Modesty Photo Shoot

I think a good way to be a witness to your friends and to have a good time is to do a modesty photo shoot. The purpose is to show the world that there is beauty in modesty, and it is joyful, freeing, and honoring. It’s not to show off or make yourself appear better than you are. As in all things, do it for God’s glory!

So call up some friends who you think exemplify modesty, grab an amateur photographer (like me!), and find some beautiful scenery.  It’s good fun, and you’ll have some cute photos and good memories to go along with them!😉

…and be sure to have fun with it!

Here are some of our photos from modesty photo shoot.

 

Disconnecting and Living in the Present

Years ago I read a book of life lessons by a spunky Franciscan nun after the heart of Jesus, Mother Angelica. She often talked about “living in the present”. It popped up repeatedly, so I stopped to ponder that concept. I made a conscious effort to cast my worries and anxieties on the Lord and tried embracing every moment before me. I felt free to live and love in the present moment, which flooded me with joy and peace.

risserFast forward a few years, and had begun to drift away from the present and found myself in a fantasy world sparked by too much time spent on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, texting, etc. I was literally living in the present, but my mind was often someplace else, always wanting more. Sometimes I’d get so invested in my past that it was hard to move onto what was right before me. Mostly though, I found myself anxious about my unknown future, and it prevented me from diving into the new adventure right before me. While my mind was so preoccupied with a false world, I missed out on so many encounters of love by not being fully present.

Simply listening, smiling, asking questions, putting the phone down in the company of others, greeting people as they pass by, or making any small sacrifice for love of another could make a difference in someone’s day, even your own! One of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa is “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” We’re here to serve. To love and to be loved. To be Christ to others.

Mother Angelica spoke of God’s will in the present moment, “We have to learn to live in the Present Moment. We have to ask God: What are You calling me to do now, in this Present Moment? Not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now. God’s will is manifested to us in the duties and experiences of the Present Moment. We have only to accept them and try to be like Jesus in them.”

What are some ways to be fully alive in the present moment? I’m currently trying to figure it out and get back to that way of living, for it allows for real Faith!

  1. The first and most important thing to do is pray. Wherever you are, offer God your time. Talk to him and ask him, just as Mother Angelica instructed, “What are you calling me to do now, in this Present Moment?
  2. If you, like me, find social media, texting, television, etc. to be a distraction, limit your time or take a hiatus. (Read a recent Modesty Honors Beauty post for more on that: https://modestyhonorsbeauty.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/do-it-for-the-gram/). I can guarantee, it will be a struggle, but you fill find yourself much freer because of it!
  3. Take 30 minutes of silence each day. The Holy Spirit comes in the silence of the heart. So many people say that they’ve never felt God’s presence or heard his direction, but perhaps they’ve never taken the time to listen. Talk to God about your day and listen to Him. If 30 minutes of silence isn’t possible because, well, kids or a full day of classes and work, give Him whatever you have. Take a few minutes of meditation and talk with God at the beginning of your day, and make your whole day a prayer. Give what you have. Come Holy Spirit!
  4. Be intentional! If you want to live in the present moment, look for little sacrifices, little acts of love, that you can give presently. I saw a post on Instagram not too long ago about 7 simple ways to grow in holiness before noon, and I want to share them with you.

-Get out of bed with the first alarm

-Make your bed

-Say a little extra prayer before breakfast

-Take care of dishes

-Smile at a stranger on your way to work (or school)

-Deny the urge to snack after breakfast

-Take notice of something or someone you normally wouldn’t

 

These are simple tips for living in the present. I hope they help. I’m trying to figure it out too. If you have any suggestions, please comment. We’re all in this crazy life together, striving for eternal joy!

 

 

Motivated. Dedicated. Focused. Ask and you shall receive.

