Saturday, August 1, 2009

It's the Climb...

I am 25 years old, a native of Phoenix, Arizona and have lived in the valley for twenty-one of those years. If you are at all familiar with the Phoenix area, you know that there are three popular mountains one can hike: South Mountain, Piestewa Peak, and Camelback. I have always loved and enjoyed hiking, but I had never hiked Camelback…until Sunday, July 5, 2009.

Camelback is known for being one of the most difficult and challenging hikes because of the steep slopes (steep enough to install railings to help haul yourself up if you’re not prepared for and experienced as a rock climber) and large rocks and boulders that comprise of the “path” one must climb to reach the top. On the other mountains I have hiked, the paths have been easier and the path has always been visible. On Camelback, there are times that this path is non-existent because you are climbing over rocks and the only guides are an occasional post and the people ahead of you climbing up or down, if you can see either of these through the rugged terrain.

Before setting out for this hike, I did not know how truly difficult it would be, but I made myself believe that I could and would make it to the top. While there were many times I thought that I might not make it and felt alone in my struggles, an occasional hiker would come along and offer a smile, a joke, encouragement, or comment on my Cubs hat that I was wearing. I saw people of all ages and levels of fitness going up and coming down the mountain. I saw other people struggling (many who were in excellent shape) to make it to the top and I saw many beaming as they leaped down the mountain with their accomplishment; I wanted to reach the top so I could share in that same sense of accomplishment.

When I reached the top, I sat and looked out at the glorious view of the Phoenix valley in the early morning sun. It is a beautiful sight to behold, but even more wonderful, were the lessons learned, the challenges overcome, and people encountered in order to make it to the top. Sometimes in life, the path is not clear, we are not sure where to go or what to do next, we are not sure how we will find the strength to prevail, or if we will ever see the finish of what we have started. But then God sends us each other as signs to point us in the right direction, to offer the encouragement needed, to help us find a break from the struggle with a smile and a laugh, and those to rejoice with when we have achieved our goals.

In life—especially in the discernment of our paths and choices—we all face uncertainty, challenges, and trials. We all long for deeper meaning and purpose, even if we choose not to acknowledge it. When life looks most dismal, the path is uncertain and cannot be seen, when things are most difficult, it is at these moments in life we have to remind ourselves that anything with real meaning and value is difficult to attain, achieve or experience. Take a look at love, relationships, helping others, the cross of Jesus: all require sacrifice. Sometimes to move forward on the path of life, we will have to push through and keep moving when everything in our being wants to give up. Sometimes we will have to leave something behind and make a sacrifice because the load we are carrying is too heavy to heave up that mountain of life.

In the end, all the sweat, toil, sacrifice, pain, doubt, etc. is worth every moment. When we make it to the top, when we finish the race, it’s not that we made it or finished it that matters; it’s all that we went through to get there that makes the difference. As cheesy as it may sound, Miley Cyrus says it quite well, “There’s always gonna be another mountain / I’m always gonna want to make it move / Always gonna be an uphill battle / Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose / Ain’t about how fast I get there / Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side / It’s the climb.”

When we reach the top of the great mountain of life, heaven (if you believe in heaven) is not the prize. And living according to rules, regulations, dogma, doctrine, or some other conceptualized ideal is not what will get you there. The prize is knowing that you lived your humanity to its fullest extent, that you lived life well and loved. You tried and failed, but did not give up. You built others up instead of tearing them down. You did not sink to a level below your humanity but prevailed against all odds and rose above by keeping sacred the best part about being human: love in the form that brings life.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Driver's Seat

I like to drive. When I am stressed, worried, anxious or just need to think, I drive or want to. After I got my driver's license in high school, every time I felt my life spiraling out of control I would get in my car and drive for as long as I could afford. Getting in my car and driving gives me some sense of control over my life - when I am in the car, I am in control. 

In the past 39 days, I have driven over 4000 miles, with 1063 more to go. I have had a lot of time to think and be in control, but have found myself doing less thinking and more being.  I have been wanting to make this trip for a while, and being the determined person that I am, found a way to make it happen. My dream was to drive across the country and visit people in different cities along the way, with the majority of my time being spent in Chicago.

