Friday, December 19, 2014

Why The Feminist Movement Needs Me

Feminist.  Equality. Two words that should be much simpler than they are.


 (:

Feminist.  Am I one?  Yes, but I wasn't sure for a while.  I'd hear the word and make about a hundred different associations, some good, some bad, all contradicting each other.  Some women championing the cause were brilliant and strong, and had beautiful ideas.  Others sounded whiny and entitled, or seemed to undermine the very thing they were supposedly standing for. You know, the women who get mad when men open doors for them- like, obvs you can open a door on your own, I get that.  If the man doesn't get that, he's the one who looks like a weakling (in the brain), not you.  If he is a sane human being he probably opened the door as a gesture of respect.  Isn't respect what this movement is about?

Equality.  What does that mean?  I hear it used interchangeably with "sameness."  Women want the same educational opportunities, the same wages for the same work.  I'm getting my Ph.D and hope it will lead to a fulfilling career, so I want those things, too.  But do I really think equal means "the same?"  If we are already equal, why do we have to become more alike to prove it?  Am I not a feminist if I still like lace dresses and baking cookies?! Do women have to take on "men's" work or characteristics in order to gain equality?  No.  I don't think equality means sameness, because I don't think we need to change the way we dress or the things we like to become equal. This is not to say that all women should be required to wear pink and bear children, just to say that some of them want to.  Real feminism should represent all females, and I think turning feminism into an effort to erase differences between men and women is exclusive and harmful.  Differences make people interesting.   Differences should be seen as part of our worth and equality, something that adds to it, not something that stands in the way.  Feminism is called "feminism" and not "humanism" because  womanhood is something meaningful, something distinct from manhood, something equal to it but certainly different.  And that difference should be defended, not attacked. Feminism needs to be about establishing some of the same rights for women that men have, but it can't end there. It needs to spark a respect for that which is uniquely feminine.  I'll come back to that.  If you disagree and think there are no real differences between men and women aside from anatomy and "culturally enforced stereotypes," fine, but please find a new name for your movement as the current one is not accurate. Thank you.

Reliance. I'm 19 and super happy and I've never had a boyfriend.  I definitely wouldn't say I, (or any women) "need a man."  But I do need men. And I believe men need women.  Emma Watson said "It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals"  I think the best part of that quote is the last part.  I'm tired of the boys vs. girls mentality.  We shouldn't be opposing each other.  Instead, we should be complimentary to one another.  I have many beautiful, uniquely womanly qualities like instincts to nurture, to be compassionate and gentle, to be creative.  I struggle to be brave, assertive, or professional.  I understand that not every woman or man has the "stereotypical" personality and there have been a lot of efforts to raise awareness and acceptance of that.  In one sense that's great because I think it's important to look at everyone as an individual rather than as a stereotype.  I don't think it's bad to be atypical when it comes to qualities that are traditionally masculine or feminine.  But I think it's important to remember that men and women do need each other, because we all need a balance between characteristics that are "masculine" and characteristics that are "feminine."  For me, my dad and some of my close guy friends have been that balance.  They've shown me how to have courage, how to stay grounded when I'm too paranoid, how to laugh at myself.  Sure, you could say that doing away with gender roles completely could achieve this balance instead.  But it would do so on an independent level.  Maybe we'd believe we could be whoever we want to be instead of feeling limited.  But I think we'd also try to believe we could complete ourselves on our own.  I think it's more beautiful to keep the idea of relying on one another, of being halves of the whole that is humanity and helping each other to be the best versions of ourselves.  At some point we all experience the temptation to isolate ourselves, to proudly act like we can do life alone. Instead, we need to stand together and create meaningful relationships where we can help each other grow. 

Respect.  Unfortunately, there are so many points of contention between us as men and women right now that make trusting and relying on each other challenging.  There's certainly a shortage of respect for women in the world today.  There are terrible crimes like rape and trafficking where women are victimized.  There are advertisements everywhere in which they are objectified for the consumerist pleasure of others, or distorted to cause insecurity so they'll buy unnecessary products in pursuit of "beauty" and "perfection."  These lies affect men, too, and make it harder for them to appreciate true beauty, distracting them with a pitiful, overly  sexualized substitute. This hurts everyone, women and men alike.  All of us are better than that, and all of us suffer when we settle for less than the truth and respect we desire.  I support with my whole heart the movement to stop this.  I believe every woman is precious, regardless of her size, regardless of whether she's wearing a bikini, "boy's clothes," or a burqa.  I simply hope that she is viewed with real love wherever she goes, and feels she can respect herself.  Love and respect should transcend outward appearances and go beyond sexual value.  Every woman, every person is a whole human being, a body and a soul, and should be seen and treated as such by others and themselves.
  
