martha, martha, martha.

I just finished another freelance piece of writing. I finally wound down in time to tend to my own blog, and the second my fingers hit the keyboard to type this, my Fitbit alarm sounded “time to start winding down for bed.” Which is honestly a pretty perfect introduction to this post.

A few months ago, I was in the first adult relationship of my life. The world was a rosy haze of foolish decisions and pet names, until one day it suddenly wasn’t anymore. I made a resolution (and accepted a challenge from my wise, saintly mom) to embrace my single call in a way I hadn’t prior to this relationship. Instead of using my single status biding my time until love found me, this time around I was going to use the gift of time to help myself and those around me.

It helps that right about that same time, my three closest friends all had babies and I realized instantly what a gift free time is, because suddenly I was the only one left that had any.

So I started saying yes. Often. And with abandon.

I will grow my blog.

I will sell more watercolors.

I will make more watercolors to sell.

I will volunteer at my parish.

I will learn to budget.

I will call people and write letters and visit. I will donate my time and my money and my stuff. I will learn to cook and join Weight Watchers and a gym and a dance class. And when people call on me for anything, no matter the time or the matter, I will do it all!

And I did. Well, for a bit.

The problem with doing it all is that it can come with a sense of self importance. I am guilty of that big-time. Part of that is probably from my slightly controlling nature, but by and large the need to be needed is pretty universal. A somewhat “malicious” part of us wants to believe that if we aren’t involved in something, then that thing will fail. Because if it succeeds and we aren’t a part of it . . . well then what? What do we have to offer?

It’s this obsession with being constantly busy and involved that makes the scripture about Mary and Martha, sisters to one another and best friends of Jesus, so impactful in my prayer life. I think of it often. Reflect on it less than I should.

In the story, Martha is flustered, doing dishes and preparing food and doing just a laundry list of chores while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, content to just listen to him. Instead of calling out her sister, Martha does something that I think we have all done. She totally tattles.

I hear Martha say to Jesus, “Lord, can you not see that Mary’s doing nothing while I’m trying to prepare a nice day for us? Do something!” the way I can hear myself say to my mom as a kid, “Mom, Elizabeth isn’t helping me set the table even though you told her to!”

Martha and I want to get people in trouble. We want to make sure that everyone sees how hard we are trying. We want to get credit for our work. And Jesus . . . well he couldn’t care less. In fact, he says to Martha:

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

Every time I read this passage, I actually read it like this:

Erin, Erin, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Choose the better part and it will not be taken from you.

This, of course, always troubles me greatly as I strive to figure out how to achieve the “one thing” and achieve it well. Maybe you’re like this, too. I have a feeling that it’s a trap that everyone striving for holiness falls into. My list doesn’t get shorter. It just gets . . . “holier.”

  • Go to Mass
  • Say a rosary
  • Read a devotional
  • Write a devotional
  • Read a spiritual book every month
  • No, every week
  • Feed the hungry
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Fly to another country and give rice to a kid
  • But don’t forget the stack of books you promised to read–that’s going to be a long flight!

What starts off as a decently admirable attempt at the “one thing” just becomes another way I’m not carving out the time to do what God is actually asking of me.

So this past week, my prayer was a really simple question:

Lord, what do you want me to give and what do you want me to give up?

And today’s Gospel was the story of the loaves and fishes. Where a little boy gives all that he has–5 small loaves and 2 tiny fish–and Jesus feeds 5,000.

Historically, there’s so much we could unpack in that story. The fact that women and children were there but not in the headcount, so likely more like 10,000 or 20,000. The fact that in a more direct translation, the boy had more like biscuits than loaves and more like sardines than salmon. But even without parsing the text to make this story even more incredible, we get this basic teaching from the actions of our Lord. Give him what you can. Give him as little as you have. It is enough to make miracles.

If all you have is a quiet moment hiding in the pantry from your kids, give it to Him.

If all you have is $18 left in your bank account, give it to Him.

If all you have is the hope that one day this pain will end, give it to the Lord.

He is waiting to take the smallest thing we can possibly offer up and turn it into something profound, nourishing and life changing.


(spiritual) debt

Debt is a looming part of my everyday life. When I graduated from college in 2013, I got accepted into a graduate studies program in southern Missouri, as well an assistantship program waived my tuition. I took out a student loan anyway, to pay for “food and rent.” And while yes, part of it did go toward those things, the majority of it went towards the Erin’s Glamorous Adult Life Fund. Target shopping sprees, dinners out with friends, extravagant gifts for my friends and family . . . and suddenly, I was in trouble.

