights in our lives to find Him in new and more powerful ways. But, how often do we feel like we are following these lights blindly? How often does the journey of faith feel unending and arduous? (Not unlike riding across the desert on a camel for six months with no sense of where you are going.) But in our case, we know the destination of our journey: an encounter with Christ, and ultimately Heaven. This Advent season, Jesus gives us our own stars to follow to His manger and deeper into His childlike heart. The wise men were convicted that the Star was leading them to the Savior, even if they didn’t know what that looked like or what to expect. Are we convicted that the stars that Jesus gives us to follow are really leading to Him? If not, let us renew our faith, and follow these lights with haste, conviction, and certainty that they lead to our good, our salvation, and our Savior.

  3. Offer Everything to the Baby Jesus: In the passage from Matthew, it describes the wise men worshipping Jesus and offering Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh- all things of great value. It may seem strange that the wise men offered these gifts to a baby, after all, what could a baby do with these things? But these offerings represent Jesus’ desire for us to give Him our most valuable when He is at His most vulnerable.

Jesus comes to humanity as an infant - a helpless little child - the most unassuming way for the King of the universe to approach us. But He comes this way on purpose. He comes to us as a baby so that we may approach Him, so that we may be drawn in by the smallness and vulnerability of our God. He makes Himself small so that we feel comfortable and safe bringing our most valuable possessions to Him. And for each of us, the most valuable thing that we have is our hearts. Let us follow the example of the wise men and approach the baby Jesus with adoration and complete self-gift. This Christmas, don’t hold anything back from our Lord, pour your heart out before Him, for He has been born to receive your heart.

The three wise men provide us with a unique example of faith, perseverance, and intense and humble love. With what is left of Advent, let us model ourselves after the wise men, following the guidance of Jesus with complete faith and trust and receiving Him with adoration and love.

Welcome to My World

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“Where are you right now?”

One of the luxuries of having a phone is that it really doesn’t matter where you are – distance and location are no longer big obstacles for communication. But it seems that frequently when I have an actual conversation over the phone, this question comes up: “Where are you right now?” There’s something valuable about knowing a person’s surroundings. It’s his or her world for the moment, and having an idea of what that looks like serves as a welcome into it.

Here’s my world while I am writing this blog: I’m sitting in a cute living room, in comfy clothes, with the most precious baby fast asleep in my arms. I have a clear view of outside where a peaceful, light snow is falling, making the grey skies a little more bearable as I wonder when the last time was that I saw some sunshine. In between sips of coffee my thoughts dart between how I’m getting a little hungry and how cute this little baby is and how so much has changed in the past year and how I have to send that important email and how I’m not quite sure what I’m doing with my life.

It is so easy to get caught in my little world. Even when I’m loving and serving with all my might, I am tempted to focus on my thoughts and agenda, desiring to establish stability and predictability. I love Pope John Paul II, but when he says, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure,” I am equal parts inspired and terrified. Adventure sounds uncomfortable and risky. When I’m in the mood for an adventure I won’t use my turn signal when I’m turning onto my driveway. (It’s ok, I promise, I live on an isolated country road so usually there’s no one else around!) As much as I crave excitement and newness, I often find within myself this paradox: discontentment with what I believe is “too ordinary,” but fear of the ramifications of disruption and change.

You’ve heard the narrative of Jesus’s birth so many times, but have you ever stopped to think about where you see yourself on that glorious night in Bethlehem? On a retreat this past February, I prayed through the Gospel and realized how much I relate to the shepherds of the story. I imagine myself as one of them: going about my own business, just me, my sheep, and my shepherd friends, when the skies literally open, revealing a multitude of angels covered in the glory of God. I am immediately filled with fear. Ok so this is not a typical night. What the heck is going on? You SO have the wrong person here. But the first words I hear from an angel invite me to a new response: “Do not be afraid. I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

There is something terrifying about Him breaking into my life. I was just a simple shepherd. I knew how to make a decent life. I could be lost in the ordinary of the day-to-day. But He appeared, and my soul felt its worth. While I am inclined toward familiarity and self-dependence and quiet security, He chooses to be born into my world, into what is familiar to me: the smell, the animals, the nighttime chill. I know it well. And He chooses to know it too. And so as His glory shines, I find myself running with haste, leaving behind all that I know to find the Good News in the flesh.

Staring at Him in the manger, I somehow know that there is more than my simple world. He makes me feel worthy. Significant. Valuable. This feeling deep in my stomach…it’s not fear anymore. It’s a thrill of hope. Beholding Him, everything has somehow changed. I am known; I am a simple shepherd welcomed in by the Savior of the world. As night turns into morning, I must return to my fields with my flock. But as I retrace my journey, each step is different than it was before. There is hope now. There is joy now. Questions abound…what does this mean for my simple life? Will I see Him again? What will He do? Who will He be for me? A quiet assurance puts my heart at peace…He will be with me always. Emmanuel. God with us.

I relate so much to the shepherds because God broke into their ordinary world to show them that there is more. Even though they weren’t the ones who spent time tracking the movements of a great star in the sky, had an audience with another king en route to Bethlehem, and arrived with some pretty great birthday presents (a HUGE consolation to someone who is not the first to jump on board with a crazy adventure and who really struggles with the love language of gift giving!), the shepherds were simply receptive to the work that God, who loves us first, initiated in their lives. They didn’t waste time questioning why they were the ones who received the proclamation of the angels. They just chose to respond, journeying to Bethlehem and sharing the good news they had heard with Mary and Joseph. And then they returned to their work, glorifying God along the way. I want to live like that – I want to receive Jesus into my daily life, content with where He has me in this moment while fully embracing the adventure of walking through each moment of my life as someone who is known and loved by the Savior of the world.

Here are some ways we can practice this in Advent:  

  1. Read through the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Find who you are in the narrative… Mary? Joseph? A shepherd or Magi? Prepare yourself for Christmas by knowing the state of your world that Jesus is coming into.

  2. Next time you’re belting out “O Holy Night” with Celine or Mariah or Josh, take some time to pray through the lyrics. There’s some seriously good stuff in there. My favorite lines are “….Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth / A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Do you know your value in Christ? Where do you need Him to restore your hope? Are there weary parts of your world that are longing for joy?  

  3. Remember that Jesus didn’t come to just hang out in our world for a while, but to bring us into His world – the Love of the Father. Recognize what keeps you chained to your world, and how Jesus is inviting you to leave those things behind for Him. Maybe this looks like less time on social media, deciding to not buy that super cute sweater that you really want but don’t need, making prayer a priority before heading off to work, or buckling down to study for finals.

Let’s keep welcoming Him into our world, and allowing our lives to be transformed by His Love this Advent!

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!”