… All things through Christ Who strengthens me, but I don’t have to do ALL things

We live in a world where multi-tasking is an admired and coveted skill. I mean, why shouldn’t it be? The ability to take on multiple tasks at one time and seeing them to completion is nothing to frown at, but maybe it shouldn’t be idolized as much as it is. Think about it, if one of the tasks falls through, everything is thrown off balance and ultimately falls through with maybe one surviving task. Or nothing can be given the time and effort it deserves because our effort has to be spread out amongst many different things, so instead of having one really good product or completed project, you have a few okay-but-could-be-better results.

In a way, this way of working, if it’s the only way you ever work, robs you of a certain joy. You weren’t allowed to get lost in something and produce something you are truly proud of. Your work, though good, wasn’t the passionate undertaking it was capable of being, something that makes you feel alive.

This way of working, in a sense, is a prayer. It is a gift of yourself to those around you and, more importantly, to the Father. He so loves when we get excited and really into our work. That joy, that light in our eyes and excitement, is a lifestyle He wants for us.

Yes, sometimes we need to get things done in a timely manner for our jobs or upcoming events. Multi-tasking is always going to be a way of doing things. Quantity over quality sometimes is the only way to get things done. But I think there should be more of those projects that make us come alive and serve as prayer for us than otherwise. Because if we undertake every task just to cross out our to-do list, we’re going to get burnt out real quick.

Just like we can’t do everything all at once, we can’t possibly choose every good option that comes our way. Whether it’s a job that we know will be good work, a trip that will take us somewhere new, or spending time with people in our lives, we can’t do it all. The sooner we accept that, the less heartache we’ll feel and cause for others. This inability to do it all should not make us feel like we are less of a person or less of whatever God is calling us to be. On the contrary, this liberates us and keeps us healthy. I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me… but I don’t have to do ALL things. Discernment is a beautiful thing because, through discernment, God can guide us to the thing that will bring us closer to Him, the thing that will give us His peace. And I think that’s what we need more of in this world: more peaceful people instead of SuperMans and WonderWomans.

We should never give of ourselves to the point that we lose ourselves. Nothing is worth that. We are called to be so many things to other people, but we are not called to be their Savior. They already have one of those, and we’re not Him. No, Jesus took on all of that pressure on the cross. He would never put that on me or anyone else.

Praise God.

-Megan

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The Edge of Possibility

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     I am the type of person who likes instructions, general guidelines, and examples. When I cook something new I like looking up different recipes for a general idea of what and how much stuff (technical term right there) a certain dish has. When a professor assigns a paper, I want clear instruction and adore an example so I can get a gist for the outline and writing style that the professor wants. Give me a clear, strong skeleton of what you want me to do and I will use my creativity to flesh it out, tweak it, and make it my own.

      Now you can psychoanalyze me to figure out why I am this way (please don’t, it’s rude) but the fact of the matter is that I am this way. I realized recently that how I am is why I am so frightened and frustrated with my life.

    Because it’s unique.

     Sure up to this point I have had the general structure that family life and school has offered me. Growing up with siblings and being in school for sixteen years has lent me an iron frame that I filled in with friends, church, academic success, retreats, and mistakes. Now, with terrifying speed, that frame is coming to an end and there isn’t another one ready-made for me. No, soon I will have to build my own frame.

     I see all the possibilities lying at my feet: job opportunities, further education, literally the whole world at my feet! Yet I stand on the edge of this percipience, toes over open air, not finding the will inside myself to jump. Have you ever experienced that? The knowledge that you have to make a decision and there are numerous options, yet you find yourself frozen with indecision? Desiring to venture off into the unknown, yet are held by the comfort of the known?

     It’s like that moment in Disney’s Tangled where Rapunzel is standing on the edge of her windowsill about to go chase her life’s dream. Yet she hesitates. Looking behind her she sees comfort, a place she knows. Looking below, she sees a world that is strange, new, exciting , and unknown.

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Yet even Rapunzel at that moment has a leg up on me because she knows what she wants, “to see the floating lanterns gleam,” while I have no idea. I want my degree, eventually have a family, and serve God through my life. All great things, but the only concrete one, like Rapunzel’s, is about to be achieved in a year. How am I to chase my dream if I don’t have one yet?

