The God with Broad Shoulders

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have it all together.  There are multiple areas in my life where I usually am in some state of disarray and loss.  We have all made cries to God from the depths of our heart and watched and waited…only for His answer to be “No” or, perhaps even more hard for comprehension, “Wait, there will be a better time for that.  Trust me.”

The “Wait” answer drives me crazy.   There have been times in my life when I couldn’t understand His plan or hand in my life, which for the type-A, obsessed with planning, oldest child and controlling person that I am, was torturous.

I was angry at God.

It wasn’t like when I was angry at a person – that I could always get away with either justifying or working through.  But with God?  I was having trouble even wrapping my mind around the emotions that I could even experience anger towards the God who loved me so much that He sent His only son to die for me.

I crawled to adoration and poured out my heart in the ink of gel pens and journal pages.  I drenched adoration hours with the sound of countless Hail Mary’s, wondering if even my closest mother would desire to listen to me in my anger and struggles.  Many times, I found myself simply staring at the Eucharist, questioning my sanity for believing that, in that tiny white host was contained the God of the Universe.  And then, an even more monstrously shocking realization to struggle with entered my thoughts – that the God under the appearance of the Eucharist wanted a relationship with this broken, muddled life like mine.

Emotions in and of themselves are not bad – in fact, they’re neutral.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in part with Saint Thomas Aquinas {what a stud} tackle the subject and say:

In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. Passions are said to be voluntary, “either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way.”  It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason. (CCC 1767)

The beauty of free will results in the ability to channel our passions and emotions.  Passions are amazing things actually, within them held the potential to either glorify God and create a stronger bond with Him, or to sever a relationship with Him due to pride and improper channeling.

So when anger rears its ugly head in our spiritual life, what is the answer? Internalize? Become scrupulous? Bury our anger because we can’t possibly be angry with a God who is love itself?

Being a musician, I find that other artists are able to vocalize the themes teaming in my thoughts. In this case, it was the dear old friend of mine, Mumford and Sons who embodied my struggle in their song, “Broad Shouldered Beasts.”

But when you feel the world wrapping round your neck,  feel my hand wrapped in yours. And when you feel the world wrapping round your neck, don’t succumb. But it’s alright, take it out on me.  (Mumford and Sons, Broad Shouldered Beasts)

If we viewed our relationship with God through a similar lens as we viewed our relationships with our best friends, closest family, and dearest lovers, our approach may shift directions. Too often there is a viewpoint presented of God as a being so high in the clouds that we can never consider ourselves close enough to His heart to merit conversation.  There couldn’t be a larger lie.

The reality of our relationship with God – or the capacity that we have within our hearts to communicate and commune with God – is that He stands for us and behind us…and is big enough to take our anger and transform it from a cancerous thought that plagues our mind and rots in our soul to an energy that allows us to rise up from our past and create our future alongside Him.  

 Who will rise up for me against the wicked?  Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?  Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.  When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (Psalm 94: 16-19)

When anger against God’s plan {or perceived lack of plan} in your life rises up, don’t squish it down inside of yourself under the notion that you can’t experience that emotion.  The key in the process is channeling your stress and anger into something productive.  When thoughts like I don’t know why this is happening to me or this situation is more than I can handle come into your mind, channel them.  Channel your thoughts into prayer.

Lord, I don’t know why this is happening to me, but I know your plan for me is amazing and outside of my wildest dreams.  Help me turn to you, take my heart and make it whole.

Dear GOD this situation is more than I can handle and I’m weak.  Bring me support and consolation and help me to rise out this temptation and struggle to glorify you.

Your anger is not too much for God to handle.  Neither is your personality, joys, experiences, struggles and pain.  Saint Teresa of Avila said, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.”

So don’t settle for asking for clarity.  Ask for sainthood.  Ask for holiness.  Ask for Divine Assistance to work through what your struggling with and ask Him to transform your life.  Because not only CAN He help you, but He’s just waiting, arms open, for you to turn around and run into His arms.  Cast your anxieties on Him.