In three years, I racked up a mountain of credit card debt. Despite being aware of the problem, my habits didn’t change. My outlook became, “I’m never going to get out of debt anyway–why try?” So I trapped myself in a cycle of using paychecks to pay down the cards, and then using the cards to pay for necessities like utilities and even groceries. Eventually, I had to move back in with my parents in an attempt to save a little bit of money and keep myself from going under.

It’s been a few months now and I’ve gotten a new job in a new city, moved back out on my own (responsibly this time) and I have become an avid fan of sales, coupons, bargain shopping and (finally!) budgeting.

But new habits don’t totally erase old habits, and sometimes it feels like the aftermath of these mistakes will define my future for my entire life. I often find myself falling into self-destructive talk.

If I had made better choices when I was 22 I wouldn’t even be in this mess.

My salary should be more than enough for me to live on and buy a home; if only 1/3 of everything I make wasn’t going to repay my own stupid debt.

I cannot believe how long I’m going to have to pay for those mistakes. It’s been years and I’m still struggling. Am I ever going to get out from under this water?

This last thought resounds in my mind like a gong, bouncing off every nook and cranny of my brain because it’s the same way I see my spiritual past. It’s a great trick of the devil to use our humanity against us when it comes to patterns. Habits are formed by small choices that add up to big results, like me spending a few bucks here or there and slowly erecting a mountain of debt. And in the same way, temptation and evil chip away at us slowly.

It’s just a thought here, a word there, then maybe a small action, or eventually a big one. And suddenly, our armor of God has been compromised and we feel like we may never live in the light again. There are vices and temptations I’ve struggled with in my adult life so far, and while I hope and pray that they are behind me, I find that some days my spirit isn’t as strong as others. And in those moments of weakness, the devil uses that same debt mentality to mess with my heart. It’s been years and you’re still struggling. You’re never going to get out from under this water. 

The devil works hard, y’all. But God works harder. And He can and will use this habit-dependent part of our humanity to cultivate virtue in our lives.

I tend to shy away from the word “virtue.” More often than not, I equate a virtuous life with a daily hour of silence in the chapel, no more Instagram or Pinterest or Hulu–and definitely no more sinning. I’ve never seen a holy card with a saint wolfing down ice cream, swiping through Tinder, smoking weed or stomping spiders dead on sight. And since these are things that have either been a part of my story so far and aren’t anymore (Tinder and weed) or are a current part of my daily routine (ice cream and spider squashing), I have essentially convinced myself I don’t have what it takes to be virtuous or holy. Whatever compilation I am of my past decisions means that I only have what it takes to scrape by as a barely passable Christian.

Thankfully, I’m not as smart as I think I am, and those things aren’t what it means to be virtuous. As Robert Louis Stevenson* famously said, “Saints are sinners who kept trying.” Saints understood and understand that virtue is created one moment, one decision at a time.

Weeks ago my pastor said we don’t need to make sweeping declarations to change our lives or hearts. We just need to do the next right thing.

The next right thing.

Suddenly, virtue didn’t seem out of reach.

When I’m faced with a temptation of any kind, I can just say, “Today I will not buy this.” “Today I will not gossip.” “Today I will not text my ex.” Every small victory empowers us to make another good choice next. And again, and again, and again.

Never believe the lies that you’re not good enough or you’re already too far gone to make amends now. Praise God for temptation and hardship and trial because those are the moments that your faith is being formed.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3 (USCCB)

Every single moment is a decision and all it takes it the next right thing to turn back to the Lord and keep moving on that good path.

I read once that God only gives us life moment by moment because it’s so glorious in its entirety that we would be overwhelmed to the point of nonexistence. In other words, God’s plan is so good it would literally blow our minds if we knew it. So until then, let’s just take life one manageable decision at a time.

Don’t worry about making this season of life better, or this month, or this week, or even tomorrow. Just tell yourself to do the next right thing.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control

2 Timothy 1:7 (USCCB)

*Some people quote this to St. Teresa of Calcutta. I didn’t know either of them so I’m leaning on Google pretty hard for this one. It’s good insight regardless of who said it.

clumsy erin

There’s a question that’s been going around and around in my head lately, and it’s a doozie. Before I get to it, I will give you a little background. Two weeks ago was the gospel story where Jesus comes back to all of the apostles but poor Thomas is missing in action. He doesn’t see Jesus come back, and when the others tell him, he says, “I won’t believe it until I see him myself and touch my hands to his wounds.”

