Called to be Stewards

My husband and I were watching American Ninja Warriors the other night, and were totally and completely impressed with this guy, Drew Knapp, who not only completed the ANW course in 3 minutes and twenty five seconds, advancing to the finals, but did so in jaw dropping fashion by finishing the fifth course by running and flipping mid-air into a head stand!

It was incredible, and I found him (and so many of the ANW competitors) so inspiring after learning about his back story.  So many of these guys overcome so much adversity by discipling and applying themselves to this very difficult but rewarding lifestyle of training.

What also caught my eye was the scripture verse he had written on his body.  Did you catch it? The verse he was pointing us to was 1 Peter 4: 10.  I found myself scrambling to my bible to read what message he was trying to send.  The verse says: As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.  

I thought that was so awesome.  This guy just completed something men and women alike are awed by, and what does he do?  He turns the praise towards God’s goodness. Amazing.

Another video that I have always found immensely inspiring is this video from Italy’s The Voice.  It’s a couple of years old, but I was so moved by it I thought I would share in case you haven’t seen it.  I recommend watching the whole video, but if you wish, fast forward to 3:07 to hone more quickly in on my point.

 

When asked why she is there (a nun!?) Sr. Cristina’s response was: I have a gift and I am giving it to you.  Shouldn’t things be this way?  To which everyone responds, Bravo, bravo! 

Coming from the mouth of someone say, like Donald Trump or Kanye West, the audience might receive her message as completely arrogant and therefore vapid.

But with her, there is no hint of arrogance in her voice.  Her confidence is centered wholly and completely in her realization that she is a daughter of Christ, and all good things that she possesses and the talents that she has, have been given to her by Him to use for the betterment of the world.   She was telling the world the same thing that we read in 1 Peter:  As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.  And just look at the response!  I have always been so moved by this video, particularly because of the response we see in the shows “hardest” of judges, J-AX, a well known rapper in Italy, whose very body draws you into an image of death with the skull-and-wings tattoo he has on his neck and who claimed himself to be “the devil” to her “holy water.” He was visibly the most moved of them all–moved even to the point of tears upon seeing who he turned for: this little, humble-all-the-way-to-her-shoes nun, rocking out for God.

The lyrics took on a whole new meaning for him in that moment:

You and me together
Through the days and nights
I don’t worry ’cause
Everything’s going to be alright 

No one can get in the way of what I feel for You. 

She went on to win the whole competition, and she did it while turning well-known pop songs into love ballads to the Lord.

So often it is so easy to just go on living life, willingly unaware of our truly powerful and great potential to accomplish amazing things in this life for God.  God has blessed each and everyone of us with different talents and abilities, and if we work to discipline those talents, make the very best of them, then go forth and do something for God with them, we can change peoples lives and inspire others to do the same.  Whether you are good at navigating through intense obstacle courses because you are insanely fit, or a good singer, or have the ability to speak so that people listen to you; whether you are organized and a good leader, an artist, a good writer, or are the life of the party–whatever your gifts are…if you seek to use these gifts to points others to God, you will begin to change the world.

We all see the incredible ripple effect people have on the world when they use their gifts for some other end in mind (be it pleasure, success, wealth, power, etc.). Today we are bombarded with messages that are so totally far from God’s law, ultimately, because the world is going crazy.  Yet, we all thirst and we are all in need of God’s goodness, and it is up to us to be the love of God in the world.

Sure, Drew Knapp would’ve still been incredibly impressive in his competing and completing the ANW challenge, but he did so much more than impress with his abilities–he used his abilities to point people towards God’s kingdom; to send the message that each of us are given gifts by God that we are called to use for others as instruments of God’s grace in the world.  Sure, Sister Cristina could have stayed in the convent, singing quietly in the chorus in her chapel, but had she done that the world would not have been afforded the opportunity of seeing God’s grace working in her life.   (J-ax would not have considered what it would have been like had he met her earlier: “Maybe I would have become the Pope!”)

