Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

It's a new year. 2013 has officially began.

So, what does that mean? It was under 10 minutes until the ball drop when I found myself feeling alone in a house full of my friends. You know, that feeling when you know you should be happy, but you aren't? Yeah, that one. Well, thoughts of last New Year's pried their way into my mind. In the face of these memories, in the despair of these mistakes, an unexpected feeling overcame me: thanks.

Yes. I was thankful. I was thankful for the mistakes and the sadness and the loneliness, because I could recognize something greater now in my life.

It doesn't matter how I dress myself up or paint myself with makeup, because at the end of the day, it all comes off, and I'm left to face my Maker. He is the One who makes the decision to give me another day. He is the One who has brought me out of times of sadness and despair. He is the One who has irreversibly changed my life for the better, and the One who knows what is really best for my life.

So this new year, I am excited to say that no matter what follows in the next 365 days, it will be part of a Divine Plan. And I am thankful.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thirsty for Christ

Today is a Thursday. To me, that means I get to relax a little bit. I don't have class on Fridays, so Thursday is my day to unwind for the weekend. Maybe visit a friend or read a book. Basically just lay low. For many of my peers, however, Thursday holds a different meaning. If any of you are familiar with college students, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Yes, Thirsty Thursday.

What is Thirsty Thursday? Well, apparently, after a long week of tough classes and serious business, a large percentage of college kids get really thirsty for alcohol and rowdy behavior around this time of the week. "Wow, what a culturally rich tradition,"you might say. Yeah, not so much. I'm not really into that.

The sad thing is, I have been there though. And it's not just a fun time of unwinding from the week.

I look at my fellow brothers and sisters stumbling around, and I feel myself getting angry. Do they not realize how beautiful their lives are?! Do they not know what they are doing to themselves?

They indeed are thirsty.

They are not thirsty for jello shots or Bud Light. They are thirsty for the blood of Christ.

"but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 4:14
Deep in their hearts, God has placed a desire. A desire to be loved by Him. But they don't know that. What they know is that they feel a longing to be loved, a desire to feel wanted, included. For women, a desire to be told they are beautiful.

I see these women who really do look beautiful. They spend hours doing their makeup, their hair, picking out an outfit. All of this time is spent so that when they go out, someone will notice them. They are searching for this affirmation that, yes, they are beautiful. And maybe someone will want them. Alcohol will make them feel more fun, braver. A guy will tell them how attractive they are, or dance with them, or take things further.

But they don't think about what they're really doing. All they know is when someone tells them they are beautiful, they feel good. When guys look at them, they feel important, special. When a man touches them, they feel loved.

But it is momentary.

The next morning, they are bitter. Tired. Broken.

If only they knew how beautiful God made them to be. If only they knew how intimately God knows them. If only they realized how much God loves them. If only they knew another way of life. If only they understood why they are hurting.

If only.

Tonight, I am distressed, because these are my sisters. I wish I could show them God's love, but I just don't know how. The need is so great, and I am so imperfect.

We live in a thirsty culture, a culture thirsty for love.

All I can do is pray. I pray because there is hope. I know there is hope, because I am sitting here writing this right now. God turned my life around, and I know I have a lot of people to thank who have been out there praying for me along the way. So, if you know of anyone who is caught in this deathtrap, please join me in praying for them. Pray with all of your might, because these people need God. They are dehydrated and weak. They have an unquenchable thirst for something they have never encountered. Their hearts yearn for more than cheap liquor and sexual flippancy.

They were made to be loved.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Protagonist of the World

Right now I am reading the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan (AWESOME BOOK!!). In it, Chan describes the history of the world as a movie, and the main character is God. In this "movie" of life, we are only extras, not even supporting characters. Our significance to the main plot is extremely puny. One blink and you miss us. But we were put in this movie for a reason (the extras are necessary in movies, otherwise they wouldn't be paid to appear...). I really like this analogy. A lot. Here's why.

First of all, Chan talks about how dumb it would be if you were an extra in a movie and you invited all of your friends to "come see this movie about yourself." Your friends would maybe see the back of your head. Maybe they would miss you altogether. They would probably think you were an idiot for thinking that a movie you barely appeared in was about you. Don't you think that would be pretty arrogant? Uhhh, duh! Well, I hate to burst your bubble if you have been living in self-obsession, but that's kind of the way life works too. Believe it or not, life is NOT about you. Shocked? Don't be. It's just common sense. The history of the earth goes back billions of years. And trillions of people have lived on it over that period of time. Your life doesn't really mean much when you look at it like that.

The world doesn't revolve around you. Get it? 

But don't get depressed about your life just yet! Let me just remind you, that though you might be an extra in this movie, you are still necessary. You were chosen to walk past the camera for that half a second for a reason! Without extras in a movie, it would be a pretty terrible movie... more like a soap opera or something. You are there to set the scene, to call attention to the main character (that's God, remember?). But the thing about that is, you're not supposed to call attention to yourself. This is where I personally tend to mess up.

