Thursday, January 26, 2012

God Has a Plan. No, Really He Does.

Just like the title up there, God has a plan.

That phrase right there used to bug the crap out of me.  I used to be extremely cynical (and if I'm perfectly honest with myself, I kinda still am) and I saw that expression as a cheap way out for explaining away anything bad that happened.  It seemed incredibly easy to me to find flaws in this argument.  One of my most standard questions to those who said this were "Why would He take away your dad when you still need him?" or "Why does God let war exist?"  Many detractors of religion still use these as reasons to not believe.

But since regaining my faith in God, I'm starting to learn that the whole "God has a plan" thing really does hold some water.  You just need perspective to see how everything fits together.  

Seem a bit hard to believe? Well then let me give you an example from my life.  A few weeks ago, a new semester started at my university.  I had picked all my classes in December, and was just killing time till the first day of class rolled around.  But the day before school started, a professor of mine decided she had changed her mind about letting me take a class, since she didn't feel I was ready to move on in the subject.  This one little decision meant that I would have to completely redo my class schedule. The night before classes started.

I was a frantic, stressed-out mess the whole day, as I tried to convince the professor that she was wrong and that I should be allowed to take the class.  (My loving boyfriend was a real trooper for all this, and calmly tried to remind me that "God had a plan," but did I want to listen? Nope. Instead I wanted to cry and maybe scream a bit.)  But the professor had put her foot down, so out came the class listings to try and throw together a new schedule for the next morning.  It was a bit hectic, but now I wouldn't change a thing about what happened.

Why? you might ask.  Well, I ended up having to pick entirely different classes.  My previous schedule had mostly been filed with the classes needed for the new major I was starting (I had been planning to be a double major by the time I graduated), but I didn't think any of them would be particularly interesting.  With my new schedule, I wasn't able to take any of those classes, which meant I would be unable to do the second major I had thought about (but wasn't crazy excited for).  So blessing #1 came right there.  God had saved me from forcing myself down a path that I was not happy with (and would therefore not do well at, since my heart was not in it).  And after a few days of going to the new classes, I realized that this schedule worked a lot better for me, and I was actually excited to go to class.  Which became blessing #2.

Looking back through the clarifying lens of hind-sight helps you see how things worked together to create the end result.  I've found that it's through this reflecting on the past that you can see how God was working in your life the whole time.  God really does have a plan, we just can't always see it because 1) we're not God and 2) being so close to the action makes it hard to see the big picture (like He can).

I invite you to take a look at some event in your life.  How did it affect the other things that happened around that time?  What did you learn from it?  Or how did it play into later parts of your life?  Can you see ways in which God was working?  I'd love to hear your story.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Long and Winding Road, Part 2

As you'll recall from my earlier post, I was starting to tell the story of how I came back to Christ and had my soul renewed.  My faith had been deeply shaken by a tragic scandal, and I had started to rebel against any sort of good image that I was known for.

Here is where you probably expect to hear about my slow decent towards rock bottom via drugs, sex, and alcohol, but you are sadly out of luck.  I was still a good kid at heart and didn't really start "being bad" till I got to college.  I'd kept my nose to the grindstone in high school and it earned me a spot at a top university, and once I got here I let loose a little.  I would get really drunk when I drank, hooked up with boys, and even smoked pot a few times.  To me it was just about finding the next thing to shock people when I talked to them.  But I didn't go all that crazy: sure I made a few not so smart choices, but I luckily managed to not get myself in too much trouble.  It was all just a means of getting a little attention when I told a story with friends.

But this was not the final path for me--God had bigger and better plans, as He always does.  In September 2011 I started my junior year of college, and it was to be a month that would affect me greatly.  For it was in September that I met that man that would quickly become the love of my life and my light in the dark to help me back towards God.  I met my boyfriend through a mutual friend, and we instantly clicked.  I had been warned by said friend to watch out because he was "really Catholic," but I quickly saw that she was dead wrong.  She had made his being religious sound like a bad thing, when his love for God is part of the reason I fell in love with him.  (Rather than gushing about how crazy I am for him, I will instead move this story along) It's true, he was Catholic, but he was never pushy about me having to belong to any sort of religion or faith at all.  And it was this calm and kind nature of his that allowed me to start asking questions about his faith, wanting to know more about something I had only seen in passing before.

