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5k + faith

In honor of my first ever 5K (Truman State University Homecoming!) I am going to share 5 lessons about faith that I learned while I was training and participating.

5kerin
newcomer in the cold early morning

1. God compares you to your past self.

I walked the majority of the race, and I boldly came in 100th place out of 101 runners. As I walked, I was so far behind that I couldn’t see any of the other 100 people, except 3 dots on the horizon who were always just out of my reach and one girl who was behind me a ways. But that made no difference to me because the only story I know is my own. And my story is this: At the beginning of this summer, I huffed and puffed to the mailbox. And now I was walking/jogging 3.1 miles, aka farther that I’ve ever moved outside a car.

That’s the same way our Heavenly Father sees us. He knows all our stories. He know where we’re starting and where we’re headed, and exactly what we need to get there. We really don’t need to worry about what anyone else is doing. Which leads me to point number 2.

2. Your journey is unique.

Ironically, just like life, my three best pals were able to keep pace with one another way, way ahead of me. We all started at the same place (the back) and ran in a line two-by-two from the starting line. But after about 90 seconds, I got really tired. I hadn’t trained like they had, nor do I have the history they do of running and being active. So they ran on ahead, and finished within seconds of one another, a full 35 minutes before I even made it to the finish line! As a matter of fact, our girl Ashley wasn’t historically a runner but trained with such passion and discipline these last few months that she placed 3rd in our age group! #inspiration

In college, we all started in the same place but now, years later, they are all married with beautiful children and it’s easy to feel like maybe I’m far behind them. They run, and I walk/jog miles behind, all alone. But in reality, that’s not what is happening. We’re just all on one road to heaven, and our journeys to get there are supposed to be different. We all got to the finish line in the end! And when I got there, I learned this lesson . . .

3. It’s much easier to accomplish anything with the right environment. 

Without the support of my friends, my family and the my WW group, I wouldn’t have done this. Sometimes, as a planned escape from something, I just won’t tell anyone I plan to do it. Then, if I quit or fail, no one will know and it will be far less embarrassing.  But I told my friends I needed to learn discipline. In faith, in fitness, in food.

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my crew

And they held me accountable. We checked in as we trained; we shared good days and days we wish had gone differently. We arrived in one car; we all ate the right breakfast; we met at the finish line. Accountability is as powerful as it is scary. Lean towards the powerful side.

4. Quitting is an option but it’s a stupid one.

Quitting only crossed my mind that morning as a question of logistics. And what I came up with was, “If I quit, I’d still have to walk some place to actually quit. I can’t just lay down in the middle of a road. So if I’m going to walk backwards towards my car to quit, I may as well just keep walking forwards and earn my t-shirt.”

And thank goodness I did. By the time I finally got to the end, I was happy but tired. And as I rounded the corner towards the finish, my friends–all 7 of them and all 5 kids–were all waiting and cheering me on. One made a sign that said “Erin Miller for Homecoming Queen.” When I got within earshot, Jen and Leslie jogged up and Jen said, “We’re gonna run the finish! We’re gonna be by your side but you’re running the rest of this race!” And we did. I never thought I’d finish any test of physical valor. Let alone quickly, but with one of them on each side and the encouragement of the rest, I didn’t cross the finish line tired and weary, but thrilled and energized.

In faith, it seems easier to take the path of least resistance sometimes. But it’s foolish. In the long run, when we keep our eye on the prize and move forward towards the Lord, it doesn’t matter how slowly or in what order. As long as we’re headed the right direction. Because in that direction lies victory. The other lies death!

5. Growth hurts.

 

In the grand scheme of life, I’m so young. I’m only 27. But I’m also the oldest I’ve ever been. And when I was even just 17, only ten years ago, I didn’t get sore the way I do now. To the point that it still surprises me. I watched another friend prep for his alumni rugby game with all sorts of wraps and braces and icy-hot ointment, and I thought, “Geez, why bother?” And the next morning when I woke up, I thought, “Oh no, why didn’t I bother?!”

