When Weakness is Strength

I started my prayer time with complaints which, I’m embarrassed to admit, is often how I begin my prayer. I’m often just so discontent. I am never quite happy with where I am or what the Lord has given me. I’m constantly trying to skip ahead to the next big thing. I’m pretty bad at just being in the present and embracing the now. I want things to be perfect, idealistic, the way things are just isn’t good enough for me.

I was lamenting this weakness of mine for quite awhile, recognizing that by trying to skip ahead, I miss the gifts the Lord has given me in the present. I was getting really down on myself and feeling like a failure for not appreciating what God has given me. It got to the point that I just wanted to finish my prayer time and move on with life.

But instead of letting myself leave, I pressed in and decided to read the readings for this coming Sunday. I got to the second reading and tears started to block my vision as I read:

“Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, ‘ My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”            2 Corinthians 12:8-10

St. Paul was experiencing a difficulty and was begging the Lord to get rid of it for him, just as I had been begging the Lord to rid me of this character flaw of mine. But, I realized I’m not alone in trying to run from my struggles and weaknesses. If St. Paul struggled with the same thing, I’d like to say I’m in good company and I’m probably going to be okay.

I also realized, the Lord doesn’t want me to lament my weakness. He knows where I am weak, He created me. Those weaknesses give Him opportunities, openings, to come into my life. They give Him space to bring His glory. That is why the Lord tells St. Paul that in his weakness, His power is made perfect. For what better way to be sure that the Lord is working than to see Him in our weaknesses, where we know for a fact that it’s not us working?

The Lord doesn’t leave us in our mess and weakness. He puts us in positions of discontent and struggle to bring us back to Him. When everything is going well, I have a habit of losing sight of the Lord. It’s when things are difficult that I really cling to Him and grow closer to Him. So I will try to be content, as St. Paul was, “with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ,” and I will try to remember that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” I hope that you can also allow yourself to enter into your weakness and embrace it as an opportunity to be drawn closer to Christ instead of running from it.

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Staying Built

“With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will build you, and you shall stay built.” Jeremiah 31:4

This scripture was shared with me early on in my time in the convent. At the time, I took it at face value, that the Lord wanted me where I was and that He was working. That was true, but throughout this season of Lent I’ve been realizing how the Lord has been fulfilling this promise to me right now.

I’ve been encountering a lot of challenges lately at work that have caused me to have to act in ways that I wouldn’t ordinarily. I’ve had to speak up for myself in instances where I would much rather just let things be.

I was discussing the challenges with my sister the other day and sharing how I dealt with the issues instead of running or avoiding them like I usually do. She replied by saying that while it’s difficult right now, there is obviously something really good happening. Through these difficulties, I’m being called to grow. The Lord is using these struggles to rebuild me in a lasting way.

I often just see struggles at face value and forget that the Lord really does use everything for our good. It’s usually in times of struggle and difficulty that the Lord is working the most. These are the times when He is calling me to be faithful to Him. He uses challenges to help me to grow in virtue and become who He created me to be, to build me anew.

I’ve always struggled with self-confidence and understanding my worth, but throughout this season of Lent, and really since I entered the convent, the Lord has been teaching me how much He loves me and that my worth comes from that love. I’m coming to realize that He really is just calling me to be myself, to love myself enough to stand up for what is right and for what I deserve, and by living that truth He will work wonders through me.

You see, it’s not about what I do, but about who I am. The Lord is gradually and slowly rebuilding me so that I can stay built in my identity as His beloved daughter. He longs to rebuild each and every once of us, so that we can each encounter His enduring love and truly live as His sons and daughters. When we are able to do that, then the world will be transformed.

It’s About A Person

Recently I’ve been writing a lot of talks and giving a few too, some for retreats, some for a Lent series we’re doing at my parish. I had sort of taken a break from writing talks for awhile and so this has been a little challenging for me as of late.