One thing that has been evident during this trip is how God has a way of being so present in our lives...some may choose to call this "coincidence" or "chance" or "fate" or "destiny," but I prefer "grace" or "providence" or "blessing" or maybe even "love."  I have encountered God in so many ways on this cross-country journey - in old friends and new, in strangers and people passing, in the ways he manipulated situations to be exactly where he wanted me to be for certain things to happen.  God's blessings, his ways of telling us how much he loves us, have abounded these past 39 days.  Why God in all his holiness has chosen to love me is far beyond my comprehension, leaving me in awe of his goodness.  While I have been in the driver's seat, it seems that God has been in the passenger seat, but he is more like the "co-pilot."

God does not want to control us, but he does want what is best for us.  He gave us freewill because love is not love if it is not freely chosen or given.  God freely chose to love us and allows us to choose his ways or our own.  I don't think God wants to be in our driver's seat. I think God wants to read us the directions while we drive, warn us of what we may not see while driving, and help us open that water bottle or peel that banana to satisfy our needs as our hands are otherwise preoccupied.

We will still get a little lost and turned around from time to time. We will still get tired and need a break.  We will still have little and sometimes big accidents along the way.  God as our co-pilot will help us get back on the right road, with the determination and energy needed to finish the journey, and courage to get back up and try again...even when we are afraid of crashing one more time.

Being in the driver's seat is a huge responsibility.  We must also acknowledge our responsibility for every other person in the vicinity of our moving vehicle.  While we can choose to go throughout life making decisions that we are often led to make in an effort to make ourselves happy and be independently in control of our lives, we must realize that we are all dependent upon and responsible for one another...friend or stranger.  Every choice we make will somehow affect another person, directly or indirectly.  

The driver's seat requires us to follow the rules of the road, listen to our co-pilot, and work to keep ourselves and those we are sharing our journey with safe.  This trip has not been about the destination but the journey travelled. In the end, it's not about what we did, but how we did it.  This trip has not been so much about making me happy but hoping to show many people how much I do love them, and God showing me how much he loves me too... This journey has brought much new life to me and hopefully to those I have been privileged to encounter along the way.

We are all in the driver's seat of our own lives. We are responsible for ourselves and the decisions we make.  We are responsible for how our choices affect others. The destination is and always will be God and our relationships with others, but the journey that gets us there is how we come to know, love, and trust this amazing being who is God.

"The road now leads onward as far as can be
Winding lanes and hedge rows in threes
Light purple mountains around every bend
All roads lead to you there's not journey's end

Here is my heart
I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hand

Deep in the winter amidst falling snow
High in the air the bells they all toll
Now all around me I feel you still here
Such is the journey no mystery to fear

The road now leads onward I know not where
I feel in my heart that you will be there
Whenever a storm comes whatever our fears
The journey goes on as your love further nears"

-Loreena McKennitt

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Be Simply Forgiven

I like to make things complicated.  I have a talent for taking something that should be very simple and complicating it with every other possible outcome that might exist.  I make a good theologian because of this.  Theologians are great at making simple things difficult to understand through the circling logic inherited from Greek philosophy in the early Church.  In an effort to make the monotheistic Jewish worldview more accessible to the pagan world, early Church fathers attempted to prove and define the intangible truths of Christianity so the non-Jew could understand the Gospel message.

I have been in Chicago now since Monday.  I am still sick, but I have made my way to daily Mass since I have been here...something I have not attempted to do in a very long time.  In sickness, I desire healing.  I want to feel better.  I focused my prayers and attention toward my physical body.  Silly me.  Today, God showed me I needed to examine where in my life I am in need of another kind of healing: forgiving others....and myself.  

The Scriptures, especially the Gospels, are multi-faceted.  They can be difficult to understand sometimes and other times, when our eyes, ears, and hearts are open, can be simple and profound (in the sense that the message is so simple that it becomes profound).  Today's Gospel begins with Jesus telling us not to make our prayers overly complex with a multitude of words, but rather to remember God the Father already knows our needs and in making our prayers known to him, we must also be simple.  Jesus proceeds to give us what we now call "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father."  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must forgive if we wish to be forgiven by God.