And bam. Thomas is branded as Doubting Thomas for the rest of eternity. I think about this all the time. I pray that we aren’t all defined as our worst quality or our worst moment, and I hate that St. Thomas has been. I certainly don’t want to be remembered as Lazy Erin. Or Mediocre Erin. Aside from the fact that we have this beautiful and wonderful God who redeems us beyond our worst flaw (be it skepticism or laziness), it’s also a bad rap for someone who did what most of us probably would.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of my late mentor and friend Fr. Bill Kottenstette. Fr. Bill was a profound leader of the faith who was in many ways the face of Christ to me. I learned much about the love of the Trinity through my friendship with him.

And if someone came to me tomorrow and said, “I just saw Fr. Bill. He and I had lunch and it was really great!” My first reply wouldn’t be, “Where is he? I want lunch!” it would be, “Kottenstette? The one that’s dead? Nope.” First, because it’s outrageous. But mostly because it hurt so much when he died that I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up for nothing.

And I know that’s sort of the whole point. That we are meant to hope in the Lord and hope in a big way. But the thing is, more often than not, we aren’t the disciples that are like, “Yep. Okay. I’m on board. Tell me more, Jesus. I’m 100% convinced and ready.” More often, at least for me, I’m the Doubting one that’s like, “Who me? Nah, you got the wrong guy.”

So back to the question at hand. I was talking with a dear friend and she was recounting a conversation she’d had with a struggling colleague. The struggling woman has a heart that deeply desires a child and after months of not conceiving, she defeatedly admitted to my friend, “I’ve been faithful to the Lord. And now he is not being faithful to me.”

When my friend shared that, I was overcome with sadness. My heart broke for this woman! What a difficult (and dangerous!) place to be, to be so hurt that you’re testing God. God has promised us nothing in this world, but salvation and supreme happiness in the next. Who are we to say what God should or shouldn’t do for us? It’s tempting to see religion as a tit-for-tat system. We are surrounded by it everywhere else. You read the pages, you get an A. You pay the money, you get the product. You wait in line, you get the service. And that’s when this voice in my heart said to me:

Erin, aren’t you waiting for things that you feel God “owes” you? How are you any different?

Harsh, heart.

Harsh but true. I have often felt, like the brother of the Prodigal Son, that I’ve paid my dues. I held up my end of the bargain. I go to Mass, I tithe, I’m a good friend and listener, and I say I’m sorry when I do wrong. Now where’s my paycheck?

And that’s the question that’s been making laps in my head for weeks. Why do I live like I’m waiting for God to make his move? I am Thomas, waiting for God to prove it to me. Thomas says, You rose from the dead? Show me. I say, You have a plan for me? Prove it. And when I feel that tug of helplessness, I lean into it and use it as a vessel for my sadness or my laziness. I thought I’d be married by now, or in love, or have children, or be a traveling presenter on a retreat team, or a best-selling author. And since I’m not, I’ll just bide my time until the payoff.

What a selfish, dangerous way to live. And yet, it’s where I’ve set up camp.

So much of my life up to this point has felt like ends and beginnings coincidentally butted up against one another. But what if God wants more for me? And for you? What if what he wants isn’t for us to just be open to the next thing, but so unabashedly enthusiastic about it that we charge headfirst into the unknown until we get it right?

Like Mary’s “yes” to carrying Jesus. Her fiat. When I imagine it, though the story says she was afraid, I imagine it was that kind of fear that presents like courage. The Joan of Arc “I was born to do this” style courage that triumphs the doubt. I imagine Mary saying, “Yes.” before the angel even finished his proposition. Mary didn’t need to read the terms and conditions or ask a boatload of follow up questions or talk it over with her friends. She heard God call her name, and she rose instantly to run toward it, paying no mind to the obstacles between who she was and who God was calling her to be.

I’ve been blowing through mistakes left and right lately. These questionable decisions are punctuated by profound moments of truth and understanding. I told my friend Ashley, “I am so tired of falling. You’d think at some point, I’d see the stumbling places up ahead and just pick a different path already.” But as I’ve reflected on my heart lately, and Mary’s courageous yes, I think it’s actually not possible. My heart was so moved by the idea of pursuing God’s plan instead of waiting for it to happen to me that I think I’ve just been running as fast as possible forward. I keep tripping and getting back up and my knees are scratched up and there are rocks in my hands but I’m moving faster and farther than I ever have.

