Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell the story.

Dr. Terry Nelson Johnson is a profound theologian, one whom I admire so much. He is the resident theologian at Old St. Pat’s Church in Chicago and has spoken at many events at which I have been in attendance. His way of captivating the audience in a way that harnesses your soul to him is remarkable. Now, I try to attend any event where he is speaking.

The Theology on Tap summer series just kicked off this week all over the city; serving as an outreach mission for young adults to engage in theological discussion in an accessible atmosphere. When I heard the news that my beloved Dr. Terry Nelson Johnson (TNJ) would be speaking, there was NO way I was missing it. Kid in a candy store, I tell ya.

Though his talk was entitled “The Pope Francis Effect,” I knew that we were all in for so much more of a ride. Not to my surprise, he delivered a talk that made me smile, think, laugh (multiple times), and even tear up. Yet most importantly, he has a way of speaking the words that I really need to hear, and making me feel so incredibly close to God.

One point that he talked about throughout his presentation was the idea that we need to be conductors of the energy of God – to be so open that we just let the energy of God pass through us. The title of the post makes sense, as this is something he said. “Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell the story.” He wants all of us to do this, as he presented that it is the mission of God in the world to have humans pay attention, be astonished, and tell the story. TNJ is doing that, and now I am attempting to do so for you.

I think that the energy of God is a remarkable thing. To witness. To attempt to conduct. TNJ explained that in the first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the three words that he said the most were “mercy,” “joy,” and “encounter.” While the first two are expected, “encounter” presents more of a challenge. TNJ said (in a theatrical way, of course) that “You don’t just come home from an encounter with God and say ‘oh hey how was your day? good? good, me too. NO! An encounter shakes you up. It reaches straight into your chest cavity, shakes stuff up, and then says ‘Now how do you feel?!'”

I crave these encounters. I have always felt closest to our Almighty God in the small moments that become the big moments. The times where, as Pope Francis calls us to be, a church that lives outside the walls of the sanctuary. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he says “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.”

We live in a society where it is SO easy to become our own galaxy. Our autonomy is overwhelming. Through the world of social media, citizen journalism, endless entertainment, and on-demand everything, we can create whatever kind of world we want; ignoring the need of humanity surrounding us. Pope Francis even goes on to say, “I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up being caught in a web of obsessions and procedures.” Guess what? I do not want to be a PERSON concerned with being at the center, and then end up being caught in a web of self-obsession and routine! I don’t want to be governed by my daily “procedures” or value my “obsessions” more than the God who gives me breath! It’s exasperating to even think about!

Pope Francis assures you and I though. He added “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures that give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges, within habits that make us feel safe, while at our door, people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us ‘Give them something to eat.'”

Jesus is everywhere. In the hands of the one reaching out for spare change in the middle of your sidewalk. In the eyes of the man who feels like he has failed his wife. In the longing of a child to feel the love of a supportive family. In you. In me. Recognizing this, we are one step closer to doing what TNJ and Pope Francis have called us to do, and that is to take risks for God. Reach out and be open to those magnificent encounters. Psychologist Alfred Adler, quoted by TNJ, said “Perhaps our chief danger is that we take too many precautions.”

Not once have I taken a leap of faith for an encounter with God and regretted it. Not once have I “taken the gloves off” and loved unabashedly to someone who seemed “untouchable” and had one ounce of harm come my way. Not once. Why is that? Because God is present in those moments. Because God created, managed, orchestrated those moments — and he orchestrated my heart to enter right at the perfect note.

Where are you holding back? What encounters are you scared to open yourself to? Where do you need to 1) Pay attention? 2) Be Astonished? 3) Tell the Story? Perhaps you’ve paid attention and been astonished. Maybe you just haven’t told the story. Maybe in reading this, you’ve realized that you want to pay just a bit more attention, open those eyes a little wider. My prayer is that this has stirred something in you. Like I said before, I’m sharing with you because I was lucky to have witnessed TNJ’s talk, to have shared in those moments with him and the rest of the audience at Theology on Tap. I’m just paying it forward.

I’ll leave you with a quote that TNJ shared: “The fact that you’re not yet dead is not sufficient proof that you’re alive.” As for me, I’m going to work on building a strong case of evidence that I am indeed alive. Will you join me?

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You’re Never Fully Ready.