I had had several friends in high school who were Catholic, and had even gone to mass with some of them a few times.  While I had found it interesting, I really didn't understand what it was all about.  However, unbeknownst to everyone else in my life, the idea of Catholicism stayed in the back of my mind for the next several years, just waiting for the right outlet.  Finding someone who was willing to answer all of my questions, no matter how small or silly they were, and to do so with love and patience allowed me to rediscover my desire to have God in my life again.  I went to mass with my boyfriend one Sunday and that decided it for me.  As I stumbled through the mass parts and tried to follow what was going on, I suddenly felt like crying.  I stubbornly held back the tears and tried to muscle through, but soon I couldn't talk or sing because I was so choked up.  I felt such a wave of love and acceptance flow through me during that mass that I knew what I had to do: God was calling me to join his Church.

The rest happened rather quickly.  I enrolled in a local church's Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program the next week.  This class is teaching me all the things a person needs to know to be a Catholic and help me to grow spiritually.  This Easter I will be confirmed and be a full Catholic, and I can not wait for that day to come.

But converting to Catholicism was not the only thing God had planned for me.  In the area around my university there is a movement among chuches (Catholic and others) called the Charismatic Renewal.  I won't go into too much detail about it just now, but here is a link where you can get a basic understanding of it.  Shortly after deciding to become Catholic, I went to a prayer meeting held by my school's ecumenical and charismatic Christian group.  While I won't detail the story here, because I feel it needs its own space, I will tell you this: the night of that first prayer meeting I became Charismatic.  My boyfriend likes to lovingly tease that "God wanted you something awful" in regards to how quickly and extremely I was called to Christ, but I wouldn't change a thing about it.  I'm so happy to have God's grace in my life, and I will do my best to meet His calling.

So that's my story.  For 20 years I wandered through life.  My 21st year is the start of a new chapter and a new way of life.  I hope you found it helpful, and if not then I hope you at least found it interesting.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Renovating the Temple

As I've said previously, I really don't believe in overnight change.  I see a lot of people that use the New Year as an excuse to do a major "life overhaul" and for the first few weeks they drastically change their lives.  I'm not saying you should never try and change yourself or grow for the better, but day and night differences in behavior typically fail in my experience.  What has worked better for me is to create a larger "end goal" and then develop a plan of steps to get there.  This way, I keep moving towards my goal and can keep getting better at things without feeling like a failure because I screwed up once.

I'll give you an example by telling you about one of my goals for this year: making my mornings more productive so I have more time to spend with God and get ready for my day.  I am by no means a morning person (it was not uncommon for me to wake up 15 minutes before class and stumble out the door my freshmen year of college) but this year I want to get a better start to my day so I can be more productive and be happier with how it turned out.  Inspired by the blogs Inspired to Action and Simple Mom (no, I am not a mom, I just like the life advice) to make better use of my mornings, my end goals are to be able to get up decently early in the hopes of spending some time worshiping and getting a head start on my day.  But I know for me this will not be a quick change as I typically do not like getting out of bed in the morning (why climb out of my loft when my blankets are so warm and comfy?). So for now I'm starting small, getting up a little bit earlier every week, building up to the goal that I have planned. Soon I will be up nice and early and can accomplish the things I want to do in the morning (like get dressed, read my bible and pray, and maybe even exercise a little at some point) so that I can start my day off right.

I'm trying to change many parts of my life that I've realized were making me unhappy and holding me back.  Rediscovering my faith in God has given me a new page in the book of my life.  I intend to use this chance to improve myself and wash away the things that were keeping me from moving forward in life.  I've worked really hard to stop swearing and cursing as much as I used to.  I've decided to end relationships and friendships that were unhealthy for me; to move on from the memories from those relationships that were staying around just to keep hurting me emotionally.  I've started trying to take better care of myself, drinking more water and trying to cut out some of the unhealthy junk food I used to live off of.  I'm working to create a life for myself that if Jesus were to show up at my door tomorrow, I wouldn't feel an insane desire to try and sweep everything under a rug because my life is an embarrassment or source of unhappiness to me.  A running theme this week for many church related events I attended was the idea of your body as a temple to the Lord, for that is where the Holy Spirit resides.  I'm taking that as a personal message to work on creating a healthier and more peaceful temple for the Spirit by eating well to feel physically well and by working on past hurts and memories to create a calmer mind so I can hear the Lord when He decides to tell me something.

