B L O G
06: Year End Reflections
I finished up the last of my 2018 speaking events by speaking to some students in Houston in the middle of December. The day leading up to the event was hectic and full of miscommunication and confusion. In the midst of the chaos minutes before the event was to begin, I found myself asking God: "Why am I even doing this?”
I pushed through my frustration and gave a short talk to Kindergarteners through fourth graders, ate a quick lunch, then gave two more talks now to middle school students.
As the students filed out of the gym at the conclusion of the event, one young student hung back and remained in her seat in the third row. I approached her, my hands full of my notes and my Bible and my water bottle. I was exhausted after a full day of speaking, but I mustered up the last of my energy and fixed a large smile on my face. “Hi!” I said. I asked her name and she gave it to me, and then I asked: “Did you enjoy the retreat?” She looked up at me with wide eyes. I suddenly realized that they were brimming with tears.
“Oh my gosh, friend, are you okay?” I wasn’t sure what was going on. Was she hurt? Had someone hurt her? Did I need to call the principle?
“Yeah, I’m great!” she said, smiling wide. “I just realized that God loves me a lot. Thank you!” And before I could respond, this young sixth grade girl skipped away out of the gym to rejoin her friends waiting for her at the door.
2018 has been a wild year. I have collected many frequent flyer miles, various brief illnesses, and more stories than I can share here. Events have been canceled last minute and hopelessly unorganized and sometimes I’ve had to wait months to receive payment. While traveling, I’ve missed my family and my friends and my kitchen and my bed. Praise be to God that I am working my dream job, but I’m going to be honest with you: it doesn’t always feel like I’m living the dream.
Then moments like this happen. I encounter tender young souls and old hardened souls who pull me aside after an event and open up to me, a complete stranger. Holding my hand or giving me a hug, they share how my words have opened their eyes to the reality of God, His Church, His mercy, and His unending love. And in a rush of grace, God reminds me again and again and again why He is calling me to do this.
I am so humbled. I am so grateful. I am so in awe of the Father’s plans.
Thank you for journeying with me and supporting me from afar, Facebook friends! I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds.
“Take heart; rise, He is calling you” – Mark 10:49
Have you ever asked yourself “Where is God?”
I know I have. I’ve often reflected on my life and wondered if God can actually be present in my broken past and my unknown future. I’ve looked at the state of the world and asked if God has abandoned us to our woundedness and pain.
Before Jesus ascended to the Father, He told His Apostles: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How could He possibly fulfill that promise? The human person, Jesus of Nazareth, isn’t physically on earth at this time - there isn’t a man walking around Israel wearing leather sandals and multiplying loaves and fishes anymore. Jesus was killed and buried, and then He rose again from the dead. The Christian knows that less than two months after coming back to life, He ascended into heaven and left earth.
How then can He still be with us?
Christ is truly present in our world through His Church. On the rock of St. Peter, Jesus established a Church over two thousand years ago. His Church is so powerful that not even the powers of hell could destroy it nor remove His presence from it. The Church is not a religious building, nor individual Christians dispersed around the world. Scripture reveals that the Church is the united body of Christ. If Jesus’ Body is present, He is present.
When we gather as a Church in His name, Jesus is present. When a priest consecrates bread and wine to become the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is present. When we receive forgiveness of sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus is present. When we provide shelter and food and clothing to those in need, Jesus is present. He is present in concrete and bodily reality, not in some sort of feel-good fuzzy sentimentality.
Jesus hasn’t abandoned us. His Church endures. God’s covenant of love remains unbroken.
04: After Retreat Ends
When I was in high school, I thought that a conversion was when a Muslim woman became Catholic, or a when an atheist found his way to the Church. I believed that a conversion was the experience of being knocked off a horse like St. Paul, an instance of blinding realization, or a moment when God spoke to you from Heaven through a megaphone.
What I didn’t realize is that a conversion isn’t a single moment for a select group of people; it’s an ongoing process to which God calls all of His children. A true conversion demands a lasting relationship between you and God, one that affects not just your distant memory, but your daily actions.