I was talking with one of my friends and coworkers today about what to write for one of the retreats I’m planning and she said something that made me think. I was asking for advice on what to include from my own story in the talk, about how specific to get. I’ve been trying to write this talk for the last three days and kept getting stuck because I didn’t want to share too much. But then my friend called me out. She said I’m trying to not get personal. I was trying to remove myself from the talk.

It’s much easier to talk to a group of people about a topic, to teach them about the Church and how great God is and how much He loves them. And that is extremely important work, but part of being a follower of Christ is that there is a personal connection there. And how better for someone to be able to know what that looks like or to understand why they would want to start a relationship with Christ than to hear an example of what that looks like?

It’s easy to tell people that they need to pray and they need to listen to what the Lord is telling them. What takes a little more effort is being willing to get personal, to share how the Lord has spoken to me and how I responded, or didn’t.  We need to stop hiding from vulnerability. For far too long we as a Church have focused just on the head knowledge. I’m not saying that it isn’t important to know Church teaching or to learn about the Eucharist or what happens at Mass. I’m not saying that all the curriculum we focus on in faith formation is a waste of time, but there is something, someone that makes all of it relevant.

Our faith is personal, it’s about a person, an encounter with Jesus Christ. Without Him, it doesn’t make sense. Without Him, we’re just a bunch of people following some rules. If it wasn’t about Jesus, our faith wouldn’t be worth giving our lives to. So let’s be willing to share our personal encounter with Christ with each other. Take the time to share your story with your friends, with your kids, with your spouse, with that random person you meet around town who is looking for something more. The more we talk about the personal side of our faith, the more people will realize that Jesus saves lives. Let’s get real so that others can truly encounter the one who makes this whole Church worth it.

 

The Journey Home

In the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on both my decision to enter the convent and to leave. January 21 will mark one year since I left. It was a difficult decision on both ends but so worthwhile.

There is one truth that really sticks out to me from this whole journey: God loves me as I am, not for who I think I should be but just for exactly who I am, who He created me to be.

God desires my happiness and joy and He doesn’t ask me to be something that I’m not. He doesn’t call me to fit myself into a mold that forces me to lose myself, my personality, my joy, or my hope. He does call me to be more. He calls me to virtue; He calls me to holiness. Those things are difficult, but that path looks more like becoming more myself and less like the image of the perfect Christian woman that I created in my mind.

I spent most of my time in the convent trying to fit myself into the mold of the perfect postulant. I worked really hard to do everything I was supposed to just as I was told. I showed up the places I was told when I was supposed to be there. I was present to the people who I was asked to serve. I prayed when I was supposed to pray. I played games with the other sisters when it was scheduled. I did exactly what I thought would make me happy and I even acted happy. It’s not to say that I didn’t have joy filled moments while I was in the convent, I most certainly did, but not as many as I tricked myself into believing.

You see, the reality was that when I was in public or even just with the sisters I was always putting on a show. I was pretending to be at peace and joyful. I was acting how I thought I was supposed to be feeling. I was faking it except I was so good at it, I didn’t even realize it was fake. Looking back I’m able to see the intense stress I put myself through. There were more days than I can count that I would come down after evening prayer feeling exhausted, not from working hard physically, but from working hard to convince myself and everyone else that I was good, that I was just fine, that I was joyful and at peace.

I thought the only way to Heaven, the only way to be holy and the person God created me to be was to make this path work. I thought the pain I felt was just part of the process and eventually it would pass.

When I came home after Christmas, last year for a week, is when things started to change. I struggled to be present at home because I was dreading so much going back. I was so caught up in the fact that I believed God called me to the convent that I couldn’t accept the fact that maybe He didn’t mean forever. I was so focused on being who I thought God was calling me to be I couldn’t hear Him whispering my actual identity.

My friends and family noticed a difference in me. Most of them weren’t vocal about it until way later, after I had made the decision to leave the convent, but they noticed. One of the only people to actually say something to me was my sister. I remember specifically lying in bed one night talking and she asked me if I was happy. I gave her some response about being asked to be selfless and sacrificial and penitential. She didn’t let me get away with it though. She reminded me that God wants me to be happy. She asked me why I stopped caring about my own happiness. I thought I was being selfless but really I just wasn’t listening.

