I See The Light!

A light bulb

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This morning my Mom called me downstairs to help her change one of the bulbs in the ceiling light in the kitchen.  I got downstairs and thought she was crazy… it didn’t look to me like any of the bulbs were burned out.  I still thought it was bright in there.  But Mom insisted, and sure enough, two out of the four bulbs weren’t shining as they should be.  Of course when we changed the bulbs, everything was as bright again, and it seemed silly to think that the way I saw it before could ever be bright enough.

And it got me thinking about how many times we kind of allow our sinfulness to groom us into a skewed vision of God.  For example, I struggle a lot with being jealous of what others have that I do not have.  This jealousy often leads me to feeling like I am not good enough to have what I want, and even sometimes like God is this mean little kid who likes to torture me by putting people in my life who have everything I want.  It also affects my relationships, because when I think that I don’t deserve that happiness, I don’t remain open to receive the love that relationship could bring, which makes the relationship one-sided and rather superficial.  I get so used to thinking like this that I let it become normal.  My vision of God changed into this guy who loved me kind of, but was also mad at me for screwing up and has been busy punishing me by making me miserable.  I had to earn back my love from God, and since I realized that I can never be perfect enough to deserve God’s love… I admit to letting my relationship with him dwindle to less than what it was. So now I’m kind of living on half my bulbs being burnt.

Maybe its time to go change those bulbs.  Maybe its time I got myself to confession again for the first time in at least three years.  Life does not need to be this dim.  It could be so much brighter and better.

The brighter truth is that I don’t need to earn God’s love.  I don’t deserve God’s love, according to my human understanding. But I have God’s love no matter what.  After all..

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  –Romans 8:35-39

And that, friends, is a pretty bright truth.

Are you living your life with your light under the bushel basket, or are you letting it shine for the world to see?

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

 

These Pretzels Are Makin Me Thirsty!

Jesus and the Samaritan woman. A miniature fro...

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This weekends readings were all about being thirsty.

First we meet Moses and the Jews in the desert and they are gettin super cranky.  They have been wandering around the desert FOREVER and are about to start throwing things at Moses if he doesn’t get them some water fast. They were hot and tired and ticked off and lost, and no one was listening to their cries. In the Gospel, we see Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, fetching a pail of water.  Jesus offers her living water which will satisfy her thirst for the rest of her life. If you noticed in the first reading, God told Moses to strike the rock and the living water will flow from it… oh-so-similarly to how the soldier pierced Jesus in the side after He died.  Jesus is the rock. And Jesus is also the living water. And anyone who takes part in this living water will never thirst again.  And the second reading from Romans affirms this by reminding us that by our own standards, it is hard to die for an unworthy person, and yet Christ died for us, even when we shouldn’t have deserved it, because He loves us.  We have to accept this gift of salvation from the God who loved us so much, he died for us while we were still sinners.  Would you die for Joe Schmo off the street?

Jesus satisfies our thirst.

So what are you thirsting for?  What is this thirst?

I think we are very thirsty people.  I don’t think there is much that actually satisfies us.  We keep trying to crowd our lives up with having fancy ‘stuff,’ but we miss the real meaning and purpose to life.  We miss the point that we are beloved children of God, and that God loves us and wants us to shine and be happy and fulfilled.  We think we are going to be happy by having a fancy car and nice house and enough money to “live comfortably.”  We go to college to get degrees to get jobs that pay well, even if we don’t really like what we are doing.  We marry because we don’t want to be alone.  We diet and tan and work out excessively because we want to be beautiful.  We are so restless and unsatisfied because we keep taking in all this stuff that doesn’t quite quench our thirst.

So what are you thirsting for?  What would really satisfy your thirst?

How different would your life be if you believed in your heart that God loves you, even though you screw up a lot?

I know if I really believed in my heart that God loves me, if I really gave in to that living water, my life would not be the same.  I would probably trust God’s plan a lot more.  I would jump in to life guns blazing.  I would tell Mr. Handsome that I thought he was gorgeous and know that even if it didn’t work out this time, it doesn’t mean it will never happen.  I would apply for jobs outside of my state of residence and trust that if God put that desire there for that field of work, God will provide me with the tools necessary to get it done. I will be enough.  I would stop being so hard on myself and I would just forgive myself for the times I am not the person I want to be.  I would be so much happier.  I would feel beautiful, loved, and taken care of.  And I wouldn’t be able to help but share that same love with others.

What are you thirsting for?

God Sightings!

Icon of the Transfiguration by Theophanes the ...

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I have not posted anything in a couple days, and for that, I apologize.  In my defense, my dad messed up the internet and I have not been able to get on the computer that is hard-wired to the internet because it is in my parent’s room and they go to bed while the sun is still up.

So here are some “God Sightings” that I’ve had these past couples days:

1) Mom and I went downtown on Wednesday because she had jury duty and I wanted a vacation from my house/give her moral support.  On the way back to the train station, we stopped by a church to say hi to Jesus for a little bit.  About five minutes in (and some random whispered side-conversations later), I noticed the monstrance, and suddenly it clicked that we were literally in the presence of Jesus, and I suddenly felt all nervous and stuff because I found myself in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and had been making all that noise with Mom.  It made me think, though, about all those times I don’t realize how THERE God IS.  God sometimes likes to hide right in front of my face, in plain sight.  Sometimes I’m just the one whose eyes aren’t open all the way.  Intriguing indeed.