How simple God's message was to me today!  He starts off by telling me that I don't need to try peel off the layers to the onion or dig around to hear what he wanted to say to me today.  Then he tells me that I need to forgive in order to be forgiven.  I simply need to let go of the grudges that have been imprisoning me for months and find joy in desiring shalom (peace/wholeness/well-being/good relationship) for them regardless of the injustice or pain they have caused me.  God desired to heal me today, not physically, but in those relationships I have held within myself.  Instead of pain, sadness, bitterness, and anger when I think of those people I have grudged, I now find joy and peace that comes with the freedom of loving my brothers and sisters as God wishes me see their goodness through the righteousness Christ has gained for us. 

As a person who likes to reign over their own life, I often want to "make things right" when I have done wrong.  In the cases of the people that I have forgiven today, I may never be given the opportunity to have a right relationship or peace with them in a tangible way.  Not being able to talk to them and set us on the right path again has troubled me for a long time, but the healing God granted me today allowed me to relinquish my desire to set the relationships right and to move on with the joy and peace Christ has offered us through simply forgiving.

"Your Father knows what you need before you ask him."  I think that also means he will find a way to show my forgiveness those people.  I cannot heal myself, I cannot heal them, but I can let go and forgive so that we may be forgiven.

"Be forgiven, be forgiven,
be forgiven of the sin that you hold on.
Be forgiven, be forgiven,
Jesus died and rose 
that you might know his love,
and be forgiven." 
- Tom Booth

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Road Trip: Day 1

Wow...I am exhausted!  Driving about 600 miles while sick is a difficult task but I did it.  That being said, this blog will be short.  Road signs.  Following the instructions on the posted signs is very important for safe travels.  I think the Scriptures are like the road signs.  Following them leads us to safety.  When some one else chooses not to heed them they can hurt themselves and others.  

My first brief stop in Flag. to visit my favorite priest lent me some words of wisdom.  During our conversation, I told him that I am not very good at accepting compliments.  His response: "Get used to it girl because that's God's way of telling you what he thinks about you!"  I think other people are also road signs, but a different kind of road sign.  Instead of the white ones which we must follow or risk getting a ticket, people and their words to us perhaps are more like the green signs telling us how we are doing and how far we are going.  Hmmmm....okay time for bed.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Our Dwelling Places

Today was my grandmother's memorial service.  The past month has been a long journey with weddings, finals, hospitals, babies being born, lots of driving, and finally the memorial service.  The scripture that was read at the service was from John 14; it was my grandmother's favorite scripture passage.  

The passage talks about Jesus preparing a place for us in His Father's house and that following Jesus is the way to a place in that house...he is the way, and the truth, and the life.  Jesus tells us to not be troubled or worried, but to follow him and he will take us there.  I think Grandma was on to something with this passage.

As I was reflecting on today, the past month, and my life, I also started thinking about how I have been living my life.  I began to ponder on 1 Corinthians 3: 14, where Paul discusses how we build on the foundation of Christ and what we build will be tested with fire; if it is pure and strong it will stand, if not it will be burned up and we will have nothing left to show.  Then I thought about the parable that my mom used to tell me as a kid (I don't know where she got it from but I'm sure many others have heard this before too).  

The story goes something like this:  

One day a very rich woman died and a very poor man died and they met Peter at the gates of heaven.  Peter walked the two to their homes they had "built" in heaven.  They walked along and walked along, and came to a very beautiful mansion.  It was built of gold, rubies, diamonds, emerald, sapphires, pearls, and every precious thing you can imagine.  The woman proclaimed that this was her home, but she was mistaken and Peter told the poor man that this was his home.  The man was overwhelmed at God's goodness in giving him such a beautiful place to stay, and he was very grateful.  Peter explained to the man that it is not just God in his goodness but the materials the man had sent God to heaven to build his house with through his works and faithfulness on earth.  Peter and the woman walked along.  As they walked through the streets, the houses became smaller and smaller and the woman anticipated which one would be hers.  Finally, they came to a very humble and tiny home near the end of the block.  The woman exclaimed that this could NOT be her home.  Peter told the woman that these were the only materials that she had sent up to heaven and God did his best with what she gave him.  Peter asked her, "How often did you pray? How often did you share all your goods with others?  How often did you help someone in need?  How often did you reach out to help the homeless, clothe the naked, feed the hungry?  Why didn't you listen when God asked you to help?  Why didn't you see when God when he was right in front of you?  Where was your faith when you were lonely, sad, scared, hurting, depressed, empty, longing?  How often did you trust God and put your faith in Him in times of need?  How often did your faith praise God for the times you were not in need?"  And the woman could see that she had very little faith and works to send God the materials to build her place in heaven.