He has broad shoulders.  

 

 

 

 

 

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The Internal Flame

This past weekend, the Christmas season ended with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. What a perfect glimpse into the exploration of the beauty of the sacrament.  Christ Himself was pure of all sin – Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.”  Christ’s baptism directs us to the realization that a cleansing of the soul from original sin is necessary for a relationship with God.

Baptism is so important, in fact, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “This sacrament is also called “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one can enter the kingdom of God” (1215).  Without Baptism, whether that be of water, blood or desire, the soul is not capable of a relationship with God because the darkness of original sin inhibits a relationship.  Blinded by the nature of sin, the soul cannot see the God who desires so deeply to be intimate with it.

When the light of the baptismal candle is lit, inside the soul, a light begins to flicker.  Gone is the darkness of original sin, and in its stead is the beauty of the inklings of a relationship.  A God who desires to be intimate with who He created.  Galatians 4:3-7 reads:

“So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.  But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.”

Let the reality of this insane mystery set in : GOD, who made the world you stand on today, who created your lungs to hold the perfect amount of air, who keeps the earth in orbit, with whom the sun could not shine and the entire universe would be unsustainable without His loving presence, calls YOU His son or daughter.

For so long in the history of religion throughout world, forms of divinity and deity were distant, up in the heavens and separated from their creation.  Incas and Mayans feared the wrath of multiple deities in their daily lives.  The Romans and Greeks lived in the constant fear that angering their gods would result in a poor harvest, death, disease and pain.

Yet we call God Father.  If understood in its fullness, we would never be able to get past this phrase when we pray the Our Father because we would be in such a state of awe over the love God has for us.

Parents wait nine months to meet their child.  And believe me, as the oldest of eight children, I know that the nine months of pregnancy can feel like an eternity.  But in comparison to the anticipation that God has for your time on this earth, those nine months are like a speck of dust.  God has been waiting for you for eternity.

David sings of this incredible love when he wrote in Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in a secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before even one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.”

What a responsibility that the parents and godparents of this soul take onto their shoulders.  Out of love for this newly baptized soul and the desire to see him or her reach the final destination of Heaven, they are called to shield this little flame against the temptations and trials of the world.  It is not simply a duty that is fulfilled on the day of the baptism – stand in the right place, look here for pictures, hold this candle and don’t catch anything on fire.  No – it is a call to battle that does not end until either the soul put into your care passes into the next world and eternity with his maker, or you pass before and begin to intercede and encourage from the other side.

Saints have tapped into the idea of this flame for centuries.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote, “Go forth and set the world on fire,” and Saint Catherine of Sienna famously penned, “Be who you were created to be and you will set the world on fire.”

This is not to say that it will always be easy to keep the fire burning within yourself.  In fact, as one matures and finds their dignity and value in Christ, the devil takes special interest in ruining the relationship between the God of the Universe and His beloved children.

This setting of things on fire indicates that your internal flame isn’t destined to stay in it’s current form though.  Life is not meant to be lived warmed by the small, flickering glow of that baptismal candle.  Instead, with each passing day, the flame should be nurtured and built until it reaches a full blaze, not able to be contained within the soul of it’s origin.  When the flame reaches its fullest blast, it bursts out into the world, reaching the hearts of those who come into contact with the soul who is ablaze with love for God.


What a Mountain Hike Taught me about God

In 64 days, 15 hours, 32 minutes and 48 seconds {but who is counting?} Spring Break 2016 will be here.  Up until just last year, Spring Break meant nothing to me but a week to pack in some work hours and enjoy a breath of fresh air from homework that was breathing down my neck.  That all changed in Spring of 2015.  On an absolute chance, a dear friend asked me if I’d like to join her on a hike through Big Bend National Park in Texas, and on an adventurous streak, I said yes.