Reluctance.  So...why was I reluctant to call myself a feminist?  I think I've explained some of my slightly unusual views above, views that made me feel I didn't fit in with the movement.  In the end, these views simply convinced me that the feminist movement needs me.  It needs the vision I have for not just accepting it, but changing it- hopefully for the better.  The world needs my perspective.  It needs every woman's perspective or else it will be incomplete.  I can not accept the feminist movement as it is now because it does not value all these perspectives.  I had to hesitate, think through all of this, and refuse to just jump on the bandwagon because the average radical feminist would view one of the women I love, admire, and respect most as a failure.  My mother never had an impressive career.  During college she fell in love with my dad.  If she had gone the typical "feminist" route she would have waited till she had finished college and established herself professionally to have children.  And then her oldest daughter, Sarah Miller, would never have been born.  Me.  I wouldn't be here to write this.  As it was, I got so very lucky.  She struggled through the last couple years of school while raising (and breastfeeding!) a fussy baby.  And then, after obtaining her degree,  she became a stay-at-home mom.  Some consider that unremarkable.  Some think her opposition to the birth control that so many feminists fight for is appalling.  Me?  I honestly have to thank her for it.  I think that she, now the mother of four daughters, could not have done anything more feminist than to raise me and my sisters to be not only beautiful but intelligent, compassionate, and strong.  I want to see a feminist movement that will see her sacrifice for what it is: not a waste, but a wonder.  I want a feminism that will love every woman, even the unconventional ones. 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Loved and Lost (What I've learned about love part 3)

"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
         I feel it, when I sorrow most;
         'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."
(Alfred Lord Tennyson,  In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27)

Love is never a mistake. I do not believe in a God who limits himself when he loves, so I should not limit myself when I love.  Love, the real kind, is infinite because it has as its source the infinite God. There is no way, in any situation, to love someone "too much."  But often I'm tempted to beat myself up for loving someone who didn't love me back, or loving someone more than they love me.  When you love and you lose, you not only have to get over the heartbreak.  Sometimes you feel a sickening guilt as well.  Those sickening feelings usually make me suspicious.  When God is behind something, there's a certain element of peace or conviction, even if you feel guilty.  The kind of guilt I'm talking about is the other kind, the wrong and unnecessary kind. 

First off I would like to address the misleading concept of emotional chastity, as captured by many Catholic bloggers.  If you've never heard of it, it's basically the idea that sharing too much of your heart or emotions with another person is unholy- like revealing too much of your body before you're married to someone is sinful because it doesn't reflect the sacredness of and respect due to your body and your whole person.  The argument is that physical chastity is important for guys because they're very visual, but that girls are more tempted to get closer emotionally to someone than they should.

I've read and thought a lot about it...and I don't buy it.  It's one of the few things I'd argue with Jackie Francois and the Everts on.  At least, I don't buy it as it is often presented, with the catch phrase "Guard your heart!"  In my fight against fear, the ultimate destroyer of love, I've realized that to be vulnerable with others is a requirement for becoming more like Christ.  I don't believe in building a wall around myself and saving all the deeper truths that God wants me to explore for a few select people.  We aren't supposed to bury our talents, hide our light under a bushel basket, or build walls around our hearts to separate ourselves from the unworthy.  We're all unworthy, and yet God desires that all of us be loved anyway. And notice God doesn't worry about whether He's loved back or whether He gets rejected and hurt...

I DO believe in the virtue of prudence.  I believe that you should expose your heart to people gradually, yes- but not for the sake of "guarding" it.  The real danger of pouring out your dark secrets and your hopes and dreams is doing so with the expectation of getting something.  You can't claim to be loving people if your goal in forming a connection with them is emotional gratification for yourself.  Love means to want the good of the other, and the false motive of self-gratification is certainly to be avoided.  Rather, love is a gift.  Before you pour out your heart then, ask if you're truly trying to give love (which never runs out or becomes diminished because its source is the infinite Lover) or if you're hoping to receive affirmation and affection to fill your longing or fix your wounds.  If it's the second...you're going to the wrong place.  Look up. The answer is something, Someone too great for the earth that scarred you. Don't be afraid of Him; His heart is never guarded but always open.

I also believe that love needs to be proportional.  We are commanded by Love to put aside idols.  Loving anyone more than God is an issue, and the self-gratifying "love" can be a distraction from the real thing.  But that means we must increase our love for God, not diminish our love for his precious children.  In fact, when we recognize the image of God in serving our beloved brothers and sisters, He tells us that whatever we do to them, "You did it to Me." Example: Mother Teresa.  Did she love the poor too much? Of course not!

