Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Of God, Novenas, and Buffalo: Part 2: Beautiful things out of Dust

I had been waiting to hear back from Dorothy about what the theme for the novena would be. I knew I had six talks and was ready and excited to start working on them but I couldn’t without the theme for direction. I didn’t get the theme until May. The theme was “Mary’s Message”. I then asked Dorothy what were the titles/themes for each of the 6 talks. She replied, “I trust you, you can come up with them.” If someone was looking at me in that moment I probably looked like a dear in headlights for a split second. But after we hung up I immediately starting plotting out ideas and sending her my immediate thoughts of the layout of the topics for the week. But what we would later come to realize is that we were not the ones orchestrating that week.

I planned my talks pretty much without any input from Dorothy except for me sharing the possible themes for each day. Also planning his talks for that week was Fr. Moen. He was the main celebrant for most of the masses as well as the homilist for the week. He was going to be speaking about Fatima. At the same time, not related as far as we knew, Dorothy had a daily prayer regimen that she had to keep up due to her discernment of becoming a lay SOLT member. Soon we were going to be shown how all of these were connected.

We began to notice very early on that we weren’t orchestrating the week. After mass on Monday I grabbed Dorothy and ecstatically told her how Fr. Moen's homily matched up perfectly with what I was going to speak about that evening.  Dorothy, also excited, told me how her prayer that day lined up with what Fr. spoke about in his homily. This continued all week. Her prayer, Fr.’s homily, and my talks in the evening all connected. We were just taken aback and were so thankful for God showing up and showing off. We shared this with the group every chance we got, as well as with Fr. Moen.

The real test came later in the week. I did not find out until Thursday morning that our Thursday schedule and Friday schedule needed to be switched. The pastor from the neighboring parish where we were painting the rectory, wanted to show us his thanks by celebrating mass, adoration, giving us a talk, and cooking for us. Due to that I had to adjust. But of course, no matter how things got switched around, everything still lined up, Dorothy’s prayer, Fr.’s homily, and my talk.

God was making beautiful things out of our dust.

“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” – Isaiah 3: 11

“The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” – Revelation 21: 5

Friday, October 6, 2017

Of God, Novenas, and Buffalo: Part I: Delays and Overnight Stays

Last October my friend Dorothy asked me to go out to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian Reservation to speak to their youth for a week for their annual novena. She had been a missionary with SOLT (Society of our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity) at St. Ann on the reservation for three years as the youth minister. I of course said yes and had been waiting for this week all year.

The plans for this had been set the previous summer. This novena has been going on for 132 years! Back in the day when the Chippewa were still hunting the buffalo the pastor would also go out with them. The day they got back the novena would start. The typical format for the nine days of prayer would be mass, dinner, speaker. Yet, the previous summer the current pastor and my friend had discerned an idea in prayer separately and had come to the same conclusion. They needed to have a youth portion to the novena. This is why she called me, to help put on the first youth portion to the novena.

These nine days would be a little more than just the normal novena. They had made it into more of a mission week for the youth. They would spend the day working on different projects then they would join the community for mass, dinner, then there would be the evening youth portion. But for me, for me the 8 days I would be there would be a journey with God showing how he orchestrated everything and that I was there for more than just painting with, eating with, and speaking to the youth of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.

I first realized this wasn’t going to be just a regular trip with the way I eventually got to North Dakota. Throughout the whole planning of my travel and getting me out there I had been told that I’d fly out on July 23. Once I received my tickets in my email I reviewed them for the time of the flights. The Wednesday before I left Dorothy texted saying she was so excited that I’d be there in 4 days. “She needs to work on her math,” I thought to myself. That Saturday was going to be a busy one. I had a car wash fundraiser from 9AM-2PM, plus I also needed to get ready to leave. Saturday came and we had a good time and a good number of teens came to wash cars. We ended up shutting down an hour early due to the rain and we cleaned up and went inside to eat pizza. Dorothy texted me again, “You’ll be in ND tonight!!!”. This got me thinking and worried. I checked the email with the ticket info again. My flight wasn’t the next day, it was today, in 5 hours! I was an hour away from home, hadn’t packed, and parents hadn’t even begun picking teens up!

I asked the parents that were there helping out if I could run because I had screwed up big time. They were awesome and covered for me. On my way home I spoke with Erika on the phone so she could gather all of the things I needed and I would throw them into a bag as soon as I got home and we could leave. Luckily there was no traffic on the way home and we got to the airport quickly. The next predicament was that my flight had been delayed and the new arrival time to Denver for my connecting flight was AFTER my connecting flight would have already left. I was told by the United employees that my best bet was that my connecting flight would be delayed also. I would just have to check with someone once I arrived.

As I waited for my flight, it got delayed again, and again, and again. Eventually due to bad weather in Houston the airport got shut down for an hour. So by this time I was in chill mode and realized none of this was in my control so I’d just ride this out and see what would happen.

I kept checking for updates about my connecting flight. It also started to get delayed to my excitement. It got pushed back a few times. But once I landed a new trend started to happen. The delays began to update and the time got closer and closer to our landing time until the new take off time was the exact time our flight would arrive at the gate. I figured once I got off the plan I’d just sprint to the next get with hopes that I could make it. When I arrived I was at gate 60. My connecting flight was leaving from gate 80. I started to sprint with my stuffed heavy backpack. I eventually flagged down a guy on a golf cart and he gave me a ride. He took me as far as he could and I’d have to run the rest of the way. I got to my gate hacking up a lung to realize I had missed my flight.

On my walk to the one customer service desk that was open I was pleasantly surprised that my flight had been moved to the next morning. This was such a surprise because I was told that that exact flight was booked and the only other flight wasn’t until that evening, after I was supposed to have started speaking, and as of that time there was only one seat open. So I had actually been worrying about not even getting to North Dakota until Monday.

