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?

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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.

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

Lenten Rose Helleborus orientalis or Helleboru...

Image via Wikipedia ((ps--Did you know this is called a "lenten flower"? thank YOU, automatic-picture-finder-thing-on-wordpress!!))

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?

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.

I Don’t Think You’re Ready For This Jelly…

Zumba

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What am I thankful for today?

Three things.  My honest hips (they don’t lie), my honky-tonk badonkadonk, and Zumba.

I friggin LOVE Zumba.  I am forever in debt to the friend who got me into Zumba, because it is a new love.  Surely it helps that I’ve got a cutie patooty instructor this time around, but Zumba has really made me look at myself in a completely new way.  I am moving my body in ways I didn’t know it could.  I did not know my hips could swivel.  I did not know my booty could move in such a flattering way.  I didn’t know I could ever feel sexy.  That’s right. Sexy.

Zumba reminds me that I am more than just an emotional and spiritual being.  I am also a very physical being.

My physical body has always been a source of struggle for me.  I have always felt self-conscious about my weight, pale skin, height, and general amount of prettiness.  It is rare for me to look in the mirror and really like what I see, instead of thinking this is the best its gonna get.  I always liked what my body was capable of doing, such as not dropping dead during one of my mom’s crazy spinning classes or running that extra half mile I didn’t know I had in me.  But I never took much stock in its appearance.

I always wanted to be like my sister.  I wanted to be athletic and pretty and able to look good in most clothing styles.  I always compared my body to other bodies and could never see the beauty in what I had as separate from the beauty of those other bodies.  And my hips and my ass were too big for real, and buying pants was always a nightmare.

But Zumba made me move my body and look at my body in a new light.  I looked around at all those other bootys and noticed that they couldn’t move with as much oomph as mine.  No one else’s hips could salsa quite like mine.   It was hard to look at my body moving in the mirror at first… but tonight, I looked at it, and I liked what I saw, and I liked what I felt.

I can’t ignore my body.  I can’t just pretend it isn’t there and that it isn’t important.  Who I am spiritually and emotionally is just as important as who I am physically.

And if our physical bodies were honestly not that important, then when God decided to send his Son down to earth, God wouldn’t have given him flesh and blood.  What I got is beautiful even if it isn’t “perfect.”  I experience life through my body.  I love others through my body.  It’s pretty awesome.  And there is nothing wrong with looking awesome and shakin it once in awhile.

So today I am thankful for my hips and booty and Zumba, because they are awesome, and I am awesome, and God is more awesome still for creating me in such a way that I can look so awesome as I do such awesome things.

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??