I still admit that "emotional chastity" is a lot safer for people who don't want to get hurt.  No matter how hard you try to love without expecting a return, rejection is still going to hurt.  This is where the guilt will try to get you.  People will throw you very non-comforting phrases like "You should have known better," or only slightly less despicable,"You deserve better!"  There are some cases when these have truth to them, but often they are far from relevant.  Sometimes, you SHOULDN'T have known better- because love isn't a mistake to avoid.  You were right to take risks, to be vulnerable, and to forgive.  All of these are the marks of Christlike love.  I think it's important to remember that you can be hurt by the way someone treated you without having to regret the way you treated them.  Seeing beyond what someone deserves and offering them more is a portrayal of grace, and it's powerful.  Sometimes it actually will move people who looked like hopeless bums.  Sometimes it won't.  The possibility of failure is NOT a good reason to give up the fight before it begins, just as the possibility of success isn't good enough reason to assume you'll win and can expect a beautiful ending.  In everything you are called to try your best at love and trust God to fill in for your insufficiency.  And you can't expect Him to do that the way you want.  Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes it hurts.  And sometimes that makes you doubt Love Himself.

Doubting Love can take the form of anger at God or fear of trusting Him and others, or many other things.  But I suspect that at the root these struggles all stem from the myth that suffering is meant to be punishment.  We feel divided from God because we see the pain as a sign that we did something wrong.  We feel that no matter how hard we try, God is disappointed with us.  We could deal with our human heartbreaks with so much more courage if they didn't make us call divine love into question...but they do.  When we view love as a mistake, we risk thinking that Love can make mistakes and that He regrets us and wants to make our shortcomings clear to us by emphasizing them with the worst aches and sufferings we've ever experienced.

If you only remember one thing from this post, I want it to be that the punishment theory we all succumb to is a lie.  Losing at love and feeling that pain does not mean that you are being pushed away to learn some hard, cruel lesson.  No, Jesus is drawing you close to Him...all the way to Calvary.  He will teach you many lessons, but revoking His love is and always will be out of the question, even if you think it's what you deserve.  He does not agree. We all have friends who we can have fun and laugh with, but the best friends are the ones willing to share your suffering.  Jesus wants you to be that best friend.  He's inviting you to take your love for Him to the next level, and each struggle you go through will not disappoint Him but make His heart burn with love for you like it always has, whether you won or lost. 

True love always mimics the love of God.  That means painful is part of the deal.  But so is the infinite, the unconditional, the beautiful...and ultimately the victorious. 

 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nice Guys Finish Last

I go to community college now.  For those of you who, like me, were/are homeschooled, let me give you a quick rundown.  You have to actually sit in a classroom next to other people.  Other people will be everywhere when you're walking around campus, and guys smitten by your beauty and unaware that you didn't go to school and therefore are completely and hopelessly awkward may try to approach you in the library.  And even if you can avoid those near occasions of socializing...there are these things called GROUP PROJECTS. You can't escape.  Eventually someone will find you. Fear them.

Oh how I love sarcasm.

I have found that my many new friends typically all have the same reaction to finding out I was homeschooled: "What? No way! I thought you went to, like, a regular school!" "Wow, I always thought homeschoolers were awkward and stuff but you're really normal!" Even if they don't say it, their faces give it away and I can plainly hear it going through their heads.  I just sit there vastly amused, proud of having fooled them. Thanks for that, guys.  I love finally knowing that all those times my homeschool friends and I made wisecracks about our stereotype were not in vain.  :')

So, I was thinking, why does my stereotype destruction have to stop there?  I'm not exactly shy about calling people out on lies, especially the ones told by the pop culture.   It's amazing how many false stereotypes are perpetuated by the same culture that is obsessed with non-judgement.  For example, not all white girls like pumpkin spice lattes and wearing leggings as pants...although the Chipotle thing is pretty accurate...

More importantly: not all Christians take delight in pointing out your flaws.  Not all of them think you're going to hell.  We're not all like those people out in the courtyard in front of building 7 carrying signs that say "REPENT OR PERISH."  And not all of us are boring.  Christians can and will hang out with you.  We'll laugh with you, we'll tease you, we'll listen to you.  Sure, there are some lines we don't cross.  For example, I will probably never master twerking, no matter how hard my friend Stefani tries to teach me.  Fortunately, I think we can all enjoy life just as well (or probably more) without me acquiring that talent.  Anyway, maybe we virtuous people have the "nice guy" or "good girl" stigma...but not all nice guys finish last.  In fact, the nice guys are winning. 