I’ll leave you with a quote:

We become most truly human in the measure in which we go out of ourselves and give ourselves for the sake of others. This ‘law of the gift’… is inscribed deep in the dynamic structure of the person as fashioned in the image of the divine.  ‘The human being, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself, cannot attain its full identity except through a disinterested gift of self’ (GS 24).

Your giftedness is an opportunity to show to the world the true gift you have been given: the life you live in Christ, who loves you and gave his life for you.

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For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property…and he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more. His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a littler, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash teeth. (Matthew 25:14-30)

 

Treat Yo’Self

This morning I got up and did something I’ve never done before:  After waking up to feed Lucia at 4:50am (a norm), I laid back in bed only to follow a moment of inspiration to get up out of bed and go for a run with our dog. Me? Awake and Active? At 5am? Usually things like this pop into my head, but I always ignore them choosing instead to wake up groggily and grouchily to my little boy sitting on my head asking when we can get up.  I usually have to convince myself to get out of bed, mostly because I know my babies need a diaper change and breakfast.  It’s hardly gracious, and it’s rarely without excessive prompting from my children.

It was a great morning and offered me the opportunity to have some time to myself to pray, exercise, sort through bills, have my morning coffee, watch a little bit of this movie, and (gasp!) take a shower!  All accomplished by my lonesome and without any interruptions.  It was beautiful, and I’ve attacked more on my to-do list in these last few hours than I have in weeks. I suppose that’s why St. Jose Maria Escriva referred to this moment as the “heroic” moment.

He says:

The heroic minute. It is the time to get up, on the dot!  Without hesitation, a supernatural thought and…up!  The heroic minute; here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does not weaken your body.  

How is it that heroic minutes come in small moments?  It happens in two ways, the first being self-denial. Our world today tells us that the path to happiness is exactly the opposite: happiness lies in self-gratification.  It tells us day after day, and moment after moment to give in to our bodily desires.  It tells us to eat what pleases you, laze about if it suits you, put in the minimal amount of work to get through your day, have sex whenever you want with whomever you want “worry free”; relax and indulge, relax and indulge.  The idea of self-denial is so foreign to our modern world, and most all of us (in some way or another) have forgotten that achieving something great takes self-denial and commitment.  Just as Tommy Haverford and Donna Meagle from “Parks and Recreation” once said:
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But unlike Tommy and Donna who devote merely one day a year to “treating” themselves, we’ve become accustomed to treating ourselves on a daily basis.

Sure, I could have laid in bed today and gotten a few more hours of sleep, but I wouldn’t have had the special time to myself outside to take a deep breath and offer up some prayers before having to tackle the day.  Today, continuing to lay in bed would have been (in my groggy little head) optimal and the most comfortable, but it wouldn’t have allowed me to accomplish so much before my day even usually begins.  In that moment this morning I was able to overcome my own immediate sensible desires to accomplish something much more gratifying.  For so long now I have been desiring to begin exercising regularly, but day after day I am faced with a schedule that is jam packed with things do with home and family.  I’ve known for a while that the best time for me to exercise is in the morning before everyone is awake, but I’ve never been able to actually say yes to the day and wake up immediately to work.   On top of all that, it afforded me the opportunity to wake up on my own and clear my head, a moment that is so very precious to a parent who is about to devote her whole day to her family.  This moment, in turn, made me a better and more attentive mom today.

Why does St. Escriva remind us that mortification of our bodily desires is key to living a happy and heroic life?  Because mortification (the action of subduing one’s bodily desires) is discipline.  Mortification refines our very body and souls, which are so often inclined towards sloth, envy, greed, lust, pride, anger, and gluttony in one small form or another.   Jose Maria also says, The world admires only the spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of the sacrifice that is hidden and silent.  Simple ways to sanctify ourselves involve willingly taking on seemingly small sacrifices.  In those moments when you choose to get out of bed to do something productive for yourself and your body, when you choose to omit inappropriate comments or judgements from your conversations, when you smile at someone who really kind of drives you nuts, when you carry on in kind company with people you’d rather not be around, when you make the time to exercise,  when you willingly pass on putting creamer (a half cup if you are me) in your coffee, and when you chose to ignore those pet peeves in  your family members that just make you crazy…these seemingly small choices to rise above have a great impact on your body and soul.  Truly, in these moments, you are strengthening your will, and thus continuing to build a better version of yourself.