It took me a long time to come to this conclusion, and it may be completely obvious to you – so bear with me.

I hope that you’ve noticed that I’ve been absent for a while from the cyber world of my dear blog, and let me tell you why. I’ve been pressuring myself to write, starting a few drafts and leaving them out to dry — blowing in the wind of dissatisfaction and “not good enough.” So each time, I hit “Save Draft,” close out the window, and hope that next time goes better. That’s where I’ve been at.

However, a few things have happened recently, and they tie together in a “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone” kind of way:

I was at the gym the other night, pretty late in the evening. Equinox closes at 10pm, and I was finishing my workout as they were making the “please kindly get the heck out of here” announcement. There were two ladies that were close to where I was, and it was clear that they were talking about what I was doing. I had the battle ropes set up, an elevated step for lateral jumps, and the TRX band nearby for suspended pike crunches. I was ending my workout with a superset of these three moves, blasting through them as fast as I could. During a rest set, one of the ladies commented “that looks so hard” and the other agreed quickly. I immediately invited them to join me, and told them that it was hard, but that you can work up to it. One of the ladies said that she wanted to get in shape and work with a trainer, but that she needed to get to a better place first. What I immediately told her was that you have to come as you are — that’s why you get a trainer! Don’t try to get in shape to start working with someone who’s going to get you in shape. Be comfortable in who you are, as you are. Then go and chase your goals. By the end of the time I taught her the exercises I was doing, and showed her a progress photo of myself (I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds and 7-8% body fat since starting to work with my trainer in October), she seemed convinced that maybe I was on to something.

A different night, I was thinking about how I haven’t been in touch with my faith as much as I have been in the past, and it really bothered me. Working the job that I do places me right in the heart of the Catholic Church for 50+ hours per week, constantly working in parishes and with pastors, but I haven’t been getting that full faith experience in a personal way. Again, I got the thought that before I started to reconnect with God, I needed to figure out exactly where I went astray, examine my sins and work through them on my own — all before asking for God’s help.

And recently, I’ve felt a fear wash over me that falling in love may be the scariest thing ever, and that I need to prepare myself for that to ever happen. I’ve never been in love, and the idea of it is both intimidating, exciting, and overwhelming. I was talking to a friend and saying that I wasn’t ready to feel that way about any one, and she just said to me “if you think you’re not ready for it, and you’re freaking out, it’s probably because you are falling in love.”


So what connects the three little stories? The fact that we’re never TRULY ready for whatever we are facing. And, that. is. okay. Believe it or not. I think that learning to become content in the ebbs and flows of life, particularly those in which you want to have it all together, is a learned skill that shows a true spirit. I am not there yet, I’m a work in progress. But even this newfound thought that “it’s okay to not be okay” is a refreshing and relieving belief to have. So whether it’s writing five blog post drafts, or hesitating to start that workout…Whether it’s feeling like you’ve gone too far for God to come back into your life, or if you feel as though your heart is about to burst….Let’s all take a moment to realize that we are human, and we’re never going to be fully ready. That’s what life is all about — taking what is given to us, making the best out of it, and hoping that it too makes the best out of us.

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Finding your heartbeat.


Sometimes you gotta lose your breath to find your heartbeat. Under Armour sometimes really gets their ads right. I saved this image a while back because I oftentimes find myself drawing upon inspirations from a long time ago — and always seeming to find the right quote exactly when I need it.

Today was one of those days. While there was good, I found myself dwelling on the rough parts of it. The one thing to close out my day with a guaranteed positive note was my workout. So when that didn’t go as planned and I struggled to hit my weights, I felt like I had kinda lost where I was at altogether. My trainer said to me “GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD” and I knew that was exactly it. In that moment, I was being so hard on myself and focusing on the negatives, that I wasn’t able to recognize the life and strength within me. And as much as I was upset and frustrated during the workout, I am able to look back even just a couple of hours and appreciate the realizations that I made during it. I proverbially (and literally) lost my breath during that workout, and then was able to find my heartbeat again…but that was only when I went to check for it.

As always, there’s a parallel. Recently I’ve felt disconnected from my true self – based on my crazy work schedule and the thoughts that seem to overtake my brain about useless worries and things that are out of my control, I haven’t checked to feel my own heartbeat in a while.