Maybe you’ve had a conversion recently.
Maybe you went on your youth group’s latest retreat, conference, or summer camp and experienced a profound encounter with the Lord. You might not be able to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but you know that God changed your heart and you want to respond to that call — but how?
The Gospel of Luke records the story of a man enslaved by a violent demon. Jesus performs an exorcism. After the man is freed, he begs that the Lord might take him along on His traveling ministry. With compassion, Jesus tells the man: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).
Though it’s good to serve in new places, your conversion is not first proved by caring for a malnourished toddler in an African orphanage, nor by serving a homeless mother a bowl of soup downtown. Your conversion is first demonstrated by returning home from the event and sharing God’s love with your family.
That’s hard to do.
Sometimes it’s easier to tell a room full of strangers about your love for God than it is to tell your parents or siblings. Talking about the deep stuff – to people who know you well – is awkward. Because your family remembers all the weird stages you went through, you might be afraid they’ll think your conversion is another one of those phases like your obsession with Harry Potter or white chocolate Reece’s cups. Maybe you’re worried they’ll ridicule you, ask you complicated questions, or even worse, dismiss your legitimate experience and tell you that you’re naïve.
Before Jesus suffered His Passion, death, and Resurrection, He comforted His anxious apostles: “In the world, you will have trouble; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He speaks those same words of encouragement to us. The power of God is with you! The same God who touched your heart on your retreat is with you to give you the words in your mouth and the compassion in your heart to evangelize to your family. His Holy Spirit empowers you to be truthful, but tactful; open, but not overwhelming; honest, but humble.
Call upon the God of love to assist you before every interaction with your family. Prayer cannot be reserved for Sundays, retreats, or the fifteen seconds before we devour our lunch. Prayer must become our daily habit, for it is our means to sanctity, to victory, and to strengthen our ongoing conversion. Whether you are in the car, the kitchen, or the shower, take a few seconds and offer a prayer: Holy Spirit, speak through me. I know you are real and I know You have worked in my heart. Help me to share Your goodness with my family, not just through what I say, but also by how I act. Help me not to be aggressive nor judgmental, neither timid nor insincere. Help me to be an authentic image of You. Amen.
Your family may treat you a variety of ways after you return from a retreat, conference, or camp. They may become annoyingly interested and pester you for more details about the event. They may act the same and not realize how changed you feel. They may antagonize you and encourage you to brush off your experience.
Regardless of how they respond, what matters is that you love them anyway. What matters is that you are brave, and humble, and missionary to the person right in front of you. What matters is that you let your experience of God have a true effect on your everyday life. What matters is that you demonstrate real faith and real conversion, not just through profound encounters with strangers, but in simple moments with your family.
“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta.
03: All Souls' Day
The day before Halloween, I went to a graveyard.
Actually, I went with a Religious Education group of 6th grade boys and girls in the middle of the afternoon, so it wasn’t exactly the most bone-chilling of outings.
After listening to a catechesis on Purgatory and the importance of praying for the dead, the kids scattered to explore the cemetery with chaperones jogging after them to keep up.
I wasn’t officially part of the group – I was only in town for the weekend to visit family. So I didn’t have to monitor the kids, chase down any rascals, nor patrol the entrance to prevent any of them from sneaking away to the Dunkin Donuts across the street.
Instead, I got to shuffle through the leaves and scan the tombstones for unusual names and the oldest birthdays. The front section held graves so weather-stained that I couldn’t make anything out, but the graves toward the back were much newer and clearer. Where the older graves included just last names and a year of death, many of these newer ones also had quotes engraved upon the stone.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
I will never know Norma Rhodes or Martina Jimenez or Henry Cobb, or any of those buried in that cemetery. I don’t know a thing about them – their sense of humor or what they did for fun or their favorite dessert – but I but I know everything about them.
They aligned themselves with Christ in life and in death. And they’re in Heaven, rooting for me right now.
This is what makes Catholicism so amazing.
Catholicism is not an ethical code that involves yourself and your own actions. It’s not even a religion that’s just about you and Jesus. Catholicism is bigger than that.