If I took slow steps and I used a map and calculated my trajectory, it’s true there would be a smaller margin for error. But what I’m learning is how to dress my wounds and how to avoid the same booby traps when I come across them again. What if Doubting Thomas isn’t called that because he was defined by that doubt but because he’s defined by his divine triumph over the doubt? In that case, you can call me Clumsy Erin. Because there’s no doubt that when I finally get to the pearly gates I will have dirty hair and a lot of scars and dried blood on my shins and palms, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m headed that direction. Because I can hear the call of the finish line. And it’s my name.

the trouble with authenticity

I want to write beautiful, poignant pieces that inspire and guide people in their lives. I like to write about cleaning and organizing because I believe that when you feel peace in your space, you feel peace in your life. I enjoy sharing spiritual musings because we’re not meant to be on this journey alone, and it’s important to be to be a little vulnerable here so that you, reader, can feel less alone out there.

But the trouble with authenticity is that it’s hard. It’s hard to discern the line between vulnerability and oversharing. Between relating and whining. So pardon me as I stumble through these next few paragraphs, trying to find that line.

Life has been in flux for me lately. I have had several friends bow out, leaving me bewildered and broken-hearted. After a few weeks of tear-filled evenings and sleepless nights, I prayerfully decided that living alone was probably no longer a financially or emotionally viable option for me, so I accepted a longstanding offer to move back in with my parents. And here I am.

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, but it rarely feels like that in the immediate wake of heartache. It’s incredible what our worldly experiences can do to our heavenly perception. In 2015, I lost my spiritual mentor and confidant, Fr. Bill Kottenstette. I saw him on a weekly basis for the sacrament of Reconciliation, and I remember him laughing once at me, saying he’d never seen anyone so giddy to come to face their sins head-on. My joy then came from the way that I saw God in Fr. Bill. I saw a man who sat with me in my sin every week, who knew my truest heart, and loved me so much anyway. I began to imagine (or understand) that God was very much that way, too.

Bonus: Read some of Fr. Bill’s strange style of wisdom in this post.

And when Fr. Bill died, I was devastated. Pope Francis wrote later that year that when our primary confessor (priest who presides over the sacrament of confession) dies, it is like our face of Christ dies in a way, too. It’s exactly how I felt. The joy that drew me so close to the Lord was gone in an instant, and I was mourning. Like I said, so powerful is the way that our worldly experiences shape how we relate to God.

Which means that in the last weeks, when so many people that I trusted with so much of my heart suddenly hurt me so deeply, my trust for the Lord was called into question. I’m a spiritual person; I try hard to figure out where I am being called–so how could I have been so wrong that suddenly it was all taken away from me? Was it possible that God was bowing out, too?

So before I could be abandoned by another being (in this case, yes, God. I am that full of myself, apparently) I decided to abandon Him. You can’t hear answers you don’t want when you’re just not listening at all.

I busied myself with other things–work, handlettering, this blog–anything to keep my mind off of my pain or my faith. Until one day it all sort of bubbled over. (That’s the thing about pain–eventually, it will catch up with you.) Lamenting this to my parents, my dad said to me, “Erin, when life knocks you down, just keep getting back up to fight again!”

I said, “Dad, I wasn’t even aware I was in the ring. I was headed for popcorn at the concession stand and suddenly I’m in the middle of a professional fight getting the crap kicked out of me with no idea what I’m doing.”

I wanted to reconcile with the Lord, but that meant visiting those wounds with Him, and going back to that heartache. Sitting back in those memories was painful. You know how when a relationship ends, suddenly even the good times hurt? It was that feeling over and over and over again.

Then a Bible study online crossed my path on Instagram. Proverbs 31 Ministries was offering a study on suffering, reading through the Book of Job. Sometimes, grief makes you blind to true perspective. So I saw this and thought, “I am obviously just like Job, so I need to read this.”

Wrong. Job experienced true suffering. His family was literally flattened by a house. As I read, my perspective began to change.

When Job’s life was tossed into complete turmoil, he didn’t curse God–which is the whole point of the book of Job–but the other thing he didn’t do was ask why. That was jarring to me because that’s all I have been asking for weeks. Why did I trust them? Why was I so foolish? Why would God rearrange my life without so much as a next step set out? 

What Job did do was cut off all his hair. He said, “Lord, naked I was born, and naked I will die. Take everything I have left.”

Now, I’m not a vain person, but I love my hair. It’s shiny and soft and vibrant like a Pantene commercial. So Job cutting off all of this hair stirred something inside me. I saw an opportunity to offer a sacrifice of my own volition. After these weeks where it felt like so many things were taken against my will (my mental and emotional stability, my friends, my apartment), here was a chance for me to willingly give something to the Lord to show Him, “Okay, I’m going to trust you. Whatever I have in this life is yours to give or take away.”