God used my sister’s honest concern for me and questions to open my heart just enough that He could get in. That little crack that was made in my hardened heart was slowly broken open more and more when I returned to the convent after my home visit. The Lord used homilies, class lectures, a video by Fr. Dave Pivonka, and an appointment with a counselor, plus lots of prayer time. I was moved to start reflecting on where my peace was coming from and whether the Lord was asking me to do something different than what I had originally imagined or thought I heard.

We watched Saving Mr. Banks one Sunday and I remember immediately following the movie I made my way to the chapel. It wasn’t a scheduled time for prayer, I was in the chapel all by myself. The Lord used that movie and that time in prayer to help me to see His Perfect Fatherhood. He showed me His love for me and helped me to see that He had made me a certain way and that way didn’t line up with how I was trying to live.

You see, for months I’d been wanting to leave community but I just couldn’t let myself. I thought if I just forced myself to stay just a little longer that things would get easier for me and that eventually I would find the joy the Lord had promised me. But the Lord gave me permission to be myself that day as I reflected on His love for me as my Father. The Lord helped me to understand the freedom that comes with being in relationship with Him. I knew in that moment that He was giving me permission not just to be myself but to leave community. He was telling me it was time to step out once more in faith.

I took a few days to pray through what I had experienced. I asked for confirmations and the Lord came through. He used class lectures and scripture that following week to help me to be confident in what I had heard. And just a week after that afternoon alone in chapel, I was riding in my parents car on my way home for good.

The Lord created each one of us uniquely and He has a specific call for each one of us. I don’t know what exactly that will look like in your life. What I do know is that the Lord doesn’t ask us to be someone we’re not. He asks us to stretch and to grow but He never asks us to wear masks or pretend. He calls us to be authentically ourselves and whatever the Lord’s call on your life is will bring peace and lasting joy beyond what you can imagine.

Two bits of advice before I finish this incredibly long blog post:

  1. Have the courage to speak up when you think someone you love is unhappy or struggling. They may not even realize what’s going on. God uses us to speak to others and your words may help them to be open to what the Lord is trying to do/say.
  2. Never forget how personally, deeply, intimately our Heavenly Father loves you and desires your peace, joy, and happiness. Have the courage to follow where He leads even if the path looks different than what you thought it would.

Thanks for reading. Know of my prayers for you!

2017: A Year to Arise

What a year it has been! This time last year I was just returning to the convent after a week home visit. I rang in 2017 with Mass, timing the consecration right at midnight. What a beautiful experience it was! Just a few weeks into the new year I made the decision to leave the convent where I thought I would spend the rest of my life. The Lord was faithful to me through the trials of that decision and the transition. I felt so much peace and consolation in those first few weeks of leaving.

My family went through a lot in those first few months with both of my grandparents going through serious health concerns. It was a gift for me to be home and able to help in whatever way I could.

I ended up working at Old Navy once again, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I also started working at a nursing home. At the time I thought it was the direction the Lord was calling me to serve long term. However, He was taking me on a journey of trust and helping me grow to accept myself as I am. It was definitely difficult working two jobs and it stretched me a lot. I learned how to find God in the moment instead of focusing so much on what His plans for my future are.

Eventually I felt the Lord calling me back to ministry in the Church and found a job and moved an hour away from my parents.  It was a scary step to take and it took a lot of relying on the Lord to come through, but I did it. I experienced a lot of peace in my decision and knew it was where the Lord wanted me to go.

The last six months of this new job have been challenging to say the least with many opportunities to grow and rely on the Lord. Moving to a new place and starting a new job all at once was overwhelming. Through the challenge and being overwhelmed, I’ve learned how to trust not just the Lord but also myself and have confidence to act. And I continue to have opportunities every day to embrace the present and find the Lord in each person and experience.