Most people are still very, very attracted to goodness, as much as we might complain about the culture being "evil."  Being "bad" is only cool in a superficial sense.  It's more of an attitude you're supposed to have so you can participate in the party scene or show off in front of strangers.  But "niceness" is appreciated at a much deeper level.  In fact, a lot of the "bad" kids are secretly nice, too. The nice guys are not only fun to be around, they're the ones who will be around when it's not fun.  They're the ones that want to remind you how much you're worth when you've forgotten and made yourself cheap.  They're the ones who are trying to be brave and vulnerable when the rest of the world is putting on a show to hide the weakness and maybe the pain. 
One of my favorite rappers, Lecrae, recently released a song about his frustrations with today's mainstream music, called "Nuthin'." I recommend that you look it up and listen to the whole thing, but here's a sample of his powerful lyrics:
"[They] don't talk about the laws, taking kids away from mommas
Don't talk about your homie in the trauma cause he shot up
Or what about your young boy messing up the product
They don't talk about the bond money that they ain't have
And everybody snitch on everybody in the jam
They don't talk about the pain, they don't talk about the struggle
How they turn to the Lord when they ran into trouble-
Imma talk about it."

Imma talk about it, because I have faith in you.  If you let me, I'm ready to challenge you because I know you are greater than you realize. And I shouldn't have to be ashamed of that.

Pope Francis noticed a bad habit that today's Christian has of "considering oneself as the victim of an inferiority complex."  I struggle with being brave about my faith and taking risks to bring Christ to people.  I worry that making my goodness too obvious will make me the weird girl and cut me off from the people I want to help.  However, I'm starting to realize just how much my new friends at college appreciate that I'm different.  Inferiority is not an issue because the heart of who I am, the real focus of my Christianity, is love.  It is not a "feel-good" kind of love, but a gut-wrenching, suspenseful, compassionate love that bleeds for others, and if they could see it they would know it's nothing other than beautiful.  We're not ashamed of what we are, but of what others mistakenly think we are. Instead of being cautious or apologetic, we need to actively show our true colors and tear down the stereotype.  Our attitude has to change from Christianity isn't cool but I'm going to live it anyway, because Christianity is cool, and joyful and fun and fulfilling...but nobody's going to realize that unless we ourselves realize it first.  Own being the "nice guy!"  Don't worry about defending yourself, your happiness will do that for you.  Just be around other people and have standards and fun at the same time.  For real though, God wants you to "work" for Him by having fun. 

Yes, I'm a good girl, and I love it!  I'm the good girl who you'll find hanging out with the "bad" kids, wearing combat boots, a leather jacket...and a silver crucifix.  Shout out to the nice guys I know who are keeping chivalry alive and in style; you are appreciated more than you know.  Shout out to my gorgeous good girls who rock authentic femininity like a boss.  We're alive and kicking, saying with our lives and sometimes our lips, "Jesus is still here."  And He's still not finishing last.





Wednesday, September 10, 2014

For My Ladies

It's almost midnight, and I should really be going to bed.  But I suddenly felt very strongly that I should write to my girls.
I don't know if I can tell you anything you haven't heard before.  You know you're beautiful.  You know God loves you.  You know that He wants to give you the best.  If you're like me, you've probably heard that so many times that it doesn't move you when you hear it anymore.  Those phrases are among the top Christian cliches.

And maybe you feel guilty that you don't feel anything when you hear that.  Or maybe you roll your eyes and try to hide your frustration because you need something to comfort you and it just seems too simple- sure, it's something that would be nice to believe if you weren't wise enough to suspect it's  meaningless, like every empty promise that's been made to you.  Maybe the people who tell you how much God loves you are failing at love themselves, and seem fake and affected and prideful.  Maybe you've come to associate God's love with pain, because it's something people remind you of whenever one of your dreams dies or a friend betrays you.  His love has become the go-to band-aid phrase for people who won't take the time to really listen and understand you.

So maybe you're angry: angry at the people who have ruined what you know should be the words that carry you through life with joy and purpose.  Maybe you're angry with God for leaving you to fight through life without experiencing his love more deeply than as a retreat high and a few inspirational quote memes.  Angry that He expects that to be good enough.  Angry that no one else seems to understand why it isn't good enough, and probably starts silently judging you if you don't sing along at the top of your lungs to Matt Maher.

 I think we like to keep struggles like that to ourselves because hiding the problem is exercising that last bit of control that keeps us from looking pitiful and weak, while everyone else around us looks strong on the outside.  Sometimes the person with the bravest, most "together" tough girl facade is the one who has put the most work into that facade, because she feels powerless in every other respect.

So often we isolate ourselves when it comes to struggling with our faith.  In comparison, talking about that secret crush or embarrassing moment is easy.  I think too many of us believe the lie that if someone questions their faith or God's love, they're this anomaly of a lost soul and they need some Saint Monica in their life because dang, next thing you know they'll start that pre-conversion Augustine life AND lead others astray to boot so let's just keep a safe distance, shall we?

No.