Though I grew up an active kid, I had always been someone who thoroughly enjoyed eating food. Never fully understanding how much food I was intaking, I overindulged frequently. As my food consumption continued to grow, my activity continued to diminish. It was about the age of 13 when I really started to realize that I was getting overtly unhealthy and unable to do certain things. At this point, I was playing baseball for my high school. I guess you could say I was an “alright” baseball player, but I could have been lightyears ahead of my other peers if I would have taken on a healthy lifestyle. When I tried to run a mile, I would run for five minutes and stop because of the shooting pain that went through my whole body. When I would try to lift weights I always thought I could lift more than I really could, and if lifting less, I became discouraged. I had tried to workout but always felt defeated in whatever I attempted. My brother-in-law had tried to help me get in better shape time and time again, but every time he tried, I would fall off the wagon. This was the pre-cursor to how I live the life I do today.

The seven year hike I took to arrive where I am now started on a Sunday morning while watching television. An infomercial came on about this workout program called “P90X with Tony Horton”. As I started to watch, I began to think, “There is absolutely no way I would ever be able to any of this.” I had reached 285lbs, which was my all-time high. Life as I knew it was being a fat, out of shape, scruffy-looking human being, with no motivation to do anything. As I finished watching the commercial I said, “Well I have tried a million other ways to do this, I could at least try and see if I get anything out of it”. As a present from my dad, a week and a half later, a white box marked “P90X with Tony Horton” showed up at the house. That is where it all began.

After the first night of working out I was dead tired. I could barely feel any of the bones in my body. Three consecutive days into P90X, I saw a smidgen of light at the end of the tunnel. Over the next 6 months of doing this day in and day out, I became extremely addicted to it. Every single day I trudged to my basement and attempted to perform all of the exercises in the DVDs. I blasted music just so that I didn’t have to hear myself breathe. Flash forward to two years of doing P90X devoutly, my results really showed. More than anything, I was feeling a lot better about myself overall. I went from not being able to do a pull up, push up or lift weights, to being able to do all with ease.

When I went away to college, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to keep doing P90X, as I would be living in a dorm room. I eventually found myself at the local YMCA because of remodeling in the campus gym at the university. I leaned out to 194lbs, which I hadn’t touched since the beginning of middle school. I found myself growing out of the specific activities from P90X, and beginning to lift like a true athlete. Day in and day out, I kept working. For the year I was at college, this became life; not only because of the high I got from lifting, but also the amount which I was able to expand my spiritual life, by praying throughout a workout or offering a lift for someone when I thought I wasn’t going to make it. That is what helped push me through it.

In Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” I believe that most Christians pass through the day forgetting that God lives inside of them. I never used to think as such, but when I really recognized my body was bought at a price, I began to take huge strides when it came to taking care of it. It isn’t enough until you fully engulf yourself in what it takes to honor God with your physical body. In keeping it in the shape that it was given to me, I have the opportunity to glorify my Heavenly Father.

I further believe that with honoring the Lord, discipline is required. Disciplining yourself not only to go to the gym, but to also eat the foods that are healthy for your body. Every morning at 6:00 AM, I wake up and go to my local gym for about an hour and a half to lift. There you will find me dripping with sweat, focused beyond belief, and putting all I have into each lift. Every agonizing P90X workout, every lift, and all the miles I have run have paid off. Most importantly, I don’t live in fear of being 285lbs again, simply because I know that God has brought me way too far to ever return to the person I was before.

I, without God, could never have accomplished any of the things I have. The dedication to want to push myself as hard as I do isn’t human. The strength I have to lift as hard as I do isn’t human. All of what I have obtained over the past 7 years is not a work of myself, but of God. I don’t believe for a moment that what I have become is possible without God. To lose 100 pounds, to go from no dedication to extreme dedication, and to have the strength I do, is only a small glimpse of what God can do. We have a great privilege to be here on earth, to honor God with ourselves. Give it your all; pray, and do not stop until you get to where you want to be.photo (3)

Do It for the Gram

Ah, social media. The grand blessing and curse of our generation. Before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, there was no acceptable place to share pictures of your trendy brunch or foggy nature walks. Unfortunately though, these mediums have become breeding grounds for narcissism and addictions to approval.

essena

Essena O’Neil, an Australian “insta model,” recently came clean about the damaging effects of social media. Having over half a million followers and a decent modeling gig, from the naked eye, it seemed like she had it all. Here’s what she had to say:

“Without realizing, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other.”