I have this misconception in faith that if I do what God is calling me to do, then it won’t hurt. I have no idea where I got that from. Following God’s plan has historically been one of the most challenging, messiest things that anyone has ever set out to do. Time and time again, from the prophets to the saints to the people in our own parishes, we just hear about how life really tries to knock them down when they stand up for righteousness. Growth hurts. But it’s because we aren’t training for the race. We’re training for the finish line.

 

empty + broken

This morning I took a look at how my handlettering skills have changed in the last two years since I started learning.

One of the first things I ever lettered.
2016
a first digital version
2018

The 2018 one is just . . . laughably better. But not by practice alone. I have learned new skills, purchased workbooks, researched, learned, listened, watched, taught myself Adobe products–I’ve worked very hard to get to the reasonable success I’m at now. And I can’t help but think it was way, way easier when it was just me and a notebook and a singular felt tipped pen.

But the product was so much worse!

Can we have a life where we can do the least amount of work but yield the best results? Of course not. Yet, especially in faith, I find myself longing for that on the reg.

One of my favorite prayers of all time, from one of my favorite saints of all time, St. Augustine, goes like this:

Lord, make me pure–but not yet!

St. Augustine was a wayward man who knew that there were better things out there for him but he wasn’t ready to find them. Man, I get that.

And for good reason. Because I have found that, as counter as it seems, the closer you get to God, the more you will struggle. I always think that getting closer to the Lord is going to mean that I’m getting further from struggle and pain, but in reality, we’re all just walking further into the belly of the beast.

Life is harder the closer you get to God. You learn more; you’re aware of more; you’re accountable for more. No longer is it acceptable to show up with your felt tipped pen and lone piece of notebook paper and say, “I am a calligrapher!” You have the burden of knowledge now. You know what it takes to do God’s will.

It’s logical when you think about it. In any battle plan, there is a consensus to attack the weakest link. But wouldn’t it stand to reason that you wouldn’t use your best guys on the weakest link? You’d use your weakest guys to fight their weakest guys. Then when you get to the real fight, with the Goliaths of the opposition, you’d bring in your truest, scariest forces to be reckoned with. We’re the ones being targeted.

The battle between good and evil is no joke, friends. And the devil definitely uses that strategy. The closer we draw to God, the more of a threat we become to the devil and his army of evil. Which means every step closer to walk with God is another bullseye on our back.

However, it’s also more armor. Our margin for failure goes way up when we take more on. But it’s those moments that instead of turning away and abandoning hope, we have to remind ourselves myself that God is bigger than our biggest failures.

I think there’s a tendency to get really discouraged and start defining ourself by our failures. For me, it’s in the form of a habitual sin and I kick myself every time I give into temptation because I’m like, “ERIN. You literally know better in every way. Are you even trying to be holier?” Psyches can be really mean.

And that’s what I unpacked in confession last week. I said to the priest, “I don’t want to assume God’s grace. I come to confession with the same sin all the time. At some point, won’t he say, ‘You’re clearly not making an effort to be better’?” And Father said:

God’s love is bigger than your biggest failure.

When we’re aware of what’s being required of us, we get tunnel vision. And when we fall, it feels like everything else has been in vain.

I have close friends who work intimately with the pro-life movement. They have committed enormous parts of their lives and hearts to helping pregnant women get the help and support they need to feel empowered to have their children. The more families they save, however, the more broken families they meet. As their involvement grows, so does their awareness. And it’s a blinding spotlight on a pained world, brighter every day. It’s easy in those times to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the weight of what more you could be doing, instead of recognizing the glory in the triumphs you’ve already faced.

We cannot continue further into the battle of good versus evil without remembering that God is by our side and He’s so much greater than these empty spaces. These places where we haven’t found victory or the scary places we haven’t even seen yet. These moments of failure and shortcoming and giving into temptation or realizing how long the journey ahead actually is. Those empty spaces seem daunting and insurmountable. But God is bigger. And He’ll give you just what you need.

Bonus. In honor of my fave saint and his awesomely authentic prayer, enjoy this free download of this “Saint Augustine, pray for us” print:

saint-augustin.

spick + span

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled spiritual musings to share some cleaning tips today.