I beg you, get close to people.  People who think you're being fake and don't seem to appreciate your love.  People who outwardly seem so on fire that you think they couldn't possibly need any further encouragement.  And everyone in between. If you stay away, who will show God's love to them when the words aren't proof enough?  Who will be Jesus to the ones who can't find Him in the overused Bible quotes and the worship music?  Who  will speak louder than the words and get involved in real lives with real problems and do something different?  Who will prove that Jesus is still alive?

We are not meant to stand around gazing at the sky expecting some supernatural experience to come along and fix us or our friends.  We have to give Christ the chance to enter our hearts in any way he chooses.  And more often than not, He loves us through His children.  So I challenge you to look for the love of God in the people around you if you feel neglected.  And I challenge you to be the love of God to the people around you no matter what your current status is.

He saw your heart in the dark where you faced down things nobody else knew, and He still believes in you.  You fell apart over time, but you'll find strength to love through the pain to the end; so don't wait like you're powerless.  He'll make you a lioness.  





Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Letter to the Next Great Saints

Dear Eva, Maya, Sarah, Lucy, Jacob, James, Sam, and Michael (and anyone else who honors me with their readership):

I think all of you are making pretty big transitions this year: whether you're finally graduating high school or exploring new territory in the college world.  Usually, big transitions mean you're about to learn and experience a LOT of new things.  Join the club.  I'm really excited because at our age we meet so many new people that we have the opportunity to make a big impression on the world around us.  I think we can all agree that the world could use some change for the better, and God has chosen us- the pressure is on!  Brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm really blessed to have all of you in my life to remind me I have support and I should be unafraid. We've got all this unknown life ahead of us and that makes the temptation to fear very strong...especially when I think about Papa Francis' exhortation to "evangelize."  It's such an important mission, and since I know all of us are called to it to some degree I thought I'd share a few things about my experience...which has not always been as perfect and courageous as I'd like.  I mean, I'm a cradle Catholic, not Scott Hahn, for crying out loud!  I'm not exactly qualified for this job.  I don't know how to handle broken hearts and people who long for God, much less people who don't really know Him. Or so I thought, until recently.

Like seriously though, I was the kid who adopted St. Therese as my big sister at the age of five, since I was the oldest child and didn't have that type of role model at home.  I read the "Treasure Box" books voraciously, I carried my homemade sacrifice beads around in the pockets of my homeschooler/Little House on the Prairie dresses, I was the annoying kid in CCD who could answer every question... I even remember a couple times where I'd purposely drop strands of my hair in random places so that when I became a saint, (not if, when) they would "have relics of me."  *awkward childhood memories facepalm*

 Looking back, that really just screams PRIDE at me...but of course I grew out of that eventually.  Er...that is, after a couple more prideful phases including ganging up on people over email debates and thinking that through my own willpower and persuasive charms I could "convert" people... o.O (Heck no, WHAT was I thinking?!)


And then I went to community college. Lo and behold, my shiny Catholic homeschool group bubble was officially and unceremoniously popped.  Not that I was "sheltered," exactly.  I had a thorough moral education, I was prepared to deal with all the issues.
But at college I didn't meet issues.  I met people.
I was not prepared for the human beings, with names and emotions and memories, who had to carry the weight of all the moral mistakes I had learned to refute.  What was I supposed to do? Look at them funny out of the corner of my eye and thank God I'm not like that? Pass out holy cards, quote C.S. Lewis, and have them look at me funny? Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to commit to either of those options.  So, since I was kind of at a loss, I just rolled with it for a while.  Meanwhile, God was probably watching me with vast amusement, thrilled at how His plan was working out...

Because when you just roll with it, you start to be friends with that girl in English class despite the fact that she's usually quite casually cursing like a sailor.  You chat about 80's guitarists and Starbucks coffee with the guy who got his eyebrows shaved off at a party that got too wild.  You feel the pain of the beautiful 26-year-old woman who's going through her second divorce, believes all men are jerks, and had lost sight of her precious value and dignity to the point that she'd accompany her boyfriend to the strip club where he liked to hang out.  You start rooting for the single mom who sometimes has to bring her bored but awesome eleven-year-old son to class with her.  You might even be able to (carefully) have a civilized conversation about the pros of chastity with that dude who was hitting on you.

It was crazy.  Gradually, I actually started to like these people.  Sure, they had issues.  They weren't the reliable partners in holiness I had always had for friends.  I wasn't going to be able to admire them for their values the same way I admire all of you guys.  But the more I learned about them, I found I could sympathize with them.  And to my discredit, that terrified me.