In a culture that so heavily attributes success to how much applause you receive, it’s difficult to be raw and honest on social media. No one wants to see me right after waking up, bedhead and all, so I’m going to do my hair and makeup before taking a picture. No one wants to know what I actually look like, so I’m going to add a filter or two (or five) to my photo before posting it. If I don’t do these edits or get the right angle, the number of “likes” I receive will suffer. Receiving social admiration is addicting, and it’s no wonder that so many girls get caught up in the glamorous-looking lives of others.

What the outside view fails to see, though, is the emptiness that it can entail. As my dear Essena points out, her life was superficial and she was so desperate for admiration that she was willing to exploit her body in tiny outfits in exchange for money and fame.

So the question arises: How do we find depth within the emptiness?

 1. Take a hiatus. One of my favorite things in the world is a hiatus. Social media is not inherently bad, but it can be abused. Purging technology from your life for a bit can be very freeing, and deleting a certain app from your phone or simply signing off can open you up to a world you might have been missing while trying to create an online persona. It can also give you time to center yourself on what’s truly important. Take a walk. Call your mom. Pray.

2. Test out some bold honesty. “The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.” (You can thank Armistead Maupin for that wisdom.) After Miss O’Neil came clean about herself, hoards of followers did too. We intrinsically desire truth and belonging, and it’s impossible to find either of those when living in internet fantasy. True freedom is found in honesty, albeit scary at times to be honest. Take a picture of yourself with a sincere smile, sans makeup/filter. Rave about a fair trade brand you love. Become an advocate for something. Use social media to promote goodness and social change. Take a few seconds of courage, and you may be surprised with what ripples of change you can make.

3. Realize that to follow Christ is to take a road less traveled. We are called to be Christ to one another, and I can assure you that Jesus never sought praise. In fact, he fled into solitude on many occasions. (Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16 for example). It’s vital to remember that our faith tells us not to settle for the culture of the world. Although you might miss some earthly esteem, praise will be given to you in Heaven, where it is everlasting and God-given. One could get millions of likes, but it is null in comparison to the love of our Lord. The road to Heaven is narrow, yes, but it is also fulfilling. It is true. Most importantly, it is the sole way to genuine success.

Breaking the Chains of Depression Through Christ

IMG_8785 (2)Depression can be very hard to deal with. It’s essentially like you’re facing a spiritual battle every single day of your life. You want to hide, you want to seclude yourself from the world, and you hope one day the pain will just end. I suffer from depression and anxiety myself.  It is something that I’m slowly beginning to talk about publicly, because I know that battles are most effectively won in numbers.

How can we win, you ask?

2 words: Jesus Christ.

One thing I notice with people who suffer from depression, including myself, is we feel a lack of love, and we feel alone. My friends, Jesus is the truest form of love! And because you are from God, you are loved. 1 John 4:4 proves this: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

Still not convinced of God’s love for you? Here are some other bible verses to back it up. I invite you to read them and meditate on them prayerfully.

Romans 5:8 – “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

1 Peter 5:6-7 – “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Isaiah 41:13 – “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”

Zephaniah 3:17 – “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Please know that you are not what your mind and the devil say you are. You are not worthless, you are not a burden, you are not abnormal, and you are not a lost cause. You are perfection in the eyes of Our Lord. You are a rare diamond that is so precious to God that He never wants that diamond to lose its shine.  He wants you to know your infinite value.

Your worth in Christ must be the foundation for battling depression, but you cannot win this battle without building up your prayer life. Prayers are our weapons against the negative thoughts, the lack of motivation, the sadness and the icky feelings that the devil throws at us to keep us down.  Prayer is when we truly communicate with Our Father.  Prayer and communication with God will help us not only grow within ourselves, but grow in a unique relationship with Him! He wants to hear from us. He wants us to put our burdens on Him so we can be free. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.  I also find this prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola very helpful:

O Christ Jesus,

When all is darkness

and we feel our weakness and helplessness,

give us the sense of Your presence,

Your love, and Your strength

Help us to have perfect trust

in Your protecting love

and strengthening power,

so that nothing may frighten or worry us,

for, living close to You,

we shall see Your hand,

Your purpose, Your will through all things. – Amen

Praying the rosary can be a major weapon, too!

