On Being Everywhere I Go

Credit: http://offthepage.com/2016/11/07/on-being-everywhere-i-go/
Credit: http://offthepage.com/2016/11/07/on-being-everywhere-i-go/

“No matter where you go…there you are,” stated the character Buckaroo Banzai in the 1984 cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. This troubling truism has become a bit of a mantra for me as I stumble through life.

I frequently have too much going on. In the flurry of activity, a nagging voice hums in the background, I can do this better, I could be more efficient, I should do this, I ought to do that.

One of my greatest sins is to put more faith in my ideas than I do in God. Recently, I did this when I believed if I changed a few parts of my life—the setting, my workload, my stress level—then….

[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Off the PageContinue reading here.]

Hearts wide open: in the sky, on earth

Happy Feast of St. Clare! The following prose-poetry is dedicated to her.

This past Monday I drove north, from Kansas City to La Crosse, through lush fields of green growing up towards the sky. As I moved, my eyes focused on the constant road. It was an all-day drive after a two-month pilgrimage of study, retreat, service, connecting and contemplation in states called Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. (At one point this summer I also saw South Dakota from the other side of the Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa.)

Now I am back in Wisconsin resisting (partly) a necessary reset of my mind after an experience among a community of creative Christians at The Glen Workshop: I am trying to write an academic paper while poetry in my memory and future propel me backward and forward–as the language of academia conflicts with what my soul desires. This tension is a bit like the thunderstorms that clouds can create; the electricity of the different parts of my mind can also create downpours.

Driving north over concrete and asphalt my gaze floated upward toward the expansive sky, bright blue and full of the puffs of evolving white clouds–clouds slow dancing with cheer and optimism. The clouds moved, merged, formed shapes of glory, as The Great Artist presented signs and affirmations by way of the best piece of interactive installation art ever made: this infinite, expanding universe. With each opening created in the clouds, I pondered my constant sense that The Great Artist was providing encouraging nods of “Keep moving in the right direction” and “Yes, you are part of my wonders, too.”

In the silver machine of mystery (the car, so it is to me) I listened to phenomenal podcasts as I made my way over horizons and toward my home. The words of poets, scientists and journalists multiplied my awe for the beauty and complexity of God’s creation, of this world made so multidimensional by the way we humans interact with God’s doings and pretty much make messes all over the place. I was completely blown away when I heard Paulo Coelho speak about his journey into becoming a writer. I was inspired by how Naomi Shihab Nye overturns the poetry found in ordinary life. I was flabbergasted by the scientific discoveries being made about the intelligence of the forest. And, I was horrified by the reality of what life is like for refugees in Greece nowadays. In each story told, the true wildness of who God made us to be and who we are was exposed: we are one, the body of Christ revealed by way of loving, enfleshed in service and creativity.

Across the expansive sky I saw diamonds and other mysterious shapes made from clouds.  I saw hearts form, widen, evolve. Over rolling plains of farmland, human stories sort-of hugged me in the car container from all sides; tales of tough Truth and invitations to participate in God’s goodness came at me in surround sound. I gasped and grinned for the beauty of the images combined with Truth made into sounds, for the swirling mess of life and beauty enfleshed everywhere.

Hands on steering wheel, mind awake, foot on pedal, eyes wide open, heart expanding. Through God, in God, and by God the clouds moved. And so did I. So did all of us, as one.

"heart in the sky" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“heart in the sky” by Julia Walsh FSPA

Thanksgiving for Messy Jesus Business’ 5th Birthday!

Photo credit: http://www.firstefc.com/event-items/worship-and-praise-service/

It is amazing to me that it is nearly Messy Jesus Business‘ 5th Birthday! Thanks be to God that I listened to the encouragement of my community and friends to start a blog about living the Gospel and we’re still going strong.