We are so accustomed to “treating” ourselves that we’ve become almost wholly immune in one way or another to the fact that we often refuse to deny ourselves.  Wants become needs, and the difference between the two is blurred only by “Can I get this with my prime membership, or not?”  The cup of ice-cream before bed becomes routine; the new shoes you want become the sixteenth pair in your closet; and the desire to laze about more than exercise becomes the flabby belly surrounding the six-pack of abs you so desire.  (Surely they’re hidden in there somewhere, right?)

It’s a subtle but slippery slope.

The second way that heroic minutes comes in small moments is through response.  Notice that Jose Maria points out that it is through a “supernatural thought” that one is prompted towards greatness.  Often times, these nudgings of the Spirit are quiet and unassuming; they go completely unnoticed if we don’t open our hearts to them. Yet, when we respond to the Spirit within us, who gives a supernatural tone to all of our thoughts if we but let him, we are daily more conformed into his likeness.  Listen to him.  Pray to Him.  Respond to Him.  He is the guide that, like any loving father, wants the ultimate best for you.

In writing this I’m not saying I’m perfect.  I fully realize that this was one day in a whole long history of days where I was able to sucker-punch my immediate desire for more rest in the face and get up.  And 5am?  I’m pretty sure that’s going to be a tough challenge to turn into a habit.  But today gave me the opportunity to hope and dream for more days like these to come, and what’s more…to know that they are possible.  That’s what mortification does for us: it reminds us that we can order even those seemingly small things we indulge in, and to acknowledge that there is something much more grand awaiting us on the other end of it all.

I’m sure there are many more days to come where I am not able to live out this “heroic minute,” but oh what I learned when I did. Today I was able to reflect on the reality that “no ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice,” and for that I am very thankful.

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Perfection in an Imperfect World

I have this really weird habit that when I do something that makes me feel unsettled, (ever so slightly) like doing my make up a little different, or (in a more major way) like doing something stupid and sinful, I always end up telling people.

I’ve been obsessing over why I do this. I mean, it’s not like I want people to know these habits of mine (sometimes awful) and these occasions of sin that I fall into, so why do I let it all out when I am with them. I even coach myself ahead of time to not say anything and plan on confessing those more serious sins instead, but then I get in a group situation and spill all of my dirty and rotten beans on the floor.

I think I finally figured it out: I want reassurance.  I want to hear in their voices, and see on their faces that even though I did something different, or weird, or stupid and sinful that I am still alright. What’s more than that, I want to hear that they approve of what I have done by relating to what I have done. I want to hear that my friends and family have also done similar stupid things and laugh together at our weaknesses. This makes me feel like I am not the only flawed and imperfect human being on the planet.

Yet, today I read in scripture Jesus saying: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

I think this is one of the most overlooked passages in scripture. For the most part I believe it’s because all of us want what I described above. We want to share in each other’s flaws and imperfections.   We are cool with settling in the reality that we are just “alright.” “Yeah sure, I mess up. But who doesn’t! Que, sera sera!”

This isn’t what God wants for our lives. Jesus finished telling us to be perfect after one of the hardest teachings in scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon, Jesus tells us that we are to be poor in spirit, mournful, and meek. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, and be clean of heart. We are to be peacemakers, and because of our thirst for righteousness we are to be persecuted. We will be insulted, slandered and attacked; yet we are to rejoice and be glad.

Easy, right?

No. Not easy. If I am truly honest, I am but a tiny fraction of each of these things. I am proud and content with myself in my life. I desire righteousness but spend my day desiring and actually watching Netflix, the Real Housewives of New York City, and worrying about my appetite more than I do cultivating my spiritual life and my relationship with God. I would like to think that I am clean of heart, but I have no problem watching (sometimes binge watching) tv shows that promote salacious sexuality, immorality, and violence, all the while judging the sometimes very real and broken people in these shows. I am anything but righteous and I run from confrontations where I will be put down for the sake of my beliefs.