I was just thinking about this today. I seem to think that I am running my own little movie right now and not getting the big picture. Continuing this "movie of life" analogy, right now everyone is trying to have their own subplots, even though they are just extras, not focusing on the main point of life (...God). No wonder there is so much confusion and distractions! How can anybody figure out what the purpose and focus of life is if everybody thinks it is about themselves! We are doing a terrible job of fulfilling our role. Instead of pointing attention to God and just playing our part as God intended, we are in the background waving our hands shouting, "Look at me! Look at me!" All this does is create chaos and distractions, because no matter how hard we try, the world will NEVER revolve around us. Never. Ever.

The thing is, we all see ourselves as the protagonists of our own lives, and we think that everybody else should want to know all about us because we are so interesting and awesome. Yes, we are all unique, but who made that so? God. Yes, we all have different situations, different sufferings, different glory stories to share. But who gave them all to us? God. While it's okay to talk about these things (it's good to share and talk to people, I'm not saying that's bad at all!), we just need to keep that from being the FOCUS of our lives. Simply put, we could all use a dose of humility. (Check out the Litany of Humility on the bottom of the PRAY page here on my blog!) Seriously. Francis Chan really called me out on my own arrogance as I was reading his book, and I can't imagine that I'm the only one with this problem.

Putting Christ at the center of our lives means to stop putting ourselves in the spotlight and point all of the glory and honor towards God, the real protagonist and hero of the world. The King and Savior.

To put in perspective how worthy God is as the center of not only your life, but of every single living, breathing person, watch this video:

Do you know Him? If you do, adore Him for His crazy love. Step out of the spotlight, put God at the center, and give Him the glory He deserves. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ready to Fight

This past week I had the opportunity to spend 8 amazing days on retreat. Actually, no. The word "retreat" is the wrong word. Technically, yes, it was a religious retreat. But I don't think that it describes the true nature of this quality time with God. If I were to pick a word for this "retreat" I would call it a rally. A battle rally for the Lord. Sounds pretty intense, right? It was. And let me tell you, God was really working to get his troops ready for war.

Arming us with the Holy Spirit... YEAH! 

Let me describe to you my fellow warriors who gathered with me. 220(ish) college undergraduates from all over the country ranging in holiness from just baptized to living saint. Many among the throngs are characterized by their zeal for the Lord God Jesus Christ, evident in praise and worship, conversations, joy, and love. Coming from Texas, New Jersey, Minnesota, Florida, Arizona, and other various states, they all have a different standard of the "normal way to talk," but are united in their ultimate goal: to win the world for God. How will they accomplish this? By bringing the gospel to the country, one college campus at a time. They are willing to go out and live the gospel and to put Christ back in Christian.

So, right now you might be thinking... "gosh, all of these college students are wasting their youth! This is their time to have a little fun, not let religion make them into little goody two-shoes who won't be able to enjoy their college experience before they become real people in the world..." STOP. Don't think that. Nothing about this is a waste!! We are not being brainwashed nor are we doing this out of some sort of obligation. You might be wondering, what exactly makes a group of 220 college kids want to risk their comfort, social lives, pride, and reputation to fight for Christ? I have a couple good reasons.

First of all, well, I mean Jesus did like die to save us from our sins. But, you know, no big. People kind of forget about that one all of the time... (seriously... isn't that reason enough??) And secondly, the thing is, God let us in on a little bit of a secret. See, whether we acknowledge it or not, the whole world is actually in a giant war of good v. evil... God v. Satan... Us v. Sin. It's like aliens v. predators on steroids. And the scariest part is that people actually deny that it's happening! So, not only has God told us about this massive war, but He told us another secret: He wins. Period. Exclamation point. Pick a punctuation. Now you might be thinking, "hey now, hold the phone. So you're telling me you already know the end of the story?" Duh. Revelations. We all have access to it. Why does this always surprise people? I can't give you a play by play, but I get the main points: Jesus and Satan have an epic showdown, and guess who wins? We've been over this.

My money's on Jesus.

I know who wins this war. I want to be on the winning side. If God's love wasn't enough to set me on fire to live for Him (which it really is), then I'm still making the strategic decision and sticking with the side that will be victorious in the end.

Think I'm crazy? Well, all I have to say about that is I'd rather be crazy and fighting for a God who saves than going crazy trying to find happiness in a world without love. (God=Love... basic Christian equation). Because here's the thing: there's really nothing else worth fighting for.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Answer Your Door

Today, I was listening to my Christian music playlist on Spotify when this song came on. I've heard it many times before and was familiar enough to sing along. Maybe a little too loudly. (Let's just say I don't foresee any singing careers in my future...) As I was mindlessly crashing through the chorus, I actually tuned in to the words coming out of my mouth. There was a piece that, as I sang it, stood out to me like never before: "He's never giving up; it's love." I had listened to this song so many times, but I had never really noticed that line before, and I began to think about how true that really is.

There is that saying that God is always knocking at your door, but it is up to you to answer it. Well, this phrase came to mind and I started to actually think about it. A lot of times when I hear phrases, I receive them somewhat passively. I hear them and I understand them, but only to an extent. I understand the basic concept, but rarely do I actually dig beneath the surface and analyze what it actually means. This is sort of what was always the case with this phrase about God knocking... that is, until today when I actually stopped to think about it.

