I Want You… I Need You… Oh Baby… Oh Baby…

Uncle Sam recruiting poster. Painted by James ...

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The other day I was listening to a Christian radio station, when the announcer said something along the lines of, “God doesn’t need you.  But God wants to use you.”  My ears did a double-take.

Okay. So God is big and important and I would not be here without him.  I know that everything in the world can say thanks to God for existing.  I know God could have made the universe some other way and it would have been just as good.  But the thought of me not being NEEDED… I think that’s a little whack, dontcha think?

First of all… I am a daughter of God, and I am not just something God “uses.”  The reason why I allow myself to be used by God is because I said YES to God.  If I didn’t say yes, then God couldn’t do squat, because of the whole free will thing (God’s idea… not mine).

Secondly… I am TOO important. I am TOO needed.  Without me, God’s plan would not work.  How can I say such a bold statement? Is my head that far up my own ass? No way.  From someone who struggles often with feeling purposeless, I can tell you that even on the bad days, when I feel like all I am doing is wasting space… I have a bigger purpose.  I was created the exact way I am physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, for a very specific purpose.  If I was not needed, then I would not have been created. But I am here! And you are here!  God NEEDS you.  God WANTS you. (oh baby, oh baby…).

In order for God’s big plan for the world to work out, he NEEDS you.  Furthermore, God likes you. He loves you. He WANTS you.  He WANTS you on his team.  He NEEDS you.  If you weren’t on the team, then we’d all be screwed. We’d have to work fifty times as hard to pick up the slack.  That would be exhausting.

Would God have existed without me? Yeah, and he has.  But we are alive for some reason, and God only knows what the reason is, and because we are alive, we are needed, and we are wanted, and we are beloved.

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“I didn’t fail the test… I just found 100 ways to do it wrong” –benjamin franklin

Lenten Rose Helleborus orientalis or Helleboru...

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I haven’t posted in 4 days, and that’s kind of embarrassing considering I told y’all that I would post every day as per my Lenten promise.

I also told you that I would keep silence in the car and bus and allow God to speak to me through it rather than getting distracted from the radio, and I haven’t been doing so great at that, either.  In fact… to make up for my general bad Catholicness, I just grabbed a fistful of change to put in my Operation Rice Bowl box.

This post was going to be something different… but I like the direction its going, so let’s keep on that path, shall we?

I used to be really great at keeping promises.  I used to be able to set goals for myself, work hard, and then achieve them.  In junior high I gave up chocolate for Lent.  I had so much will power back then.  I even lost at least 10 pounds because the lack of chocolate led to healthier food choices and more exercise.  I used to make Lenten promises that I kept both because I promised God and I feared failure.

So my lack of commitment in keeping my Lenten promises this year means one of two things:

God is no longer important.

I am starting to embrace my failures.

 

It can’t be the first one.  God is very important to me.  A lot of times I don’t feel that burning desire to be closer to him… in fact, a lot of times I don’t even think of him.  I won’t lie.  Sometimes I do give up.  But I always go back.  I always dust myself off.  I always keep God a priority, and if I lose focus, I make sure to put him back where he belongs.

But that second one… the part about embracing failures…  I think therein lies a sneaky lesson God planned for me this Lenten season.

You see… I may be messy and laid back… but I am a closet perfectionist.  I can’t stand being wrong, I can’t stand being second best, and I can’t stand being short of my very best.  These aren’t bad things all the time.. but sometimes I obsess over it so much that if I am wrong, or if I am not the best or my best… I feel like a pathetic excuse for a human being.

But this Lent, I am embracing my failures. I am embracing those moments where I stumble and I am messy.  I learned that too much silence is not good for me, and so I adjust and listen to Christian radio when I am finding the silence too overwhelming.  I learned that I don’t want to just update my blog with mindless things or short things for the sake of getting something in every day… I’d rather mull over ideas and save them for later.

I am learning that I can promise God one thing… and God can take that promise and do something else with it.