So I cut off my hair. I’ve been growing it out for a few years, and had every intention to grow it out until I finally met someone and got married (an arbitrary deadline but the one I dreamt up). I didn’t do a big before-after picture because I wanted it to be about the sacrifice. And I’m sharing it with you now, not to boast, but because I want to be transparent and genuine and honest.

What I’ve been praying about a lot in the last few days has been that we don’t deserve God’s love, but we have it. And He does deserve ours, but often He doesn’t have it. And it’s because of moments like this. These moments when I feel like I’ve checked all the right boxes and done my due diligence and prayed my prayers correctly–so I can bypass the hard times.

But that’s not how it works. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anywhere near healed. The pain of what I’ve been asked to give up is real and I’m struggling to wrap my head around forgiveness and moving on, but I’m trying to shift my perspective to this: We’re given challenging times whether we “deserve” them or not. And praise God for that, because gold is tested in fire. And cushy lives don’t make saints.

So to sum up this attempted authentic ramble: Trust is hard. Being real is hard. Finding that line between under- and over-sharing is hard. I get the feeling that life is just going to be hard.

But that brings me right back to the beginning, friend-o. Tested, we are. But alone, we are not.

How can I pray for you this week? Drop a comment below.

Depression and Holiness

I’m delving in to something real today. Personally, I am mildly uncomfortable talking about my depression. There’s a fine line between hiding who you are and understanding that you can’t be defined by one piece of yourself; but regardless,  like many others, I’ve gotten relatively good at projecting happiness outwardly regardless of how I feel inside. Because when I do share this part of myself with people only to be met with:

“Depression? No way. You’re so happy.”

And while that’s discouraging to hear, I can’t fault people for not understanding when there’s not much representation readily available. Media has made caricatures of a lot of groups: women who are either nurturing or successful but never both; sassy black or gay friends; doofy husbands who can’t identify a wife’s haircut; or mental illness as either laughably dramatic or a straight up lunatic. But here’s the truth: depression isn’t about being happy or not happy. Not exclusively, anyway.

It’s the weight of pain I feel when I look at my life–a wonderful, beautiful life full of hope, love, opportunity, and blessings–and I feel no joy. It’s the days I would rather stay locked up in my room, talking to no one, doing nothing because the thought of even talking to another person makes me physically sick. It’s a constant battle of powering through a heavy emptiness that leaves me exhausted emotionally, mentally, and physically.

That’s why despite the fact that I know people don’t mean anything bad when they say “but you’re so happy”, it has no effect on me from internalizing these words. When I try to share this piece of me with another person and they reject it with such disbelief or surprise, it feels like I’m deviating from their idea of who a happy or successful person is meant to be. Or worse, deviating from their idea of who I am supposed to be.

This thought leads right into the notion that a part of me is broken. That I cannot control my own mind. That my brain is defective. And therefore, I am defective.

So I pray, Lord fix me.

Lord, please, just fix me.

And nothing changes. So what? The Lord doesn’t want me to be fixed? The Lord doesn’t think I am broken to begin with? He’s just flat out not listening? He has bigger fish to fry?

Of course not.

The Danger of Comfort

One of the greatest challenges of having spiritual faith with a human sense of logic is trying to put the Lord into our boxes. Just like media paint certain demographics into certain roles, this way of thinking has become so common that it’s nearly impossible to come up with any other way of doing things.

So I (like I think a lot of us do) end up giving God ultimatums in prayer. I say, Listen up. Am I broken and you won’t fix me? Or am I not broken and you just dropped me in a world that thinks I am?

The answer, thankfully, is neither. And here’s why:

These questions assume one very wrong fact: that we were created for happiness, ease and comfort. Or that when we can achieve a state of understanding God’s will and being without sin, then and only then are we free to help other people meet the Lord and get to heaven. But as the great Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said:

You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

Earthly happiness and heavenly fulfillment are vastly different. The former is actually incredibly easy to attain. Being happy isn’t hard. We believe it to be hard because it’s not what our hearts are actually searching for. At the core of creation, our hearts are searching for to be fulfilled, but we end up trying to fill that need with things the world tells us will make us “happy” like food or friends or money or a job. It’s no wonder the emptiness accompanied with depression is so palpable and common.

If we were to let go of the notion that perfection–by whomever’s standards, be it ours or society or even what we understand the Perfect Christian to be–is our call, the freedom would be astounding. Truly. If we said to ourselves today, “Perfection is not what I’m called to” our lives would change substantially We wouldn’t be chasing perfection anymore; we’d be chasing truth. We wouldn’t be hunting for happiness; we’d be searching for true fulfillment.