I am in awe, really, upon reflection on all the waves that MJB has had in the world, as there are many indications that this blog is having a positive impact. Since November 29, 2010, over 70,000 visitors have visited MJB. We have been mentioned in several publications, including on The Good Word at America, on Patheos, on Top Catholic Blogs,  and in Our Sunday Visitor and in other blogs, such as There Will be Bread by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn.

I have been humbled by praise I’ve heard over these five years for the goodness found on this site. I’ll never forget the strangeness of first meeting someone who was a devoted reader of MJB (but a stranger to me) and how encouraged I felt about the importance of maintaining this presence (Thanks Melissa!). Plus, MJB has helped me gain the practice I’ve needed to come into other opportunities such as serving as a Horizons columnist for Global Sisters Report and being a regular contributor to Living Faith(By the way, October 7, 2014—the day my first Living Faith reflection appeared—MJB had its biggest day with 1,031 views!)

Thanks be to God for the blessed community of Rabble Rousers who have indeed helped keep this blog going. I was very reluctant to begin blogging since I know I live a very busy life and usually have a bit too much on my plate, so to speak. But, with the collaboration of my awesome messy, Gospel-centered friends, we have been able to explore together some deeply important aspects of being the Church we hope for.

Some of the Rabble Rousers have contributed gratitude reflections to help us celebrate MJB‘s 5th birthday:

Being a part of the Messy Jesus Business community has helped me to not miss the trees for the forest, so to speak. In the midst of what sometimes feels like a large, confusing, abstract struggle for peace and justice, Sister Julia and the other bloggers remind me to slow down and focus on small moments and little victories—to celebrate where we are and where we’ve been even though a long journey still lies before us.

~ Steven Cottam

I love that this is a safe place for us to get messy. I think my thoughts are freakishly weird, and my spirituality is even more so. Sometimes I hesitate to share, but maybe someone else gets it, too. And that’s the beauty of this experience for which I am grateful.

~ Emily Crook

Because having Jesus at the center of my love and commitment has always been messy, I treasure the freedom in MJB to connect my faith to real life.  Where else can I talk about fears about celibacy, accepting my brokenness, exhaustion, Pope Francis, TV crime dramas, child slavery, final vows, violence against women, The Bachelorette and yard maintenance? Because it is always in these details of life that I find my Jesus.

Sister Sarah Hennessy FSPA

As a parent to small children, my daily discipleship is truly messy –both literally and spiritually!  I am deeply grateful to this blog for giving me a community with whom I can share, ponder, and grow in our collective messiness as followers of Christ.

~ Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I am very thankful for how this ministry of writing and witness has transformed my life. I am extremely appreciative for all the voices that have contributed to our communal contemplation about how messy discipleship truly is. Thank you writers, thanks to Jen and Jane for their help with editing and format, thank you to everyone who has commented and shared the posts, and thanks to all of you for subscribing.

I rejoice over how this messy little corner on the internet has helped contribute to the building of God’s reign of peace and justice; I am so grateful that the Spirit is at work here!

Thank your for your participation! Thank you for reading! Happy Thanksgiving! And, Happy 5th Birthday to Messy Jesus Business!!!

Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

photo credit: http://cabinfevercraft.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/il_fullxfull.552264116_erau-300×300.jpg

5 good ones

Sometimes really good things can get buried underneath other good things. At times, we are called to uncover and re-expose the hidden goodness in the Kingdom of God, so that the blessings can help us be renewed.

This blog has been going for about three and half years now and includes over 230 posts. Wow! Thanks be to God for the 12 guest-bloggers who have contributed to all the goodness and help keep this blog alive. Just like the Church, it takes a community rooted in Christ for good things to happen, for the Truth to be told.

Over the past few years, several especially really good blogs have been posted. Yet, there are certain blog posts that stick out in my memory as especially meaningful and powerful. Today I want to share with you some particular “oldies but goodies;” a few blog posts that I still find myself pondering, even though they are a couple of years old. It’s not an inclusive list or a “best of” by any means, but here are five blog posts that I personally find worthy of a re-read.