Even if I did everything exactly like Rapunzel, would my story come out exactly like hers? No. Besides the obvious hair deficiency and my lack of ‘smolder’-filled sidekicks, I am not Rapunzel. That seems like a ‘no duh’ statement, but think about it. I am not Rapunzel, I am Amelia. I am not my sister, I am not my friends. I am not the celebrities I admire, or that girl in class who seems to have it all together. No, I am simply me.  How often do we ignore this simple yet defining fact in our lives? In a culture that is constantly barraging it’s populous with ideals in beauty, success, and happiness, that are as daunting as they are unrealistic, it is hard to remember that your life does not, and in a way will not, conform to these standards because it is is unique. We could read every advice article in the world and follow their steps exactly, but it wouldn’t come out like they said because our lives are composed of different events, people, and emotions than the authors.

Our lives are unique.

     Isn’t that wonderfully, terrifyingly beautiful?

     Isn’t it liberating, the thought of uniqueness? Of possibility? Before as I looked at the many options before me I became frozen with fear. The fear of making the wrong choice. Yet if we are all unique, as different from one another as snowflakes, is there such a thing as a ‘wrong’ choice? There will be mistakes of course, regrets here and there, but in the end I made a choice and that is infinitely more satisfying than becoming stagnate with what-ifs.

     I have all the pieces of my life at my fingertips, some I will use, others I will avoid. These pieces I will fit together, piece by excruciatingly small piece, until when I look back I will see a life of my own making. The sunny, bright spots and the dark, moody shadows sketching out who I am. I am on the knife’s edge of possibility, toes dangling over bottomless air, posed and ready to accept whatever unfolds.

Won’t you jump with me?

-Amelia

Confessions of a Former Tomboy

Where I grew up, being a guy had its perks. You could take your shirt off, you had premium dibs on the newest Pokemon card being traded in the neighborhood, you could run faster, jump higher, play football better…the list goes on and on. Being the only girl in my family, plus living in a neighborhood where boys outnumbered girls 4:1, I was a minority. So what’s a girl to do?

Become a tomboy.

Tea parties, doll houses, and playing dress up? How about Nintendo 64, castles, and climbing trees? Being a tomboy was so much fun and taught me some really valuable life lessons: like how to hold my own in SuperSmash Bros. or how to beat up someone Dragon Ball-Z style. Yet there’s one lesson I learned that I’m still trying to reverse…that women are weak.

I looked at my femininity in terms of what I was lacking, how I stacked up in comparison to the guys, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The more I learned about myself though, the more I appreciated my femininity. I think of the women in my life and I see safe harbors where my complex, worried little mind can find support and rest. I’ve found power inside of me that I didn’t have when I was trying to be like the guys. There’s insightfulness about life: an ability to see past the facades of a situation and into the heart of the matter. But more than that…the heart of a woman sees because the heart of a woman can nurture. That softness that I tried to cover up with mud and smack talk is actually my greatest asset.

Don’t get me wrong…that tomboy is still inside me. The ability to beat (some) guys in sports is one of my greatest pleasures in life…along with smack talking. It really is a gift. But I don’t hide behind those things anymore.

Fast forward 15 years and you’ll find a woman who still cringes at the mention of a slumber party, a group hug, a mani/pedi, etc. but whose heart finds freedom in the presence of other women.

You’ll also find new strength that rivals Super Saiyan.

 

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But mainly, you’ll find a beautiful mystery that commands respect.

As Fulton Sheen said,

“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, and goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Here’s to being a woman!

-Sharon

 

Every Season

“For you bestow gifts suited to every season.”

When I heard this line spoken at a Confirmation Mass the other night, I was jerked back to the present moment. My mind had drifted – I was tired, hurting from an injury earlier in the week, and brooding over a frustrating encounter with someone from earlier in the day. But when I heard the bishop speak this line of prayer, something within me clicked.

I don’t know about you, but I can get so caught up in self-pity sometimes. Lately, it’s so hard for me to see past my problems, which honestly are nothing compared to the struggles that so many in this world face. Nevertheless, I find myself avoiding prayer, scared that God won’t give me what I want. Whether it has to do with my relationships, my job, or my dreams – there’s a despairing part of me that figures there’s no use in asking because God won’t give it.

And maybe, in a sense, that’s right.

YES, God will fulfill my desires. YES, God wants good things for me. YES, God sees and knows what I want and He intends to satisfy me.
Psalm 145:15-16 speaks to this promise:

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

There is so much truth and comfort in this promise, but so often, we miss an important part of it – in due season. I can get caught up in this world’s promise of instant gratification and forget that seeing God’s promise ultimately come to light sometimes requires a waiting period. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, Noah braved it out on the ark for 40 days, and Jesus was in the grave for 3 days – why, oh why, do I think that my desires should be instantly granted? Maybe God’s not giving me what I want, how I want, when I want it and maybe that in itself is a gift. It doesn’t mean it’s never coming and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t gifts being given right now.