It’s a hard reality to admit our true flaws, and admit that we are anything but what God calls us to be. It’s a hard reality to swallow the fact that most of us would rather stew in our own “alrightness” than actively and daily seek righteousness so much so that we go out of our way to be uncomfortable in our own spirits: to mourn and pray for those who are suffering, to actively avoid those things that pull us away from God, to put our own selfish desires down so that we can lift up others and their needs before our own.

Our world tells us a grand lie, everyday: that holiness is not attainable. Most of us reserve this title for those special set apart people, like Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint John Paul II. We look at these people as if they have been gifted with “extra-special” graces to accomplish grand and truly holy things for God. But listen to what these two saintly people say about holiness itself:

Mother Teresa said,

We must have a real living determination to reach holiness. I will be a saint means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God.

Saint John Paul II said,

Holiness is to raise one’s eyes to the summits. It is intimacy with God the Father who is in heaven. In this intimacy, each one of us is aware of our nature with all its limitations.

They’re saying exactly what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount: that holiness is possible, and it is possible through a sincere detachment from the self and a real attachment to Jesus Christ. We are capable of truly “raising our eyes to the summits”; raising them above our very flawed and imperfect world that we live and act in every day.  Ultimately, this is what true perfection really is: living out our lives striving to be exactly who God calls us to be.

I love what Saint Augustine has to say about this: “Wherever you begin to be please with yourself, there you stop.  If you say: ‘That is enough; I am not interested in going any further,’ you are lost.”  If each of us could wake up each day, and try desperately to rise above our own “alrightness”, through Christ, I think this is the beginning that we all hope for. This is the “change” we want to see in the world.

The change begins at home.

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(The image up top is by Yongsung Kim )

 

Worry in the midst

We just got home from a beautiful vacation in Tulum, Mexico. It was seriously incredible, but I have to admit that I was a little anxious about going. (My husband would probably interject here by saying, a little?!”) I was worried about a few things: We got word a few months ago that the Zika virus was growing and those who were pregnant or within child-bearing years and planning on having a child soon were advised to avoid areas were Zika is prevalent. Even though we haven’t “planned” to have our next baby, since we practice NFP and are always open to the possibility of becoming pregnant, it was quite worrisome. I was also worried because I just got home from a trip to New Mexico where I flew by myself with my two babies. If you know anything about flying with toddlers and babies, you know it is vital to have as many hands (ahem, help) as you can find. Although people are generally nice to unassuming disheveled, sweaty, and on-the-verge-of-crying women toting two children by themselves, the only “help” I really received was pity. (Awe, you poor thing—that looks hard!) It was hard. Really, really hard. Though I made it through and we got home safe and sound, I was not ready to jump back on a plane with my toddler and little bald, non-paci taking, jump-on-your-head-the-whole-flight monkey of a baby. On top of all that, the weather while we were there called for 80% chance of thunderstorms every single day. Reading into it a bit, I convinced myself that the possibility of a hurricane hitting us was ever-so real, and that we were absolutely nutty for heading into the eye of a week long storm.

In the end, where my anxiety lead me on these crazy worry-filled delusions about how our trip was going to go (I’d contract Zika, we’d land in Mexico and be detained because of our nutty children, and then we’d get ravished by the largest hurricane to hit the Caribbean coast, ever)…it wasn’t just an alright trip. It was an incredible one. The weather was just overcast enough that we didn’t have to worry about our kids swimming all day. The home we stayed in was the most beautiful place we could have ever imagined. (Thanks M&D). The flight went well. And wouldn’t you know it: I didn’t even contract Zika.

I write all this because despite all my worrying everything went beautifully.

Yet, when we got home we were barraged by real and truly worrisome things. Soon after landing we heard about the young talented and beautiful artist from the Voice who was violently gunned down at her own concert. Then, not 24 hours later, we woke up to the devastating news that 50 people were targeted in a hate-crime and act of terrorism that left the Nation mourning the largest mass-shooting in our Country’s history. I believe we all feel the weight of the pain and suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters. It is truly a tragedy.