The seasons are starting to slowly change here in rainy Kansas. And while most people spring clean, I am a big advocate for fall cleaning. Before we hunker down to spend the next few months in the warm cozy embrace of our homes, let’s make sure they’re up to the challenge.

Especially after the hot months, sweat and dirt become regular tenants in your home. But refreshing everything for a cool transition into autumn won’t take more than a few hours.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to clean and freshen the most trafficked areas of the home.

Bedrooms

  • Mattress
    • 1 c. of baking soda + 10 drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender is good for sleeping!)
    • Sprinkle onto a stripped mattress and leave for at least an hour (more if you can)
    • Vacuum it up to lift out odors, stains, and grime
    • (This could be a good time to flip your mattress, too. Either end to end or over to the other side.)
  • Linens
    • Wash all linens. Sheets, pillowcases, blankets, pajamas, spare blankets, pillow shams, even more blankets.
    • Re-evaluate your pillows. If they are yellow or flat, consider new ones or toss them in the washer with tennis balls wrapped in tube socks (yes, I’m serious)
  • Closets
    • Take everything out of your closet. Ev.er.y.thing.
    • Vacuum the shelves and throw away broken hangers, tags, fasteners
    • Donate clothing that doesn’t fit
    • Fold and hang all the remaining clothes nicely

Bathroom

  • Bathtub
    • Run warm water + 1 squirt of dish soap to fill the tub
    • Leave for about an hour
    • Use a dish wand to scrub scrub scrub
    • Drain the tub
  • Medicine cabinet
    • Empty it, take inventory, toss out expired medicine (safely out of reach of children or pets), wipe it out and put the remaining items back in orderly fashion
  • Toilet tank
    • Drop a tablet in there to keep your commode operating fresh and healthy

Living Room

  • Couch
    • Remove cushions and vacuum out old cereal, doll shoes, bread ties, and popcorn kernels
    • Vacuum, fluff, flip, and replace the cushions
  • Entertainment center
    • Get behind your electronics to the hub of cords we know is tangled back there. If you can’t organize them, at least hit the area with a vacuum cord so you’re not mixing massive dust bunnies with electrical currents
  • Fireplace
    • You’re going to have to call in the pros for this one, but I just think it’s worth mentioning that if you have a fireplace, you should make sure it’s ready for winter–free of birds nests, ill-fated squirrels, unexpected flammables, or unsavory infestations.

Kitchen

  • Pantry
    • By now, you know where I’m going with this. Empty it out, toss out the expired stuff, donate things you don’t like anymore or won’t use or have a surplus of, wipe out the shelves and put back the remaining food in. an. orderly. fashion.
  • Critter traps
    • Creepy crawlies are going to start making their way inside you house, aka their vacation home, soon. I recommend starting with Pinterest to find a critter-catching solution that is safe for your family and whatever enemies you’re up against.

Floors

(How have I been lucky enough to clean nearly ever kind of floor? I don’t know. But I have. And I have tips for all of them.)

  • Tiles
    • Dry vacuum, don’t sweep
    • 1 c. of cleanser + 1 bucket of hot water (this is my favorite cleanser)
    • Use a ring-out mop in a wide figure-8 motion (and start at the back of the room, lest you mop yourself in a corner, Baby.)
  • Carpets (including stairs)
    • With stains: sprinkle 1 c. baking soda + 10 drops essential oil
    • Without stains: spray fabric refresh spray all over the area; heavy baking soda mixture on stains
    • Let sit for a few minutes
    • Vacuum, vacuum, vaccum
  • Linoleum
    • Sweep with a soft bristled broom
    • Spray degreaser and use a ring-out-mop in a figure-8 motion
    • Note: Degreaser! is! slippery! Clear the area and don’t let people walk on it until it’s dry.
  • Hardwood
    • Use a Microfiber push mop so you can pick up hair and dirt with the power of static instead of sweeping it in between your slats (sad)
    • Drizzle small areas with a hardwood-specific cleaner (my fave)
    • Ring-out-mop with a little water–just enough to keep it wet–in a figure-8 motion
  • Laminate
    • Dry vacuum, don’t sweep
    • Use a micro-fiber dust mop (see my recommendation above) and a spray bottle of homemade cleaner in strait striped motions–laminate floor can’t stay wet so spray only the area you’re just about to mop, then move on
    • 1 c. water + 1 c. vinegar + 1 c. rubbing alcohol + 3 drops of dish soap