1.) stories that shoot the truth (February 23, 2011): a reflection on trying to teach non-violence while teaching in a part of Chicago where shootings were a normal part of life. Peace sign

2.) an Easter economy (May 1, 2012): a proclamation about the need for alternative economies that are based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

3.) nourished by disturbance (February 9, 2011) by Joshua VanCleef: a bold reminder that living the Gospel is meant to disturb us, as we are called to confront the pain of the world.

4.) God has got this (November 2, 2011) by Benjamin Anderson, SJ: this post ponders the question “how do we keep going and make sense of a world where people endure so much?” In other words, it offers insight into how to persevere when our service causes us to encounter great pain and suffering.

5.) the weirdness of witnessing (February 28, 2012): a reflection on the struggle of living a public life while being a sinner–an imperfect Christian.

Thanks for reading and participating in the discussion! Thanks be to God for all of these Spirit-led creations. Amen!

The Pain of Climate Change

Last fall, I heard a story on the radio that caused me to have all sorts of physical reactions.

It was the end of a busy day of ministry, and I was cooking dinner for the sisters I live with, a group of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. I was casually listening to the evening news while I set the table. Then, I heard a story unlike anything I had ever heard before. For those four minutes, I was frozen, staring down at the empty plates while I listened. I was completely stunned. After the story ended, my mind and heart hurt from what I heard. I gasped and groaned and prayed out loud.

What I was hearing, what was disturbing me so deeply, was the news that a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati, (pronounced KIR-e-bass) is in trouble. Due to the stresses of rising sea levels, Kiribati is likely to be completely uninhabitable by 2030. The people must find somewhere else to go or they will not survive.

A nation is dissolving. A people must abandon their home. This was preventable and it is not their fault. It’s our fault. We have destroyed their community, their nation, their lives – and we don’t even know who they are. . .

[This is the beginning of my first column for the new online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.]

Photo of Kiribati from Business Insider

 

Made by many

I have exciting news! This week’s issue of America  magazine contains an essay written by me!

The essay is called “Changed, not ended: A view of religious life from a young sister” and it also includes a great illustration, which I love:

Illustration by Dan Salamida. http://americamagazine.org/issue/changed-not-ended

Writing this essay and going through the process of getting it published has been an adventure many years in the making.

As one who had childhood dreams of becoming a writer — but had at one point given up on my dreams — I am totally thrilled. I am in awe. And, I am very, very thankful.

This accomplishment is not my own, it is not success because of my own doing.  Rather, this an achievement of an entire community.

In last week’s blog post I said I was going to share a bit about the adventures in writing I’ve had within the past year.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

One of the major gifts of 2013 was the fruit that came from living a life in union with the Word of God. Specifically, I found that I still gain a lot of energy and joy as I try to be a writer. First of all, my sporadic habit of blogging on continues here at Messy Jesus Business.

In the past year, Invitations to write for other publications starting coming too, including one by the Franciscan Spirituality Center Blog for which I once wrote about “Christmas Every Day.” I was really excited to learn that I had earned a scholarship to a writers workshop that I was blessed to attend the last week of July and first few days of August.

Plus, my community invited me to try something really creative: be a Poetry Catcher at our assembly in June. I had the task of mirroring back my observations to the 300 or so sisters and affiliates there through poetry. At one point I was asked to write a poem WHILE I listened and then immediately perform the poem for the crowd. I was in awe right with everyone else by what came out of me.

That’s often how I feel about the creative work of writing: amazed by the gift God gives. The gifts related to the work of writing have been abundant this year. At the writers workshop I was incredibly enriched by new relationships and encouragement from other Christian artists, insights about how to grow as a poet and writer, and lessons on poetry and the creative life in general. In addition to the essay in America magazine this week, I also had a poem published in an online literary journal within the past month.

Like I said, my accomplishments and success are not my own. Certainly none of this exciting success would have come without the encouragement, help and support of great editors, my Franciscan sisters, and many other friends— all of who are deserving of a big shout-out and THANKS!