I can tell you lots of times I’ve been uplifted just by listening to Christian radio in the car this Lenten season instead of mindlessly driving in silence, or the times where I may have skipped blogging to have a good conversation with a friend or pay attention to my body’s need for rest.

What I can see in my eyes as a failure can be seen as a whole-hearted effort to be open to God’s movement in a different direction.

So maybe I fail.  Maybe I don’t keep my promises all the time.  Maybe I struggle and I am messy.  But by embracing these shortcomings, I am learning how to forgive myself, and I am learning how to love myself the way God loves me… and what could be a better lesson to learn in preparation for the resurrection of the Lord?

When God Says Yes

Cover of "Yes"

Cover of Yes

I focus a lot on God’s “no”s.

No, Sara, you will not be a youth minister this year.

No, Sara, you will not date that boy.

No, Sara, you will not get down to your goal weight in one year.

 

It frustrates me when God says “no.”  I get confused. Each time I am always so certain that I am doing God’s will.  And when that “no” comes, it’s like a kick to the face.  Nos are awful.  Nos can easily send a girl into a downward spiral of despair.  Nos cause temper tantrums resulting in overturned bookcases and countless awkward stares from passersby.   It seems like Christian mentality focuses on this element of suffering, and where is God in this suffering, and how will we become stronger as we walk through the fire.

But what about those times where God lets us have what we want?  What about those times where God says yes?

Those times are tricky.  I think a lot of times we just kind of ignore God’s involvement in the yes.  We forget how God has blessed us out of God’s love for us.  We would rather think about how God totally hates us because we’re such screw ups and he’s going to punish us for the rest of our lives by denying everything that makes us happy and instead watch us suffer like the mean-kid-on-an-anthill-with-a-magnifying-glass-on-a-hot-sunny-day-he is.  I know I do.  I think it is so easy for me to fall into woe and despair.  It is easy for me to blame my unhappiness on God.  It is easier for me to blame my unhappiness on myself and my shortcomings.

But what about when God says yes?  What about those times when our dreams are coming true?

I know you are probably sitting there thinking, Duh, Sara.  You celebrate. But today I realized that God’s yes can be even more terrifying than his no.

You see, last Friday I was told that there was no placement match for me at JVC.  I was extremely bummed about this… it ruined my entire weekend and really made everything that much more sad.  I was so mad at God that I broke my Lenten promise just to spite him, I started to browse for other jobs, and started to apply for a different year of service on the opposite side of the country I had been otherwise focusing on.  It seemed like God would always say no… that I would never be happy… that I didn’t deserve to be happy.

And then today I opened my email and found one that read, Congratulations!  Placement offer! It wasn’t my first choice of placement… but it was the one where I remember feeling like I got along with my interviewers the best.  It is for a volunteer and guest coordinator position at a soup kitchen based out of New York, which is where I would never in a million years imagine myself being at any point in my life.  I am totally doubting myself now that I got picked for it.  I’m just afraid that I am not going to be what they expect, and I am not going to do the job perfect enough.  Now that I have this yes… I feel so much more pressure to not screw it up.

I think the scariest part of this “yes” is that it actually is going to make me move in a direction, rather than sit there and wallow.  As much as I hate wallowing, its become so usual that its almost like an old friend.  But now I can’t do that.  Now I have to go out and do what I have been dying to do–make a real difference.  Start making the world a little better than it was yesterday.  Provide for others their most basic needs and treat them with the love and dignity they deserve.  Let my passion for social justice breathe and burn.

