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!

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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

3 Tips for Magnifying Biblical Beauty in Your Life

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior

For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

The Almighty has done great things for me,

And holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him

In every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm;

He has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

And has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

For he remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,

To Abraham and his children forever.

(Lk 1:46-55)

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The Magnificat is my favorite Bible passage. There is something about Mary’s life reflected in beautiful praise of God that is captivating. Although we could spend years meditating on her Magnificat, here are three points to ponder.

 

  1. Mary Reflects God

When Mary says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my Spirit exults in God my Savior,” she was not speaking in vanity. She was not drawing attention to herself, but using her words and her soul to mirror praise and awe back to God. Mary is a mirror of love. She magnifies His greatness and mercy, which is why her prayer is called the Magnificat. We are all different reflections of God’s love. We all have different strengths, which are hints of God’s almighty goodness. Like puddles that reflect the sun after the storm, the puddle cannot reflect the whole sky- only a portion of it. We cannot possibly reflect the entirety of God’s goodness, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to be the most perfect reflections of God that we can be. Modesty is recognizing the splendor and beauty with which we were made, but also realizing that none of the credit is due to us.

 

  1. Mary does not compare herself to other people

Although Mary is sinless, she never thinks highly of herself, but thanks God for His goodness that affects her life. Mary was made sinless by Christ; her soul was redeemed by the Blood of Christ, just like our souls are. Because Mary was to be the Ark of the Covenant and carry God made Man in her womb, God bestowed on her the grace of an Immaculate Conception, or a sinless soul. Mary knows that only by God’s grace in her life will she be remembered as blessed in future generations. “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.” Mary’s focus was exclusively set on God and she saw that it was not by her own power that she was holy, but by God working through her. If we kept our eyes on God, we too would realize that we are not as righteous as we perceive ourselves to be, for we are truly incapable of doing good on our own. We need the grace of God. Mary maintains her modesty by holding herself up to God’s standard, never to the world’s. How often do we say things like, “Oh, well, I don’t drink as much as Katie” or “yeah, we shouldn’t have gone that far, but Matt and Sarah have gone even further.”? This is measuring ourselves up to the world, not to Heaven. We will not be judged on how we behaved in comparison to Katie or Matt, we will be judged on how we behaved in comparison to God’s commandments. When we look to God for direction and approval, we can see very clearly our faults and shortcomings. When we look to people for justification, however, we become desensitized to our own weaknesses. This can be compared to staring at the ground when we walk. I am in the habit of looking at my feet as I walk, and I think that I am being careful not to trip on anything. But, in reality, I am preoccupied with what is directly in front of me, losing sight of where I need to go. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Modesty is choosing not to put ourselves above others, but opening up our peripheral vision to accept both our shortcomings and redemption in Christ.

 

  1. Mary is genuine

From Mary’s opening statement, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior”, one would expect that she would spend the rest of her canticle proclaiming the goodness of God and exulting in Him, which is exactly what she does. She is true to her word, completely, and entirely genuine. Modesty is knowing who you are in all of your weakness, and yet still recognizing yourself as a saved beloved son or daughter of God, worthy of respect. This is freeing and allows us to be genuine and real like Mary. There is value in the old saying, “say what you mean and mean what you say”. When we are honest, we tell the world that we are confident enough to expose our true selves, even with the possibility of ridicule.

 

When we recognize our worth in Christ and act freely in that reality, we mirror Christ, like Mary did. I am glad that I am able to share my thoughts on the Magnificat with you, but I encourage you to read and meditate on it as well. We can draw so much from the words of Mary and this article only scratched the surface.

Broken and Beautiful: Letting Go and Letting God

Image-1 (1)The devil knows me well. He knows my weaknesses, and he knows how to deflate me so much that it affects every aspect of my life. Lately he’s been actively trying to convince me that life is of no value, which is exactly the opposite of what I am fighting for in my pro-life work. Coincidence? I think not.

Satan is so perverted that he is taking the core issue of my mission in life (defending the dignity and value of every human life at every stage), and he is trying to convince me that life has no meaning, beginning with my own. He tells me how worthless, unworthy, shameful, ugly, messed up and imperfect I am. He wants me to believe that I am beyond the power of Christ’s redemption. He is doing everything in his power to blind me of my worth in Christ.

Satan’s self-destructive thoughts spill over to how I view others. Sometimes I can only see people for their imperfections. Sometimes I question why any of us bother in life since we’re just going to fail again. Sometimes I feel completely unmotivated to help others because “they’re not worthy”. How much pain this must cause Christ! I’ve been fed with Christ’s truth before, and, therefore, I know these are damaging lies.

The devil wants nothing more than for me to lose hope. He wants nothing more than to see me suffer in this life and burn in hell for eternity. He’ll do all he can to make me feel so unworthy of Christ so as to stop approaching Him in prayer, in the Eucharist, and seeing Him in others.