2) Earlier in the day, one of my best friends was telling me a story about a vision she had in Alabama. Of course I believed that she saw it, but also believed she was a little whackadoodle in the noggin, because well, God has never spoken to me in such a crazy amazing way, and if it hasn’t happened to me, then it isn’t possible, of course.  Later in the evening I went to my young adult group at my church and we talked about the transfiguration of the Lord (where Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain and got really glowy and God said “This is my son! Right here! Do you see him?? Do you need a brick to fall on your heads??”).  We were talking about why it is that God chose to reveal Jesus as his Son in such a magnificent way to only 3 people… why not to everybody?  Or why did Jesus insist on keeping it a secret?  And then I thought about the story that my BFF told me, and how I thought she was crazy.  If Peter, James, or John came up to me and said, “Jesus started to glow like he had some bad skin condition and we were really worried at first until we heard a voice from Heaven and saw Moses and Elijah, all of whom said it was okay, it just meant that Jesus is the Messiah,” I would probably say the same thing I said to my friend… that I believed she saw it, but also that she was crazy.  So perhaps Jesus will reveal himself in the way we will understand the best… whether its via the quiet peace in our hearts or a brick falling on our heads.

3) Last night I received a very disheartening email from my JVC rep saying that none of my potential placements were a match for me.  I felt my heart break, my eyes broke and tears kept leaking out, and I felt those familiar feelings of a hopeless future start to seep in again.  But then, clear as crystal, I heard in my heart the verse that gave me the strength to survive college.  For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  Plans for your welfare, not for your woe. Plans for a future full of hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11).  Those three placements I interviewed for obviously sucked for me.  There’s somewhere better. Or God is a sick, sick man. I’m hoping for the former.

4) I got this amazing massage today.  I literally feel like a brand new woman.  If you do not believe heaven is a place on earth, then you have clearly not received a professional massage.

There are my ‘God sightings.’  Hopefully it’ll appease you until the next time I am able to post… whenever that will be. 

And hopefully you will be able to find God hiding in plain sight this week, too. 🙂

Bad Catholics, Unite!

I’m bad at being Catholic.

Did you know that I didn’t know artificial contraception was a no-no in the eyes of the Church until I got to college?  Or that it would be more likely for a priest to get married before a woman could become a priest, and even that is highly unlikely?  I didn’t know the Eucharist was the actual body and blood of Christ.  I didn’t know people cared enough about Mary to consecrate their entire lives to her.  I didn’t know anything about the Catholic memorabilia… the medals, the scapulars (I still don’t know what the heck a scapular is for), those bead bracelet things with pictures of the sacred heart or Mary or (insert favorite saint here) on them.  I couldn’t tell you what my patron saint (Cecilia) actually accomplished in her life other than the fact that she is the patron saint of musicians.  I didn’t know daily Mass was something for everyone until college.  I didn’t know being a nun was even an option for me because I wasn’t 80-years-old yet.  I didn’t know that I had to go to confession before Mass… that it was an obligation.  I didn’t know there was such things as holy days of obligation.

I was a really bad Catholic.  And I still am.

Even after studying theology for 4 years… I still feel completely lost.  I still don’t understand my Catholic faith, and what it means.  The only parts of my faith that I know and understand (aside from a new understanding of the Eucharist, which I now agree with after spending some serious time asking questions about why God was asking me to be a cannibal [God wasn’t]) from my childhood are that I was created by God, I am loved by God, and I am on a mission from God (much like the Blues Brothers, minus the fedora).

I have only gone to confession before Mass twice in my life.  I will probably be using artificial birth control when I get married (and if you think a piece of rubber is going to stop a baby from getting born when God wants that baby born… you are dumb, I’m just sayin).  I cling to the hope that one day, a woman will be allowed to be a priest, and a priest will be allowed to be married. I think a 50% divorce rate and little white chapels in Vegas are a bigger insult to the institution of marriage than sexual orientation.  It is highly doubtful that I would ever consecrate myself to Mary.  I don’t fall asleep at Mass anymore, but I still don’t always pay attention.  My relationship with God will always be important to me… even when I am beyond rock bottom and am not even sure if God exists at all. I hope I will always be crazy enough to think that I can make a difference in this broken world in which we live… and that when I die, I will leave it in better shape than when I found it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I may bitch and moan about the teachings of the Church sometimes, I may not agree with everything, I may not have a collection of scapulars and statues to adorn my house with… but I love my Catholic faith.  I may not understand it… but I love it… and really, when its really love, how can you explain it?  I know there is a place for me in the Church.  I know God loves me just the way I am.  And at my confirmation as a sophomore in high school, I was fully aware of the commitment I was making.  I’m in it for the long haul.  I will wrestle with these teachings until I agree with them, and if I don’t ever agree with them, I will not stop wrestling with them.  I believe that God loves me… that God will not send me to hell because I didn’t go to confession before receiving the Eucharist.  I believe that God loves you, too, and that is why I love you.

I believe God just wants us to be with him.  I think God just wants to see us keep swimming towards him.  And if I’m wrong… if God really cares that much about doing everything by the book and being perfect… then I’m screwed.  But I don’t think I’m screwed.

So anyway.  To all my fellow bad Catholics out there… hollaa.  May you rest easy tonight knowing that I don’t think you’re all that bad, because I don’t think I’m all that bad.  Besides, you and I were made in the image and likeness of God, and God isn’t bad.  So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.