little humans teach the biggest lessons

Yesterday I had the opportunity to babysit 40 children. Yes, a daunting task for myself and the three other adults, but I was excited about it going into the day. If my three summers as a Totus Tuus teacher taught me nothing else, it is that some of the biggest lessons of life are taught by the smallest humans.

While there are many anecdotes I could share about the day, there is one little girl who stands out.

It was a long day for all of us, 8 hours spent in a school building. In the afternoon, we decided to put a veggie tales movie on for the kids (best Christian babysitting hack out there) and to be honest, I actually enjoy watching them myself. But during the movie, I noticed this sweet little first grader looking a little off – she was looking back at me and had the saddest look on her face. I motioned her over to me and asked if she was okay. At that, she started crying and told me how she missed her mom and wanted to go home. We went out in the hall with another one of the adults, and helped her calm down.

Lately in my prayer, the Lord has been showing me that He just wants me to look at Him. He’s been showing me in a real way that He cares about the little things. If something matters to me – bothers me – stresses me out – makes me happy, then it matters to Him. Period. I don’t have to do anything at all, I just have to look His way. I am His beloved daughter after all! Prayer isn’t some flowery thing we present to the Lord, it’s simply opening your heart, and allowing Jesus to come into what’s there. Where there are lies, He speaks truth. Where there is darkness, He brings light. Where there is joy, He gives the grace to be grateful.

Yesterday, this little girl didn’t try to hide her sadness for fear of it being insignificant and she didn’t second guess her struggle. She wasn’t too busy trying to make it on her own. She merely looked to the one whom she was told would be able to help her, and she was taken care of.

Jesus is the One who is supposed to be able to help us. Jesus is the One who wants to help us. Yet we don’t even look His way.

I want to be like this little girl in my relationship with the Lord. I want to simply glance at Him, and have the courage to be real when He asks me what’s wrong. I want to give Him my heart – small things, big things, and everything in between. We have nothing to be afraid of. He’s not going to belittle us or laugh at us. He’s not going to tell us to toughen up or get over it already. He simply loves, and loves us because we are His.

Yesterday was a long day filled with diapers, screaming, and silly games. I might have walked away exhausted, but I walked away grateful. The little ones have so much to teach us.

Today I encourage you to look Jesus’s way, because He’s already looking at you. He loves you, He sees you, and He’s after your heart.

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adventure… and netflix

Last post, I echoed the words of St. John Paul II: “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure,” and shared how that’s totally been the theme of my last year. If you missed it, check it out here.

But one thing I’ve realized lately – or maybe better said, re-realized lately – is that this adventure is completely countercultural, and is anything but passive.

The culture sends many messages, and many of these messages are sneakier than we think. They are also more anti-adventure than we think. I think it’s very easy for us as Christians to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve “made it” into this paradoxical place of being “in the world but not of the world.” We think that once we’ve experienced a conversion to Christ that although we know the culture is sending lots of messages, we believe that we aren’t actually being influenced by them.

But with that being said… how much time do you spend watching Netflix (or TV, or movies, or video games, or your idle activity of choice)?

For me, the answer is an embarrassing amount. I could blame it on living alone and just turning it on while I eat dinner, but does that account for the several hours after dinner that it continues to play? I could blame it on there being nothing to do in the evenings, but does that account for the fact that I live literally 5 minutes from the beautiful lakefront of Lake Superior?

Although I go to daily Mass, pray at least a few minutes daily, try to think of Christ; my number one adventure-opposer, life-sucker, and boredom-bringer is sitting in my living room, accessible on my phone, is often open on my tablet, and on the daily is given the number one priority in my life. At least, that’s what a log of how I spend my time would say. I say I’m serious about living a real Christian life – a counter-cultural Christian adventure – but then I come home and hunker down for the rest of the evening.

I’m not pretending that Netflix is the root of all my problems, and I’m not saying that Netflix is evil. But what I am saying is that if I’m honest with myself, I have literally been handing away the adventure the Lord has planned for me over to characters who aren’t even real. I have been spending my free moments allowing my head to be filled with empty messages that aren’t life-giving, rather than pondering truth, beauty, and goodness. I haven’t been exercising, I haven’t been reading, and I haven’t been cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I love Parks and Rec and Gilmore Girls and The Office just as much (maybe more) than the next person, but in the scheme of eternity, they don’t matter. And in the smaller scheme of things, I don’t even feel refreshed after I watch these shows. The more I watch Netflix, the more I do nothing but sit and watch Netflix. It doesn’t remind me that life is a beautiful adventure, with its highs and lows, handpicked out of love for me by the Beloved of my soul. No, it allows me to zone out for however many hours I want before I have to come back to reality and push myself though another week, more tired and less refreshed than when I first sat down to “recharge.” It makes me forget that I’m even an adventurer.