But, most importantly, I am very certain I would have never become a writer and a poet without my relationships with my Franciscan sisters.

Even though I dreamed of being a writer and a teacher when I was a child, I quickly gave up on my dream of becoming a writer because I did not have much confidence.  In school, I was pretty much an average student — especially in English class, where I came to realize I had a lower vocabulary than most and grammar rules confused me.  Although I had excellent English teachers, none of them ever gave me any extra encouragement so I gave up on my dream of being a writer before I even started college.

God is a God of surprises and abundant blessings. And, many of those blessings come through community.

Within a couple of years of entering my community, several of the sisters I was growing close to were getting to know that I enjoyed writing poetry and prose. So then, when an opportunity to write for a blog came my way, sisters encouraged me to take it.

Then, over 3 years ago a Sister encouraged me to start a whole other blog. I prayed a lot about it, and that’s how Messy Jesus Business was born.  This is a risk I would have never taken without the help and support of community.  Likewise, the blog wouldn’t continue to have a vibrant life without the readership and follower-ship from all of you. Thank you!!

Similarly, sisters encouraged me in my poetry too. I was stunned when I started to hear from some of them that I had talent. As invitations to share my poetry started coming from sisters, I grew more overwhelmed by the praise I would receive, especially when I felt so clueless about the craft.

Only within the past year have I gained an acceptance of the gift, due to the blessings coming from my community. Because of my sisters, I am willing to say I am a poet and a writer now. And, I feel like many of my other dreams related to writing are possible. Maybe I’ll actually get to write books one day!

I shed tears when I think of it: I am who I am today because of how I have been made by many.  My community has empowered me and enlivened me and helped me be a steward to the gifts God has given. I am officially a published writer now, by the blessing of my community.  God is so good, and I am thankful!

By the book

I remember when and where I first learned the word.

I was 18 and sitting on a folding chair among a crowd in an enormous gymnasium-converted auditorium. It was dark in the giant room; only the stage was lit. Eager to be an excellent Christian, I was at a conference sponsored by The Navigators (an international, interdenominational Christian ministry) with a couple thousand college students. I attentively listened to the preacher, highlighted verses, and scribbled some “A-ha!” insights in the margins of my clumpy Catholic Bible.

That’s when I first learned the word legalistic.

Basically, as I understand it, to be legalistic is to subscribe to specific faith practices and beliefs just because one feels like they should. Motivated and guided by ideas of “ought to,” Christians are slowed from having an authentic love life with God, community and self. All matters of Christian living are directed by how one follows a rule book of their religion.

A legalistic faith is immature. Being told what to do and following right along is the stuff of childhood.

The introduction to the concept of a legalistic faith life was revolutionary for me. Eventually, essential, personal convictions about faith evolved from what I learned. These are some of the things I still think about a lot:

  • A faith not challenged is not a faith at all.
  • The most important thing I can ever do is help a person know they are loved.
  • Faith in God is all about relationship, not rules or right-thinking.

Of course, rules do matter and they have a role. Proper belief and proper practice help us unite and be a stronger community.

The concern is really about rigidity. Religious rigidity is a thing that Scripture cautions us about. We’re called to focus on knowing and loving Christ, not to be rule masters.

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.Romans 12:2

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.  -2 Corinthians 3: 4-6

As highlighted here, Pope Francis recently said some smart things about rigidity too. For example, he warned against “exaggerated tendencies toward doctrinal or disciplinary ‘safety.'”

Pope Francis also said that “if we remain within the parameters of our ‘traditional culture’ we will end up nullifying the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Whoa–what!? Doesn’t the Church like tradition? I think what he’s saying is that we need to remain open to the Holy Spirit; the Spirit who is very busy expressing compassion in the messy world but not so busy attending to our tidy rule books.

If you like rules, don’t worry. There are totally times when rules matter and it’s best to do things “by the book.”

I bought a giant book with my birthday money this year. It’s what got me thinking about all of this.