Bonus Tips

  • Vacuum out your vents, change your filters, and clip a car fresher on for good smell in the whole room
  • Wash windows (this is my favorite glass cleaner, which I use moderately because of the aerosol) and vacuum/wipe out the window sills
  • Dust and disinfect all surfaces
  • Clean baseboards and walls with your microfiber mop and a mild bucket of soapy water–just don’t soak it!

 

Got specific questions? Hit me with ’em!

Happy cleaning!

work in progress

Shame is a feeling I’m familiar with. As a kid, whenever I got caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to, my cheeks would burn red with the fire of a thousand humiliations and hot tears would flow from the corners of my eyes. I hated to mess up.

As a result, I am now a person who largely doesn’t make the same mistakes twice. With one giant caveat: romance.

What is it about romcoms that makes me believe I’m living in one? There’s something so familiar about looking at the screen and seeing a plucky heroine whose quirks are the admiration of all her married friends.

Part 1: She and a man she loves try to make it work.

Part 2: They can’t.

Part 3: Something incredible and unprecedented happens.

Part 4: The stars are finally aligned.

The end.

That’s so appealing to me! But unfortunately, I’ve never made it past Part 2 in my own life. As a result, I try to fabricate as many versions of Part 3 as possible. Which means I give second chances. Third chances. Twenty-eighth chances. I’m pretty book smart but when it comes to romantic comedies, I’m as hopeful as I am truly stupid.

Luckily, I’ve been blessed in this season of life by friends who don’t shame me for the mistakes that I make. But it hasn’t always been that way. I remember once, after trying (in vain) to win back the affections of a college suitor, my closest friend at the time saying to me:

You are the child who continues to press her hand to a hot stove. And I refuse to wait for you to learn anymore.

That friend gave up on me. Loudly and without remorse. (That story ended at Part 2 with no attempts at reconciliation.)

Surely there were things this friend struggled with again and again, but so blinded was he by his perceived perfection that he was able to cast aside my relapses and declare me a person whom no one could help. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that projection of perfection a lot lately, albeit in a much more subtle approach.

Books, blogs, instagram feeds, Facebook posts pioneered by Christian women have this theme of: I once was lost, but now am found. That’s wonderful. But the secondary message appears to me to be, now I will help you get found, too.

Don’t misunderstand me, please. We should help one another find Christ. We are called to be examples and lead in holiness. But I want to be really clear on this part:

We are not the Savior.

The last thing we need is to feel condemned for not having it right by the people who project their “finished product” style lives on social media or their public channels. And the reason I say it’s subtle is that I honestly don’t believe people are actively trying to ostracize others, but when we only show off our best foot, that’s what happens. I’m urging you to show both feet, tripping over one another as they walk towards holiness.

Even St. Paul whined about the thorn in his side. We don’t have to have it all together in order to inspire or uplift other people. We have to start being transparent with one another about our struggles, not just our victories. Because when we only share the triumphs, we’re sending the message that works in progress aren’t welcome here. Or that once you have found Jesus, you won’t suffer anymore.

I long for a day when we don’t say: I struggle with addiction, but I love Jesus. But instead we say the much more honest: I struggle with addiction and I love Jesus. We don’t need to choose one or the other. I know my last blog post was about not being able to live two lives–and that’s true. But there’s a difference between giving yourself a free pass to do whatever you want because you assume God’s grace, and wading through sin with Christ at your side because no matter how much you love Him or accept Him, you understand that we still live in a difficult and imperfect world.