This yes is a challenge, and I know that God expects a lot from me if he is willing to say yes.  I know that these yeses are rare.  This yes requires a lot of trust in a lot of different ways.  And God wouldn’t say yes unless I was ready.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech

 

Why I Want to be a Jesuit Volunteer

Street Sleeper 2 by David Shankbone

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When I was in high school, I helped out with the NW Suburban PADS program, which provided temporary shelter for the homeless during the winter months.  As a PADS volunteer, I assisted with setting up the cots and serving meals to the guests.  My favorite part, however, was in getting to know the guests.  Up until that point, my only experience with homeless guys were when I had to awkwardly pass them by on the streets downtown and not make eye contact or give them money (because who knows what they are going to do with the money, right?, and what good would I be doing if I was just supporting their drug and/or alcohol addiction?).  My experience with PADS opened my eyes and heart just a little bit wider, so I could start seeing “the other” as something more relate-able.   I loved talking with the guests and getting to know their stories.  I learned that the people I saw at PADS shelters could be people I see walking around the grocery store on any given weekend.  They were absolutely normal.  Nothing weird about them.

My favorite FAVORITE part of PADS was getting to know S and W.  S and W were both guests at the site, and they were a hoot and a half.  We used to have dinner together and shoot some pool.  S had these crazy coke-bottle glasses that made his eyes huge, and W had amazing stories about his experiences with the Spirit and speaking in tongues.   I used to just hang out and shoot pool with them so much and so late into the evening that the other guests stopped seeing me as a volunteer.  One of the best compliments I had ever received occurred one night as I was getting ready to leave, and I was saying goodbye to S and W and some other new friends when the new guys were like, “Where are you going?”  I replied, “Home” and they looked shocked and admitted that they thought I was a guest.  I felt a great sense of accomplishment in being able to blend in well enough to be mistaken for a guest, and I suppose that is where my social conscience began to form. I realized that the best way to reach out and minister to others is to meet them where they are, and love them for who they are.  Being  mistaken for a guest confirmed to me that I was doing things the right way, that I wasn’t keeping them at a distance, that I was loving them for who they were, where they were.  I also started to get mad that these people were homeless to begin with.  How could such amazing people be without the basic necessities of life?  They deserved food, shelter, clean clothes, and a shower.  They were awesome.  It boggled my mind how we could be living in such a wealthy area, where folks have homes big enough to house at least 100 people in their living rooms alone, and yet the guys I met were living out of their cars if they were lucky.

A couple years later, one summer after my first or second year in college, I went downtown with some of my friends from home.  It was a real spur-of-the-moment thing, and I was mostly excited about having this freedom to go downtown without needing to tell my parents.  When we got downtown we started to wander around, when we happened across a man sitting on a street corner in front of a White Hen.  At first I didn’t even notice him, as he was sitting in a dark corner, wearing dark clothes, and had dark skin, but he made his presence known to us when he asked if we could get him something to eat.  He wasn’t asking for money… he was hungry.  He needed dinner, and he couldn’t afford it.  My friends and I went in to White Hen, and I really wanted to get this guy a sandwich.  Really bad.  But for some reason, I didn’t.  I don’t know if I was afraid of him, or afraid of what my friends would think of me, but I decided to leave the store empty handed.  The man took one look at our empty hands and just said “Thanks anyway, have a great evening.”  I remember this so clearly because I believe I saw the face of God that night.  I am positive that I did.  God was more present in the man sitting on the street corner than I ever felt him in church or on any fancy church retreat.  It was a challenge to make a difference, and I failed.  And I never forgot.

So now I have been accepted as a Jesuit Volunteer, and I am in the process of being placed somewhere.  And I am doing it because I never forgot W and S, and I never forgot the way God himself stared at me outside of the White Hen that summer evening.  It isn’t right that we pay athletes and celebrities millions of dollars a year just to entertain us, when there are so many people out there who can’t afford food.  It isn’t fair that I live next to a neighborhood made up entirely of mansions for small families, when there are so many people who have to suffer cold night after cold night.  It isn’t fair that our own church leaders are so busy sitting around debating stupid things about what it means to be Catholic, rather than going out and living the Gospel message and being love for every person, right where they are, no matter what kind of sticky wicket they find themselves in.  Because I don’t care what these people may have done to get them to the point of living on the streets, I don’t care if it was their fault or just bad luck… every single person deserves to be treated like a human being.  No one deserves to live outside with the dogs.  Not a child of God, nosiree.