We have the foundation of God, the weapon of prayer, and now you need to add your crew. Surrounding yourself with good, wholesome, Godly friends will really be beneficial for acknowledging the positive and keeping your eyes on God. Having people that you can talk to when you’re down, that will support you in prayer, or that will bring light and laughter is a great tool to keep yourself strong. It’s also wonderful to know that you do have people that love and care for you. Good friends are God’s precious gifts that He sends to His children so they can build each other up. Good friends will be there for you every step of the way. Go to the movies, act silly, step outside your comfort zone, dance like nobody is watching and know God is with you all along the way.

Once you have your foundation, your weapons and your crew, you are fully equipped to fight the battle. Now get out there with a big smile on your face! My dear friends in Christ, you are such a blessing to us all.  You are an essential part of God’s perfect plan. The devil does not want this for you and he will try his best to keep knocking you down. But keep in mind that you have the war weapons and the devil does not. You have everything you need. God has already won the war, we just need to fight the battles.

I love you so much because God loves you so much. I pray that the love of God touches each one of your lovely hearts and takes away any pain, discomfort and sadness you may be feeling at this moment. May he put joy, love, happiness and hope in your heart.

You deserve to smile and experience life fully. God wants you to be filled with His peace and joy!

–Nicole

**If you or someone you know is suicidal, call (800) 273-8255 for the US 24/7 Suicide Prevention Hotline

A response to the infamous stretch of strip clubs and bars on Bourbon Street, New Oleans, LA

photo 2While on a trip to New Orleans for a pro-life conference, my friends and I decided to saunter on down to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It’s known for pushing the limits of wild and racy, and at night it’s full of hoards of people. This sparked my curiosity, as things usually do, and I was intrigued to see if the stretch of road lived up to its expectations. It exceeded them.  

How Can Men Practice Modesty?

Image-1(1)Men, take a seat. We need to take a few minutes to think about what our role is regarding modesty. We’ve come to believe that modesty is a topic concerning only women, and that has led us to forget what modesty is in the first place. Let me start by telling you what modesty is not.

Modesty is not just a decision about what clothes we wear. Modesty is about living our lives in humility for the glory of God and for love of our spouse.

Modesty is not about telling women what they ought to wear to fit our personal standard. Women feel confused and ashamed of their bodies because we falsely tell them they should cover themselves because their bodies are sinful.

Most importantly, modesty is not about telling females to dress modestly so as to avoid making a man lust. Hearing the argument that men can’t control their desires just makes me cringe. It is a beautiful and natural thing to be attracted to a woman, but when you think of her as an object to be conquered, you are lusting. And, like it or not, men, it’s your fault if you lust after a woman. The assaulter doesn’t get to blame the victim, so as a man doesn’t get to blame a woman for his lustful desires. When we lust, God doesn’t tell the woman to change her clothes, He tells us to pluck out our eye (Matt 5:29). Our failure to properly love women has made them feel like they should have nothing to do with us. This is not how we should make women feel. A woman should feel so loved and respected by our own modest service towards them that they would also want to live modestly out of love for us and God.

Women have even begun to despise modesty because men are trying to take control of women’s choices. I unfortunately was one of these men, wrongfully trying to tell a woman she should dress in more “modest” swimwear, and I was making her feel guilty if she didn’t. She wasn’t even dressing immodestly, I just wanted her to know my opinion. Thanks be to God, she spoke out and corrected me as soon as I mentioned it to her, because that is not what a man should do.

What a man should do is learn to live a modest lifestyle himself first, because right now we are doing a pretty poor job. Living modestly is about swallowing our pride and accepting God’s call with a servant’s heart, just as Mary did. So, first, let’s talk about what God’s call is.