That same day my family and I went to a family friend’s son’s birthday party. It was outside, and the weather called for sunny skies with a warm breeze.   We arrived to a really awesome and pinterest-worthy “robot” party, the theme being “Flash, Boom, Bang!” We grabbed ourselves some beers and plopped down on the ground to enjoy some friendly conversation. We weren’t there long when a few clouds appeared in the sky and the temperature seemed to drop a bit. I casually asked my husband if the weather called for rain. He said, “No it’s supposed to be sunny today and tomorrow.” Then all of a sudden the winds shifted, and dark ominous clouds covered the neighborhood we were in. I saw a real look of concern hit my husband’s face, and looked around to see the same look on a few men around me. I got this dreadful feeling. A tornado?? Out of nowhere I heard a huge crack and locked eyes on what they were looking at. A huge live tree branch snapped from a tree and was falling down, on power lines! To top it off, under the power lines was a swing set with a little girl buckled in. Everyone scrambled, and a loud POP of an explosion occurred. I screamed internally, and grabbed my sons arms literally dragging him out of the yard while holding my baby and saw my husband turn to try to help the little girl out. There were two more small explosions in the midst of all the chaos, but we all made it safely across the street.  It was probably the most terrifying thing I have experienced while having my children with me. I think we were all a bit in shock. PRAISE JESUS, everybody was safe and everything turned out ok. (Talk about “flash, boom, bang!”)

All of this leaves me with this feeling that is terrifying and completely comforting at the same time: Our lives are not in our hands. Our lives do not truly belong to us in the way that we just daily assume that they do. Our lives—our very breath—are in the hands of our very good and merciful Savior’s.   Most of us are daily conquered by worry and fear, whether it be over trivial things, or because of really truly serious things. Yet Scripture says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  (Is 41:10)

While this is true, it is equally as true that you just might find yourself in the midst of a hurricane or on the ground after a tree branch has hit you over the head. (That’s actually happened to me too, btw.) None of us are exempt from suffering physical pains, because we are both spiritual and bodily beings, and let’s just say it: shit happens.  We might get in a car wreck, get attacked by an aggressor, or face more quiet pains like cancer or yes, even Zika.  We are all human, and our mortality is interwoven in the fact that we are fallen created beings. Yet, even the physical pain you experience here on earth cannot tear you away from your bond with the one who created you.  He is always with you.

However…

We never should cease trembling in the reality that what can tear us away from Him is the failure to respond to his call, and the direct denial and turning away from Him towards things that are of this world, and so lacking in Him. Our true worries should be focused on this reality: on the reality of dying in a state that is anything but grace.

In the midst of all chaos, God continuously calls us all to turn back towards Him with all of our hearts.  He has done this out of love of his people, since the beginning of time.  Embrace Him and do it now. Do it today. Don’t wait until you think you’re ready, or until you find the “right” means of praying. Sit down, and make time for Him. Devote your day to Him: all your fears and anxieties, all your joys and exultations. Confess your sins and repent of all the times that you chose the things of this world over Him.  Lift up your heart to Him so fully, on a daily basis, so that when you face tribulation (be it spiritual, physical, or both) you know with certainty that you are not alone and that He is by your side truly present with you. Don’t let fear overcome you, but rest assured in the One who not only loves you, but loves you so much that He willingly took on unfathomable pain and suffering for you, so that you might have eternal life and rest easy and worry free in Him for all eternity.

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Pray today for the repose of all those lost souls:

Lord God, we humbly entrust to you Christina Grimmie and all the shooting victims in Orlando, as well as their assailants.  Deliver them now from all evil and let your perpetual light shine upon them. 

We look with hope to you, that you will welcome them into your Kingdom, where all sorrow, pain, and worry dissipates, and peace and joy in your Son and the Holy Spirit remains forever. 

Lord God, we pray also for those mourning the loss of loved ones. May you let us find in your Son comfort in our sadness, certainty in our doubt, and courage to live through this hour.  Make our faith strong through Christ our Lord. Amen