So last night, I made a first step. I wanted to reconnect with God in a way that is long overdue. I have mentioned/referred to it before, but when I write my thoughts, eventually I lose myself in the most sacred way. In those moments, I find my true self. In that way, it is a time that I take to check my own heartbeat, remember it’s there, and move on. I read the quote “This world is amazing and you’ll forget that again and again your whole life. But if you remember more than you forget, you’ll be fine.” I thank God for these times of being prompted to remember how amazing this world and this life truly is.

In true attempt-to-be-vulnerable fashion, I’m going to go out on a limb and post what I wrote last night in my journal.

Here goes, (unedited):

Tuesday Jan 13th, 2015 (12:14am so really 1/14/15)
I open up this book – a collection of sacred thoughts and words – once residing on the top of my tongue – now regarded as memory – and I’m not stopping to read them. I flip straight to a page where I can begin anew the journey of documenting my thoughts – because only then do I validate them. I know that in here I hold experiences that are dear and vulnerable thoughts of my heart broken open…and tonight I feel longing to get to that place again.

I need my heart broken by God so that I can be made perfect in Him. My eyes have drifted, sin has won over me too many times recently that I feel as though the mirror is a cloudy view of all He intends me to be.

Yet even now, I already feel my pen taking over, a reassurance that in my letting go, You are here. It is the thought I need – I need to be reassured that my heart is worthy of a love beyond that which I can imagine and project upon whoever is in my sights. I need my thoughts of doubt and guilt and lust and jealousy to come flowing out of me so that Your grace has room to dwell. Lord, I need you. Every hour I need you. — This song has been in my head for weeks now – even before I went home and put my hands on this journal for the first time in months. You are intentional, You are perfect, and You make all things new. Restore in me the comfort of your presence, and grow in me a love of self that ultimately continues to lead me to You.

“All along I was looking for something more, you’re so much more. I finally found what I could never see before, you’ve always been the one that I was looking for.”


Whew. The journal entry was a blessing to have before my day today, for as the challenges of the day made me feel broken, I now look back to the journal which had been neglected for months and I find strength. This time, in my own words. In April of 2014 I wrote: “There will prove to be many more times in which you are tested and challenged to rise to the occasion…” and in December of 2013 I referenced a quote: “Can we let go of our own individual fears and even our plans to embrace hope? Can we say ‘I don’t know what all this means, but I trust that good things will happen?'”

Finding your heartbeat by losing your breath at times is good. Losing your breath makes you start to want to embrace hope, to feel as though you can’t do it on your own. I know I can’t.

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Become Yourself Daily

31. “She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”
—Kate Chopin, “The Awakening”

I recently found a beautiful article called “51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature” and, in addition to giving me a new reading list, there were some quotes that stayed with me. Number 31 is one of them.

Theologians talk about it, self-help books talk about, and countless blog posts talk about it, so I may be just adding to the noise…But I digress. The personal search to find our “true self” is one that should be an ongoing and difficult yet beautiful process of discovery and awakening. It doesn’t happen gracefully, and I think we don’t often notice it. Yet every time we “cast aside that fictitious self,” we become one step closer to becoming (and accepting) the “Me” deep inside.

I feel like so many people who are discouraged at their lack of self-growth fail to recognize that in every situation that you make a decision which your heart guides you to, you grow into yourself just a little bit more. They may be baby steps, but they count. We shouldn’t undermine the progress we make to becoming a better version of ourselves, especially because we are generally our own toughest critics.

Be you. Make decisions which make you happy. And be a person that you would want to spend time with. Life is too precious to spend time acting like someone you’re not, and people will respect you way more for being who you are than who you think they want you to be.

I pray that as the New Year comes and all kinds of resolutions begin flying around our virtual web of social interaction, we remember that the most important “profile” is the one we have of our real selves, that no amount of “likes” defines our worth, and every now and again, we need to remember to just give ourselves a break. You’re doing just fine. 🙂

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1 Sign that You’re Reading Too Many Lists that “Define” You

I am a blogger and a reader and I’ll admit: I click on them – we all do. These lists that keep popping up everywhere – BuzzFeed, ThoughtCatalog, LifeHack, and countless other sites. Some of them are downright hilarious; and the sarcastic ones don’t bother me one bit. I even really enjoyed , but there are some that are downright ridiculous: (And these are just a few that really inspired this rant.)