Thanks Mom and Dad!
(Photo credit:
http://thewritinglifetoo.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html)

I sort of need the book. I’ve started trying to complete a MA part time. (Considering my ADD and my dislike of self-discipline, I’m hoping that I’ll be allowed about 99 years to get the degree done. Please pray for me!)

Being enrolled in grad school means that I’m writing research papers again, and this has caused me to learn something new about myself. I realized I actually enjoy the technicalities of writing! Figuring out the rules of proper footnotes is disturbingly fun for me!

Maybe I’m too nerdy for my own good. Or, maybe I am comforted by the black-and-white morality of the Chicago Manual of Style.

Really, I have another guess about why I like the laws of citations. I am a woman who is involved in the matters of a messy and gray-shaded faith full time. Math is a struggle for me so I don’t interact much with absolutes. So, at last I found a place where I can go back to some of my adolescent faith habits; where right-and-wrong is straight-forward and judgement is clear. After all, isn’t it easier when all we have to do is figure out what the rules are and then conform?

Chicago Manual of Style is my new love that allows me revert to being immature. It’s really nice to just do what I am told again, even though it’s just in the formation of my footnotes.

When it comes to following Jesus, though, I’m very glad Jesus keeps me grown up. I’m so thankful God and I have an adult relationship, and this relationship is based on Love.

Love motivates me to be faithful and follow rules for the right reasons. I really want to please the love of my life.

The rules, though?

Yeah, not too clear-cut. And that’s OK with me!

closets of conversion and compassion

Last summer I was invited to join a group of Christian bloggers who occasionally review Christian media.  After I agreed, opportunities came!  The first book that intrigued me is a story of radical solidarity, compassion and good ol’ fashioned Christian conversion, The Cross in the Closet by Timothy Kurek.

The following video nicely introduces you to the writer and the book’s premise. Prior to the start of his year-long experiment, Kurek was a self-named Christian bigot. He was upraised in a very conservative community- so conservative that he wasn’t even allowed to watch movies such as Free Willy, because it was considered “environmentalist propaganda.” He becomes troubled by his background and then pretends to be someone he isn’t for an entire year (in order to free himself from who he calls his Inner Pharisee). The outcomes are many, and profound. Ultimately, he learns universal Truths about love and dignity that we can all heed.

A modern rendition of St. Francis and the leper, The Cross in the Closet is a Christian story of encountering Christ in unexpected places, and then being changed by the experience. I was inspired by Kurek’s raw honesty and public vulnerability. The book is a touching story of how a genuine Christian faith is a journey through questions and doubts, spiritual poverty, conversion and gradual enlightenment toward Truth and freedom. Yes, all people, no matter their diversity, are children of God with equal value and worth. This Truth of Christ must be the foundation of all of our Christian behavior. For some of us, though, we must truly risk boldly in order to understand it, in order to believe it. That’s what makes this true story so compelling.

I believe that all readers will relate to The Cross in the Closet. Its meaning and message are both broader than communion with a marginalized population; its value is greater than education about diversity. Rather, The Cross in the Closet speaks volumes about the freedom that is gifted us when we seek God on the margins, when we strip ourselves of pride, anger, hate, fear and all that can block us from union with God as we step into the unknown.

Really, I think that the strength of the book is its universal messages. Following God can flip everything in our lives upside down. Kurek explained: “…the [new label] has forced me to think more deeply about things I probably never would have otherwise. . . But at least I am finally open to the idea that I may have been wrong all along…” (82). Actually, even if it’s not an outcome of intentional discipleship, enculturation causes one to consider what they never had to before.