I think a few of y'all back at "Catholic headquarters" noticed a change in me, even if you weren't sure what it was.  Maybe it was just me being paranoid; I don't know.  I do know that a few of the moms were concerned about whether I was making wise life decisions-- because suddenly, unfortunately, my friendships with their wonderful, virtuous children were a little strained.  I had always been close to these friends and shared my life with them, but I had no idea how to communicate what college was doing to me and how my perspective was changing.  I didn't think they could possibly understand.  We had always been united in preparing our arguments for the day when we'd face all those issues the world is full of.  I had to be doing something wrong; I wasn't getting into arguments! I probably wasn't trying hard enough.  I worried that maybe the concerned moms were right about me.  Maybe I was succumbing to bad influences.  What would my friends think if they knew the kind of people I dealt with at school?  Sure, I didn't go out barhopping on the weekends, or doubt my moral beliefs...but I realized that if I was in the place of my classmates I could have done the same things they had.

I started to wonder. How Catholic was I, really? I didn't have church events built into my schedule anymore since I felt distant from my church community and I had extensive homework.  Had I always just used the good people and wholesome activities that surrounded me to convince myself I was good enough? I hoped not.  I hoped my faith was deeper and more real than that.  I hoped it would stand the test of this partial withdrawal from Catholic society.  I hoped that I wasn't doing the wrong thing by becoming more "tolerant"- or whatever it was I was becoming- towards these new acquaintances.  I needed to figure it out the only way I knew how.  I turned to my best friend, Jesus. 

True evangelization is humbling. At first I still felt guilty, but eventually I concluded that God had allowed me to feel this guilt on purpose, to teach me what evangelization really means.  It means there's no room for being aloof or afraid. If you step up to imitate Christ in spreading the gospel, you have to extend love to the tax collectors and prostitutes.  You do have to get "dirty" in the sense of meeting the sinner and seeing where he's coming from, how he came to be wounded.  You don't run away from him, because as the hands and feet of Christ, you have the power to help his wound heal.  And sometimes you get a shock because you expect to teach him, but he teaches you.

I learned from my college classmates that I have not "earned" holiness.  I do not "deserve" something better than what they have.  I am not "better" than they are.  Everything I am is grace. Everything they are not is simply a lack of grace.  God loves them just as much as he loves me.  And unless I act like it, unless I live like my God doesn't play favorites and can fix absolutely anyone...I have no Gospel.  I have a reward system, not a Divine Lover waiting with open arms and a gift of mercy.  I have pride, not compassion.  I need to remember that it is better to be a Magdalene than a Pharisee.  It took me a while to get the picture because I resisted it.  But I get so much comfort from Papa Francis' Evangelii Gaudium (which you must read if you haven't already).  He has confirmed for me that I am still doing the work of God among the challenges and diversity of community college.  In fact, my time there is forming me into exactly the sort of missionary that the lost children of God need.

But I can't do it alone.  Missionaries have to have backup; the apostles always used the buddy system.  I really suffered last year when I chose to assume my missionary buddies couldn't understand the mission.  The devil truly does try to isolate, but here and now I put my foot down.  I'm not having it this school year.  I ask that you guys pray for me, and I promise to return the favor.   As we all head off to different places, I think prayer is the best way we can stay connected.  In fact, if there's any kind of support you might need during your very own crazy learning experience, you know how to contact me.  I also challenge you to set aside any fear or pride you might have in order to bring the Love of God to all the people He lets you reach this year.  Somebody really smart says we are the great saints of this generation; there is no Mother Teresa or JPII to do our job for us.  And when that smart person says that, I feel a little overwhelmed so I think we should make it a team effort.  We help more people that way, and I don't feel solely responsible for inspiring the entire world to holiness.  The more, the merrier, right?! ;b

In all seriousness, thank you for being some of the most incredible people I have ever known.  I love you all.

your friend,
Sarah Miller



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Less Of A Theory, More of A Love Affair

Believing in anything is kind of strange.  As the human race, we pride ourselves on being reasonable.  We are the smartest creatures we know of.  And we know a lot.  We've proved (or at least made educated guesses about) almost everything we need in order to explain the world around us.  We've established incredible scientific and psychological theories. I think in our world today, and especially as a college student in academia, the mind is idolized.  Many forces fight to occupy our thoughts, and then we think to figure out which ones are important.  To "take something on faith" is a risky business which is to be avoided when possible.  And we get told that our hearts are really dumb sometimes and that love is blind, so we try to rule everything via the brain. 

So...what is the heart doing there? Why do we need it? Why do we feel things, and why are we unhappy when we don't feel, when we experience emptiness or indifference?
We have both a head and a heart, and we try so hard to separate them, to cling to our reasoning. That can protect us from making dumb, overly emotional decisions, but it can also protect us from making changes, from challenging ourselves, from becoming vulnerable.  I think the over-emphasis on understanding everything empirically is a form of fear.  As valuable as it is when used correctly, the brain can justify anything if it tries hard enough. But the the deepest movements of the heart can't be manufactured.  At one level at least, we can't lie to ourselves.  We can use distractions to evade the heart's stirrings, but they never go away completely.  Instead, we get used to being unsatisfied.  We accept that these feelings are going to surface on our bad days and don't bother to deal with them when they do.  We grow comfortable enough living halfheartedly that we rarely remember: something is missing and we aren't fully happy.