There is no higher road or easier journey for people who have found God. We don’t atone for the sins of others once we hit a certain level of holy. Jesus did that. He died for everyone’s sins. Not just the big ones, not just the near occasions or the sins of omission. Jesus hung on the cross for every sin of every person throughout all time.

He paved not an easy road for us, but a road with more help. It’s not that we lead the broken towards God. It’s that we are the broken, and we need to turn to the others who are broken around us and confidently say, “I know it’s this way. Salvation is up ahead. The hospital is up ahead. Let’s lean on one another and make the journey together.”

Honestly, the more I learn about WeightWatchers, the more I see the most poignant comparison between my physical and spiritual journey.

On WeightWatchers, I am allotted 23 points to eat in a day. Yesterday, I ate more than that. In the morning, I wanted a hearty breakfast sandwich from Chick-fil-a. Then I really felt like a Dr. Pepper after my lunch (which was 0 points). So I got one from QT and it was delicious. Then I got back to work at our supervisor had sent out for Frostys from Wendys. Yum! I didn’t want to miss this Friday afternoon treat! But last night, around 8:00, I felt restless for frozen custard, which is how I usually celebrate the weekend.

Breakfast: 13
Lunch: 0
Dr. Pepper: 12
Frosty: 17
Dinner: 0
Frozen Custard: 23

= 65 points

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 42 more than I should have eaten. Oops.

Here’s why I share that with you. I’m not suddenly going to quit the program because I made a few bad calls yesterday. I’m also not suddenly going to be someone who doesn’t crave frozen custard on the reg. But if I pretend this didn’t happen, there’s a new habit that will form under the surface: hiding. If today I’m not honest about all these points because I’m embarrassed, I see how easy it is to just not track something. So I do it again on a tough day; then again on a long day; then again on a special occasion; then the weekend becomes a special occasion; then I’m back to every day in the line at Andy’s Frozen Custard.

You know how I know? Because that’s how I got overweight in the first place.

At this week’s meeting, we were talking about the things about the program are tough. People were calling things out left and right, until finally one woman said what we were all thinking:

It’s all tough. If we thought this stuff was easy, we wouldn’t have ended up here in the first place.

The most incredible thing about WeightWatchers it that everyone there totally admits and even celebrates that we are all just works in progress. Even the people who have hit their goal weight aren’t “finished products.” They keep coming to the meeting because without it, they’d gain it all back. We are always going to have this relationship with food. It’s not about changing the relationship, it’s about staying accountable to the daily decisions that keep us in control.

That’s how we need to approach one another. We need to create a safe place to fail and stumble so that instead of eating in secret in our cars in dark parking lots (yes, I’ve done that) we can bring our battles into the light for everyone to see and together we can create a plan to walk together toward Christ. Not in a line but side by side.

Pray for opportunities to be transparent with people this week. And for the courage to be honest. It’s not easy to share your struggles with people, but when you do, you open the door to help people in a more profound way than you ever could by hiding your ice cream.

time + discipline

Last night at Mass, we heard the second of a three-week series of readings on the Eucharist. Last week was the Eucharist as food for the journey (shout out to Elijah who was like, “I’m hungry and tired, Lord. #notgoing”). This week was the Eucharist as what our celebrant called “the antidote to death.”

Fr. Justin likened the Eucharist to medicine, and his metaphor really shook me. He made this claim: when we take medicine for a physical ailment, the effects will only work if we set up the right environment for success. Essentially, if we have a cold and take cold meds, but then stand outside in the 50 degree rain in bare feet with no coat . . . well that cold medicine won’t do a thing for us. And it wouldn’t be the medication’s fault, but our own.

Or in this case, my own.

It’s hard for me to share this because many people I’m very close to read these posts (hi, Mom!) but I truly believe that if we aren’t transparent or authentic with one another about the struggles we face, then the glory of God saving us from ourselves is lessened when we retell our stories.

In the first relationship of my adult life, I was faced with a lot of tough decisions and spiritual challenges. Despite a good Catholic upbringing and a true devotion to waiting for a holy, healthy relationship, a deep rooted insecurity of just wanting to be in love already as I watched my friends’ families grow crowded my judgment to what was good and my goal shifted to “good enough.”