I’ve gone through so much change and transition in 2017. The word that was constant for me this past year was “arise.” It’s been a year of learning how to listen to the Lord’s promptings and choosing to trust Him even when His plan doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Each and every step, change, and transition has stretched me and helped me to see the Lord’s faithfulness. This year has been all about learning to live in my identity as a daughter of the Father, to accept His love and live in the freedom of a child of God. Each day has been about learning to accept who I am and become the woman that I was created to be.

While it’s been quite a challenging year, I am so grateful for all the experiences and I wouldn’t take any of them back. It’s been an incredible gift to see the Lord working around and through me. The last year was all about action and movement. I’ve been asking the Lord for a sense of what this next year will hold and He gave me the word bloom. While I don’t know what the Lord has in store or what exactly He means by bloom, I know that He is faithful and I trust that whatever it is will bring joy and bring me closer to Him. So here’s to 2018, may each of us take a chance to look back, be grateful, and trust that the Lord will continue to take care of us as He has always.

 

Risks, Growth, and Surrender

Sometimes Christ asks us to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes following Christ means walking into the fire instead of away from it. Sometimes it means making a mess rather than cleaning one up.

The thing is, that following Christ means being willing to take risks, to be courageous, to step out of the boat. It means being willing to have that hard conversation with a friend because you know it’s the right things to do even if it’s going to hurt. It means showing up at the hospital when someone is sick and suffering to be there with them through the pain. It means taking that job that requires you to move away from what you know. It means walking up to the stranger and inviting them into your community.

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 24,25

Following Christ means embracing the cross. It requires us to lay down our life for His purpose and for the good of others. When we are able to accept this, that’s when He can start working and healing. I’ve noticed in my walk with Christ that the times when things are the hardest and most challenging, that’s when He’s working intimately. That’s when He’s calling me to learn how to lay down my life and follow His example.

My experience has been that the Lord uses these challenges to take a risk to make me aware of where I need to let Him more deeply into my heart. My first response more often than not is to avoid and to run from whatever the issue at hand is. But that usually just leads to pain and struggle. When I am able to allow the Lord into the problem, to surrender to His plan, that’s when true healing and growth begins. When I’m willing to accept the challenge and move forward, that’s when I start to learn how to truly lay down my life.

It’s not like it happens immediately, that I embrace the pain or see the growth, but that’s when the actual stretching can happen. When I allow the Lord in, that’s when He can show me how my pain or challenge is making space for something more. That’s when I start to see that He’s teaching me how to be better through this struggle. When I surrender, that’s when He can really start doing His thing.

This storm is making way for a beautiful rainbow. When we choose to accept the pain and suffering and challenge of this life we also open ourselves up more deeply to the beauty and hope that we have in the promises of Christ.

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Christ left a beautiful example in His own life for us. He had to embrace and endure the pain and suffering of His walk to calvary and the crucifixion before the glorious new morning of the resurrection. He laid down His life before He could take it up again.  Surrendering and laying down my life is a daily challenge and the Lord uses many different tactics to teach me. Each one unique and so worth the struggle.

I promise it’s worth the struggle. It might not feel like it now, but God is with you and He is using this pain to make you stronger and to make room for something amazing. Keep fighting the good fight, my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasons and the Paschal Mystery

There’s something so glorious about the leaves changing colors: it’s a reminder from the Lord that dying can be beautiful. It’s a reminder to me that there is beauty in surrendering to God’s plan. There is beauty in accepting where He has placed me and trusting that He will bring good out of the mess. And once I’m able to accept where I am, choose to die to my own plans, I can start seeing the glorious hope that lies on the other side.IMG_4071

With the Lord, dying isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning. That’s why I think the Fall is so beautiful and why people get so excited about it. There is something exciting about an ending because we know that there’s a new beginning on the horizon. Even if we can’t quite see it, even if there’s an entire winter before we get to see the spring. We know that something beautiful is going to happen.

