Monday, September 23, 2013

Name and Claim It

A little over a month ago, I hurt my wrist exercising. I was training for a very important fitness test. I had to crank out those push-ups. It was do or die. So when my wrist started hurting, I ignored it. It was inconvenient. Why let it stop me from accomplishing my goal?

I kept working out. It kept hurting. Soon, I had no choice but to acknowledge it. The pain a "little sprain" was causing me was too much to ignore. And now here I am, more than a month later and worse off than when I started. I have to wrap my wrist for practice as it practically cuts off my circulation. That's no fun. I have to do "wrist strengthening exercises," (who has time for that?), and, worst of all, I can't practice playing the ukulele anymore. Yes, that's right. My current joy in life has been taken from me.

Funny, isn't it, that I ignored the sprain so I could get better at push-ups, and now as a result, I am unable to do even a single one.

So, my wrist isn't that big of a deal. It's inconvenient. That's it. However, sin...sin IS a big deal. And really, sin's a lot like a little wrist sprain.

It usually starts off small. We mess up once or twice, and as a result, we feel sore a bit. But then we ignore it. It's just a little sin.  Maybe we do so because we think it's too small, too unimportant. Maybe we think that it won't get in the way of our quest toward Heaven. What's one little sin in the grand scheme of things? We've got work to do. We can't stop and spend forever fixing one silly flaw.

This approach causes the situation to snowball. We sin a bit more, and this time, the effects hit us harder. A little soreness eventually escalates into sharp, shooting pain. This pain is so severe that often we are confronted with the realization that we have no choice but to acknowledge it.

That's when we've got to come to God, our "doctor" or "trainer." He sits us down and asks us to identify the problem. Then He gives us a plan to fix it.

But the thing is, we've let the sin grow so much by now that it won't be easy to remove. What could have been a quick fix at the start of the issue is now a lengthy process. The sin, and its resulting pain, has been ingrained in us by now. It is tattooed upon us, and it's no easy process to rid ourselves of its mark. It is robbing us of our joy in life. We can't enjoy whatever our "ukulele" is in life because we've let it get this far. We can't be happy because this sin has taken over our very being.

But luckily for us, God gives us a chance to come clean, to start over.

Reconciliation. Our God is a God of mercy. He forgives us, but we must reach the point where we want this forgiveness.We must be ready to forgive ourselves. And, most difficult of all, we must be willing to become vulnerable, to admit that we messed up, and to bear our sins.

This vulnerability is difficult. Who likes admitting we've messed up? But it's necessary. It's necessary to stop the cycle, the cycle in which we sin and ignore it and ignore it and ignore it until it is all we can think about. Until it gets to the point that the sin is too great and the pain too sharp to ignore.

No one wants to reach this point. Trust me.

Unfortunately, however, many of us will. And when we do, it's up to us to dig deep and bring our sins to the table. We've got to name and claim them if we want them to go away. Ignore them, and we end up chained to them.

Connections made in string are much easier to break than connections made of chain.

So, whatever the sin--big or small, new-found or years in the making--I encourage you to name and claim it and to stop it at its roots before these roots become too big to remove.Though you may need to dig deep and risk opening yourself up to God, I have no doubt that this is the only way to get better. This is the only way to find the strength to pick yourself up and start climbing toward the goal again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why Not?

If I had read this blog over a year ago, I would have laughed at myself, even mocked myself. I had this image in my head of those teens who tweeted Bible verses and listened to Christian music. They spent their Friday nights reading the Bible. They avoided secular music like the plague. And they condemned to hell anyone who passed by them with shorts less than an inch above their knees. Suffice it to say, I was not interested.

It's crazy to think of myself this time last year, right before I really started delving into my faith. My reputation was most likely defined by my crazy personality, dachshund racing obsession, excessive nose-blowing during allergy season, and talent show rap performances. The most religious thing about me was probably just my name.

Going through the motions. That's how I like to describe my attitude toward faith for those 16 years.

Half of my high school career and all of my LIFE was spent half-heartedly engaging in my faith. But then, my image of a Christian teen starting shifting, and I started becoming the person I had secretly laughed at. I definitely did not have it all figured out, and I still don't! But I've at least been trying. That's the difference. Trying. 

Before, I didn't feel the need to put into anything into my faith. I wasn't trying to grow closer to God. I may have wanted it, but I wasn't dedicated to actually establishing this relationship.

Like I said, I'm only beginning down this path, but even just one year into taking my faith seriously, I can see the difference. I can see that the path I was on before was not the right path. Sure, I could have walked that route my entire life and still been successful and happy, but it still was not the right path. And it's not the right path for anyone.

That path, the path of ignorance toward God, can make you happy and give you money and more...but it cannot make you joyful--truly, consistently filled with happiness despite the circumstances--and it cannot give you true peace and true satisfaction.

That close bond with Christ gives you a moral compass and keeps you grounded. Assuming you're keeping your eyes on Him, you don't get caught up in the trivial things in life. Sure, you'll slip up, but there's always the opportunity to keep on trying.