Catholicism is about community. The Church is a community because the God we serve is a community: the Trinity. The communion of the Church on earth flows from the communion of the Trinity.
That means that if you are part of the Church, you’re part of the universal community and the universal family. That means you have angels and saints and people throughout the centuries and from all across the globe praying for you, on earth and in Heaven.
This is what it means not to go through life alone. This is what is means to be part of the Church. This is what it means to be Catholic.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
02: Lord of the Rings
For the summer of 2013, I had mac n cheese and pulled pork every Monday night. It was glorious.
One Monday after dinner, I walked by a group of teenage girls just outside the dining hall. As I approached, they leapt up and began chanting: “SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH!”
Since summer camp is an environment for odd occurrences, I was prepared to rise magnificently to the challenge. I placed my Nalgene water bottle on the ground, climbed on top of a nearby stump, and declared: “Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday! Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable Hobbits. I don’t know have of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
The girls stared blankly at me. Their chaperone burst into applause.
If you are as confused as that pack of teenagers, no worries. You just aren’t as obsessed with Lord of the Rings as I am.
Thankfully, my whole family is on the same page as me. One Christmas, my dad designed t-shirts with a quote from the dwarf Gimili on the back and gave to everyone as gifts. When my sister and I go hiking, we use our hiking poles to reenact the wizard duel between Gandalf and Saruman. While waiting in line at amusement parks, my mom reads aloud from the Return of the King (book #3) so animatedly that the people around us ask which ride we’re going to next so they can keep listening.
J. R. R. Tolkien published his trilogy of books over 50 years ago. Obviously Lord of the Rings isn’t the most modern of phenomenons, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still relevant.
I watched the movies again last week with my cousins when they were in town. There’s this one scene where a small Hobbit named Merry tries to convince the Ents (giant walking and talking trees. Weird, I know, but just try to keep up) to join him and his friends in their quest to destroy evil. Treebeard, the leader of the Ents, tells Merry essentially, “nah, thanks though bro.” Outraged, Merry asks him, “But you’re a part of this world, aren’t you?!”
I’ve seen this scene over a dozen times over the years. Yet it stuck with me this time, and for the last week, I can’t stop thinking about Merry’s response.
Am I a part of this world?
I am made for Heaven and that is where my true home lies. But what about the meantime? Am I living like I am a part of this world? Do I live in it regretfully or fearfully, refusing to actively participate in it? Do I see the good in it? Do I seek beauty and find truth in it?
Jesus was a part of this world.
How freaking insane that He came down from Heaven and willingly embraced the human experience by becoming one of us. Jesus did wild and dramatic things no one had ever done before, like walking on water and rising from the dead and defeating Satan. But he also did super normal common things. He drank wine. He hung out in town. He made friends with weirdos and talked with sketchy people.
He lived in this world and redeemed it by His sacrifice and His participation in it. I want to follow His example. I don’t want to be afraid of entering the world that Jesus already won for Himself.
Because there are scary things in this world. I’m frightened by our presidential candidates, rape culture on college campuses, and the fact that gun violence and terrorist attacks are becoming standard headlines. I’m not denying the reality of darkness. There’s just Someone who is much more powerful.
At the conclusion of The Two Towers film (the second installment), Sam encourages Frodo by declaring, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!” We need to listen up to good old Sam and fight for what is good in this world.
This is the situation: God alone is Creator, and Genesis tells us that everything He makes is good. All Satan can do is corrupt the good things God has made.
Our bodies and our sexuality, music, social media, fashion, politics, and popular culture can be twisted and brought low. But they aren’t objectively bad. They don’t belong to the devil.
I want to reclaim all things for Christ, particularly the pockets of creation that are especially at risk.
I want to step up as His daughter and start taking ownership of what belongs to me. Because Jesus is King, and He tells us that “all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
I have nothing in this world to fear because it belongs to my God, my Church, and me.
“Take courage, I have conquered the world” – John 16:33
I went to an all-girls’ school from sixth through ninth grade.