– “How to Be Attractive to the Average Male”
– “4 Ways to Combat your Mid-Twenties Identity Crisis”
– “11 Warning Signs that You’re Settling for Less in Life”

It’s like if you read this and any of the items apply to you, you self-diagnose that you’re settling or in an identity crisis, or will be forever alone, or that you hate your job. It’s like WebMD for your life, in the worst way.

When we get clicking and sharing and reading and posting about these lists that are supposed to characterize us, we lose a little bit of what makes us unique! I don’t know about you, but I actually don’t really like it when I fit into these lists across the board. I don’t want to be able to be put in a box, to have some random person explain to me “12 Signs that Your Best Friend is the Best.” I know that I’m blessed with several best friends, and I could make a damn better list than whatever I find shared on Facebook.

Even more disturbing to me are the ones like “Twelve Signs You’re in a Highly Cherished Relationship.” These posts attempt to define details of your life in such a way that makes one believe if even one part of your life doesn’t fit this mold, then, well, you’re probably just not in a highly cherished relationship! Generalities abound, and for some reason, we tolerate it and even seem to enjoy this type of classification. I don’t know about you, but “11. You are never nagged.” or “2. You get a message every day!” are somewhat absurd.

These how-to columns that make big claims I believe will often only lead to big disappointments and low self-esteem.

So I share with you this: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Those lists aren’t going to define you, because you are far too intriguing, beautiful, and complex to be summed up in an list of 12 abstract things.

In the words of author John Steinbeck, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

[I got a kick out of another post after writing this reflection, and you can find it here: 🙂

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Our Societal Diagnosis, IMHO: True Compassion is Missing

This is perhaps the hardest post I have ever written. By hardest, I refer to the amount of time I have spent thinking about how to formulate my words in such a way that honor the feelings I have, while also calling my readers to contemplate and react.

In the weeks since the Grand Jury decision in the Michael Brown case, followed all-too-closely with the lack of prosecution in the death of Eric Garner, and now the tragic killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, I have been been so confused and upset about how we, as a collective society, have handled our thoughts. Even in saying “our collective society” is borderline inappropriate, because I believe that PART of the issue is the spectrum on which reactions have existed.

My argument today, (which I will attempt to explain, defend, and credit) is that while there are many very real factors and problems at play (which will be discussed), the greatest and most applicable of these is a lack of true compassion amongst the general public in our country.

Now before I explain my “True Compassion is Missing” assertion, I will mention a few points:

Firstly, I completely honor each and everyone’s personal feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, victimization, racial profiling, (insert any other feeling that you may have). I wasn’t there when Michael Brown lost his life. I don’t know if Ferguson Police acted appropriately or not. Moreover, I choose to not judge what is right and wrong in a situation that I had no business in. However, those who feel as though the incident was racially charged are just as “right,” in my opinion, as those who feel like Officer Darren Wilson was acting in self-defense and was justified. Herein lies the problem: no matter what belief you hold or whatever group you identify with, you are suffering. Inherently, when a divisive issue comes to light, there is suffering on each side. The problem arises when violence and news coverage and rumors and overall misinformation try to minimize or reject the validity of the other group’s opinion. This is what I see as so very sad.

Secondly, I want it to be said that I don’t believe reactionary violence solves any problems, and rather only perpetuates them. While I don’t condemn those who have become violent, I do pray that they are able to contemplate and process their feelings in a way that healthily expresses the troubles they are facing.

True compassion lies in the ability to see that when one is suffering, we are all unable to be fully whole. As a fellow human being, if you are not able to participate in this life in a content, free nature, then by association, neither am I. Is the way you experience your suffering different than mine? Of course! However, this does not illegitimate the point. This quote is what helped me formulate my feelings around this entire issue, as well as this post: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

While it originally refers to the idea of false charity and aid workers coming in to third world countries employing a “reach down and help people up” method rather than affirming each person’s inherent human dignity, I believe that it applies today. I hold the belief that those in the black community who are crying out to be heard and whose injustices are running rampant have important points to make! Does this mean, that as a white person, I am racist? Or does it mean that I believe most white people are? No. However, I do stand in unity to say that due to the suffering of many, I am in part suffering with them. The liberation of those who feel persecuted is “bound up” with my own, and therefore regardless of my personal experience in the matter, I have a personal connection to the end result: liberation for all. This is why we MUST work together.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J., author of one of my most favorite books, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” chronicles his involvement and immersion into the gang-infested communities of Los Angeles and all that he has learned through his relationships with members of his community. He says, “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.” The important thing that Boyle does in this quote, besides convict readers to contemplate their own “lurking suspicions” is to consider that this lack of compassion is a FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE. This means that it is something that lies at the basis of all other challenges. So if this suspicion that some lives matter less than others is our base-line thought, then it should be utterly un-surprising (note that I do not say excusable) that societal misunderstandings and injustice plague our communities: in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and beyond.