We trust that Fall will turn into Winter and that Winter will turn into Spring. Why is it so hard to believe that seasons of Fall in our lives, season of dying might turn into seasons of brokenness and breakdown, but eventually they will turn into seasons of spring, of new life, of new hope?

It all reflects the Paschal mystery: the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The seasons do and so do our lives. It’s easy to get stuck in the Fall or Winter and forget that Spring is coming. It’s easy to get caught up in the dying and the suffering. When we are able to accept where we are as part of the process, surrender to His plan, we are able to then have eyes to see that Spring is coming. It might be awhile, we might have to be very patient, but it’s coming.

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Yes suffering and dying is part of the Christian life, but so is redemption and resurrection. So while right now it’s easy for me to get bogged down by the fact that God’s plan and my plan look so different, I have hope that through this dying to myself new life will come. My spring is coming and so is yours. Let’s keep watch together and be patient as the Lord does something beautiful, even in this time of dying.

 

“He clothed them.”

So, I don’t know if you’ve heard of temperaments, but if you have I’m a melancholic. There are plenty of strengths that come with this temperament, but there are also weaknesses. One of them is that I easily get stuck in the ideals that are not being met. I typically spend a lot of time keeping myself stuck in desolation. I spiral myself into focusing on how I’m failing the Lord, how I’ve fallen into temptation, how I’ve chosen to run from the Lord instead of toward Him.

I’ve been struggling a lot with this tendency lately, and was bringing it to prayer. I was reminded of the creation story and spent some time in Genesis. We all know the story: Adam and Eve eat from the tree and God kicks them out of the Garden. I was prompted to look back at the passage because after Adam and Eve eat from the tree, they hide, and God, even though He knows exactly what is going on, He calls out to them and asks them to reveal themselves. He asks, “Where are you?” I thought that I needed to reflect on the fact that God is a gentleman, He doesn’t force us to give ourselves to Him, but He does search for us.

As I continued reflecting on the passage though, I got stuck on Genesis 3:21

“The LORD God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them.”

Adam and Eve had told the Lord that they hid because they were naked. God knew that this meant they ate from the tree and He dealt out some intense punishments, but before banishing them from the Garden, He clothed them.

He provided for Adam and Eve even in His disappointment and anger with them. That’s how much He loved them. This is such a testament to the Heart of the Father, His heart is so full of love for us, that even when we fail Him, He is still providing for us.

If God provided for Adam and Eve, the first humans, the ones who He created out of the Earth to live with Him forever in the Garden, even when they failed Him, why do I think He won’t provide for me in my failure? When I get stuck in these moments of desolation and hopelessness in my own failures, I forget that the Lord is still with me.

This passage from Genesis is such a great reminder that the Lord never abandons us. He never leaves us on our own. And He doesn’t want us to get stuck in these moments of doubt of His providence and love for us. The Heart of God is full of compassion, love, and tenderness. He will provide for every one of our needs if we only ask and rely and trust Him.

But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

 

Savior Complex

Jesus is savior.

Why is that little phrase so hard to grasp, so hard to accept, so hard to believe? Why is it that I still try to take everything on myself? Why do I still think I am capable of everything myself? Why do I try to make myself the super hero?

I have a heart that yearns for people to know they are loved, to know their worth, to know they are welcome. I long for everyone to know how much the Lord desires them and how much the Church needs them.

Those are all really great and good desires, but the reality is that I can’t save people. I can try my darndest. I can focus every moment of every day on others and drawing them in. I can love them and serve them. I can listen to their problems and be a shoulder for them to cry on. I can give them the best advice. But no matter how much I try, I cannot save a single person.

There is only one Savior in all of history and His name is Jesus Christ. He alone paid the price and He alone changes hearts. He alone is Healer, Consoler, Friend. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the one who made it possible for us to be in relationship with the Father.

While this seems obvious, especially for someone who works for the Church, to recognize Jesus as savior, it’s much easier said than done. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day struggles. It’s easy to get discouraged by negativity and push back. I get stuck in the present and the fact that the present isn’t exactly what I wished it looked like. I have a vision for how I want things to look and when it doesn’t look that way I start to give up. All I can see is how I’m failing, how it seems like an impossible task. And the truth is, it is impossible, for me.