If you were raised Christian like myself, maybe you remember growing up and learning about God. It was fun and exciting. You got to read stories about a guy bringing lots and lots of animals onto a big boat that he built. You watched fun little animated movies with a good moral and lots of goofy jokes like Veggie Tales. Every once in a while you would pop a tape in the cassette player (remember when those actually existed?!) and dance around to songs about God and how much he loves you "little ones." I loved when my mom and my dad would sing me songs about Jesus and Noah. When I was little, faith was so easy! Of COURSE God created the world, because who else could have done it? God is everywhere, because He just IS. Noah definitely had room for both the elephants and the giraffes... they both are still here! This was God knocking at the door the first time. And with the child-like enthusiasm and readiness to love and accept, the door can be opened wide and God so easily ushered in.

Then life got a little more complicated. Maybe it started with singing in church. Maybe when all of your peers decided it was "uncool" to sing those dumb songs, you found yourself self-concious to sing, or maybe stopped singing altogether. Maybe as you start to grow up a little bit, you realize that not every household is like your own. Your non-Christian friends don't act like you, and you want to fit in, so you compromise a bit. You had let God into your house, but maybe you started to doubt that you wanted Him there. Maybe you were slowly edging Him out.

It only gets more difficult as you get older. Peer pressure, desire for money and material possessions, being surrounded by the mixed messages of society and the media, the feeling of heartbreak, conflict with a doctrine of the Church, pain and loss, carnal desires, schoolwork, jobs, friends, you name it. So many things enter your life to complicate and confuse your thoughts, and it becomes impossible to have the faith you once had as a little child. The more you encounter, the more you doubt whether or not you really want God in your life. If you don't want Him there, He's not going to force Himself upon you. You can push Him out, and ignore his calls, but there's one thing you can't make Him do: give up.

Just like Francesca Battistelli says, He's never giving up. Why? It's love. It's as simple as that. No matter how many times you push Him out, He's always going to keep knocking at your door, waiting for you to let Him back in. He loves you that much. No matter how much you think you've messed up, no matter how much you sin or reject Him, He's never giving up. Maybe you have never encountered God. Maybe you weren't raised Christian and have never been Christian. Don't worry, this still applies to you. God is staked out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not even resting on Sundays, just knocking away at your door. If you think you've never heard it, maybe it is because the noisiness of life is droning it out. Maybe it's because you don't want to hear it and you're blocking it out. Maybe you just don't know what to listen for. It's okay. It's not too late. He's never giving up. He's been at your door since the day you were born, and He's going to be there until the day you die. No matter how many times you tell Him to go away, He won't listen. He will still be there. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Labyrinth

Outside of my parish on campus, there is this big, round design on the pavement. For  awhile, I was completely oblivious to it. I noticed it one day and thought, "Oh, that's kind of cool." Time went by, the snow came and covered it up, and I completely forgot about it. The weather eventually warmed up, and with the snow gone, it came to my attention once again. It resembled a maze, and it caught my attention this time. Looking at the stone bench that sat next to it, I realized that it was a labyrinth. In my oh-so-pensive mind, the only thought that this provoked was, "Cool, it's like the 2-D version of that weird  David Bowie movie that was made back in the 80's." And just like that I displaced it from my mind.

Yeah, you glow, David. 
Yeah, despite this picture, there is really nothing captivating or spiritually invigorating about that labyrinth. So, anyways, having completely forgotten about the labyrinth at school, I was on vacation this summer when I ran into another one! It was the same exact pattern, and it was outside of the Catholic Church in the city we were visiting. Okay, now I knew that this was no coincidence. I tried to put on my thinking cap and figure out what was so special about this design ornamenting the holy ground outside of now two churches that I had been to. After about a minute and a half of deep contemplation, I looked right in front of me and realized that this church had a nice little stand conveniently placed in front of the labyrinth with pamphlets about the labyrinth. Perfect! The less thinking and outside research I have to do for myself, the better. So here was this great pamphlet that summarizes the whole idea of the labyrinth and and the reason for it's shape and whatnot. Well, apparently I wasn't too inspired by it, because I put it in my purse and forgot about it. It wasn't until I rediscovered it this week that I actually took the time to read it--and I am so glad that I did! Not only did I know nothing about it, but I was missing out on a really great opportunity to actually use the labyrinth as more than just something pleasant to gaze upon.

The labyrinth itself looks pretty cool. It is a circular design with a winding path that appears to be sectioned into four different parts. According to the pamphlet, the four sections dually represent the four gospels and the four stages of the liturgy. In the center is a clover-like shape with 6 "leaves" which is the end of the weaving paths encircling it.

Here's a picture for all you visual learners.

It's pretty neat-looking... AND it's symbolic! The whole thing is meant to represent a journey. One could find a labyrinth such as this outside one of the famous Cathedrals and popular pilgrimage destinations in Medieval Europe. Many an early Christian pilgrim would travel to one of the beautiful gothic Cathedrals and end their journey by walking the labyrinth. Many of these men and women had the desire to make a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem, but simply couldn't. So, as a substitute, they would journey this winding path to the open space in the center, which actually represented Jerusalem. I can imagine that this made the voyage of walking the labyrinth a very holy and inspirational one.