He bestows gifts suited to every season. This has two parts for me.

1) Receive the gift.

I’ll be honest – at any given point in my life, I have no idea what season I’m in. But naming the season we’re in isn’t the most important part of life. What’s important is that we’re living. I can get so caught up in trying to figure out where I am, what I’m supposed to be doing, and how I’m supposed to get there that I miss out on every opportunity to tangibly discover these things by lived experiences. Don’t get me wrong, these questions of identity and purpose are important, but unfortunately they often intimidate us with fear and uncertainty.

Instead of focusing on these questions and letting fear cripple us, let’s just receive the gifts that the Lord’s giving in whatever season it is that we’re in. Let’s just be in the season where we are. Let’s find the gifts that the Lord has for us here. Not looking down the road to where summer and all its gifts are, but seeing the spring that we’re in and realizing that every gift we need is right here, being given by the hand of the Father. When I stop looking at what I’m lacking, and start looking at what I’ve been given, I realize that it’s exactly what I need.

2) Be the gift. 

I don’t really want to be selfish and I don’t think anyone does. We all have a desire to make gift of ourselves to the world in some way. In a world that tells us to look out for number one, this desire is often snuffed out, but the pursuit of selflessness does exist.

We all have the choice to either wallow in self-pity like some kid who didn’t get what she wanted for her birthday or we can forget about ourselves for a moment and realize that maybe today isn’t about what I need in my season. Maybe today is about being the suited gift bestowed to someone else in their season.

It can be hard to see what God is doing at the present moment, but when I look back and see the faithfulness of the Lord in every step I’ve taken up to this point, why do I fear that the next step will be the exception for Him? Why do I think that this time He’s slipped up and the gifts He’s giving are the wrong ones? So I propose (as much to myself as to anyone reading), that instead of grumbling that this season of my life doesn’t call for this or that desire to be fulfilled, to be thankful for season I’m in and that His grace gives every gift I need.

He’s not leaving me orphaned. He’s not leaving me abandoned. He’s not leaving me to endure the chill of winter alone. He has bestowed the gifts suited for this season – and the best gift in any season of my life is the gift of His very presence.

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

~ Rita

An Attitude of Gratitude

Last summer I read an interesting article about something called a gratitude journal. It was on a writer’s website, and the purpose of the journal was to come up with topics and subjects for your writing. I really liked this idea, but I tried it for a different reason.

I had just moved home from an almost year-long internship in Florida, and I was having a hard time adjusting back to life here. I was facing the most terrifying question: “Now what?” The goal of grade school was to get to college. The goal of college was to get my degree and get to this internship. My entire life, I felt, had led up to that. There wasn’t really a plan for after that (let’s be real: there STILL isn’t a plan for after that), and I kind of fell into a rut that would take months to get out of. So I decided to try this gratitude journal.

Some days this journal served as my only prayer because praying from the rut was hard. As we’ve all heard at some point, there’s always something to be thankful for in each day. The big and little things that made me smile during the day were brought to God before I went to bed, and I filled up a small notebook after a few months of loyally writing about songs, encounters with others, food, etc.

It helped. Boy, did it help. In today’s world so many people are looking at the negative things going on in their lives, be it on a global scale or that one idiot who cut you off while driving to get frozen custard. I know I fall into the habit sometimes of complaining and playing the victim when work gets to be too much or when I have the moments of frustration that come with single young adulthood and these aches and desires that aren’t going to be fulfilled in this stage of my life. The roots and commitments I long for aren’t here yet. But that doesn’t mean that I have nothing in this period of my life.

On the contrary, I have SO much: people who care, a support system that believes in me even when I don’t see much worth looking at, an education, opportunities to better myself and love those around me. Things are good in spite of the negative things that sneak into my everyday life. They can’t consume me. God doesn’t let them touch me. He doesn’t give me more than I can handle. If I’d think about that instead of what color to use for the table clothes at my “woe is me” pity parties, I’d probably have a lot less anxiety. I’d be more joyful. When I’m joyful, I’m more myself than anything else. And, as Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is strength.”

Joy is strength to keep moving forward when things get tough. Joy is strength to grow into the person God is calling you to be. Joy is strength to be there for others.

Joy is strength.

There’s always going to be something that brings us down and tries to steal our peace, but there is also always going to be something that gives us hope that life is indeed beautiful. We’re not in Heaven yet, people, and following/choosing God doesn’t magically make things easy; instead it makes things worth it. God is good like that.