And so what am I doing about all of this?

Discipline.

Discipline can be a scary word because it’s not an easy thing. Discipline doesn’t come easily to me, and I don’t think it’s supposed to. But it is discipline that leads us to freedom. When we are disciplined and we live a life that is in balance, then we are free to live the fullest life. This doesn’t mean we can’t do anything fun, we can never watch a show, and our whole life has to be spent in the chapel. But it does mean that all things should be balanced, and in proper order. It means that we are no longer slaves to the things in our life, but that we are living in the true freedom of the children of God.

I know myself and so for me, this means that I am no longer watching more than an hour and a half of TV in a given day. In the time I find myself with, I will read, exercise, see friends, or just think. For you, this might mean something entirely different. You know what’s keeping you from living the adventure Christ has for you. I invite you to join me, let’s say “yes” to the adventure Christ has for us, today.

 

 

ponderings of an adventurer

 

Today marks one full year since I started working as a youth minister in Duluth. It’s been a lot of things, both incredible and challenging, but I think St. John Paul II sums it up best when he said, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Following the call to up and move to a completely new city was a little bit intimidating for me a year ago, and I didn’t know what this new place and new time in my life would hold. But I did know that Jesus was bringing me on an adventure and He would be with me. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.

This was very exciting in the beginning. I was blown away by the beauty of the city of Duluth and the beauty of Lake Superior. I loved meeting a whole new community of people and seeing the witness of their faith. I couldn’t believe how generous people were with me in helping me to get set up. I felt more alive than I ever had in my life, because I had trusted the Lord and taken a leap of faith. I couldn’t believe that God’s plan could be so good. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.

About halfway through this year, the adventure stopped being exciting for me. The wood of the cross was very real, and daily life was exhausting. I wondered what happened to the exciting adventure the Lord had promised me. I wondered if I had done something wrong. I found myself in the middle of a lot of confusion. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure, but in those confusing and desolate moments, it didn’t feel so wonderful.

But then the Lord reminded me of something important. An adventure, to be real, to be meaningful, cannot just be exciting. It can’t stay at the mountain top. A real adventure is taxing. A real adventure empties us. A real adventure takes everything in us. A real adventure takes us to somewhere we’ve never been before, and in that new place we are unable to remain the same. Saying yes to adventure with Christ, means saying no to staying the same. Saying yes to adventure with Christ, means saying yes a real adventure. Saying yes to adventure with Christ, means saying yes to an entirely new life. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.

My adventure with Jesus in Duluth is only beginning. It seems that this first year has only been the start of the adventure Jesus has for me here. I am pretty confident that exciting moments as well as trying moments are in my future here. But one thing I do know, is that you can’t go wrong going where Jesus is. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.

Jesus never promised us that life would be easy. In fact, He said if we want to follow Him than we have to pick up our cross and follow Him. I forgot that in the excitement of the new adventure. But He loves us too much not to give us the opportunity to have a real adventure with Him; a real adventure that stretches us, challenges us, allows us to become the people we are created to be, people who are His image in the world. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.

I am so grateful that He has more than the mountaintop in store for me. I am so grateful that He loves me enough to transform me into Himself. And I am so grateful to be right in the middle of this adventure, commonly known as youth ministry. Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.

As I embark upon year two, following where Jesus leads, I have only two words: “adventure on.”

 

 

“Do you want to be well?”

I had a reflection this morning when I was reflecting on today’s Gospel and I just want to share it. It’s not overly profound, and it might be somewhat influenced by my recent reading of CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce, but here it is.

First, I invite you to take a moment to read the Gospel:

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with give porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there. After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath. – John 5:1-16

“Do you want to be well?”