Even though there is not the same drive to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for everyone nowadays, many people still walk labyrinths built by churches everywhere. It is used as a time of contemplation and spiritual connectedness to God. One model of walking the labyrinth, according to my handy dandy pamphlet is the "classical three-fold spiritual path:"*
    Purgation: Walking in, emptying, or letting go.
   Illumination: Time in the center, clarity, insight
   Union: Walking out, initiative, integration, and action in the world.

While walking the path, it is recommended that you remove your shoes and walk barefoot to enhance the experience and help you focus. It is really up to the individual how you wish to walk through the labyrinth. Everybody has different experiences. Walking through the path, you might want to focus on one question you have for God specifically. Maybe you just want to be silent and feel His divine presence. Maybe you want to offer up petitions or honor a significant occasion like a anniversary or something of that sort. Some people repeat a mantra over and over again, bringing in their thoughts completely to Christ. It doesn't matter if you walk it, dance it, run it, do a walking handstand through it, etc. It's all good. The whole point is to take some time out of your busy, busy life and focus on God for a bit on sacred ground. It can be quite a rewarding experience (or so I hear).

Maybe this whole thing just seems a little crazy to you. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, "I don't need a stupid labyrinth to spend time in meditation with God." Well, okay then. Good for you. But I think that I do, and I'm probably not alone. What better way could I find to spend time with God than to go outside and focus in on Him as I walk through a beautiful and historically significant and symbolic design on the pavement outside of my very own campus church? I don't know how you feel about it, but personally I'm pretty stoked to try it out. If they keep popping up on church properties everywhere I go, they must be at least worth a shot! And if you know of a labyrinth somewhere near you, I would highly recommend that you check it out too! Just walk and think. Let God place thoughts in your mind. You never know what you might hear if you just spend some time actually listening!

*Word for word from pamphlet published by the St. Andrew Catholic Community in Boulder City, NV

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lions, and Tigers, and Zombies, OH MY!

Bolts and fasteners for broken bones, check; glue and caulk for peeling skin, check; deodorizers to freshen up decaying flesh, check. Looks like I am all set for the zombie apocalypse.

What's cookin' good lookin'?

Yep, Ace Hardware in Omaha, Nebraska proudly displays all of these items on shelves in their "Zombie Preparedness Center" section of their store. When I read about this in the Las Vegas Review-Journal this morning, I was more amused than shocked. There have been jokes and different marketing schemes revolving around zombies out of humor or whatever, but people are actually serious about all of this! The web is buzzing with talk of zombies as story after story appears in the news such as a cannibal in Miami, a heart-munching student in Maryland, and a disturbing self-mutilating attack, that suggest the possibility of the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. Now, as commonly happens with serious and disturbing news, there are people who are becoming either obsessively fearful or sadistically humorous (which is no wonder after movies such as Zombieland) about topics such as zombies. While the news is absolutely disgusting and graphic, we are naturally drawn to this type of thing with a sort of sick fascination (to prove my point... you followed all of the links, just to check it out, didn't you?). It makes us sick to our stomachs, yet we read on, because we can't believe a person could actually do it, but we have to find out every twisted detail of the story so we can relive it in our nightmares or ponder thoughts of Armageddon. Let's face it, we are obsessed with the bizarre and extraordinarily gruesome.

I would suggest a detour.
After realizing all of this recent zombie craze was based on real stories, I became pretty unsettled and wanted to take a step back to check out the facts. So I whipped out one of my favorite books. No, not the Catechism. (Even though that book proves very enlightening and helpful for proving a lot of points, I don't think JPII was too concerned with zombies.) But the real source I looked to first is the Bible. Duh. You know, God gave us this really cool book in the bible called Revelation talking all about the end of the world! Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't remember seeing anything about any sort of zombie apocalypse in it. Lamp stands, horses, seals, sure, but no zombies. Unless one is symbolic for flesh-eating living dead, I really don't think a zombie apocalypse is in our future.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe one day some disease will make all humans mutate into freaky cannibalistic corpses, and we will have to fight for our lives like Will Smith as we survive by day and hide by night. Maybe all the people on planet earth will become just animals with no thoughts, souls, consciousness, or feelings. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. Humans will be degraded into animal-like forms without any of the above attributes? Come on. If you are worried about that, you aren't thinking it through this through very well. God made us in His beautiful, perfect, divine image. That's right. We are made in GOD'S IMAGE. Made in the image of a God with infinite power, infinite love, infinite EVERYTHING good. How could God let us become merely animals when He so distinctly and purposely set us apart? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that's the way God has planned for the epic Armageddon. God made us and saw that it was GOOD. We are all supposed to be a reflection of Him, with a mind and a will, and the whole zombie thing just doesn't quite fit the bill.