Although I enjoyed reading this book and found its messages profound, The Cross in the Closet wasn’t an example of great writing for me to aspire. Apparently, the book was written while Kurek went through the experiment. His personal growth is paralleled with his development as a writer. In the beginning, some details were too random and insignificant to be included (so what if so-and-so just came out of the bathroom!?), many of the metaphors were confusing, and much of the writing lacked creativity or beauty. Even toward the end of the book, occasional grammar mistakes and bizarre typing errors provoked a feeling similar to reading essays written by my high school students. For example, I had an urge to mark the text with my colored pens when I read “she walks passed our table” instead of “past our table” (p. 267). I was left wondering whether the fact that books can be published with such mistakes should be reassuring or appalling to me, another imperfect writer.

Even so, The Cross in the Closet is an engaging and important book, thick with relatable threads for both Christians and secular seekers. Kurek’s story inspires us all to remember that we are all on a journey together, and we all must be willing to risk boldly in order to truly know who we are and how we are to be in this world of beautiful diversity. His story and its colorful strands of authenticity, friendship, love, faith, conversion, solidarity, and compassion is a blessing to us all.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

in a cave, prepping for sunrise

I am a slow learner. I hear the sacred invitations of Lent and I still move toward the darkness.  My life is busy right now and I wonder if my time with God in the desert is caving in on itself.  Is it true that I need to understand darkness to be a child of the Light? Are all my examinations of the truth really helping me get ready for the sunrise? Or, am I making things harder for myself?

Together we’re in a Lenten desert where things aren’t too comfortable.  God seems to have turned up the heat and hallowed out cool caves of confusion for us to take refuge.  Our explorations of the caves of truth cause us to wonder.  Is there a reason why we want to examine the rock formations within the dark?  Can it also be our nature to stand and face the horizon, waiting to watch the glory of the sunrise?  As light emerges can we listen to the songs of creation getting ready for a New Day?

I ponder these scenes in my heart when I remember to pause during my busy days.  God is certainly using the local, natural beauty to ground me as I run around. I have to pay attention while I try to serve, teach, help and love.   Every day is full of the Truth that can bring me closer to God.  Truth can be rocky, heavy and hard.

This week daylight savings time has warped my routine some.  My alarm clock becomes part of my dreams and I tune it out but the singing birds stir me out of slumber.  Then, in a daze, I watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan and read psalms.  I bow, blow out candles and say the Eucharistic prayer that my sisters say in our adoration chapel every hour with me while I am away on mission:  “Sacrament most holy, Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. Eucharistic heart of Jesus, furnace of Divine love, grant peace to the world.”

I gather my stuff and rush to work. On the way I encounter the needs of the world, hoping to bring the peace I pray for. Every child needs positive attention, every person needs to know that she is loved.  I can’t keep up with the demands of being a teacher, no matter how much sleep I sacrifice or prayers I pray.  It seems that I have to remain real. It’s more true to admit that I am doing my best but I would like to do better.  A stone of truth in the cave is named: I must be humble.

I read the news and check my email.  Awareness of injustices layer upon more demands.  The freshness of the signs of spring stir worries and unrest.  I am worried about the safety of the city, the garbage wrapping around fences and coating the land.  I get crabby and annoyed that other people are messing up the world, but I fail to look in the mirror.  Yet I am getting used to violent and cruel language. Along with other sufferings and wrong-doings, I tune things out instead of caring.  Another rocky truth in the cave is named: I could be more loving and passionate about injustice.

When evening arrives I am exhausted but still spinning in restlessness.  I realize I survived another day of mean misunderstandings and heavy work, but my guilt is stronger than gratitude.  I feel like I need to keep working as long as I can or I won’t be ready for tomorrow.  God stirs in my heart, asking me to sabbath. Come, rest in me.  I shrug off God’s desert invitations and turn instead to shame and sorrow;  I think I need to work harder.  A boulder of truth in the cave is named:  I need to trust in God.

I am glad that Lent is longer than a month because I seem to be a slow learner.  I am getting it though, little by little, and with each new awareness my relationship with God is being restored and renewed.  Eventually I’ll be able to leave the cool cave and re-encounter the heat of the furnace of Divine Love.  Eventually all this Lenten work will ready me for the best sunrise ever: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the true Light of the world.