This all came to mind today because I saw a video by Ascension Press, featuring Fr. Mike Schmitz (you can see it at the end of this post). In the video, Fr. Mike addresses the question “Will God heal us?” As someone who feels broken or defective a few times a day, I was drawn to this. Yes, I thought, Fr. Mike, authority of the Church, please give me the right prayer to say to defeat depression and become the version of myself that is so strong and confident, I can finally be who God created me to be.

And that line of thinking is exactly what he addressed. Fr. Mike asserted that we as modern Christians live in a head-space that tells us we need to be “done” or “ready” to be disciples. But the Mass doesn’t end with, “Go, fix your problems, deal with those issues, then report back here for the real call.” And praise Jesus it doesn’t. Because then nothing would ever get done.

We are called exactly as we are to do exactly what God has planned for us.

Let’s take a brief pause to talk about the Apostles.

Listen, I have nothing against the 12 apostles. They were holy men by their devotion to Christ. But historically, I have struggled a lot with their role in the gospels. As a fellow follower of Christ, it doesn’t make me feel any better knowing that Peter was scared or that Thomas was a doubter or that Judas was just sort of a jerk. Because these guys were with Jesus every. single. day. If these guys couldn’t get their act together, how on Earth am I supposed to? I’m not fishing with my Savior every day. We’re not gabbing over a campfire breakfast together. We aren’t traveling the world as a gang, totally immersed in the mission.

Truth be told, I’m barely even talking to Jesus every day as it is. I have emails to send and groceries to buy and friends to catch up with and Netflix to binge. Our days fly by so quickly and to fend off my depression and anxiety, I keep every waking second packed to the brim with activities to distract my mind. So by the time my head hits the pillow, I’m ready for sleep, and it isn’t until my mind begins to slow down that I remember, Oh did I pray at all today?

It’s weakness. All of it is weakness. My depression, someone else’s family struggles, Peter’s inability to let Jesus get a sentence out without trying to (inaccurately) guess what He was about to say–it’s all weakness. And the great news is we aren’t called to fix any of it. It’s not our job to be strong.

Take action! Or, don’t.

Exodus 14:14 says

The Lord himself will fight for you. You need only to be still.

God’s taking care of the big stuff. In the meantime, our call is to invite God in and allow Him to use our weakness to do what He’s calling us to now. Not when we’re perfect. Not when we’re done. Not when we have more time, or less pain, or more financial stability–right now. Today.

For me, God asked me to use my weakness today to share this post. It meant being a little more transparent than I’m usually comfortable with so that I could share about weakness in a totally vulnerable, personal way.

Take some time to be vulnerable in prayer today. Ask God who he wants you to be, and how your gifts, talents, and weaknesses will help you become that person.

Check out Fr. Mike’s video here and leave your thoughts in the comments. Praying for each and every one of you. 🙂

Open Hands

The holidays are the best time for nostalgia to creep up. Memories find you that you didn’t even know you had. For me, it’s seeing Christmas lights on my drive home. I am overcome with something resembling homesickness–a feeling like the one you get when your heart is both full at the thought of home and broken at the fact that you aren’t there now. I love Christmas lights and imagining that people are getting home from work and school and going into a similarly decorated home; that their television sets are polka-dotted with the lights of a Christmas tree and maybe there are some extra snowmen popping up around the house. But there’s this nagging in my heart knowing that someday in the not-so-distant future, I’ll be making the same drive home and all of the Christmas lights will be gone.

I mourn endings before things are even over. Do you ever find yourself in that trap? The fear of ending gives me a relentless grip on what I have now. Right now, in this instant. The dichotomy between a passionate desire to know the future and a fierce sense of preservation for the present is crippling–but I get the sense that it is a feeling we all face every day.

Because today, the future seems so distant to us. Sure, at one time, even today was a distant future. But now we know what it took to get here: painstaking effort. It took pain and bravery and many nights on our knees praying for exactly what we have now. So why would we want to give it up?

We wouldn’t.

A friend of mine used to say, “Erin, God won’t show you gold and give you silver.” She meant He always has something better in store. How am I to know, though, which I have at this moment? What if what I’m holding looks silver to me, but is the most golden thing I’ll ever get? Here’s where faith comes in. When we are faithful people, the only thing we can cling to is the Lord. We can’t cling to material possessions; we can’t cling to others; and we cannot cling to time.

There’s a scrap of paper in my desk drawer with my handwriting on it. It’s so old I don’t know when I wrote it, but it was scrawled no doubt from the kitchen floor, where I used to sit and listen to my mom while she cooked dinner. I scribbled it down as I heard the words come out of my mother’s mouth:

Your hands cannot receive something new if they are wrapped around something else.