I’m sure there was drama, cliques, and the catty behavior that is typical in many all-girl-schools. But, to be honest, I didn’t notice it much. I was too busy stealing my friend’s Icy-Hot to rub all over my face during lunch.
I didn’t take school too seriously.
I didn’t take much seriously as a thirteen-year-old.
Sure, I worked hard at my grades because my parents demanded it. But, cumulative GPA, class ranking, and ACT practice tests were not my primary concerns. My primary concerns, like so many teenagers, weren’t as concrete as SAT scores. I had this hazy understanding that I wanted to be liked, and I went for it.
I knew I could get most people to laugh, so that’s what I attempted to do at virtually all times. It didn’t really matter if I was making buck-toothed impersonations of my history teacher in the back of the class or telling my study hall table a highly animated account of my clumsiness in the stairwell last period; anybody and anything acted as material to boost my self-esteem through humor.
My first day of ninth grade consisted of joyous reunions with friends, the realization that our new computer teacher was a) a man and b) a hot one, and biology class with Mrs. Kerzim right after lunch.
Mrs. Kerzim was a legend at my school. No one had any idea how old she was, all her jewelry came from exotic places like Laos, and it was rumored she was a nun for a few years in a convent somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
She started class by taking attendance like all of my other teachers. Once she finished, she informed us that she would go through the class list again. But this time, once our name was called, each student had to describe themselves using one word.
Yikes. That was a lot of pressure. Especially since my last name starts with a “C”.
Chelsea Adams, the girl sitting two rows ahead of me, was first. When called on, Chelsea folded her arms across her chest and declared: “Loud.”
Mrs. Kerzim gazed at Chelsea. “Loud? That is what you wish to be known for? That is how you choose to introduce yourself to me and to your classmates?” Chelsea shrugged.
The next four minutes consisted of some incredibly fast thinking on my part. “What did I want to be known for? How would other people describe me? What word could I say to make everyone laugh? Could I impress Mrs. Kerzim? Did I care?”
“Maggie.” Mrs. Kerzim interrupted my frantic introspective thoughts by calling my name off the attendance list. “Please describe yourself in one word to us.”
“Ummm….funny?” I spoke as if I was asking a question. I could see from the way she narrowed her eyes slightly that Mrs. Kerzim didn’t like my word choice very much. Neither did I, to be honest. I think she could tell because she simply nodded before calling on the next girl.
Eight years later I think I have finally come up with a word that would have satisfied Mrs. Kerzim and myself: authentic.
Authenticity. I know that’s a buzzword. It’s overused and kicked around like a hacky sack. Like the phrase, “Just be yourself.”
What the heck does that even mean?
Sometimes I think “being myself” is laying around in soccer shorts all day, binge watching The Office, and eating a whole pizza. Sometimes I think “being authentic” is being sassy-borderline-insulting to someone at a party because they said a stupid comment. Sometimes I think that I deserve to do whatever I feel like doing once I label the experience as “authentic.”
I’ve been thinking about authenticity for a while… like for years. I think about what authenticity looks like and why I’m drawn to it and whenever I see it, and I think about what being fake looks like and why I’m so compelled to vomit whenever I encounter it.
And I’m still not sure what authenticity exactly it is. I don’t have this grand, concrete vision of exactly how authenticity looks and how it looks on me. But I do know that it involves honesty. And freedom. And vulnerability. And joy. I know it’s less about doing whatever we feel like doing and more about being whoever we’re called to be. I think pursuing authenticity is pursuing Jesus Christ. I think authenticity is what Jesus is all about.
Whatever authenticity actually is, and whatever it looks like practically, is what I want. It’s the kind of woman, the kind of Catholic, and the kind of speaker I want to be known for.
I don’t want to be a woman who finds her worth in inaccurate perceptions of femininity.
I don’t want to be a Catholic who creates a false idea of elevated personal holiness.
I don’t want to be a speaker who pretends never to struggle with sin and temptation.
I want to be real, and I want this blog to reflect that aspiration.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote: “We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God.”
That’s the goal of blog: to know myself and to know God in the most authentic way possible.