I am not entirely sure how the story went, this is only a feeble attempt of my recollection.  There are certainly flaws to the story and we know that we don't build a literal "house" in heaven.  We also do not know the extent of God's love and mercy either (remember the Gospel parable about the day laborers who were all paid equally regardless of what time they were hired on to help?).  Nevertheless, the scriptures and story got me thinking.

God wants us to be truthful, so here is the raw truth of what I have seen in my life...this is the house that I have built thus far.  I often find myself proclaiming what we as humans should be doing to build up the kingdom of God here on earth and how we should be living the Gospel and justice and peace in our lives, but then find myself doing NONE of it...or at least very little.  I am constantly distracted by things of this world and so wander from the way I am supposed to be living as a person of faith.  I move God from the center of my life to somewhere on the outer periphery to be acknowledged whenever I remember in the midst of my  oh-so-busy life on earth.  It is so very easy to look at my life and criticize all the things I do wrong, look at how selfish and two-faced I can be, point out all the flaws of my humanity.  But if I do only that, I will get lost in a sea self-pity and berate myself to no end, and thus moving farther away from God in the process.

My house today would look something like this:  There is indeed some sort of foundation, I would like to think of that foundation as Christ through my baptism and the sacraments. I already built the frames of the walls and managed to get those up.  There are spaces for doors and windows but those are not in yet.  I also got the roof frame up and got some portions of the roof covered, but its got a lot of holes that are not so holy.  The wall frames look like I put most of the insulation in and got some kind of stucco-like material up, but only got about halfway up from the ground to the roof.  It's a pretty shabby looking place and a cardboard box looks more comfortable than this awful looking thing that I've built so far.  To make matters even worse, my measurements were off from time to time and so my house is not exactly symmetrical...I'd like to say that this is because when I was working on this house, I was doing the right things but with the wrong intentions and so it's kind of "jagged."  

So, today, I showed God what I built.  I was ashamed at how terrible this house I was building looked so far.  "I told him, I am not proud of this work I have done, but I also know, I have been trying to do ALL this work on my own and there are so many things that I don't know about building houses.  I know that it is really hard for someone like me to build a house, and I keep running out of money, energy, time, and I just get frustrated and give up sometimes.  When I finally come back to work on the house, it is often times damaged from my time away and I have to backtrack and rebuild so much stuff and so I never really get anywhere.  I really need some help...what I really need is a carpenter, someone who knows what they are doing."

Jesus is that perfect carpenter that I need.  If I just let him work with me, show me how to do what the Son of God/carpenter does, if I ask him how I should do this or that and actually follow his instructions...building this house would be so much easier.  Sometimes we think that it is difficult to follow his instructions because we don't understand them.  I wonder if we do understand the instructions but we are just stubborn and want to do things our own way.  The biggest roadblock between God and me is myself.  But now, the thought of having a skilled carpenter by my side, day in and day out, helping to build this house and get those measurements right sounds soooooo much better than trying to go at it on my own.  I feel "safe" when I know that he will be helping me with this rigorous task of house building.  I hope the next time that I show God this house, Jesus is standing next to me as we excitedly show him all that we have done and tell him stories of all the fun we had doing it.

It is easier said than done, but so are many things in life.  So this is my prayer...for myself and others, that we invite Jesus in to help us and show us how to build these houses of ours and that we don't forget to let him be the Master Carpenter.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also...I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him...I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."  John 14: 1-4; 6-7; 13-14

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death Is a Part of Life...

Death is a part of life.  Many of us wish that it were not and could possibly live forever.  Death is quite often an ugly and horrific process.  In fact, I have never heard of a "beautiful" death, but if we are open, we can see God working amazing things through our encounters with death.