Here are some things that I’m thankful for in this moment:

-The sky was SO blue yesterday and again today!

-Reading a good book (I’m only like 60 pages in right now, but read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children).

-My supportive family and getting to do everything and nothing with them.

-Good friends who call me to be better and who love me in that process.

-Being able to witness a new community of Catholic youth coming together.

-My Guardian Angel being so good at his/her job of protecting me. You the real MVP.

-Plantation tours and wildlife preserves.

-A best friend coming to visit for a whole week.

-The possibility of new possibilities.

-Cameras. Like actual, real, not-your-cellphone cameras.

-St. Philomena.

-The Divine Mercy Chaplet.

-Hearing your favorite song on the radio.

 

I think I’m going to start another gratitude journal, and I have the perfect notebook for it (thanks, Sharon!).

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What are you thankful for?

-Megan

It’s a Love Story, Baby Just Say “I’m scared?”

I found myself in the French Quarter last weekend inviting strangers to come into the Cathedral to pray, light a candle, and just be with God in Adoration. If you know me, you know this is wayyyy out of my comfort zone. On top of that, I was burnt out from a hectic week and just wanted to reunite with my bed, but I sucked it up and went because I already made the plans with my friends.

So there I was, walking back and forth in front of the Cathedral with my friend (Hailey), nervously eyeing our next attempt when I asked her what kind of instrument one of the street performers was playing. She said, “I don’t know, but you should go ask him then tell him about the Cathedral.” Now he was surrounded by other musicians and some others who were talking to them, so my mind screamed “NO! ABORT MISSION! TOO MANY HUMANS!” But being the overly competitive person that I am, I knew I couldn’t turn down this challenge. So instead, I spotted three guys on a bench who were eyeing the lantern I was holding, one with a bottle of liquor. Challenge accepted. We made our way over to them and I gave the usual spiel, “Hey guys, I don’t know if you’re interested, but we have the Cathedral open tonight if you want to light a candle or say some prayers.” Instead, one of them held out his hand for the lantern. Another asked for some food because they were hungry. Everything in me started waving red flags. “Sharon, what are you doing? These are three grown men, it’s dark, and it’s New Orleans. Be smart.” But I couldn’t leave and Hailey wasn’t turning away either.

After talking to them for a little while, the guy with the liquor asked us to pray over him. As we took his hands and started praying, his body started to shake with sobs. Each prayer we said over him resulted in a tear-filled nod. We asked God to remind him of his worth, to be near him, to heal him, to allow him to see himself through God’s eyes. As we finished, he overflowed with fears…he was an evil man, he claimed. He had done terrible things, he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol for 35 years and he knew he was going to die soon…where was he going to go? He feared the answer was hell, but he wanted to be with God. I could see the sincerity in his eyes. My heart ached for this man.

After this, they asked us to pray over the other two guys, and as we were praying, a fourth guy came up and put his hand on mine. When we finished, he began praying over them too, pouring out gratitude to God for this moment. I couldn’t believe that this was my life…I don’t do things like this! I don’t pray over random men in the French Quarter.

But for the rest of the night and every day since then, I’ve come back to this same point: that first man wanted to be with God. I wanted him to be with God. But most of all, the one who ached and wanted this the most was God Himself.

It feels like a bad romantic comedy. The guy and the girl both love each other and want to be together, but they have terrible communication skills, so it never works out. He thinks she hates him because he made some mistakes, but if only he knew how much she forgives him! If only he could see a fraction of the love she has for him. Instead, he keeps looking away, keeps blocking her out.

If only I could tell that man that the only thing standing between him and God is himself. How much would his life change from this simple truth? Maybe he could go to treatment and end his addictions? What if his testimony could save so many other souls? Does he have a family? What if he could reconcile with them? All of these possibilities for his life run through my mind, and suddenly, his fear of God’s mercy seems ridiculous.

If only I could tell myself that the only thing standing between myself and God is myself. How much would my life change from this simple truth? What would my life look like? Where is God calling me?

And suddenly, I realize we’re not that different. We’re both letting fear move our feet. Every day we come up to the two roads diverged in a wood…how long will I let fear stop me from taking the road less traveled?

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-Sharon

In the Stillness

It’s okay to be a human being.

Recently on social media there is an inspirational saying that is being shared and is constantly  popping up on my news feeds.

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Ironically instead of being inspired by this truth, I find myself flinching away from it. The reason behind this guilty and pain filled reaction is because this saying highlights the mentality I am currently struggling with. That I am meant to be.