Good enough is a slippery slope. I don’t love that cliche but in this case, this one is just so apt. Because being willing to look past one small red flag quickly became a compromise to much bigger things.

I found that I started to give myself a free pass in the name of Original Sin. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but I decided I could do what I wanted anyway and still go to church because God would forgive me. It was, after all, His job.

I proudly told my friends, “I know it’s wrong . . . I’m just not sure I care.” I boldly claimed that these were mistakes I needed to make to understand why the rules were made in the first place. And if you’re thinking to yourself, dang Erin that seems like a dangerous approach to spirituality, then you’re right. It was. Here’s one instance.

What started as “I will never date someone who smokes pot” became “As long as it’s not around me that’s fine” became “I don’t actually mind being around it” became me smoking it, too.

I wasn’t a burnout. I didn’t smoke often. But even a minimal relationship to this drug was an enormous deviation from what I knew what the right path to take. This stands for a much bigger pattern of compromise in the relationship. On physical boundaries and cohabitation and marriage and children and virtues.

But you know how amidst the storms and raging seas and fires, God came to Elijah on a whisper on the wind? That’s how He got to me too. There was this big storm of my relationship, and in my deepest heart I knew that even if I wasn’t behaving that way. Then one day I was standing alone in church and a gentle but persuasive thought came to me:

Erin, you cannot live two lives.

What I was doing was exactly what Fr. Justin was talking about yesterday. I was taking in the Eucharist every Sunday at Mass but spending my week not living in a way that allowed Christ to thrive through me.

It’s not that I’ll never sin again. I’m certainly not suggesting that the solution here is for us to just stop sinning. That’s insane. And if we could have done that, we probably would have! It’s impossible to escape sin in this world. But it’s not impossible to try. We face this reality in all things. Much to my chagrin, I cannot just say out loud that I’m doing Weight Watchers, but then keep eating how I did before I joined and expect my weight to change.

Our actions must line up with our visions or we will fail.

This sobering realization led to our breakup, but it wasn’t as though I learned, corrected, and now I’m a perfect person sharing this with you from the other side. Not at all. No, now I’m just making the harrowing journey back towards virtue because I ventured pretty far away from it.

The sinful behaviors we accept into our lives become habits that we can only break with discipline–meaning to create an environment for success. A circumstance where the medicine will work. Someone said to me once that Olympic athletes dedicate their entire lives to being the best, so how can we spend any less time and discipline on our relationship with God.

I don’t know why, but it seems like it’s challenging to attribute something so human, like habit forming, with something so divine. We tend to use faith as a cure-all and believe (dangerously) that when we have it, we don’t need anything else. But that’s not true. We need discipline.

“Faith doesn’t make things easy. It just makes us stronger.”

– Erwin McManus

We need to know the environment that will lead us to success, and then we need to create it. You can read more about that whole process here.

But the basic takeaway is this: ask the Lord for help and guidance. Be patient and forgiving with yourself. Nothing changes overnight. When I first decided to give up weed altogether, it was sort of as arduous as it was getting to that decision in the first place. It started as “I want to know why I shouldn’t so convince me” and became “Okay well then I’ll limit myself to only when it’s readily available or offered” and slowly turned into “I’ll actually actively avoid it” and finally I’m where I am now–not interested at all. And that slow, steady path back to grace has been mirrored in all the other compromises I made, too.

So don’t lose hope if coming back to virtue and cultivating the right space for Christ takes time. Just do the next right thing.

And cling to the Eucharist.

childlike faith

This morning I woke up before the sun to get to my Adoration hour. My goal is to spend more time in silence with the Lord, but for a moment or two while I was getting ready, I thought . . . or am I going to be spending time snoring with the Lord . . .

Good news, though. I didn’t fall asleep. Eventually I found a rhythm and was led to some really beautiful reflections that I’ll share later. But today I want to talk about getting caught up with what prayer looks like.