(Honestly, I could populate an entire website’s worth of blogs with just the wisdom I get from this sainted woman. Praise God for all of the the many inspirational people in my life, but even if my mother had been the only one, I think I’d have turned out just fine.)

These words are the closest thing I have to a mantra or motto. I am a person whose hands readily wrap. Once I have found something I love or believe in, I never want to let it go. That’s why I spend so much time in reflection on the great occasions when God has been able to present to me because I have let go. I need to remember, every day, that life and blessings and sufferings are all fluid.

Learning to let go

When my sister and I were kids, we each had a preferred script when we played pretend. Elizabeth wanted to be a dog, always. Every scenario was different; I found her in a park, I bought her at a store, she fell onto my doorstep–but she was always a dog and I was always her owner. She loved dogs. And that love fueled her imagination.

My imagination, on the other hand, was fueled by independence. My pretend life starred me as Erin Nicole: the successful and important grown-up. I had my own car that I drove to my very important job writing commercials in the city and came home to a cool house with all of the charms of small town living. I wanted to live like the women in the movies I loved; I wanted to walk down busy streets with tall buildings with perfectly tousled hair, a wonderfully fulfilling job, and come home to a fully furnished apartment.

In 2015, I got a job as head copywriter at a marketing agency in the downtown district of my small town. I walked past tall buildings to go to work and I lived outside of town in a spacious modern farmhouse tucked into the countryside. I was walking to my office one day, hair tousling in the wind, and I realized:

I am living my dream.

I was profoundly grateful to God and overjoyed. The joy of what appeared to be a dream realized carried me further in that job than a lack of gratitude probably would have. But either way, all good things must end. And all bad things, too. Sometime in 2016, I realized I didn’t like my dream. I hated the hours and the expectations; I didn’t feel challenged or appreciated; I came home exhausted to roommates that I didn’t get along with anymore.

And yet, it was still so hard to let go. I wasn’t happy. But this was what I had dreamt of. I had been given my gold–and I didn’t want to give it back for some silver-lined life.

How powerful fear is that it can even keep us from escaping dark places? There’s a gospel where Jesus gives a blind man sight and a spiritual director said to me once, “Wouldn’t you love if Jesus let you see after a lifetime of blindness?” And I surprised her with a passionate, “No!” I know myself well enough to know that if I was blind and accustomed to darkness, I wouldn’t want to have my eyes opened to a life I wasn’t ready for; how much painful adjusting would that take! Keep me in the darkness, Lord, because at even if I don’t know what I’m stumbling over, at least I can anticipate the stumbling. That’s where I was at in my life.

But the weight of unhappiness eventually trumped the fear. I opened my hands and a God who loves me swooped in. At the very beginning of 2017 (01.03.17, to be exact), my life began to change. I started work at my current job, which I love. And incredible things followed. I moved into a new place where I’m happier, I grew my small business, I sidestepped some bad relationships and patched up some important ones.

I’m reminding myself of this because it’s important to be reflective and grateful; but it’s just as important to not get so swept up in gratitude or pride or fear that we stop moving forward.

I have no idea if what I’m holding now is the most golden thing I’ll receive in this world. At the moment, it feels pretty wonderful. But if I refuse to let it go, I’ll tarnish it with sweaty palms to the point where even if it was gold, it becomes unrecognizable. We must keep our hands open. And if you must cling to something, cling to the God who made you.

The Game of What Ifs

Lately, I have not had a chance to clear my head. The stress of moving combined with the noise of the everyday life-work-balance has been overpowering me, and I have not been attuned to God’s voice. I prayed for an opportunity to escape into the silence and God provided it in an unexpected place.

Since I moved to small town USA four years ago, I’m never in the car for very long. In high school and college, when I lived in St. Louis, every place I went was at least a thirty minute drive, and where I am now, I find myself getting annoyed at the Spotify ad-free music incentives because by the time the commercial is over, I’m usually already at my destination.

So I was surprised and joyful the other night to find myself on a long drive back from our neighboring town, following new and unfamiliar  winding roads for about 40 minutes. I was finally in the silence; finally able to think, and hear, and pray.

The roads were county roads–super dark, no house lights or street lights or other cars–just me, the stars, and my headlights. I had no idea where I was, but I knew where I was going: my GPS was leading me home. She said, “Stay on Route W for 6 miles” so onto Route W I dutifully drove. And somewhere between miles 1 and 2, I had this nagging in my heart:

Do I trust my GPS to lead me more than I trust God to?