So then there's the argument that maybe not all humans will die that way. Maybe there is some epidemic in the future that makes animals out of the bodies, but the people themselves die. The zombies are not real humans, but merely the empty vessels lacking a person, but somehow surviving and remaining animated despite the fact they are dead. Ands some humans will survive. Then there will be a terrible war, humans fighting for their lives against a product of our own experimentation and mistakes (as many people are led to believe will cause the end or at least a regeneration). We are slowly dooming ourselves... etc. Well, while we are looking at the what-ifs, what if you die in a car crash today? What if you go to the doctor next week and get diagnosed with cancer? What if you win the lottery? What if your building catches on fire and you lose everything you have? What if you are enjoying a lovely salad when you eat an almond that gets stuck in your trachea and there's nobody around to do the Heimlich and you are suddenly dead because of a seemingly harmless legume? All possible (probably more likely than zombies too), but are they worth worrying about?

It wasn't the zombies you should have been concerned about...

See, here's the point: God has a plan for you. The thing about the future is YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT. God will take care of you; you just have to trust Him. There's this really good book called The Screwtape Letters by this guy named C.S. Lewis (Ring a bell? Chronicles of Narnia? Yes?). If you haven't read the book, it's about this tempter who is instructing his nephew on how to properly lead his human "patient" to hell by prying him away from God and ruining his life in every way possible. In one of the letters to his nephew, Uncle Screwtape discusses the importance of luring his "patient" into focusing on the future. He says, "We want a whole race [in reference to humans] perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present." There is so much truth to that. We waste so much time worrying about the future. Along with that, we are willing to put everything on the line for a future reward that may or may not even come. We spend so much energy and effort on the future that we cannot even enjoy the present. We ignore the gifts God is giving us every day, because we are either putting them off for tomorrow or not recognizing them at all because our preoccupation with what MIGHT happen.

I'm going to choose not to worry about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, not just because it is extremely unlikely, but because I know that God has my back. If I'm doomed to be eaten alive, I guess that it's all in His plan for me. But for right now, all I can do is give up my worrying to Christ, and put it all in His hands, trusting Him and live life as He gives it to me--in the present and not afraid or obsessed with a future that might never come. Only then can I receive the peace from God that allows me to live my life with purpose. Only then can I give my life to Him. I guess it's up to you how you react to all of this news, but as for me, I'd trade in my zombie defense package any day for a little divine life insurance from the Big Guy upstairs.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Plenty of Fish in the Sea

People really like their metaphors. Seriously. We hardly ever say something just how it is. We would much rather tie in an image of something else to help us illustrate our point. Our entire language is saturated with metaphors. Cute as a button. It's raining cats and dogs! He's my knight in shining armor *sigh*. Life's a stage and we are the actors (maybe we've been watching too much "reality" TV?). It's a dog-eat-dog world (seriously, do we ever think about how gross this is?). Running like the wind (or in my case a weak breeze). Catch my drift? (<= Hey, whaddaya know, there's another one!)

Don't think that umbrella will help much...

One that we seem to have a particular affinity for is the image of fishing. I don't know how many times I've heard "there are other fish in the sea..."Or what about the phrase, "fishing for compliments?" I especially like the one "hook, line, and sinker." Even Katy Perry is all about the fishing metaphors (The One That Got Away).

When I think about all of the metaphors, I think of what my writing professor would have to say about them, "CLICHÉS. Don't use them. Come up with something cool and original." But how did these phrases become cliché in the first place? Somebody said them once, and everybody else was all like, "Yeah! That's great! I'm going to use that now," and it spread like wildfire. (<= metaphor. Or simile?) Now, I don't know where most of our clichés derived from, but I have a guess as to who may have started the whole fishing craze. Yeah, that's right, the big JC, Jesus Christ. I mean, He was the one who dropped a bomb saying, "Follow Me and become fishers of men." And how could people NOT think that that was an awesome metaphor?

"I used that metaphor BEFORE it was cliché."
Let's look at what that actually means. Back in the day, fishing wasn't just a relaxing way to pass the weekend off with your buds out on the lake, having a good ol' time and hangin' out. For those called out of their boats to follow Jesus, it was completely different. They were fishermen. Fishing was their career.

According to Luke's gospel, Simon was the first to be called to follow. He was cleaning out his nets one morning after a rather unsuccessful night of fishing. Now, here in this world today, cleaning out nets after a night of fishing doesn't really hold much significance. First of all, I would just like to point out that he had been fishing all NIGHT. Because that's what they did back then. The nets that they used for fishing were pretty visible in the water during the day, and all Galilean fishermen knew that fishing during the day was just straight up foolish. Cleaning his nets didn't just mean splashing them with water. The linen nets used back then were pretty fragile. They required both washing and complete drying, which was quite time consuming. Since he had been out all night, he was just waiting for his nets to be clean and dry before he could go home and finally hit the sack. To top it off, he didn't have much to show for his night of work.