Little did I know what that yes would entail.  Morning prayer at sunrise, dashing down miles of mountain to make it to a cache site, desperation felt in the pouring rain.  Not showering for days, forgetting what I looked like and having no technology to lean on as a crutch for communication.  Honest conversation and blatant struggles that bonded human beings together like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Swinging a backpack onto my back and wondering if I’d ever be able to get up if I sat down one more time.  Countless rosaries and eating an entire half of a summer sausage by myself in one sitting.

I still have yet to eat summer sausage again.  

But through the entire experience, there are significant things that stand out to me as I reflect on last year’s trip.

I saw God on that mountain.

Before this trip, I had never felt the absolute desperate, heart-aching need for God.  Yes, I had a relationship with Him that was growing stronger in my college years, but it was very much a relationship of the head and not the heart.  Yet when you are struggling up a mountain path and have fifty pounds of gear on your back pressing you into the mud, prayer comes almost as a second nature.  The conversations that I had with God changed from “Hey God it’s me, can you give me something?” to “Dear God help me.  I can’t do this without you.”  And I can tell you right now – no amount of training could have allowed me to climb that mountain.  The level of endurance that pushed me to the top of the peak and granted me the enjoyment of the view from the rim was something that only God could have done.

I had never felt so alive.

I like to say I’m adventurous.  I try new foods, talk to people I don’t know and have traveled all over the world and even different dimensions {okay, that last one is only when I’m reading books but it still counts, right?} But I have never pushed myself physically so far out of my comfort zone as that hiking trip allowed me to.  And the satisfaction of knowing that I {with an incredible help from God and those on the hike with me} conquered something as  large as a hike that lasted almost a week set a fire inside of my heart and soul that has continued to burn, even almost a year later.

I have seen a lot of beautiful places on this earth.  The sunrise in Colorado.  The rushing streets of Washington DC halted for a crowd showing their support of unborn children.  The smell of rain in Seattle, Washington. But never will it compare to the beauty experienced in Big Bend.  It could be because I was tired, coffee-deprived and genuinely searching for the beauty in the little things, but the simplistic beauty of the stars over your head and a warm freeze-dried meal to keep you warm are without exaggeration among the best memories of my life.  And the exhilaration that runs through you when you conquer a goal and stand at the top of a mountain peak and experience Mass on the heights is out-of-this-world.    Truly I have never felt so alive as I did on that mountain, and it easily racks up as my favorite place on this earth.

I conquered fears and demons.

Honesty hour – there was a lot of fears and demons in my life that I thought through on those days where we had miles to hike, and rain pouring down our backs.  I was questioning God’s plan, wondering what the heck He wanted from me and mulling over things that I had started thinking about long before the hike started.  I was working through the emotions of a dating fast, grappling with fears and trust that God did in fact have a plan for my life.

I opened up with friends about issues going on in my life.  I trusted people that I had just met less than seven days ago with my well-being.  Most importantly, I talked to God more than I had ever done before.

I learned that there is joy in all circumstances.

After the Big Bend trip, I love hearing the verse from Philippians 4:11-13 that reads, “ I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  There is so much joy to be found in this world.  I’ll say it before, I’ll say it again …. it’s the little things.  It’s the beauty of a cactus that blooms in the dessert for the benefit of bringing glory to it’s maker.  It’s the taste of barbecue freeze-dried chicken that warms you up before you lay your head down for the night.  It’s the companionship of saying “Let’s pray a rosary” when descending a mountain.  It’s waking up from a night of rain and mud and seeing the sunrise out your tent window.  It’s talking in British accents to cope and laughing over the most ridiculous things.  It’s Mumford and Sons and picking your spirit animal around the campfire.  It’s the joy of loving a God and seeing Him in everything.  And realizing His love for you is so great that He shows it to you everywhere you look.

It is not the mountain we conquer…but ourselves. – Sir Edmund Hilary 

My Friends the Saints

There are countless things that I love about being Catholic.  There have been multiple times when exiting Mass that I cannot get over the love of a God who humbles Himself under the appearance of bread to spend time with me.  An increasing Marian devotion has made me appreciate the beauty of the feminine genius.  And any time that I open up a book written by John Paul II, my heart melts with appreciation for the beauty of the Church.