Jesus wasn’t going to heal this man if the man didn’t desire this healing. The man had been sick for 38 YEARS! That is a long time. That is longer than I have been alive. The man could have easily become disheartened and discouraged, despairing that it wasn’t possible for him to be healed at this point. He didn’t even know who Jesus was or what He was capable of. He could have easily said, “Oh sure, after 38 years, like healing is even possible!” But we see that that’s not his response. Instead it is simply, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone gets down there before me.” Very simply, “Of course I want to be well! I have been desiring it for years, but it just hasn’t been possible up until now!” It is truly amazing to me that this man could be ill for such a long time and not become embittered. I know the littlest hurt or little difficulty so easily makes me bitter. But that is not what we see in this man. After 38 years.

Our desires play a big role in the spiritual life. Jesus has given us freedom, and He respects our free will so deeply. He won’t give us what we won’t desire. This is a big theme in The Great Divorce, that those who end up in hell end up there because they don’t desire God, they don’t desire joy. Rather, they desire to please themselves and cling to other things that are not God.

Later in the story Jesus says to the man,

“Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”

And this struck me… this man was sick for 38 YEARS! What could be worse than THAT?!

And then I realized.

Yes, the man was physically sick. But if you notice, his spirit was not sick. He was not bitter; he was patiently awaiting healing, desiring it all the more every day. He did not snap when a stranger, Jesus, asked him a seemingly obvious question. His physical sickness kept him in tune with his spiritual hunger, his spiritual desire. He was open when the Lord approached him. His illness provided him the opportunity to choose between bitterness and patience, and he remained patient.

Just this morning I was frustrated with a particular situation in my life. I thought about how unfair it was, and I was edging closer and closer to bitterness about it. But then the Lord gently showed me the gift of it – this frustration is providing me the opportunity to choose patience, to choose love, to recognize my desire for the Lord’s help. Without it, I might fall into self-sufficiency. Without it, I might not desire the Lord as deeply. Without it, I could easily close in on myself.

We have much to be grateful for. It is easy to see the crosses in our lives as nothing more than that – physical sufferings. But I would like to suggest that they are something more – something for which to be grateful. The Lord allows them in our lives so that nothing worse may happen to us. 

And what would be worse? 

A heart no longer desiring the Lord, the source of all life and love.

“it’s okay to fall”

img_8474-mediumTonight my friend Aly and I went rock climbing. She goes a lot, but this was my first time climbing in probably a good 8 – 10 years. And when they say it’s a full body workout, they really aren’t kidding… but the thing that was the hardest for me to get over was the height. I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of heights, but I really don’t like to fall. It was hard to be so far off the ground and to feel like I was going to fall. But as I was climbing, I had to keep telling myself “it’s okay to fall.” I knew I had ropes holding me securely, I knew the ground was soft below me, but yet my nature rebelled against this idea of it being okay to fall (yes, I am a perfectionist).

And it struck me that this is exactly what the Lord has been trying to show me spiritually. I spent the last four days on a youth minister’s retreat, and we spent the week diving into prayer while looking at Fr. Jacques Philippe’s book “Time for God” (which I HIGHLY recommend by the way). But what the Lord’s been trying to show me is that it’s not about perfection! We are never going to be perfect this side of Heaven. We will always fall. But it is about being faithful and it is about being real. When I was climbing, the reality was that I couldn’t make it to the top because I’m not in great shape yet. I had to let go of the rope and fall to the ground. The reality in prayer is that I am not perfect and I need to stop pretending that I am to the Lord, and let myself fall into His arms. I am barely faithful to prayer, let alone perfect at it! It was still worth it to go rock climbing tonight even though I fell and couldn’t make it to the top, and it’s still worth it to show up to prayer even though I’m sinful.

He wants me – and He wants you – to be vulnerable before Him. To allow our hearts to be open before Him, just as they are. And yes, that is painful. That might mean allowing Him to see an untrusting, sinful, broken heart. It might mean opening that same heart before Him in prayer and not shying away when the reality of who you are and who He is hits you. But it is precisely through that pain that His love can reach you most deeply. It is through that pain that we can be truly available to what He would like to do in us: forgive us, transform us, love us. It means realizing that “it’s okay to fall.” He is waiting to catch us in prayer, and most especially in Confession. Be who you are before Him, because after all “it’s okay to fall.” 