As he was cleaning, he probably noticed a crowd gathering on the shore listening to a rabbi preach. He may or may not have noticed it growing in size--so much so that the man speaking couldn't see all of the people around him. Whether or not Simon was interested in what this man had to say, he was undoubtably tired and rather unconcerned about this mass of people, just wanting to go home. He was probably finishing of the tedious task of cleaning, when Jesus walks up to him and is all like, "Hey man, I see your boat all tied up here, and it is in just the right spot. Mind if I preach from up here so I can see my whole audience?" Simon, respecting the authority of the rabbi consented, but I'm sure he was not too happy about it. That meant he would have to stay in the boat until the man was done speaking. And of all boats on the shore, couldn't he have found a different one?

Jesus continues to preach on Simon's boat, and finished with the cleaning, Simon can't help but listen as the nets dry. Wow, this guy really sounds like he knows what he's talking about. Jesus finally ends his speech for the morning, and as people began to talk amongst themselves and clear out, Jesus looks at Simon and, noticing there aren't many fish in the load from the previous night, says something like "Thanks for letting me use your boat. Kind of an unsuccessful night last night, huh? Here, take your boat back out and throw the net over again."

At this point, Simon must have been incredulous. You want me to take my net that is practically dry, go out into the deep water, even after the sun is up, and cast it into the water again?! You are a rabbi, not a fisherman. Do you even know the slightest thing about fishing?! Even with your help, I would need two more of my friends to help us out. That kind of job requires two boats and four men. Do you WANT me to look like a complete idiot?! Maybe it was his preaching, maybe it was the people on shore watching what would happen, maybe he just wanted to prove Jesus wrong, but something told him he should listen to to this rabbi, and he grudgingly consented to this seemingly daft endeavor. He called over his partners James and John (who no doubt were questioning Simon's sanity) and threw the now dry net into the water. All three men were utterly amazed at what happened next: they caught enough fish to fill both boats to the point of nearly sinking! In broad daylight! It was truly nothing short of a miracle.

"Just keep swimming!"

Simon fell to his knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man," (Luke 5:8), for he was ashamed that he had doubted this man. With that, Jesus just looked at the men in the boats and said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."


Now do you see why that metaphor rocks? It wasn't like some random guy walked up to the apostles and was like, "Hey, drop your jobs, your family, your lifestyle, and come follow me and you'll catch lot's of men." No. He proved himself through this amazing miracle and said "Through Me, you can do this again, only next time, you will bring in people, not fish. If you follow me, you can become the world's greatest evangelists, bringing people to God." How do you say no to that?!

The best part is, just think, if Simon (later Peter) had not listened to Jesus to cast out his net once more, if he had decided it wasn't worth the effort, if he had put his own interests (going home, not cleaning the net again, etc.) above listening to Jesus, we wouldn't have Peter, the great apostle and first pope. He became who he was all because he decided to first of all let Jesus preach from his boat (he could have very easily turned Him down), and secondly he risked his own reputation and pride to throw that net in the water just one more time.

So, all metaphors aside, next time God asks you to do something that you don't necessarily see as a good idea, logically speaking, like Nike, just do it. You never know what big plans God has in store for you. He might just be setting you too up to become one of the greatest fishers of men.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Facebook Frustration

It's been a long day at work. I dealt with some cranky customers and some irritable co-workers. I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before, and I think that I'm beginning to catch a cold. I slump into my room and plop down on my bed, grab my laptop, and connect myself to the wifi. My finger darts across the sensor pad more like a nervous twitch than a deliberate navigation. With one tap of the finger, I am now staring at the familiar image of my homepage on Facebook. Without waiting for my command, my eyes already know what part of the page to find: the top left corner. They pinpoint a small little image in the corner of the screen. Noticing a disappointing lack of red, my heart falls. That's right, no new notifications. Yeah, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's completely ridiculous, but you have undoubtedly experienced this sometime before in your life (unless you don't have a Facebook, in which case props to you!). It's that little indication that nobody has interacted with your internet presence that can really bring you down. But why? How completely ridiculous is that?! But it's true. Sometimes, I just wish that I could be more like Ryan Spoon... (see image below).

Now THIS guy's virtual life is bumpin'!

Why am I so obsessed with Facebook?! It has become a major hinderance to my life. I open up my laptop, and without thinking, it is the first page that I open up, regardless of when the last time I checked it was. There is something about that little shortcut up at the top of my screen that activates the muscle memory in my finger. It's not just something that I look at for one second, however. Even if there is a depressing absence of notifications, that doesn't stop me from perusing the entire newsfeed. I just scroll, scroll, scroll, until I have sufficiently stalked all of the daily (or hourly, depending on when I last checked) happenings. I spend literally HOURS on Facebook every day. EVERY STINKING DAY!

Now, you might think, hey, what's the harm in a little Facebook. It's interesting, and you are just catching up with what's going on in your friends lives. Well, is it really that harmless? I have been thinking about it, and I have come to the conclusion that Facebook can really be detrimental to anyone. Let me give you some examples to help illustrate my point.