So I want to do a year of service because I want to help people.  I want to spend the rest of my life making up for the fact that I did not feed Christ a turkey sandwich that one night.  I want to do the best that I can to ensure that each person I encounter feels loved and validated as a human being.

Because if not me… then who?

Antsy Pantsy

Excited Children On Christmas Morning

Image by IronRodArt - Royce Bair via Flickr

Sometimes I picture God as a 5-year-old the night before Christmas.

I think its the only way I can make sense of God’s whackadoodle sense of timing.  How else would it make sense why when things are going so well, the rug gets pulled up from under us?  We travel in a solid direction and think we have everything all figured out, when BAM, suddenly the tides change and we find ourselves in Nebraska by means of Australia.

Sometimes I think God just gets a little excited.  God can’t wait.  God’s timing is now, and now is often the weirdest time.  God knows what good things are in store for us, and God loves us so much that God just doesn’t want to wait any more.  God is the quintessential 5-year-old before Christmas.

Of course while we’re living it, it seems like a cruel joke, right?  I feel like we often see a “no” as something bad. We get heartbroken and disappointed.  We get confused and ready to throw in the towel.  But now that I think of it… I’m pretty sure it’s just the 5-year-old in God coming out.  God has to get us ready to experience the awesome we have coming up, which might mean cutting out a few things here and there, and in the grand scheme of things, these cut backs aren’t so bad, but as we are living them, it can be devastating.  But God isn’t torturing us.  God is just really excited.

So the next time something doesn’t go according to plan, or an opportunity comes out of nowhere, or you meet someone amazing but it just doesn’t make sense right now… go with it!  Just go with it.  God is getting excited.  God might be nudging you down a different path because there is a giant bag full of your favorite candy waiting for you there and God knows how happy it is going to make you.  God might take something away… but God is gonna give back something even more beautiful.  Go with it.  Don’t resist.  Take the leap.  God loves you, and God wants the best for you, and even if it doesn’t make sense right now, when you find it, it will, and God will be beside Godself with joy for you.

Let it Snow, Baby… Let it Reindeer!

White Christmas, 1995 re-release CD album cover

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Sidenote: Okay so the title of this post is a Relient K Christmas album title and not of my own genius… but whatever. Go with it.

Last night it finally started snowing in the Chicagoland area.  We had a little teaser earlier this week where it was flurrying a little without ever sticking to the ground… but last night I drove a half hour home from a friend’s place in the snow, and I woke up to a fresh bright white blanket of it resting quietly on top of the lawn and driveway and tree branches.  I was excited to see the snow, for sure, but I was also excited because I could finally start listening to Christmas music without feeling weird about it.

My rules about Christmas music are generally that one should at least save it for Thanksgiving Day.  And I know that it fits my rules, but if I ever try to listen to Christmas music when there isn’t snow on the ground… it doesn’t feel right yet.  How can I sing merrily about walking in a winter wonderland, when everything around me is green?

On a completely unrelated note (though eventually, there will be a connection! That’s how genius works, you know!), I have been struggling with the Catholic Church’s teachings on premarital sex for at least the past year.  I didn’t understand why it was so pertinent that we wait until marriage to share an act of love with a person with whom we are in love.  I’m 22-years-old, I know that if I were to ever get pregnant I would follow through with it and more than likely go the adoption route, as I can barely support myself, let alone another human being.  But I am 22-years-old. I am not 13.  Who is to say that I cannot handle that much physical intimacy in a relationship where we are in love and committed to each other?  What’s so wrong about that?

And then I realized that similarly to how there is a context for which Christmas music is acceptable… there is also a context for which sex is acceptable.  Have you ever listened to Christmas music in July?  I mean, you can do it… sure… but you would get sick of it.  Christmas music is special.  It is designed for the specific occasion of Christmas.  You could listen to Christmas music in other non-Christmas months, but then when Christmas comes, you wouldn’t have the music there to help you get pumped for Christmas!  You would be used to it! It wouldn’t mean as much.  When I listen to Christmas music, I get in the Christmas spirit… which is good… because Christmas is around the corner and the Christmas spirit is needed.  But if I were to start listening to it in July… I’d get in the Christmas spirit, and Christmas wouldn’t happen. And that would suck.