However, recently, I’ve fallen into a deeper love affair with the Catholic tradition of recognizing Saints in the life of the Church.  In a time of transition in my life, when my community from my college years shifts, and my life begins to take adult turns, the stability in the saints as my dearest friends has been a steady presence in my life this year.

So, because I can’t do each one of my friends, the saints, justice – here are some things I have enjoyed particular in my relationships with the saints if you are looking to delve into a friendship you’ll never regret.

The saints struggled and strove for the same holiness you are called to.

The saints are not holier-than-thou beings that sit up in Heaven judging you about how your journey to Heaven is going.  Instead, they are very real human beings who, frankly, messed up and struggled too.  There is an incredible beauty of reliability that occurs between the Church militant and the Church triumphant – a sharing of both a struggle and goal.

A shared experience has the unique power to bond two parties together.  Last Spring Break, I went on a Lenten hike through a national park in Texas.  The people who I hiked with had a few things in common with me – we were all college students, Catholic, and the outdoors appealed to us.  Yet after six days together, pouring rain, glorious sunshine and tents that leaked a little more than I preferred, the shared experience of that hike has become a connecting factor between all of us.  In application of our relationships with the saints, each one of them was an imperfect human being with a desire to reach Heaven and His heart.  So although the time that you walked on this earth differs from theirs, or your life stories have great variations, the shared experience of the journey to Heaven connects you in more ways than is possible to know.

There is a saint for ever struggle because every saints was a sinner.

Without exaggeration, there is a saint for every struggle known to man. Saint patronages exist not because the saint had successful conquered all temptations and lived with a soul as clean as snow for the rest of their life, but instead because the saint experienced a struggle with that vice.  Venerable Matt Talbot is not the patron of those who struggle with addictions and alcohol abuse because he had life figured out in those areas.  Rather, we intercede to him because he spent over sixteen years racking up an incredible amount of debt at local bars because of substance abuse, yet was able to delve into the struggle thanks to daily Mass and a devotion to Mary.

My favorites include Saint Jerome, who was introverted and cranky, but people still flocked to him because of his relationship with Christ and knowledge of the faith…so they made him the patron of those who struggle with tempers {like yours truly}.  Or Saint Drogo, patron saint of coffee…although despite lengthy research, I can’t quite explain why that patronage exists.

There are saints for every state of life, from single {Saint Maria Goretti, Saint Lucy, Saint Lawrence} to those called to a religious vocation {Saint John of the Cross, Saint Theresa of Avila, Saint John Vianney} to those who are called to marriage {Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, Saints Isidore and Maria.}

 
You cannot fall in love with someone unless you talk to them.

If the walls of my car could talk, they would tell you some stellar stories.  Those who know me also know that my perfectionism begs me to have conversations out loud in my car before I have them with the person they are intended for.  Yes, I play both parts of the conversation, and yes, I do voice impersonations.  On the negative side of that habit, it becomes incredibly frustrating when those real-life conversations don’t play out exactly as I had meticulously planned for them to go.

Yet the relationships that benefit the most from my car conversations are my relationships with the saints.  Having a three hour car ride is no problem because that means bonding time with my Heavenly favorites – Saint Zelie Martin, Saint Maria Goretti and Saint John Paul II and I have had amazingly good heart-to-hearts on the drives back and forth from destinations.

If you think about your relationship with the saints in the same way that you would your relationship with human beings who walk the earth with you, it makes sense that a need for conversation would arise.  Granted, my heart-to-hearts with the Martins are not nearly as conversational as my heart-to-hearts with my dear friends over coffee.  Yet the aspect of praying with and to the saints for intercession concerning their patronage is key to your relationship with them.

Heaven is going to be amazing when you get to spend eternity with those who helped you through the trenches.