The logic isn’t necessarily sound, but the concept hit me like a ton of bricks. On the path of my life, I have no more knowledge of what’s up ahead than I did that night on the back roads. And in the clamor and clatter of my days, I don’t hear God’s guiding voice telling me to stay straight or bear right. But even if I did, I’m still not sure that fear wouldn’t keep me from obeying or believing Him.

I’m a huge fan of The Office (US) and there’s a scene where the staff partners up for a blindfolded race. Andy (Ed Helms) guides a blindfolded Kelly (Mindy Kaling) through an obstacle course. Kelly knows there’s a boulder somewhere on the beach and she is frozen in place yelling, “I don’t want to hit the big rock! I know I’m near the big rock! I can feel it!” Andy assures her that she’s not anywhere near the big rock, and in a panoramic shot, the audience can see that Andy is right. He pleads with her to keep her blindfold on and promises she’s no where near the “big rock,” but she gives up and takes off the blindfold anyway.

That’s me when it comes to listening to the plan. Dozens of my journals have some version of this prayer in them:

Lord, I’d like to ask you what you want of me. But I’m afraid the answer will be something I don’t want. So I’m not going to.

What a strangely sad and self-aware prayer. Are we leading lives of comfort and contentment instead of boldness and bravery, because the path ahead may be unexpected? Because I have news for all of us: the path ahead is unexpected anyway. And there’s no where else to go. We have two options–move forward without a guide or move forward with one. But either way, friends, we’re moving forward.

With that in mind, I began to pray about the kind of life I’m being called to lead. Any good journey requires the right type of luggage, and I had a feeling that my baggage was just going to weigh me down. In recent posts I have alluded to some pain I’ve been sorting through, so right then and there, I started to unpack it.

I asked myself what the source of my pain was. For me, the answer was embarrassment. I embarrass so easily. I have vivid and traumatic recollections of being reprimanded in class as a child, my eyes pricking with tears and my cheeks growing firey hot and red as I buried my face in my desk, pretending to look for my pencil sharpener. More than any other emotion, embarrassment is the one I wrestle with. And the easiest way to defeat a demon is to name it.

I’ll spare you all the details of my drive but here’s where I ended up (besides home in my driveway):

I started to think what if.

What if I decide to leave my embarrassment at the foot of the cross?

What if I choose to accept that God calls the shots and my humiliation is fleeting compared to the glory of what else is in motion?

What if I lead a life that is so ingrained in my identity in Christ that human emotions like embarrassment or anger or heartache are irrelevant?

What if I let God lead me to a place where I can love regardless of how I am treated, because love isn’t contingent on anything?

What if I let the Lord drive?

And I kid you not, my heart began to change. In an instant. All God needed was permission to start healing my heart, and He did. And the story gets better.

Like I said earlier, I moved to small town USA in 2013, so to say this next part was a huge surprise would be an understatement. I went to Mass at my regular church, at my regular time, and sat in my regular spot that Sunday. But something irregular caught my eye. My old youth minister, from my St. Louis high school youth group, was sitting just a few pews away. What was he doing in Cape? In my church? At my Mass? How many stars had to align for me to see him!

I haven’t seen Bob since I moved. The last time I saw him was when his second child was born and yet today, here he was, six feet from me with his three beautiful children and pregnant-again wife. I was antsy all through Mass. I wanted to stand up and rush over to say hello and meet his daughter and ask what they were doing here. After a painstaking hour of patience, Mass was over and I just about tripped over myself to get there. When I got there, Bob said, nonchalant as ever, “Hi, Erin. How are you?”

Bob is a person who is not surprised by God. His faith and trust are so deeply rooted that there is nothing our Lord couldn’t or wouldn’t do, so why would any good thing–like seeing an old friend–come as a shock? It wouldn’t. For Bob, this “stars-aligning” moment was just another completely expected gift from a creator that loves us and wants us to be happy. Bob’s life story is full of moments like this–moments where he believed his path would go one direction and when it went a complete other, he said, “Okay,” and turned on his heel to follow. As one of my spiritual role models, what I see in Bob is someone who doesn’t say “What if” but instead says, “When.”

When I decide to leave my embarrassment at the foot of the cross, amazing things will begin to happen.

When I choose to accept that God calls the shots, my life will change.

When I lead a life so ingrained in Christ, then human emotions like embarrassment or anger or heartache will become irrelevant.

When I let God lead me to a place where I can love regardless of how I am treated, then love will no longer be contingent on anything.

When I let the Lord drive, then I will know I am headed home.

Here’s my challenge to you this week–take this question to prayer. What is your “what if”? What would happen if you turned it into a “when”? Now, take the first step to making it happen.