I grew up, and I feel society trained me, with a “doing” mentality. That I was composed of my actions and people’s perception of them. If I got high grades, was nice and agreeable I could earn people’s respect and love. On the other hand, if I was deceitful or overly moody  I would earn their scorn. A seemingly simple two-pronged problem: 1) actions make me. 2) people’s perception of my actions determine whether I’m good or bad. Yet somehow for such a “simple” problem it is incredibly hard to break.

I’ve spent my life in a series of actions, constantly going and doing something. Anything. If there was a brief pause or a lull in the present action I would look to the future. Either with school, my weekly plans, or my life’s direction and plan. I’ve just been constantly going these past 10 years and I honestly didn’t know if I could stop. That is until this school year.

Last summer I had served as a missionary (so much beauty and grace flowed from that time) and at the start of the school year I was excited, high on Christ, and ready to tackle anything! I was ready for a season of doing. Coming out of an eventful summer I was sure God was gonna keep it going. While you might say that I was busy academically with course loads of 19 and 18 hours which “gifted” me with weeks where I could have 6 tests, 3 papers, and a group project due. However, in between those stressful weeks there was a stillness, stagnant quietness in my life. When people would ask me how I was doing my response tended to be “Good, I guess.” Nothing bad was going on in my life (praise be) but nothing new or exciting was happening either. It just was.

At first I fought against this nothingness, this stillness trying to find anything to fill my time and thoughts. I fell into a small depression about what I perceived as a stagnate life. Eventually I gave up my struggle, threw myself into my academic tasks, and attempted to ignore the quietness. It wasn’t until earlier this week while I was in adoration with the Lord that I realized what this quietness in my life was.

Before adoration I had given myself the challenge to just be with the Lord. Not to spend my adoration in journaling and spiritual reading which was my usual routine, but by just being.  It was hard, really hard, but I managed to do it. After I was able to achieve “being” and I spent time just resting in His presence for a while, letting my mind empty of any thoughts, this one thought zipped through my mind with lightning speed. It hit me with the same effect as lightning too. He revealed something that had me sitting up bolt straight in the pew, eyes wide, nerves buzzing as if I had received an electric shock. That learning to be was, in a way, the whole point of my “stagnate” year.

I was so used to going from one thing to the next in rapid succession, like the Energizer Bunny, and I had forgotten how to stop or why I needed to. Jesus gently took me into his hands and held me. Stilling my life and myself from a rush both socially and self-induced. I reacted like any child whose arm is gripped by a parent, restraining them from running around. I resisted and struggled and eventually pouted about this perceived confinement. However, the struggle wasn’t a waste because it awakened a thirst for being within me. It opened my eyes to just how action and “doing” focused my life was. It gave me the longing to make use of this stillness by embracing it instead of fleeing from it.

Brothers and Sisters, we are meant to be.

I had to realize that my actions did not give sole propose to my life. That it was okay to indulge in quiet times and activities that had no useful meanings in the long run. I could be the smartest, most successful person in the world, but if I kept running from the slow and silent times I would be unable to enjoy anything.

For the Present is the Point at which time touches eternity

To be is to exist in the here and now, not in past actions or in future what-ifs. Yes God exists in every point of time past, present, and future, yet it is in the present moment that He reaches out to you. What is history made up of but present moments that have passed and the future is all the possibilities of a moment. It is this day, this hour, this second that the Lord waits for you and how you react determines how the moment passes and what follows. We only have to be still enough to recognize just how precious a gift God gives us in every moment.

The gift of His presence. His presence that is beside us in the rush and in the calm. That surrounds us whatever action we take, whether useful or useless. Evan Koons made the video below which expands on the idea of being in the terms of our innate uselessness because we were never created for use. I invite you to watch his video, even if you have already seen it, and remember the words the Lord whispers to our hearts.

“Be Still and Know that I Am”

{Psalm 46:10}   

–Amelia

 

Mercy, Even in My Doubt

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday! For those who don’t know about this great day of devotion, let me try to give you a reason to celebrate today.

The Catholic Church has this great devotion called the Divine Mercy. It all started with a young Polish nun named Sr. Faustina, who loved Jesus deeply. She began having visions of Jesus and, obedient to her superiors, wrote down her encounters with Him. The image of the Divine Mercy, which comes straight from Sr. Faustina’s visions of Jesus, depicts two rays shooting out from the heart of Jesus.skemp_1024

When Sr. Faustina asked Jesus what these rays meant, He responded, “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him. (paragraph 299 of “Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska”)

As I’ve journeyed through the Easter season this past week, this scene of the Crucifixion that Jesus mentioned to Sr. Faustina keeps finding its way to the forefront of my heart. After Jesus has died, before His body has been taken down from the Cross, the soldiers are breaking the legs of the others being crucified to ensure a timely death. When they come to Jesus, they see that He’s already dead.