You don't need a new year to start to turn to a new page in your life.  Figure out what you want to change to make your life easier/happier/more peaceful/more faith based and craft a plan to get there with some easy to do baby steps.  Rome wasn't built in a day, it was built brick by brick. So gather your "bricks" and start building yourself the tomorrow you want.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Long and Winding Road

I have always felt that overnight transformations are a load of crap.  In my opinion, there is no way to completely change your life overnight and hope to keep those changes in place.  In keeping with that thought, my journey to where I am has been a long one stretching over the last 20 years of my life.  I felt that it would be appropriate to share my story with the world, so that maybe someone else will be helped by hearing it.

I was by no means raised in any sort of religious upbringing.  Some of my grandparents go to church, or at least did at some point, but my mom stopped going to church when she was a little girl and my dad never went at all.  I was baptized as a baby, but that was basically it for most of my childhood.  I sometimes went to church with my grandma if I asked, but that was pretty rare.  This was mostly to do with the fact that the church my grandparents attended was full of a bunch of people all over the age of 50--not exactly a fun environment for an 8 year old.

But I sort of believed in God at that stage of my life.  He was just this sort of abstract thing you asked for stuff from--like Santa Clause, but for everyday stuff like not wanting to have math homework.  But as I entered middle school I had no idea that God was going to begin his first attempt at bringing me to Him.  A friend of mine played guitar in the band at a local Wesleyan church's youth group, and he invited me to come watch him play one week.  I went and had a ton of fun, because to me the night wasn't filled with stodgy Jesus-y stuff like I was used to from the church I had sometimes gone to.  I kept going week after week, telling myself that I was going for the fun and that all that church-y stuff wasn't getting to me, but it slowly was (and in a good way).  I ended up accepting Christ as my savior at the age of 13, and was extremely happy about it: I felt like there was a little more light to the world, that the "awful" things in my life (that every teenager thinks only happens to them) were less daunting. (Note: Nothing actually bad happened to me in my life at that point, just those standard teenage issues like being awkward and having acne)  I was constantly told by all of the youth leadership how much Jesus loved me, and even a random stranger at the super-market once told me "I can see Jesus shining through you, young lady."  I was happy to be a good girl in the eyes of God and live my life as best as I could for Him.

This happy part of my life continued into high school, but it was soon to end.  In the spring of my freshman year of high school my world was rocked: a scandal involving my youth pastor forced the church to fire him, and proved to me just how human (read sinful) a pastor really can be.  My faith in God was shaken.  "If a man that I trusted could do that, and God let him, then how can I trust God?" was the thought that ran through my young head.  I lost my faith and became extremely cynical about humanity in general.  The goodness that had been praised in me suddenly seemed to be a bad thing, and I tried to shed that image in any way possible.

Interested in learning what happened next? Then stay tuned for what is to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A New Year, a New Page

Just like the title of this post says, I'm going to be using the new year of 2012 to make some changes in my life.  A lot happened in 2011 that was rather monumental to me.  I started another year of college, changed career/life goals, performed some major friend overhauls (for the betterment of all), met a lovely gentleman (and subsequently fell in love).  But most of that pales in comparison with the biggest thing to happen to me in 2011: I decided to become Catholic.

This decision was a big leap for me, but I'm proud of my choice and haven't looked back once.  It's a long road to get there (becoming Catholic is not an overnight process) but I've grown so much as time has passed.  It may sound corny or whatnot, but I've definitely become more peaceful since coming back to God.  It's nice to know that I can count on Him to help me through everything, and I can think of countless examples of how, just when I thought everything was going to fall apart, He swooped in with a bigger and better plan for me.  The changes in me are profound (at least in my opinion), I'm all the better for it.

I feel like sharing my journey with the world.  I feel like it will help me process what is happening in this new chapter of my life.  But I also hope that maybe someone out there will also benefit from hearing my story, and make the changes they need to in their life.

Until next time. Peace be with you all.