God calls all men to love women as Christ loved the Church. And how did he love the Church? He died for her. That is what we are supposed to do for all women, whether they are mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends, or wives. God calls all men to protect, defend, uplift, and serve women because women are seriously awesome. After all, God created woman after man because He was saving the best for last. Woman is the pinnacle of creation. Even our sinful society knows that. Jason Evert had me question why our society sells images of women instead of colorful rainbows. Because women are the most beautiful thing in the world, but our society hates women and has destroyed their nature by dominating them. It is time to protect and serve women, and we do this by living a modest lifestyle.

So what does our modesty have to do with responding to God’s call and loving women?

In order to love women like Christ did, we must be modest. That means not boasting about our strength, or how good we are at football, or exercising so we can show off our bodies for the ladies. Live for God and not for the people watching. When Christ healed the blind man, we didn’t hear him say, “Oh man, look at how awesome I am for healing you. I am so great.” No. He did it modestly, not drawing attention to his own glory but the Father’s. “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my father who glorifies me” (John 8:54). If the Son of God doesn’t boast, then neither should we. Give glory to God by using your strength and abilities to provide for women. God intentionally created our bodies so we could serve women, not so we could bench press. This is why males were the ones to provide for women in the pre-historic era.

One way we can practice modesty is through our clothing. If we actually put some thought into our clothing, we could send a very strong message. Imagine how loved a lady would feel if you dressed yourself in a way that said “I am saving my body for you and only you.” Actions speak louder than words, so if you truly love somebody, your body will proclaim it.

After I instructed someone to wear modest swimwear, I realized how hypocritical I was being by then taking my shirt off and wanting women to notice my body and glorify me. When I started wearing a shirt when I swam, my body acted as a sign of love toward others. Eventually women had even commented that it made them feel respected. Even other guys took notice. I share this not to be pretentious but to show how powerful a small act of modesty can be. Men can make an impact on this world if we choose to live modestly and stop blaming it all on women. It is a two way street and both men and women must work in cooperation for the dignity of each other and the glory of God. This can only be done when men choose to reflect Christ’s humility towards the Church and when women reflect Mary’s desire to receive and nurture Christ. So long as men remain proud and arrogant, women will never want to receive anything from us, and they will only desire independence from men. Be a man, and serve your women modestly. That’s what Christ did. That’s what you should do.

Men, Pray to Christ that you may have the strength to follow the model he gave us and die for His Church.

Men, protect, defend, uplift, and serve the dignity of women.

-Charlie

The Cripple of Perfectionism

Ever since I was young, I consistently teased my sister for being such a perfectionist. Little did I realize that I was pointing out the splinter in her eye and missing the wooden beam in my own. I was a perfectionist as well. If I wasn’t perfect, then, by golly, I just wasn’t good enough. I began basing my self-worth on my accomplishments without even realizing it. I had a genuine love for God, but it became easily distorted by my perfectionist standard. I began doing good things to try to earn God’s love.

Doing as much good as I was able to fit into my day became my obsession for awhile. Life became a list of things that I thought would fulfill me. I would easily become burned out and fall into despair when I realized that no matter how hard I tried, there were still many, MANY things that I couldn’t accomplish. Sometimes I just wanted to hide away from the world. My intention was off, and my perfectionist standard started to skew my view of friends, family, and my relationships. I could only see people for what good characteristics they were missing. I became discouraged that no one was consistent and that we were all failures.

Thankfully, God opened my eyes to His goodness once more. I eventually recognized that I could not save myself and that I had lost sight of who my Redeemer was. I received the grace to acknowledge that no one is perfect, except God, the one whom I had fallen in love with and the one from whom my perfectionism was keeping me. I received some good advice from a priest in Confession, “strive, but don’t strain”. He explained that, yes, I should strive to be like Christ, but I should not beat myself up when I don’t measure up. It’s merely impossible to measure up to His goodness.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Our Lord enlightened Saint Paul saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul responded, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). One day I was reading my Bible, and those words hit me like a ton of bricks. THAT is the key to dealing with my perfectionism. I must gladly accept my imperfections, and, therefore, allow Christ to heal me and live in me. Although I cannot do anything on my own, He can do all things through me. I am truly perfect but only because of Him.