“One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” – John 19:34

Jesus’ body is dead. His apostles (those left at the scene that is) must be heartbroken. This man that they’ve given up everything to follow – He is dead. And they don’t fully understand the words He spoke that would give them hope in this moment – the words that prophesied His rising, that He would “rebuild this temple in three days.”

In the midst of this darkness, when all hope seemed lost, this is when Jesus deemed to show this image of His mercy. Gruesome as it may be to really think about it, the blood and water that came out of the wound in His side poured down to the ground where the apostles were mourning. What was it to be beneath the mercy pouring from His heart?

Let’s move forward a couple verses in John’s Gospel. The apostles (except poor, poor Thomas) are locked in the upper room, full of paralyzing fear. Jesus appears before them, with a message of peace and mission and He breathes the Holy Spirit over them.

When the apostles later tell Thomas about their post-Resurrection encounter with the Lord, he is ever the cynic. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) (*Side note: how many times in my life do I speak these words? If I don’t have all the signs and stars aligned, if all the evidence isn’t in plain sight, I can be so slow to believe.)

But a week later, Jesus comes again and Thomas is there to see it with his own eyes. I imagine being Thomas here. Elated that the news I was skeptical of is actually true, but also ashamed that I didn’t pass some kind of test of faith. In that moment, I would’ve preferred to stay in the background. Just give us your message, Lord, and don’t single me out. But Jesus, after just one statement addressed to the group, comes to Thomas. In the past, I’ve imagined these words that Jesus speaks were filled with sarcasm, a real “they-told-you-so” manner. But that is not the nature of God. It’s the result of my own woundedness.

Instead, these words of Jesus – they come from a place of love for Thomas. The Lord gives Thomas an opportunity to do exactly as he desired. The Lord’s voice doesn’t place shame on Thomas’ doubt; it carries a calm, a peace. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” (John 20:27).

That wound in the Lord’s side. Where blood and water poured out. Where his Mercy poured out. That’s where He wants Thomas to be. He wants Thomas to place his unbelieving there in the place where Mercy can pour over it. Where Mercy can heal it.

My brothers and sisters, that’s where the Lord wants me and you. Even in our doubt, He invites us into that wound in His side. He invites us – and all the baggage and wounds we carry – into His Mercy. Jesus isn’t deterred by our weakness or our doubt; His Mercy is attracted to it.

So on this Divine Mercy Sunday, wherever you’re at this Easter season – be it a season of joy in every instance or a time of wandering or difficulty – bring it all to His pierced side, where His Mercy is waiting to pour out over it and bring it to new life.

~Rita

Easter: Finding Joy in the Suffering

A couple of years ago, I was asked to portray the Blessed Mother in a drama about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Every year at Easter, I always recall that experience to mind. I really threw myself into the acting. I tried to see everything that happened through Mary’s eyes—I prayed that she would give me insight into what she felt and saw and knew in each scene, and through that experience and by the grace of God I gained a little window into the passion of Christ that I could go back to year after year as a great meditation for Holy Week—until last year.

Last year, God gave me a similar yet different experience of the sorrow of his passion and the hope of his resurrection that would leave a mark on my thoughts of Holy Week—one that I never in my wildest dreams expected.

Last Wednesday marked a year since my mom passed away.

I had been serving with a missionary group for about 8 months and we were in Los Angeles at the time. My mom was pregnant with her 8th child. She had had complications with high blood pressure for her last pregnancy, but this time around it was going really well and we weren’t really worried. I got a call around midnight from my mom saying that her blood pressure had gone up and they went to the hospital. She said after they got there, it went back down and they gave her the option of inducing labor or having a C-section. My mom HATED C-sections, so she chose labor.  She said she would keep me updated throughout the day while I was working a retreat for some middle school kids with my missionary team. Then we said a quick “love you” and hung up. After I hung up—something inside me said that that would be the last time I would talk to my mom. I pushed it out of my brain, and went to sleep, but that whole night I had dreams about getting “that phone call” telling me something had happened. I woke up to an update that she was only a few centimeters dilated and still had a ways to go so I carried on with my day. Around 10am I got a text from my dad of a picture of my new little sister, and god-daughter– Jennie Elizabeth—and I was so excited! But something gave me pause—that was a really quick labor. So I called my dad and he told me that my mom’s blood pressure had spiked again while he had gone to grab some food. She had a seizure and after it was over, she woke up and told the nurse that she was in pain. The placenta had ripped from the uterine wall and Jennie was without oxygen. They quickly put my mom under and did an emergency C-section.