Today’s hour started off rough. I wanted to kneel but I was tired. The chair was uncomfortable. At one point, I just stood and walked in semi circles around the Monstrance. Despite knowing that God looks at our hearts, I still get really swept up in the decorum of prayer. I feel the need to kneel for a certain amount of time, at a certain angle, head bowed in a way that’s reverent but doesn’t make people think I’m sleeping. Remembering all of these nuances of how to make prayer look good from the outside impacts how well I am able to focus on the inside.

In college, we had a chapel that held the tabernacle and students poured in and out of it all hours of the day and night. It was the most relaxed prayer I’ve ever had. People were in their sweats; they were singing to the Lord or napping with the Lord; they were journaling or praying as a group; or sitting in the silence; people sometimes did homework with the Lord; and once or twice, I know people stood and shouted in pain at the Lord. It was a blessing to have a place to pray so authentically.

I often remember one certain time. I was in the kitchen of the Newman Center making a jelly sandwich (hold the peanut butter, please.) and through the breezeway, I saw a friend making her way towards the chapel in haste. Sandwich in hand, I followed her, thinking she might need a confidant. I sat cross legged with her head in my lap and she prayed and cried a little. I didn’t ask what was wrong–I just sat and ate my sandwich. And, I’m not totally proud to admit, I dropped crumbs on her head.

She saw them fall to the floor in front of her face and she looked up at me and laughed through her tears. She said:

You sure have that whole “childlike” part of faith figured out.

A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I were together for a Baptism. At the Mass, I sat with my friends 3-year-old daughter Cecelia, and when the Alleluia came, you better believe she sang as loud as she possibly could. She knew the words, and she wanted to make sure that Jesus knew she knew them. Her first note was so loud that the elderly woman in front of us jumped. It was awesome.

Cecelia’s only “audience” for her prayer that day was Jesus. I’m afraid that a lot of times, Jesus is my secondary audience. Outside of church, we spend most of our time on trial for our appearance and behavior. Are we dressed too formal or not formal enough? We we obviously trying too hard? Laughing too loud? Leaving work too early because we don’t care or too late because we care too much?

It’s hard to check our baggage at the door. I’m so aware of the eyes of other people on me and I forget why I’m really there. That’s why I love this hour at 6 am so much. I’m usually the only one in the chapel so I can be more vulnerable in prayer. I’m a fidgety person (case in point, in the time I’ve been writing I have been sitting on my left foot, then my right, then both feet on the ground, draped my leg over one side of the chair, stood up and now I’m standing with one leg propped up on a chair) so it’s nice for me to meet Jesus just as I am–which is usually curled up in a tight ball at his feet.

This is a two way street, though. It’s a call to awareness for me to realize how I am criticizing the people around me at church. Maybe you fall into the habit of striving for the picture perfect liturgy, too. But here’s the truth: The Church is a family. And families have crying babies and bad singers and coughing people and jeans wearers. The only thing that makes the Mass perfect is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Everything else we can just let go of.

Next time you go to church, try to let go, love your family for who they are, and channel the childlike faith that allows us to sing loud and proud to the God who loves us just as we are.

the incredible shrinking erin

I have alluded on my instagram to my participation in Weight Watchers over the last few weeks. I haven’t shared about it here on the blog because the story of a physical journey is so different than my usual content that centers around a spiritual one. But something that I’ve learned in these last two months is that they are actually pretty similar. So I gave myself the milestone of 20 pounds down before I would share more. And as of this morning, I’m down 20.2 pounds. (Yasss.) So here goes.

I started WW at my heaviest ever. Honestly, the number isn’t important. We let numbers define a lot of our lives–too much, I think. Weight and pant size and salary and followers. Numbers can be so helpful; I mean, this program wouldn’t work if not for the numeric value assigned to foods. But overall, we are more than the sum of our parts, so to whittle us down as humans to one thing–be that our weight or our level of education or our sexual orientation–is to do a disservice to the entire person.