Now, I'm not condemning those who aren't into their faith. I'm just saying, why not? Why not go for it? Yeah, your reputation could take on a whole new meaning in a matter of months. And yeah, some people might label you a Jesus freak. It comes with the territory. You get over it. Because at the end of the day, all that really matters is how you treat the Big Guy. That is what affects your "success" in/after life, and that's what is going to shine through you if you play your cards right.

The young people who inspire me in my faith are often the nicest people I've met. And I know why. They learn from the best. They learn their kindness and their love from the One who invented these concepts. And yes, you can give my countless examples of joyless and mean Christians. In my opinion, if they're joyless and mean....they're not doing it right.

Pope Francis gets where I'm coming from. In June, he tweeted, "A Christian is never bored or sad.  Rather, the one who loves Christ is full of joy and radiates joy."

Knowing Jesus has given me the most fulfilling joy and the most certain peace of my life. Nothing has ever felt more right than having this relationship. If I had heard those last two sentences years ago, I would've rolled my eyes, branded the author a weird Jesus freak, and moved on to something more "interesting." But hear me out! I'm not crazy. I am a (semi-) normal teenager. I've seen both sides of the scenario. And I can tell you that the glass of your life is half full when you start valuing your relationship with God. It'll take effort and time to make God a core part of your life, don't get me wrong, but I promise you, without a doubt, that you will be rewarded for your efforts, for having the nerve to try. 

So the thing is...there's really no down side to trying the whole "Jesus thing" out. You may miss out on a few wild experiences, but just trust me on this one: the peace and joy you'll feel is a billion times more satisfying than any fleeting high that presents itself as "happiness." Why would you not put effort into establishing this relationship? Why would you miss out on the opportunity to become the kindest, happiest, and holiest version of yourself? Why would you not want to have a bond with the only One who really knows you and still really loves you? I asked these questions a while ago, and I've found the answer. I have come to the conclusion that there is no good reason NOT to give it a shot.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Take a chance and trust me on this. There are better things ahead on your journey, so please do not miss your ride.

Feel free to comment below or message me on Facebook or Twitter if you have questions/comments/concerns/random facts you'd like to share. You rock. Thanks for reading!

Alive Within Us

The other day, I made my first visit to the chapel this new school year. This chapel is heaven on earth, tucked away feet from the classrooms that cause me anxiety yet filled with complete tranquility. The moment the door shuts, I am overcome with a sense of comfort.

Already stressed out, I did not hesitate to get down to business. As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, I noticed something surreal. 

A crucifix I wear on a long chain under my shirt was sticking out in between the buttons on my uniform button-down. I looked down and noticed it, face up, Christ staring at me. And then a peculiar thing happened. It started moving, beating. It freaked me out at first, until I stopped to listen. And then I heard it. 

Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. 

The crucifix on my chest was moving along with my hearbeat, the "ba-dum" of my heart in perfect synchrony with its movements. What a gift from God. I'm sure I'll continue to find even more significance in this experience, but my first reaction was that God wished to remind me of His presence.  As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, Christ was practically screaming at me (in the reverent silence) that He was present, that He was alive, and is alive.

Christ is alive. Sometimes it takes a Crucifix beating along with your heart to be reminded of this fact. But it's true. Christ is alive. He is alive in the Church, in the Eucharist, in the Sacraments, and in us. 

That's right. Christ is alive everywhere we look, especially within our own very hearts. It may seem obvious, but it's actually quite remarkable. He's not just a voice in our head. He's not just the star-filled sky. He is within us. His heart beats in synchrony with ours because He is united to our hearts in a deep and intimate connection.

  The blood that pumps through our veins is the same blood He spilled for our sake.

Think about it. No one has ever loved you as much as Christ does. His love is incomparable. So deeply does He care for us, that He has blessed us with His eternal presence. He is with us until the end of time. In the stars of the sky. In the Word of God we read. In the Sacraments we celebrate. And within us, each and every one of us.

We must be reminded of this fact if we wish to treat others and ourselves properly. Loving Christ can be as simple as loving your neighbor because Christ lives in that person and Christ is reflected by that love. His presence lives on in this mutual exchange of love.

And just as Jesus is alive today, He was alive thousands of years ago. He's not a fictional character. He's not a legend, or merely a distant figure in a history. He is human. He walked, He talked, He grew up, laughed, cried, you name it. He walked this very same earth and experienced this very same joy and suffering. He is united to us through the human experience. He is united to us through a love so strong that He died for us.

He's not just a tiny metal man on a tiny metal cross. When He was crucified, He felt everything that we feel. He suffered as much, even more, than we suffer. 

He had a beating heart. And one day, it stopped beating. He's just like us, except for one thing. His heart may have stopped beating out of His own physical body, but now it beats through us. Now we are His body, and He is our heart. Jesus lives through us, His followers. 

So let us not forget that every minute we have been blessed with a beating heart, we owe to God. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. Let's repay Him for His love, His sacrifice, and the gift of His presence by dedicating each heartbeat, each fragment of our day, to Jesus Christ. And let us never forget, that God is alive within our hearts, loving us with an incomparable, indescribable, and intimate love: a love that is real; a love that is undeniable; a love that would endure death to save you.