Not sure if you noticed, but that last paragraph was sure full of a lot of and me. I can try everything in the book, but until I am able to introduce others to Jesus nothing will change. The reality is that Jesus has to be at the center of everything I do. Without Him, nothing I do is worthwhile, without Him nothing I do will make any difference. Sure, maybe someone will feel loved for a moment, maybe someone will make a better decision, but until they meet Jesus Christ the end result will be the same.

The truth is that it is impossible for me to change hearts. It’s impossible for me to convince someone to live differently and it’s impossible for me to fix everything. Christianity doesn’t make any sense if I make it all about me. The only way it makes sense is when I allow Jesus to work through me and in me and lead others to Him, not to me. When I allow Jesus into the problem, He becomes the solution.

You see, it’s easy to get stuck in the trap of making ministry about me. But to minister is to answer a call from Christ. It’s not a call to be awesome, beloved, or adored by others. It’s not a call to be superman or superwoman. It’s a call to love others with Christ’s love and first and foremost lead them to Him and let Him do the work. I just have to learn how to get out of the way and let Jesus be the savior that He is.

 

 

Little One

Ever since I returned from the convent, I’ve been struggling with feeling guilty about not praying enough or not doing enough faith related activities. Being in the world, it’s much easier to get distracted. But the reality is that living in the world requires me to not live like I did in the convent. It might seem obvious but it’s taking awhile to settle in my mind.

Within this same thread, I’ve been struggling with understanding how the Lord sees me. I’ve been getting caught up in my guilty feelings and convincing myself that God is judging me and seeing me as my failings and sins. I’ve been letting myself believe that I am not good enough in His eyes.

I’ve been reminded several times that the Lord looks on me with eyes of mercy, that He loves me for exactly who I am at this moment. He loves me whether I pray five minutes or five hours. He loves me the same always, no matter what I do. I can’t earn His love. I know these things and it was nice that people kept reminding me, but it wasn’t quite sinking in.

And then, Friday night I was hanging out with some friends and I was given a little glimpse into how the Father sees us. One of my friends has a little girl. She’s just one year old and she’s adorable. I just love her to pieces. We usually get along great, she plays while we hang out and have adult conversations. However, Friday night she didn’t get a long enough nap and she was not a happy camper. She was squirmy and screaming and didn’t want to have anything to do with allowing us to have some adult time.

I’ve been in similar situations before, where a child is screaming and I just get really annoyed and upset and want to remove myself from the situation, but Friday night was different. While she was making it hard to concentrate, I never once felt annoyed or upset. The entire time I just felt this deep love for her and for my friend as her mother. I knew that this little girl wasn’t purposefully interrupting us, she didn’t even know that’s what she was doing. She was just trying to let us know what was going on with her.

As the night continued, she calmed down and we were able to finish our conversations a little more easily. We even had the opportunity to watch her stand on her own for a couple seconds (cue the cheering, clapping, and crazy joy of three women watching this little victory). It ended up being a wonderful evening, the screaming and crying included.

The love I feel for this little girl didn’t change when she was screaming and crying and being disruptive. My love for her was the same before the screaming, during the screaming, and after the screaming. I could see the bigger picture and realize she didn’t even know what she was doing.

I think that’s how the Father sees me (and each of us). He loves me regardless of whether I have my act together or not. He loves me the same no matter what I do. Plus, He’s outside of time and He knows my thoughts. He knows my intentions so He knows when I don’t mean to act in a certain way even if I do.

We are just little children in our Heavenly Father’s eyes. That is why we can have so much confidence in His love and mercy. Who doesn’t love a little child? Who isn’t patient and forgiving with a little one who doesn’t know what he or she is doing?

I’m challenging myself (and you too!) to continue to accept this identity as a little child. I need to claim my identity as a beloved daughter of our Heavenly Father, remembering that He loves me the same no matter what.