There is hope. There is help. Christ Our Lord has sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice in full. There is no redemption that we can possibly win for ourselves. It must hurt Him terribly when we choose to ignore Him and deny His love. What a slap in the face to tell God that He doesn’t know what He’s doing by loving someone so undeserving. He has a love that truly knows no limits. New life in Christ is His gift of love, and when I choose to accept it, I can truly love others more. I can love them for who they are and meet them where they are at, just as Christ has chosen to do for me.

With my experience in doing pro-life work, I have come to see the damaging effects of Satan’s lies. In some cases, it’s not just a question of proving when human life begins. Rather, it is a question of does this life have value? It’s sad to hear people describe a child as a “product of rape” instead of a child.  It’s sad that many hold the idea that a child with a disability would be better to never have been born. It’s sad to hear people prejudge a life by saying that abortion would be better so the child wouldn’t have to experience the same cycle of poverty that he’s born into.

The truth is, we will never know the potential of a human person, and everyone is born with same dignity in Christ. Jesus died for every individual, no matter how imperfect, just the same as he died for you and me. Yes, every one of us is broken, but thanks to Christ, we are broken and beautiful.

If you are struggling with some of the same things that I struggle with, I invite you to say this prayer on letting go and letting God take control.

Let Go and Let God

Dear God,

I let go of my need to be perfect, and I let You fill me with Your perfect love.

I let go of my ideas of fulfillment, and I let You fill me with what I truly desire.

I let go of what I think of myself, and I let You define my worth.

I let go of what others think of me, and I let You tell me who I am to You.

I let go of my appearance, and I let You shine through me.

I let go of my unreasonable standards, and I let You work through me.

I let go of my will for my life, and I let You reveal Your plan for me.

I let go of all of my past sins, and I let You forgive me.

I let go of my reliance on myself, and I let You be my Redeemer.

I let go of how I view others, and I let You love them through me.

Modesty: The Mirror Of Love

Modesty allows us to love, and in a world that so desperately wants and needs love, it’s a shame that more people are not striving for modesty. This probably goes against what you think of as modesty because typically when we think of modesty, or humility, we imagine people who are scared of the world or think poorly of themselves. They act timidly, avoid eye contact, and do not state what they believe for fear of offending others. If you act like that, you won’t form healthy, loving relationships. That’s not what humility is. That may be our society’s misconstrued view of it, but timidity is not modesty.

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True modesty is realizing that our entire worth comes from God and then striving to live in that truth. That being said, God gives us a lot of worth. I mean, He is God after all, and God is love, so He is the most loving Father that could ever exist. And we’re His kids, so yeah, we have no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed about who we are. So why should we be humble when we are that awesome? We should be humble so that we can reflect the glory of God, like a mirror reflects light. I first heard of the idea of being like a mirror in a prayer that mentions St. Therese the Little Flower. She is said to have been a “mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God.” (I’m not sure who that was originally accredited to, but you can see a full prayer here). Mirroring God is a beautiful thing that we should all strive for. I don’t know how they make those distorted mirrors that you see at carnivals, the ones that make an image appear skinny, fat, twisted or upside down, but arrogance is what turns the clean, smooth mirror of our souls into that type of mirror. When we become arrogant and focus on ourselves, we become inverted and twisted. That is not how we were made to be because it prevents us from reflecting the pure, perfect love that comes only from God. We are creatures of love. God created us in love and for the purpose of reflecting His love into the world. If we want to show love to anyone, whether it be our boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, parents, friends, or perfect strangers, we must first practice modesty.

In order to strive for modesty, we need to consider if what we are doing, saying and wearing is modest or not. Because we are used to applying modesty only to how women dress, considering our actions in the context of modesty is difficult. To make it easier, I suggest that instead, we consider if what we are about to say, do, or wear is loving or not.

 Living in modesty, and so living in love, hinders us from being judgemental towards others, as well as from getting jealous of others. It causes us to realize that all of those around us are our equals because they are human beings. We realize this because we recognize our fallen human nature, everyone else’s fallen human nature, and their God-given worth and beauty. When we realize that all humans are, well, human, then we realize that we cannot look down on others or judge them because they are no less than us. They may fall in different ways, but they fall and we fall. Our duty as Christians is to help each other get back up when we fall and to try to help others avoid falling by setting good example through modest dress. When we have a loving demeanor, others are less tempted to have lustful or hateful thoughts towards us. Modesty hinders jealousy, because, again, all are equal to us. They are human and we are human. They fall and we fall. They have God-given talents, just as we do. Ultimately, we are all part of the same fallen human race that is created and redeemed by God.

Truly understanding all of this would allow me to love so much deeper than I do. I wouldn’t be helping someone because I pity them, but because I love them. Instead of getting jealous of others, I would love them. Instead of being unjustly angry with someone, I would love and try to help that person. Instead of wondering if someone is worth my time, I would simply love them without question. Instead of thinking badly about myself or the mind and body that God gave me, I would love myself. If I could become a truly modest person, it would change my life. How would it change yours?