Susie get's home from school Monday afternoon. She's not the most popular person in her grade, she is kind of shy and doesn't talk much. She signs in to Facebook, and sees that there are no new notifications. BAM. Blow to the already low self-esteem. She then continues to scroll down through the newsfeed and sees all the pictures and statuses going up from the weekend before. She happens upon a picture of the group of friends that she talks to at school. Apparently, they had all gone to the beach over the weekend, but she hadn't been invited. Strike two to the self-esteem. As she browses through all of the other pictures that people are putting up, she can't help but notice how happy they look. They all look so carefree. All of the other girls look so beautiful, and there is no lack of comments on their pictures telling them so. Why doesn't she look as pretty? She checks her own pictures, but she already knows that there is not going to be any comments on any of them, except the one that her mom had found kind of cute. And she was talking about their dog. Just like that, her whole day is ruined as she continues to scroll through the pages and profiles, hating herself more and more.

Stephanie has a similar problem. She has friends and is featured in many pictures on Facebook, but she is self-conscious about something else: her weight. It's the Monday after the warmest weekend of the year, and every time she logs in to the site, she sees picture upon picture of skimpy bathing suits showing off the toned, "sexy" bodies of her peers. She looks down at her own body and starts to cry. Now that summer was arriving, she wouldn't be able to hide under baggy sweatshirts and loose-fitting pants. She was already trying to eat less, but it wasn't the calories so much as her dang genetics that were keeping her from that perfect "beach body." She shut off her computer and promised herself she would skip dinner tonight.

Carl, a friend of Stephanie's, is also on the computer this lovely June afternoon. He heard all about a trip to the beach this last weekend, and he was kind of bummed that he wasn't able to go. Stupid job. He hops on Facebook to see what's new in the virtual world when he sees the pictures of the beach adventure. Flipping past pictures of the guys messing around, he finally stops on one just like what he was looking for. There we go. He stares at the screen in front of him, ogling at the two girls in their bikinis. I knew that Jess was pretty hot, but dang! I didn't realize what kind of body Anna has. He makes a mental note to see what she was wearing the next day at school. Maybe she would be showing a little cleavage, or those nice legs of hers. I love shorts and tank top season.

This very same Monday, Anna gets home from her shift at work after school, and she too goes on Facebook. She notices that Jessica had put up pictures from the weekend. Why did she put that one up? Doesn't she realize how skanky we look? She goes to untag herself in it, but little does she know the picture has already been saved in Carl's folder on his computer. At least I have been working out recently, I don't even look half bad. She keeps clicking through the album when she sees one that she doesn't like so much. Gross! Why did she put THIS one up? I have a gigantic roll in this picture! I look so chubby! She probably just put it up because she looks incredibly perfect. Typical. She can be such a brat sometimes. I wish I had her body. I think that she put this one up just because she looks good and I don't. What a b****! She decides that she will confront Jessica about it the following day at school.

She put that one up?!

Jessica (yeah, see how this is coming full circle?) started all of this Sunday night (or Monday morning?) at 1:00 am. Excited to put up the pictures of the weekend, she uploads each one and makes sure that she doesn't look bad in any of them before publishing them. Between the uploading and the photoshopping (because she had to make sure nobody could see that awful zit on her face!) she spent 3 hours on the whole ordeal, skipping her math homework that she had put off until that night. I'll just copy Greg's tomorrow. Finally satisfied with the now nearly flawless pictures, she hits "publish album" and goes to bed.

See all of the problems that arise? Now this is just a hypothetical, multi-perspective scenario, but all of these are no doubt really happening somewhere in the wonderful world of Facebook, and I'm sure you are already aware of most if not all of these. Now, I'm not saying that Facebook in and of itself is evil, and everyone should cancel their accounts. It wouldn't be a bad idea, but I know I could never do that. I'm simply saying that it is one of the obstacles to our happiness here in this day and age. It consumes so much time that can be spent so much more productive. If I spent the time that I do every day on Facebook in prayer, I think that I would care a lot less about what my peers thought of me, be closer with God, be more peaceful and less anxious, and I'm sure much more. Even if I didn't want to spend that time with God, if I found SOME other productive use of my time I would be better off, whether that be cleaning, doing homework, reading, talking with my friends, or anything really!

So, why doesn't everyone stop spending so much time on Facebook? Because it's so HARD! Not only that, it's addicting and habitual. And, there are some benefits with being in touch with a mass amount of people all at once. I can't delete my account. I just can't. But for now, I'm going to delete the shortcut and try to limit my time wasted on it. Like no more than 10 minutes. At a time. I think I need a little Facebook rehab.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Love Like Jesus

First of all, let me just start off with an introduction. For all of you who don't know me (which is probably everyone since this is my first post) I will give you some background on myself. I am a college student home for the summer. In the past year, I have had a complete conversion of heart. When I say a complete conversion of heart, I mean COMPLETE CONVERSION. It's like a light bulb finally went on inside my little head and God was like, "Hey, guess what. I love you. Not only that, everything that has ever happened in your life I did for you. On purpose." BAM. So, now I am searching for ways to share this spark that has been fanned into flames. I was sitting around distressed about my lack of an evangelical venue when voila, I happen upon this wonderful thing called the blogosphere. (Thanks to my good friend Bridget who gave me the idea. She has a seriously awesome blog called The Catholic Maiden that you should definitely check out!!) It dawned on me that, hey, I can share with everyone who is willing to read all of the insanity that brews inside of my mind (muahahahaha) mixed in with a little bit of Evangelization (thus the name of my blog... I'm pretty proud of it. It even amounts to a good acronym (TEN).). See, I have a lot of great ideas bouncing around on my neurons like a funhouse, but NOBODY ELSE EVER GETS TO HEAR THEM! My ideas are trapped. And they. want. out. Disclaimer: I am new to the whole concept of blogging, and I am amateur at best, so take pity on my inexperience and whatnot. Let he without a bad blog cast the first stone. If you have never blogged, you don't count. You just shouldn't be casting stones. So, anyways, here goes nothing!