Jennie was fine but my mom never fully regained consciousness after that.

What happened to her was essentially the perfect storm of pregnancy complications. My mom had DIC, which only happens to a small subset of women, where your blood loses its ability to clot. There was also a bleed in her abdomen that the doctors could not locate, so my mom began to bleed internally after the C-section. They had to put her on a ventilator because she could not breathe on her own anymore. A few hours after all of this happened, it was decided that I needed to leave my missionary team and fly home. I spent the night in the airport and caught a red-eye flight home. They said that during the afternoon my mom would occasionally open her eyes and was vaguely lucid. She seemed aware that she was in the hospital and would look around the room. I think at one point she tried to move and they had to restrain her arms after that. That night, my mom’s best friend told her I was on a plane home, and my mom squeezed her hand, and just like that she slipped back into unconsciousness.

I arrived early the next morning and the next 48 hours was an emotional roller coaster of life or death medical decisions and helping my dad take  care of a newborn baby for my mom who couldn’t. When I walked into the hospital room, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My mom was normally 115 lbs soaking wet. The woman couldn’t gain weight if she tried, but the woman I saw in the bed with tubes coming out of every possible place was swollen beyond belief with eyes that couldn’t open. She was barely recognizable. They had to do a surgery on her that morning to drain the blood from her abdomen and they decided to pack her and leave her open for the time being with a draining tube. Her kidneys began to fail and they also had to put her on dialysis. The doctors said her blood needed to clot before they could take care of anything else and that the next 24 hours would be critical. I remember praying the entire next night “Jesus, let her blood be your blood.” I said it to myself over and over again and hoped for a miracle.

The following day, nothing had really changed, and my dad and I decided it would be best if I took Jennie home. When I got there, I took a shower, and tried to take a nap while she was napping. Around 3pm, I got a call from my dad. After all the hope and the prayers of those 3 days, it was time. He told me to come back to the hospital, so I left Jennie with family friends and when I got there he explained that my mom’s blood was starting to clot, but it was clotting in the dialysis machine which was making the toxins from my mom’s kidneys rush to her heart. They could thin her blood, but then she would just continue to bleed. They had already revived her twice by the time I got to the hospital. There was no longer anything they could do. Her heart would continue to stop. A few days before, my mom had posted on Facebook:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:26

I don’t think she realized how true that statement would be for her life in just a few days.

My dad then asked me, “Should we let her go? Should we tell them to stop reviving her?”

I can tell you with absolute certainty that what came out of my mouth next was both the easiest and hardest thing I had ever said.

I told him we should let her go, and in that moment I knew it was right and I felt peace for the first time in 3 days.

I was so sad, but I was so at peace because something in me knew for the first time in my life with absolute certainty that this was God’s plan. Sitting around her bed with my family, waiting for her heart to slow to a stop, I began to know, though not completely,  the sorrow, the hope, and the strength the Blessed Mother felt watching her son die on the cross.

Mary watched her son be beaten until he was unrecognizable. She watched him suffer as he walked with the cross up to Calvary. She watched him labor to breathe as he hung there. She felt the sadness and the sorrow for the pain of her son. She wished there was another way, but knew there wasn’t. She knew that she would miss him, but I believe she also knew that the suffering was worth the cost. She knew of her Son’s great love for us and she knew this was necessary in order for Him to gain salvation for those He loved. She knew that there was hope in this. She knew that there was hope, and that gave her strength.

In the same way, I knew of my mom’s great love for her children. I knew that if there was any way that she would want to leave this world—this would be it. Doing something she loved—being a mother– Giving that final piece of her heart to the world. I had hope and strength because my mom’s death was one of the greatest acts of love I’ve ever witnessed.

Bl.Mother Teresa once said

“ Love, to be real, it must cost– it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”

Her self-giving love was such a powerful witness of Christ’s sacrifice for me— and for all of us– one that will leave an indelible mark on my heart for the rest of my life.