Guys! Since when was comfort better than happiness? How did we get to the point where nobody dares to get out and really live, really experience freedom? I think in order to do that, we need to restore balance and start accepting that we are more than a brain. 

Have you ever noticed that most internet debates are fruitless?  People either get overly emotional and start rants and personal attacks, or they go all brainiac and boring on you and list a bunch of impeccable (not really) but yawn-worthy facts and reasons.  Really, any controversial topic gets ugly when strangers are discussing it together.  But, if you have the same conversation with a close friend, even if you disagree, the results are much better. (*raises hand sheepishly* I speak from experience...)  Anyway, I think there's some significance to that.  Love is more powerful than knowledge.  People want you to care more than they want you to convince.  People with passion are more attractive than people with conviction. 
Saint Paul sums it up better than I do in 1 Corinthians chapter 13:
"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophesy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing."

It's just that it's counter-intuitive because we think "knowledge" and we think of Einstein and diplomas and success...but think "love" and "the heart" and instantly the image we get is rainbows, kittens, and the whiny, sappy, moody people on Facebook and...

...We think putting love before knowledge will turn us in to that ignorant person that nobody respects.

But real love is not ignorant.  Seriously.  If you want to have a terrible love life, try ignoring the facts and cling to your own idealized, distorted version of the person you love--which isn't really love at all.  No, to love someone you have to see them as they are.  At that deep level where your heart won't leave you alone, love and truth are inseparable.  And honestly, Saint Paul's description of love sounds like the opposite of those annoying people on Facebook:
"It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
Not exactly the kind of love you can roll your eyes at.  In fact, if I met anyone who could love like that, the amount of respect and admiration I'd have for them would be immense. You guys, I want to be like that.  I want to be somebody whose love is so strong, so pure of ulterior motives, that it never fails. That's why my heart won't leave me alone-- it's longing to give and receive the same kind of love that brought it into existence in the first place.  And as much as I like my brain, I won't let it stand in the way when it comes down to it. 

We are taught to be desperate for proof in order to believe anything.  But ultimately, we're more desperate for love. So let love win. You don't have to understand everything to believe.  If your heart is empty and you know you need faith, then I dare you to go for it.  God has not disappointed me yet and he doesn't play favorites, so He will do His part to help you.  I'm sure of it.  I still don't have my faith figured out completely.  It was a relief to me when I realized I don't have to "get it" all in order to be good enough for my Church. God isn't going to get mad if I ask questions as I go along.  I'm constantly pursuing a deeper faith by learning more.  But ultimately, my belief is based on love.  It's a desire in my heart for something I can't get anywhere else.  It's realizing God is the source of my purpose, fulfillment, and joy.  Maybe that doesn't make perfect sense yet...but it works.  It makes me happy and I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

So, from G.K. Chesterton and I: "Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair." Because that's the only kind of religion worth having. 

~Sarah 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Beautiful Mamas

 This is the second Mother's Day where I've been caught off guard.  At Mass, Father starts his little speech about honoring mothers...and grandmothers...and then, surprise! Godmothers! Oh yeah, that's me!  So weird.  I'm technically a "mother."  Hmm.
This is also the second Mother's Day since I made my Marian consecration, and since I had fewer family obligation than usual, I got a chance to thank my heavenly Mama for her influence.
She didn't give birth to me, I've never seen her in person, but she's still my "mother." That's weird too, right?

Ok how about this one?  Religious sisters, who give up having children of their own, live in a "motherhouse" and answer to "Mother Superior." Crazy.

I guess a lot more than biology goes into the role of a mother.  It's something deeply spiritual, and I think it's part of every woman's calling.  What is motherhood, then?  

Mothers are so many things, but I'm going to focus on three main qualities that I see in my two wonderful mothers, and that I think all women should strive for.

Mothers are blessed by God with creativity. We are all brought into the world and given the precious gift of life by our mothers, through their cooperation with God the Creator.  Thanks to my mom's beautiful creativity, I was born two minutes before midnight in August of 1995 and began my exciting journey.  Thanks to my Mama Mary's creative "fiat" when she was asked to be Christ's mother, I'll live in eternal joy in Heaven after.  Not every woman has a vocation to bear children, but through spiritual motherhood, we are all called to be creative.  God wants us to imitate Him and bring beauty and life to the world around us.  He gives us talents to help us bring beauty to others, to produce new art or ideas, or to restore His life to those around us who are spiritually or emotionally dead. 