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"Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine!" As a kid I sang this song with such fervor and spirit (mostly just so I could shout the word NO! in church...) and these words hit me now as I prepare for the summer ahead of me. Sometimes I feel like going back home is like approaching a trap set up for me. There is this giant bushel (just waiting to hide my light) propped up by a stick. Sooner or later, BAM. I hit the stick and my flame has been smothered by this giant bushel-trap. But how can I avoid this happening? Your guess is as good as mine, but let me tell you, this summer, I am going to try!

This is what a bushel looks like if you were wondering... I was.
(Who decided on a bushel for the song, anyways??)

"Love one another as I have loved you." We hear this phrase over and over again. But what the heck does it mean? It's not exactly something we analyze. We just sing along and look at our friends and family and say, yeah, I totally love everyone, just like you do, God! Watch, I'll even give a friendly smile to the random stranger sitting right next to me in the pew today. Golly, I'm so loving! No. Wrong. Just think about that request for a second. Love each other as I have loved you. Woah. That is crazy. How did God love us? Well, for starters, He died for us. Not just for the general "us" as in the collective group of humanity. No, He died for you. And He died for every other person specifically as an individual. He would die for you alone if you were the only person in the world to save, but He would also do the same for that person who cut in front of you during rush hour traffic, the guy who beats his wife, every single woman in a strip club (and man for that matter), the drug dealer on the corner, the mass murderer, the politician, the lawyer, the crazy cat lady, you get the point. He loves everyone. No exceptions. Not just loves as in I-will-cast-smiles-in-your-direction-to-let-you-know-how-holy-I-am. No, He loves with the kind of love that takes every single one of our sins and says, don't worry, I got this. You just stole a pack of gum from the store. My bad. I will take a lash in the back for it. You looked lustfully at one of my daughters? Put another thorn in my head. It's okay. I will take the blame.

Talk about setting high expectations.

Let's look at the humility of His love next. Jesus did not care about the standards set by society when it came to whom he loved. He treated every one with equal respect and dignity talking to them and spending time with them, no matter if they were a Jew, Samaritan, tax collector, woman, etc. How often will we refuse to even give someone the time of day if they are "socially inferior" to us. How embarrassing if people saw us hanging out with THAT person. Once again, God is setting the bar pretty high for us. He is asking us to throw pride out the window and simply LOVE others without any regards to social status, personal hygiene, political stance, etc. Because, let's be real, we in no way are worthy to chill with God, yet that's exactly what He asks us to do! If put on a social spectrum, He would be so far away from us, we wouldn't even be able to look in his direction. (He is the author to the most popular book written in the history of ever.)

Lastly, I want to bring up the whole forgiveness factor of God's amazing, undeserved love. He has paid the price for every single stinking sin we commit, but does He hold it against us? Never! As He hung on the cross, He knew every sin every person would ever commit. If someone treats me with disrespect and it really hurts me, I hold on to that. That person is blacklisted in my mind. They become a victim to countless cutting mental remarks and the object of a certain amount of passive aggressiveness. Would Jesus ever do that? No. In fact, the first thing He did after He was hung on the cross was forgive those who had put Him there.
        "Father, forgive them, for they no not what they do."
So, let's think about this. They put Him through the most horrible death imaginable, mock him, fight over his clothes, and spit at His feet, all while He is thinking of every single sin that you will ever commit over the course of your lifetime and also bearing the burden of literally the entire world, but yet He looks at those who crucify Him with compassion and pity, asking God to forgive them. Wow. Seeing as some people would not even be so gracious if the offense was merely a missed appointment and their only burden was not having their Starbucks that morning, I think there is seriously something wrong with our grasp on the concept of forgiving love. We will probably never have to endure what He went through, but if we did, could we respond with forgiveness, the way God has asked us to so directly?

I'm with the Black Eyed Peas, where is the love? Love isn't just a feeling sought after by one too many poets and artists, it is something that we are all called to do. Love one another as I have loved you. That is our mission in life. We are called to love. I look around, even at my Catholic friends and family, and what I see is not the kind of love God is asking us to give to others. Every single day, He asks us to follow in His footsteps and just LOVE. Can we do it? Can we love as He loved us? If not, how can we ask Him to love us? This is His commandment, this is the rule that trumps all else. While it is such a simple, commonly heard phrase, it just might be one of the the most difficult things that will ever be asked of us.