"thorns in the desert" by Julia Walsh FSPA

And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.  -John 3:19-20

the weirdness of witnessing

It’s not easy living a public life. Sometimes I’d rather be anonymous or just completely unnoticed.  It’s a lot of pressure because those who know that I am a Franciscan sister, a Christian and a modern follower of Jesus are paying attention to my moves.  What type of picture am I painting about what radical Christian living looks like?

When I was a teen in the 90’s I listened to a lot of DC Talk.  On some recorded versions of their song “What if I Stumble?”  there is a really profound and challenging statement for all Christians to heed:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle.  That is what a unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” 

It’s lent now.  I am going to be honest with you, because lent helps me feel like I can be.

I stumble as I try to follow Jesus.  I am concerned about what my lifestyle says about Christians.  I am totally aware that I am a sinner.  When I am really honest about who I am I can quickly see that I am just as messed up as everyone else, in my own Julia sort of way.  I can be mean, selfish, lazy, rude, and prideful.  I have bad moods and don’t always show up to serve with a joyful spring in my step.  Just because I am a sister doesn’t mean I am better at living a Christian life than any other Christian.  Maybe God called me to be a sister because this lifestyle personally helps me do a little better job at being a Christian that other life options would.

One of the criticisms I receive about this blog is that it is too much about me.  If I were really dedicated to the poor and the suffering maybe I’d tell more stories about them.  Do I think that I am so great that I need to show off what I am up to?  I am not a journalist and it is not appropriate for me to tell the stories of other people.  My job is to be true to who I am.

No, this blog isn’t all about me.  It’s about Jesus and how Jesus is living today.  This blog is supposed to be about how young Christians follow Jesus in today’s world.  I suppose my life is an example.  I hope that it’s a good one.  I am really not that great and my message isn’t original.  I am one voice in a big, beautiful, diverse community of disciples.  I am one woman who is trying to be faithful and is struggling on my walk with God just like everyone else.

The thing is, I feel called to witness.  For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with God and I am eager to share my Love.  I believe Christians are supposed to act and live differently than the rest of the world.  I feel called to live a more public life of faith that shows others an alternative Gospel lifestyle.  I feel like I need to give a testimony about the greatness of God with my life.  St. Francis directed his earliest brothers to “preach the gospel at all times but only use words when necessary.”  I’ve been taught that the boldness of testimony is part of Christian living.

It’s a big job to be bold and put myself out there all the time.  I can’t say I love it.  God and I get into little arguments about it sometimes.  I complain that I want to be a “normal” woman and I am sick of the standards that attention gives me.  Sometimes I cry about it and sometimes I get really crabby.  (See?! I told you I am not that great! A holy woman would serve her Love with pure joy!)

God keeps inviting me and encouraging me.  God shows me that the world is hungry for people who are being alternative and radical with their faith and devotion.  Jesus is like a coach who brushes the dust of my sin off my uniform and shoves me back in the game.  He seems to believe in me and totally fills me with the graces I need to keep going.  I gotta try to keep loving.

I am so grateful that I am not in this alone. I couldn’t be and that’s the whole point.  Christians are community people. We have to be. If we weren’t community we wouldn’t be anything.  We need to acknowledge our weaknesses and cry out to God and one another for help.  Even when the worst of us comes out, we’re still one body.  It’s the life of community that helps shine us up- like jewels- so we can be more beautiful.  Rough edges get worn down and we help each other be holy.

So, if I do stumble and mess up, I am sorry.  I pray that this season of Lent helps convert me- and all of us- a little closer to Christ. I pray that my time in the desert helps me become more enlightened about what my growing edges are.  Once I am enlightened, I trust God that I will grow.  I pray that I can be a good sister to others who are struggling in their discipleship.  I pray that how I live helps Christians look good in this world and inspires belief.  And, I am so thankful that we’re all in this together. Let’s pray for each other. With God’s grace, we’ll move the right way.

"desert way" by Julia Walsh, FSPA