My grandmother had a massive stroke this past mother's day.  The left side of the brain is almost completely destroyed with no chance of recovery.  She cannot speak, move the right side of her body, swallow very well, or move anything other than her left hand, and even that is only a little bit.  She can open her eyes briefly and responds to sound, but what she actually comprehends is questionable as the language center of the brain was greatly impacted by the stroke.

Tonight, I read to her from the Bible for a while as she loved the Scriptures.  How much she understood, I do not know, but I hope she was able to at least understand a little bit...somehow.  
Her lungs are filling up with fluid and the secretions foam up at her mouth and need to be cleaned out.  While I was visiting her at hospice today, I could hear her raspy breaths, which I cannot quite seem to grow accustomed to, and watch the secretion pile up at the corner of right, droopy side of her mouth.  I attempted to clean it with a towel and gagged multiple times at the consistency, color, and smell, but found my attempts feeble and called the nurse to clean her mouth.  

I requested the nurses to clean her mouth as often as possible through the seems to be the only visible care that she needs.   I desperately wanted to stay the night so that she was not alone and could not bare to leave her in that state, but knew for my sake that I needed to.  The sights, sounds, and reality of what I saw was almost too much for me to handle.  I have never been so close to watching death at work.  Tears fell and nausea started to hit my stomach.  I was on the verge of hysteria as I got in my car to drive home...torn between desperately wanting to care for my grandmother and the responsibilities of my job and life.

So how can there be anything "beautiful" in the midst of what I have encountered over the past 4 days of the last days of my grandmother's life?  Well, if we look at the other things that have happened, my sister and I have spent a significant amount of time together and not fought, at all.  My dad and I have spent more time together in such a short period than, I think, we have since I was a child and not fought, at all.  My four uncles and father were able to agree on my grandmother's care without an argument.  My four uncles, father, sister, and aunt spent many hours catching up, talking, laughing, and enjoying some time with each other.  I was able to learn things about my grandmother that I never knew.  I was able to learn that my mom, in spite of everything, actually liked my grandmother.  I learned humility and faith through what I saw in the simplicity and nostalgia of my grandmother's life.

When I got home tonight, after all that I have seen over the past four days, I want to vow to never take for granted how wonderful it is to brush my teeth, drink a refreshing glass of water, take a nice hot shower and step out feeling clean and refreshed, being able to turn in my bed without someone doing it for me, breathing fresh air through my nose, swallowing, not aching from the terrible arthritic pain she once felt, having a strong young heart and low blood pressure.  For as long as I live, I hope to enjoy every moment that I can feel, hear, speak, move...even if I feel pain, at least I can feel.  I look at the helplessness of my grandmother and realize that one day, hopefully far in the future, I will be in that same bed of death and utter dependence.  How will I live my life between now and then?  Will I take everything for granted?  Or will I live in the exuberance of knowing that at every moment I am alive I have everything to be grateful for?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

God Is A Child...

At the end of our earthly journey, I believe that we will meet God.  We always seem to picture God as some wise, old guy up in the sky, or like a loving father.  But I think that God will be something much more surprising than that.  

When I look at children, they have the most amazing imaginations and creativity.  They really do have an innocent and unyielding love.  They love to play and make things, explore and enjoy life. Their youth brings life to all who they meet (upon seeing a baby, who doesn't look at him or her and get and instantaneous feeling of life and joy?) 

I really think there is another reason Jesus was always saying that to get into heaven you must be like a child.  I think that God might be much more like a child than we might think.  To be greeted by a child when we die would not be what most of us would imagine.  A child meeting a child would probably say to them, "Hi, my name is _____.  What's your name?  Do you want to go play?"  Their innocence allows them to have no walls between them and others.  An adult would most likely look at a child and wonder, "Who is this kid? And what are they doing here alone?"  The child will accept God as a child much easier than the adult will. 

The main reason I think that God is more like a child than our other images is that no one, other than a child, has the creativity to create what God has created in this world.  But I guess the reason that God is child, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, husband, wife, sister, brother, friend, savior, redeemer, comforter, etc. is because he IS all those things and more. We see in God what we need to see or perhaps even be at that particular moment.  So, maybe God is trying to tell me to lighten up and be more like a child.  I am, after all, a perpetual child in his eyes, so why not embrace being one?