So sex is intended to be both a unitive and pro-creative act between spouses.  Why?  Because it was created for that specific purpose.  Sex isn’t about bangin’ some chick you picked up at a bar because you’re “slizzered” (as that hit new song “Like a G6” would say).  The media gives us this cheapened version of what sex is.  When you realize what potential sex actually has to bond two people together in love, as well as bonding that couple with God, and you know, makin babies and families and stuff… man! That stuffs crazy.  Why water sex down so that you could have it with everyone, when you could use it in all its glory in the right context at the right time with the right person? Hm?

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that to me, sex before marriage is kind of like Christmas music in July.  You could do it… but then when it comes to the real holiday, how are you going to celebrate??

Who Do You Think I Am!?

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Euchar...

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I was freaking out all day today about the confirmation class I had to teach tonight.  Last week didn’t go so well in the slightest.  I was really nervous, my voice and hands kept shaking, my face kept burning, and my mouth was so dry tumbleweeds were spilling out of it.  The kids in my class did *not* want to be there, and they did *not* want to talk about whatever we were supposed to talk about.  They looked at me like I had a second head, and I had a hard time not letting my awkward high school self shine through.  Seriously.  It was a hot mess.  So today I felt so much stress and so many nerves about my class.  I reviewed my lesson plan over and over again (even between the lines and in the margins).  I created a “Confirmation Class Contract” laying down my rules and expectations for my kids to sign.  I brought in my blue brain-shaped stress ball to use as a “talking stick” so we wouldn’t have everyone talking over each other again.  I wrote notes on sticky notes and stuck them on more pieces of paper.  Before Mass, I went in to adoration for a couple minutes and freaked out.

What if they don’t like me?  What if they think this is stupid? What if I can’t get through to any of them? What if I misrepresent You?  What if I get too nervous to speak again? What if I spent all four years studying theology in college to be a youth minister, only to realize that I am completely terrible at it?  What if I missed my calling?  What if??

It wasn’t a very pretty scene and I’m glad that only me and Jesus were in the adoration chapel at the time.  But then, in the silence of the chapel, staring into Jesus’s gigantic Host-y eye, He gave me a good metaphorical whack across the face.  He said, “Sara, do you seriously think I’d throw you to the wolves like that?  Do you really think that there is no reason you were put with that particular class?  Who do you think I am!?”

Duh.

First of all… it’s not about me.  Who cares if I look cool. What the heck.  That doesn’t even matter. All I have to do is be myself… because myself is who is teaching that particular group of freshmen.  There is going to be one or two or twelve of those students who are going to be affected because of me being the person God created me to be. Secondly…  I shine God’s love.  That’s what matters.  God takes care of the rest.  Even if they all look at me like they think I’m crazier than wearing flip-flops outside in a Minnesota winter… so what.  God is taking care of whats going on in their hearts.

Duh, Sara.  How liberating.  The responsibility doesn’t entirely lie on my shoulders.  I am just supposed to reflect God’s love in a way my freshmen can understand.  I am supposed to travel with them on their spiritual journeys.  God will use me however God will see fit.  And God placed me in that particular class for a particular reason, dang nabbit.  The ONLY way I can screw it up is if I go in there and say, “Hey. How about we toss those Bibles for a minute and smoke something illegal instead.”  Otherwise, seriously… it’s foolproof.  God’s got it.

It was a great feeling.  And tonight’s class went SO much better.  We got into a lot of great conversation about God’s plans for us, and we learned a lot about what the Bible has to say about leadership.  And we created a heartfelt covenant prayer that actually shows some beautiful thoughts about our roles as Catholic-Christians.

And maybe… just maybe… those kids left my class today changed just a tiny little bit.  Maybe… just maybe… that mustard seed has been planted.  Maybe!