If you are struggling with pride and perfectionism, ask for God’s grace to see through His eyes. The devil is always going to whisper, “you’re not good enough”. Reject those words because we know that God is good enough, and God is inside of you. Remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

fearfully and wonderfully“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139: 14. This verse confused me for years, but now it’s one of my favorites. I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to be “fearfully made”. How can someone be fearfully made? It’s not like God is fearful when making us, is He? I can’t really imagine God trembling as He knits us together in our mothers’ wombs, but maybe He knows we’re going to mess up and that makes Him nervous? That never seemed entirely plausible. Another theory of mine was that we were made to be in fear. Could that be true? Aren’t we made to stand in the face of injustice, at the gates of Hell and speak the truth? That doesn’t sound like it involves being fearful; it sounds more as if we are meant to be courageous. I had always heard that religious people were supposed to be “God-fearing” and that befuddled me. Of course God is all powerful. At any moment, He could destroy the world, but He is benevolent, He loves us and He wants what’s best for us. So why should I be afraid of God?

Eventually, I decided that the only resolution to my confusion was to do some research. So being the millennial that I am, I procrastinated excessively and then finally Googled it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when the bible was translated into English, “to fear” didn’t just mean “to be scared.” It meant “to respect.” Respectfully made. I am respectfully and wonderfully made. Ahh, that changes things.

So now what does it mean to make something respectfully? God is an artist: the ultimate Artist. So what would it be like for a normal human artist to make something with respect? Well, if an artist just throws some paint on a canvas would that be respectful? Probably not. If an artist is painting something respectfully, he or she is taking time to plan, think out each and every step, and make sure it’s well done. The artist will make a sketch for what the painting will eventually look like and devise a specific statement or emotion for the painting to convey. The artist will plant subtle messages that make people think about society, or a bold message calling viewers to change, or create artwork just to make people smile. It is all planned.  Once the painting is completed, it won’t just be thrown in the trash; it will be intended for a specific place to accomplish a particular purpose. Just like a masterpiece, God makes each person with a specific plan to accomplish certain things and convey certain messages.

Not every person is meant to have the gentleness of Mother Theresa, or the boldness of MLK Jr. These two people were very different and were put in this world to glorify God in very different ways. Both were human rights activists who accomplished amazing things, and the world would look very different without them. However, they weren’t the same. We sometimes forget that in our search for holiness. At least, I know that I can get caught up in seeing the holiness of others and thinking that I have to be exactly like them. I am unique and weird, and that’s okay because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s plan is so perfect that it not only allows for my weirdness, but requires it. No one else can follow God’s plan for my life, because no one else has the same strengths, weaknesses, and quirks that I have. His plan wouldn’t work for anyone else.

I do know a little about God’s plan for your life and for mine: He wants us to love. Love is self-giving. Jesus giving His life for us is the greatest act of love that ever has or ever will take place. He calls us to follow Him and give ourselves in love in whatever ways we can. But the thing is, we can’t do that nearly as well if we don’t embrace who we are. We are all called to give deeply of ourselves, but if we are fighting ourselves, then what are we supposed to give? Instead, we must all learn to embrace who we are and be at peace with that so that the love we give comes from our inner God-given peace, which is a sanctuary for His love.

So be weird, even if it goes against what society tells you to be like! There are societal pressures to conform, to fit in, to do what everybody else is doing, but God tells us to do the opposite: stand out! You see, being religious and following God is not about fitting into a mold. It’s not about acting the same way, dressing the same way or having the same routines as me or as your friends or anyone else in the world. In fact, it’s following God that will make you more you, because He created you fearfully and wonderfully and He has the perfect plan for your life that will bring you joy, fulfilment, adventure and peace. Following God, and so becoming yourself, and then proceeding to respect your awesome self makes you stand out.

You might think of things you’ve done or things you don’t like about yourself and doubt your wonderful nature. Of course, we all turn away from our wonderful nature. That’s called sinning. Sins go against God and against ourselves. We have free will and are born with original sin, which causes us to be more prone to sin. Sin is not who we are, though. God defines us. Our fearful and wonderful nature defines us. The more we reject sin and the more we strive to be wonderful, the more we become our true selves! Following God really just means being yourself, but in the truest form. It involves breaking the bad habits and bonds of sin that have been created over time. To do this, sometimes we have to deny ourselves certain worldly pleasures.