Perhaps it’s also important to mention that in this time of unrest and dispute, there is real grief that is being faced. True compassion calls us to recognize this. Fr. Boyle again sums it up beautifully (sub out “poor” for “your fellow human”): “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

Recognize that in his story, he is discussing those who are living in extreme poverty and so that is his context. But it should apply to all of us: We should aim to have compassion coursing through us so strongly in a way that compels us to stand in awe at all that someone has to face, rather than in judgement of how they choose to face it. This is a lofty but beautiful goal.

In these times of grief, sadness, anger, dispute, and injustices, I hope that we can ALL take a step back. Try to look at our society from a birds eye view. All over, we are suffering. Though our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all different, collectively, we are suffering. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t be seeing online posts that claim extreme and “radical” opinions, or protests taking over city highways and small-towns from coast to coast. Until we as a society can recognize that healing has to happen for each person, then there is no way that we will overcome. Until we acknowledge and work toward compassion for ALL, then we will continue to be stuck in this web of hurt.

My prayer is that we, as a country of talented, beautiful, diverse, passionate, incredible people, can soon come to a place where we realize that our liberation is bound up in each other’s; and that to reach that fulfillment, we must drop our guards, gain some courage, and walk together toward this common goal.

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comfort for My people

You know those days where you just have really good church? Whether it’s a song that plays and just touches your soul, or the words from the priest are exactly what you need,maybe it’s your favorite reading…whatever it is, you know it when you feel it. Walking out of church, you just know you got served up some classic, organic, GOOD church. This Sunday was one of those days for me. It was too good not to share.

In the wake of absolute craziness surrounding American communities “from sea to shining sea” and having injustices splattered across nearly every news headline, I was exhausted emotionally. The irony of the joy of the holiday season mixed with my own feelings of uneasiness about the celebration of the season (even before lives were shattered by the events in MO and NY), in addition to the impression that things across the country were falling apart, I had had enough. I was/am tired of seeing extremes juxtaposed together, namely:

– people with such wealth & privilege, laden with shopping bags and expensive items — BUT walking blindly past those who are literally freezing to death on my city’s street corners
– rampant racial injustice — BUT some people still asserting that it’s “just a problem with criminals, not race” [ie: the false view of “If I don’t personally experience racism personally, it does not exist”]
– the proclaimed joy of the holiday season – BUT feelings of loneliness and false happiness

Needless to say, I was ready for some good church. So when I walked in and heard the beautiful words of Isaiah 40:1, “Be comforted, be comforted, my people – says Your God.” I leaned back in the pew, unable to breathe for a second. The words took the wind out of me in a beautiful way and I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling the weight of so much slide off of my shoulders.

The priest went on to discuss this exact theme: how we, as a society, are just in need of some good news for once. It was a beautiful period of reflection; a time to really sit back and ponder the state of our country, of our community, and most scary perhaps, our own hearts.

I think that sometimes church/(or whatever your worship space looks like) can serve as the most accurate mirror for you. It gives you an inviting chance to see yourself as you are – to come as you are – and be right where you are. To be in both a physical and figurative space where you can let your guard down is a blessing that I don’t often take enough time to think of.

So as I go through this week, my prayers for myself, the community, and really our whole country/world center around the idea of comfort. How can I comfort those around me? How can I bring comfort to my own heart, for whatever reason it may be feeling unrest? How can the actions that I take positively affect the overall vibe of the streets that I walk on, the people I interact with, and the city that I call ‘home’?

I hope and pray that these words instilled something in you tonight. Even if it just served as a moment to think about the comfort that can come when you take time to reflect (regardless of any formal religious belief you may or may not have), then I believe I have been successful. Blessings.

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