Second, mothers are nurturing.  They have to provide for their children and help them grow.  For my mom that meant feeding me, clothing me, homeschooling me...  And now that I'm a godmother, I have a responsibility to make sure my godson grows close to Jesus and learns about his faith.  There are so many ways to strengthen the people around us, to help them grow.  Women are gifted with gentleness and compassion to see the needs of others and to offer their help.  We all need to nurture God's children.

Finally, mothers need to be able to sacrifice.  I'm sure my mom didn't enjoy finishing her college degree with a breastfeeding infant at home, or waking up in the middle of the night to take care of me.  I'm sure it was painful for my Mama to watch her son die on a cross.  But they both had enough love to overcome what they wanted and accept what their loved ones needed.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen sums up very well the amazing sacrificial love of motherhood:
 "A woman is capable of more sacrifices than a man. Man is more apt to be a hero, through some great passionate outburst of heroism. But a woman's love makes a thousand small sacrifices, sprinkling them through the days and the months; their very repetition gives them the character of the commonplace. Not only her soul, but her body, has some share in the Calvary of Redemption; furthermore, she comes closer to death than man, whenever she brings forth a child."
 How many little unnoticed sacrifices mothers make every day!  How much they are willing to endure to make life better for their children! 

This sacrificial love is what makes my two mamas beautiful, more than anything else.  This is what makes me want to be like them.  They have learned the secret of love, which is to put the beloved first.   I can only hope and pray for the grace to do the same.

~Sarah

Monday, May 5, 2014

Expectation


 Don't you hate it when you're looking forward to something, you get your hopes up, and somebody lets you down?

They expected a King, and they got a criminal.  Or so they thought.
Thousands of years ago, God promised the Jews that he would send them a Messiah from the line of David, someone who would free them from bondage.  When the Roman empire oppressed them, they felt sure the time had come and that He would finally come through.  The extremist Zealots would cause uprisings in their anticipation, and they got enough attention that Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect was worried. So worried that he was willing to let a carpenter from Nazareth, who preached in the temple, die between two thieves...just to calm the crowds.
 A lot of people rejected Jesus, because he wasn't the Messiah they drew up in their heads.  He was a carpenter, not a prince.  He taught peace, not violence.  He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and dissed the Pharisees, who were supposedly devout, exemplary figures. 
 From the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53:
"He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye,
no beauty to draw us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem."
Even the Apostles, who were willing to let go of the common ideal about who the Messiah was, couldn't handle the fact that Jesus had to die, and ran away. How could God possibly bring good out of this situation?  Jesus was on a cross and their hopes were crushed.

Flash forward a couple thousand years and I'm dealing with the same problem of idealism.  My creative brain comes up with a thousand scenarios trying to predict where my life is going.  I think I know what's best for me and when God chooses something different, I get mad.  My hopes for my future are crushed.  I complain, I try and fail to "fix" things...and then I start the guessing game all over again.
I focus my friendships on whether the other person is returning my favors, meeting my standards, giving me what I need.  I love with strings attached.  I come up with a list of what my family members should improve to be "good enough" for me.  I daydream about the perfect future boyfriend and wonder why all the guys I know fall short. 

 What would happen if I stopped expecting things? What would happen if I just placed my trust in God and watched his plan unfold?
Well, what happened to the Apostles?
They witnessed the Resurrection, the victory of Christ the hero.  They received the Holy Spirit and spoke in languages they didn't know.  They went out to tell the world that death had no sting anymore because God had transformed it.  Heaven was opened to the most humble on the earth.  Sin had no power over us anymore.  They expected freedom from Rome, but instead they got eternal freedom from their weaknesses and from the darkness of dying.  They expected the cross to be followed by the grave, but instead it brought life.  When Jesus suffered, they thought that they were wrong about him, that God must have forgotten him and His chosen people.  Jesus was crucified while the Zealot rebel Barabbas (literally Bar-abba, son of the Father) was released.  Jesus cried out on the cross what we often think when life doesn't fit our ideals: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?"
Isaiah continues:
"Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed."

Jesus did not leave us to die and suffer forever afterwards.  God did not abandon His son, and he will not abandon us.  His plan is a mystery because it's too good to predict- He has proved that.   Honestly, if He gave me my idealized version of life, most of the time it would be disastrous.

I really struggle with giving up my dreams.  I find it hard to stay grounded in reality.  I don't know how to have the patience I need for full co-operation with God.  But on my own, I have no idea how to do this crazy thing called life.

So I try to let go of all my expectations, except for one.

I expect Him to surprise me, in all the best ways possible.

~Sarah <3

The Forgiveness Myth

I do not enjoy forgiving people because it makes me feel like a doormat. I would honestly rather get all Carrie Underwood/Miranda Lambert up...