 

 

Refusing to Glorify “Busy”: Advent Edition

 

During this time of Advent, we as Catholics are told almost on repeat, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” “Prepare your heart,” “Be ready because Jesus is coming,” etc. And when I hear this, I tend to jump to the fact that I need to DO all this stuff that I haven’t been doing and I start to panic. I feel I need to pray a ton more and do all these sacrifices and make sure I am living Advent to its fullest potential and the list goes on. It’s stressful because this season is naturally stressful with preparing for Christmas and everything else going on, and so I stress over the fact that I have to do more spiritually as well. And although there is nothing wrong with wanting to do more for the Lord and that is a good desire, at the end of the day, it is exhausting to run around like that, and I’m lucky if I can stay true to all these things I have “promised” I would do for a couple days, let alone the whole season of Advent. But today’s Gospel shed some light on that for me…

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

And it struck me: I am a product of this society, and it absolutely affects my spiritual life. We are constantly told growing up all the things you have to do, if you want to have success in life and therefore be happy. When you’re in high school it’s understood that you have to get good grades, but it’s not enough just to get good grades but you have to do extra curriculars, and it’s not enough to do extra curriculars, but you have to do a variety of extra curriculars – as many as humanly possible – and it’s not enough to just participate, but you have to be in leadership positions, or else you won’t get into a good college, and if you don’t get into a good college then you won’t get a job, and if you don’t get a job you have not succeeded, etc etc etc. And so as a result, we are trained to believe that sleep doesn’t matter, downtime doesn’t exist, and the only thing that matters is that you are producing results in whatever you are doing with your time. Success is everything. But the problem is, we are are run so ragged with this push to be successful and produce that we have to find a release somehow, and so we become addicted to Netflix and video games and anything else that has absolutely nothing to do with a true human connection, therefore leaving us empty and not refreshed at all, not understanding why we’re not happy or satisfied, when we seemingly “have it all.” When asked how we are, we don’t even know how to answer because we have so much lost touch with ourselves that we just quickly reply, “good, busy…”

And so it is no wonder that we take this attitude into our spiritual lives. We want to be successful Christians, and so we think we have to do all these seemingly holy things to accomplish that. We see Advent as a time when the Church is telling us to amp up these things so that we are ready for the Lord to come in just four short weeks, and we quickly fall back into this mode of productivity and success that we have adopted in every other area of our lives.

But this is not what the Lord is asking of us. This is not what Advent is about. He just wants our hearts. He knows how empty and tired and broken we are, and so He invites us into His Heart just to come away for awhile, and be with Him. He sees how we’ve been running around all year and trying to accomplish so many things. But He wants us to be still. He wants to renew us in His love and show us how precious we are to His Heart. He wants to be born anew on Christmas in each and every one of our hearts.

And so, I refuse to glorify busyness in my spiritual life this Advent. I might not be able to change the fact that there is a lot to do this season and a lot of errands to run, but I can choose to rest in the Lord. Rather than amping up all these unattainable spiritual practices in order to “succeed” at Advent, I am going to be still. I am going to receive the Lord’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and rest in His Heart. After all, I am His beloved daughter and all He ever wanted is for me to know that truth and be immersed in that love.

This season is one of renewal and repentance, and I refuse to allow Advent to do the opposite in me. I am His beloved daughter, I am enough.

Advent

 

A Year Older, but All the More Grateful

I am thankful and I want to share it.

Today I turned 23. Although what I really should say, is today the Lord gave me a chance to look back over the last year and realize all the ways He has blessed me. I had an amazing senior year at Franciscan. I graduated college. I was able to serve as a Lead facilitator. I learned how to wait on the Lord and grow in patience through my time of job searching. I said yes to a leap of faith and crazy adventure known as Duluth…. just to skim the surface!

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

And right now, I am so very thankful for my new adventure the Lord has brought me to here in Duluth as a youth minister. Over the last year of finishing up at Franciscan, I thought a lot about what post-grad life might be like. I had many different ideas and I had my fears as well. I feared I would miss Franciscan, I feared that I would be alone. And when graduation came around, it still wasn’t quite clear where exactly the Lord was leading me. But two months of praying and waiting later, the Lord opened the doors He invited me to walk through…. and what a beautiful adventure it has been! I might not be in school anymore, but I am learning so much by the day! It’s a lot and I am tired – but with the knowledge and peace and reassurance that I am right where I am supposed to be – gratitude and joy abounds! It is all very human, but it is also too good to be true.

I am thankful for my life today on this birthday and I am thankful for the Lord’s love. I’m not the biggest birthday fan, but I will not pass up this opportunity to thank the Lord, because it is quite an amazing life He has given me.