After my mom passed, though, I began to feel the same confusion the apostles felt. After Christ died, they didn’t know what to do, so they hid. In the same way, I felt just as lost. My mom was my rock. The one who I turned to for comfort, for faith, for her opinion, and her advice. For the first time, I had to look at my world standing on my own two feet instead of leaning on her. I moved home to help my dad take care of Jennie and the rest of my siblings, and let me tell you— there were a lot of times this year that I hid just like the apostles. I hid from the people in my life that I cared about, from my own emotions, and even from God.  There were a lot of times when I wasn’t strong, when I couldn’t feel the peace that I felt that first night quite as strongly—But God was still there in those moments too. I don’t know what I would do without my brothers, my dad,my family, my friends, my church community. The outpouring of love that I and my family have received from our community in this year has constantly reminded me that I was not lost, and that there was no need to hide. Through the suffering, the doubt, and the pain—the hope of new life breaks through. The promise of the resurrection and salvation of God permeated even my darkest times. All I had to do was grasp it and hold on. When I miss my mom, I always remember that because of the great love and passion of Christ, my mom has found salvation, and that always brings me joy.

Joy—true Easter joy—is not just about being happy.

Joy is the fruit of our faith, hope, and love. It’s knowing that God is working and is close to our hearts in the good and the bad. It’s knowing that God works for the good of those who love Him, and that the trials of this life are nothing compared to the eternity that is waiting for us in heaven.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor she has sorrow, because her hour has come, but when she delivers the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, because of the joy of knowing that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
John 16:20-22

This is my prayer for all of you this Easter—whoever you may be– that you would know the true Easter joy and let NO ONE or NOTHING take that joy from you. Whatever battle you are facing, big or small, be assured that Christ has already won. Know that He is and will always be victorious over suffering and  death. YOU belong to Christ, who has purchased your salvation with His unending love.So when you are suffering, walk with Christ and his mother up to Calvary and share in his cross, but always remember that his suffering leads to the hope of new life and there is always a reason to rejoice!

HE IS RISEN!

Happy Easter!

-Hailey

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In Memory of Gwen DeLaune
Jan 10, 1972- March 23, 2015

Pens and Palms

So confession… I requested to write the blog post for this week. I wanted this week because yesterday (March 19) was the five year anniversary of when I allowed God to enter my mess and brokenness following years of closing myself off due to depression. It’s a big deal for me because that began the journey into who I am today.

For a really long time I was fixated on that moment. It was MY story. It was the story I would share at retreats or when I found myself in a vulnerable situation with someone. But after my story/moment didn’t feel the same after telling it at a young women’s retreat I worked once, I was puzzled. I honestly didn’t think it had the same effect on people, because sharing it didn’t have the same effect on me. Then I realized: maybe that’s not my story anymore. It was a defining moment in my life; there’s no denying that. But it wasn’t the end all, be all on my journey to and with Christ.

Instead, it was the beginning of my story, because, well, all stories need a beginning. Mine just happened to feature an ugly cry during two hours of silence on one of the first retreats I ever went on (way to break me in, guys). So when I found myself sobbing in a courtyard on March 19, 2011, I like to think that that is the moment I turned over the pen of my story to a God Who has not ceased in His faithfulness.

I’m a writer.

I’m a writer because I’ve always been obsessed with storytelling. I truly see it as an art form. I guess that’s why I can appreciate a good movie (and, yes, eight times out of ten it’s probably a Disney movie) or book. If they know how to tell a story in a way that is visually appealing, in a way where the words flow in the only way they seem to know how to, AND it pulls at your heartstrings in some way, it’s guaranteed that I’m going to be obsessed with it soon.

I think that’s how God works in our own stories. But whereas any movie has its end credits and any book its “About the Author,” our stories are never-ending, and they’re constantly changing. Nothing is clean cut and finalized because mercy is always coming for us in whatever capacity we find ourselves needing it.

THANK GOD.

Just think: if I was still getting only the mercies and graces that I received at an earlier time in my life, say freshman year of college, I wouldn’t have continued to grow as a person, as a Christian, and I probably wouldn’t be able to handle the things life is presently throwing my way.

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I know, Jimmy.

So today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem like the King that He is. He humbly rides into the city on the back of a donkey, and the crowd lays down their cloaks and palms along the road in welcome. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s just the next step on Jesus’s journey to fulfilling His earthly mission. If we don’t have Palm Sunday, then we don’t have the Crucifixion or, more importantly, the Resurrection.

If we think the story stops when we accept and acknowledge God as King… There’s no Crucifixion, no suffering that has any worth in our lives, and there’s also no Resurrection in the areas of our lives where we desperately need it but feel we least deserve it.

The weight of the cross is a story. His cross, our partaking in His cross, they’re both two beautifully interwoven stories that bring real change into our world.

Our stories don’t happen without His, and our stories ARE His. He guides us through our stories by directing us back to His own. There is not one heartache that Jesus does not understand. There is not one wound that He cannot heal. He has not faltered, and I don’t think He’s going to. He’s been pretty consistent.

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-Megan