It wasn’t a number that motivated me. I had a good talk with my friend and longtime confidant Ashley and she was telling me about their family garden. She said, “It’s amazing. We wait and wait for these plants to bloom and then they do–and then they’re done. If they’re not growing, they’re decaying.” I realized this applied to life and to me. I asked myself, Is this the life I want to be living?  

And the answer was no. I wanted something different. I just wasn’t sure what that something was. When I went to my first meeting, the leader asked why I was there, and I said:

I can either keep gaining or start losing. I’ve already tried the keep gaining. I want to see what the other side feels like.

It’s not profound or powerful. There are people alongside me fighting for their lives or their health or the ability to play with their children. I admire them so much. My “why” is just that I wanted to see what it was like to not be so big.

Spoiler alert: I really like it.

I imagine that when you’re not big, you don’t really pay much attention to how much of the world is designed for you. But when you are, you’re incredibly aware that you more often than not don’t fit in–metaphorically or literally.  Here are a few of the amazing victories I’ve had in just my first 20 pounds:

  • I was able to fit comfortably through a turnstile at a ball game. I didn’t have to squeeze or finagle or move one body part at a time.
  • When people need to go by me, I can just stand a little straighter–no more worrying about people brushing up against me and making it awkward for everyone.
  • Restaurant booths are more friend than foe now.
  • I can keep up with my friends or coworkers when they walk without getting embarrassingly winded. That’s huge for me.

How does this relate to a spiritual journey?

Because before I realized what I was capable of, I wasn’t un-confident. There’s a notion, I think, that if people don’t hate themselves then they love themselves. If they aren’t unhealthy, then they’re healthy. But there’s a powerful in-between called complacency that traps us from moving forward. We perceive this as “contentment” but in reality, if we aren’t blooming, we’re decaying. If we aren’t moving forward, we’re moving backwards. And that is true of our physical health, our mental energy, and our spiritual stamina.

The point is I didn’t feel bad. About myself, or about my life. But I didn’t feel good, either. I didn’t feel anything, really. I was in a robotic place of eating whatever and whenever with very little thought, and that lack of goal setting seeped its way into other places in my life. I have long lacked a true spiritual routine; an exercise routine; or even a plan for how often to post on my own blog. As a result, I didn’t spend too much time really delving deep into anything. Life was happening to me, instead of me being an active participant in the story God has written for me.

And WW became a powerful first step for me. Once I introduced discipline into my daily diet, obedience in other places followed. It became an instant domino effect of empowerment. More energy meant more focus. More focus meant better prayer. Better prayer starts my days off in a more centered way, and that carries me through whatever trials the workday brings. I walk every day now, and I’m so aware of the heart that God formed that beats in my chest to make everything else in my body work, and I feel like I am finally honoring that gift.

The biggest lesson so far

The biggest lesson–no pun intended–is that we are not designed for perfection. I set a goal weight, sure. But my success in life won’t hinge on when or if I hit that. So long as I’m trying. I also have a goal to stop sinning. That will literally never happen. It can’t. Not in this life. Because we aren’t made for perfection on this earth. We’re made for discipline.

Now I am more clearly able to see the right choices in my diet, and correct the wrong ones. In the same way, I’m cultivating spiritual obedience through awareness. So that doesn’t mean I’ll never eat an entire carton of ice cream while watching He’s Just Not that Into You again. The same way I’m not just going to suddenly stop sinning. But knowing what the right choice is makes it easier to correct myself after a stumble and get back to the path God created for me more quickly, and with much more accuracy.

For me, the first step towards the person God is asking me to be was a physical first step into the door of my first WW meeting. Ask God this week what your first step is. What is the first thing you can surrender to start changing your entire life to be lived more in the image of the one who created you? Because I can promise you this: you may not have been made for perfection–but you were absolutely made for a purpose.

 

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A note about WW:

I’m not getting any kickback from this blog; it was written solely based on my personal experiences. And if you want to try Weight Watchers, I’d love to help you out. You can use my special member link here to get a free month–and full disclosure, I would get a free month, too! Or if you just want to talk more about it, reach out to me at erin@hellosunshine.co and we can chat.