It’s tempting to look at those around us and wish we had their gifts. I seem to always be thinking “if only I was as good at math as my brother, I could use my skills to understand accounting and business to run a non-profit. That would glorify God,” or “If only I was as good at photography and writing as my friends, I could report on poverty around the world to bring awareness to it. That would glorify God,” etc. But God has a purpose for my life that only I can fulfill, and that is beautiful. Even when I forget about my talents or fail to see how they can possibly be used for God, He knows how they need to be used. That makes having a close relationship with God so important! He can see and understand the whole picture. Every last inch of it. He sees our problems, our joys, our rejection, our nature. In all the world, He knows exactly where the strengths, weaknesses and quirks He gave me can be used the best. Sometimes we wish that God would give us big flashing neon signs that say “GO HERE AND DO THIS!!!”. He doesn’t scream across the room what He wants us to do, but rather, He whispers it to us. In order for us to hear that whisper, we have to be close to Him, anticipating His words and reading His words in Scripture.

Embrace who you are, because you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

Are You Cultivating Circumstantial Happiness or Eternal Joy?

What quality do some people spend their whole lives looking for, and others dedicate themselves to spreading? Some say happiness, but I say joy. Many people associate joy with happiness, and although they share similar effects, one fundamental difference separates the two. “Happiness” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.” Happiness is dependant upon external variables and can therefore vanish in a moment. For example, a simple smile from a stranger can turn your day around, or your happiness can be replaced with sadness by the evening news. Joy, on the other hand, is a gift given by God. It is a state of the soul. Joy is the effect of believing that God has conquered sin and death, and that He will bring His faithful to Heaven to be with Him for eternity. We can understand and accept this with our minds, but for this reality to sink into our souls, we must ask for the grace. It’s as simple as that. We need to ask God for understanding and joy.

From the world’s perspective, we Christians live in contradiction. We are saddened by the horrors and hardships of this world, like human trafficking, murder, and divorce, but we still have joy of the soul. We have joy because of Christ’s Resurrection. We have joy because He has conquered death. We know that no matter what happens here on this earth, God is in control and only asks that we be faithful. Yes, these sins horrify us and compel us to do our best to bring God’s peace to our suffering world, but the problem is more than we can handle. God has already won the war. He just needs soldiers to fight the battles.

With this being said, we can still cultivate joy. Here are three ways:

1.) Pray for joy.

Simple enough. Also, try to keep God’s glory, power, and goodness in the front of your mind to remind you of the reason for your joy!

2.) Practice gratitude.

Christians are promised a life of joy if they love God and follow His commandments. More specifically, Christians are promised to live eternally with God. Joy is a gift of God and therefore, eternal life with God means eternal joy. With this knowledge and the tools to attain it, Christians are apt to strive toward Heaven, and therefore, toward joy. Atheists, however, can be joyful as well. Even if Atheists do not believe in God or the afterlife, they can be joyful through gratitude. Gratitude, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is “a feeling of appreciation or thanks”. Christians believe that gratitude is owed to God and it should therefore be an abiding state of being in their lives. Gratitude, however, is also expressed toward other people, too, and so when Atheists feel gratitude, they are in a way participating in the joy of Christ even if they do not believe this is so.

3.) Look for role-models who are joyful and observe their habits.

Just as sunflowers are drawn to the sun, people are attracted to joy. Those men and women who have joy are surrounded by others who inadvertently try to soak up and bask in that joy. Joyful people are peaceful and have a quality to life that others do not have. Those most noted for leading joyful lives are the saints. The saints kept Christ in mind continually and were grateful even when circumstances seemed unbearable. And of course, they were joyful. These saints are the examples for those of us still on earth, striving for Heaven. Emulating the saints’ habits will bring joy.

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God wants to fill us with joy! He created us so that we can be joyful for eternity! As Fr. Ben Luedke says, “We can begin Heaven or begin Hell here on earth.” Let’s begin Heaven. “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18