I stood in line with many of the same people I had flown into Denver with who had also missed connecting flights and were trying to figure out getting a hotel and their next steps in their journey. It was not a very calm line. To make matters worse no one could find open hotels near the airport much less anywhere in Denver. There was an auto show in Denver and everything was booked. Luckily I was able to get two meal vouchers and a form they give to people who ended up staying in the airport over night due to the airline’s fault, so I’d get $150 for my troubles. This night, I would sleep in the airport for the first time with hopes that the next day would be smoother.

I ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep on the floor at my gate. I got up to get breakfast and beer around 10AM because it was a New Belgium café (with a bartender that looked like Nick Offerman) and I deserved it. After my flight that morning was delayed multiple times I was finally in the air and on my way to Minot, ND.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Conference Wasn’t Life Changing? That’s OK

Adore Ministries along with Steubenville Conferences, completed our second Encounter Young Adult Conference. It was once again a phenomenal weekend. I spent Friday and Sunday shuttling attendees and speakers to and from the airport. Saturday I was a floater and helped out wherever help was needed. I was blessed to be able to sit in on an impact session and Saturday evening’s keynote and adoration. For me personally being with my fellow missionaries, running into friends from town and out of town and meeting people who have come from all over (22 different states this year) is my absolute favorite part of the weekend. But not everyone experienced or had as good of a time as they expected…and I think that’s ok.

I heard from so many people who had such a good weekend. They were touched by the talks, the time of prayer, the people they met, etc. They really felt fed. But then I spoke with a couple people (I’m sure there are more) who did not have the experience I’m sure they expected. I was told that nothing was really life changing  or the talks didn’t necessarily impact them. I have two thoughts on that:

1.     Did you come with super high and very specific expectations? Sometimes what we are hoping for is not what God has instore and if we are not open to what He has we may miss it. I spoke with multiple people who told me that they needed to open up, do away with their expectations, or even squash their personal negativity because things weren’t going their way. And then, then they had space to allow God in and boy did he do some work!
 2.     That’s ok. A conference should not be the only place to have life changing experiences. The struggle with youth ministry is that many teens wait for their spiritual experience to happen once a year at their favorite retreat or conference, especially Steubenville Conferences. But that is not how you strengthen your faith or keep it alive, especially when you are out of high school. We must convert and recommit ourselves daily. We must have a daily prayer life, be feeding ourselves with scripture, good books, spiritual direction, adoration, worship, confession, mass attendance, regularly. And these can’t be just things we do to check things off the to do list or allow them to become the motions we go through. We must be attentive and open to receiving and giving ourselves.

There is no other part of our life that is truly important to us where we seek to improve it once a year. And if we do, it most probably is not healthy at the moment. I don’t wait to check in with my wife and kids once a year. People at their jobs don’t seek to improve once a year when they may have a special training seminar. As missionaries we are required to go on a retreat at least once a year. But, we are expected to have a daily prayer life and devotion to scripture, mass attendance, confession as often as possible, spiritual direction, and if needed counseling.

If you are out of high school, or even in high school, retreats and conferences should simply be a place to be open to what God may have for you. At Encounter if you were able to stop and have a one on one deep conversation, sit in silence somewhere, go to adoration for a little while, zip around the lazy river, reunite with friends, listen to a talk that touched you, have drinks with new acquaintances, pray with someone, sleep in, etc, that was our goal. We hoped that we could love the people in our 10 ft. radius and that people came and felt loved. You could have met Jesus in a talk, during conversation, at the bar, or in the lazy river. We built no boxes to where everything would happen as we saw it should.

For me, God spoke during adoration. Through our backdrop on stage of Houston and a back yard and Fr. Joe’s intimate aggression with Jesus and getting in people’s faces and spaces, and nooks and crannies God told me he was coming in. After Harvey, that meant into houses, relationships, lives, where ever He was allowed in. But that was not the most important thing. I experienced/realized something else this weekend that had nothing to do with neither adoration nor talks. But it is going to be life changing.

So Encounter wasn’t life changing for you? That’s ok. Our whole goal was to love and for people to feel loved. Now, just pay attention and stay connected. Do not wait for next year.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I Did Not Fall and I Wish I Had

A couple weeks ago (June 22-26) I was able to take one of my teens to Steubenville of the Rockies in Auroroa, CO. A friend of mine who is a youth minister had extra spots and offered some to me. I offered them to 9 teens and got one. WORTH IT!

As youth ministers everything we do is for the teens but in God's greatness, love, and mercy he always has something for us. Well for the two weeks leading up to the conference I had been dealing with something personally heavy. It got to a point where I could not carry it anymore. It went so far to where I did not want to go on the trip. I was not myself for the first couple days of travel. And as my friend the youth minister and I were able to go off on our own for a little while to connect he shared how he could tell I was not myself.

I shared with him what I was going through. We spoke about how I had not been doing much self care (lifting, comic book reading, grading a beer with friends, etc, things that I did for myself). I thought that was a good revelation. But, it wasn't until that night during adoration that the real revelation.

During the Saturday night Eucharistic adoration procession is when I saw my fault. During Matt Maher's song, Lord I Need You, specifically during the bridge, is whenI realized where I had been going wrong. The second half of the bridge is what hit me, 

When I cannot stand I'll fall on you
Jesus, You're my hope and stay.
For the past two weeks my prayer life was crap! I was not relying, I was not falling on him. WE spent time talking about everything else that self-care is about EXCEPT for God himself!

I'll admit, even with that realization, even when I got back it was not easy. But, with the realization of where I was putting my trust and where I wasn't putting it, that eventually brought the situation to a beautiful reality.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Of Children, Theology, and Disney PART II

This past Sunday my girls and I were outside testing out our new slip and slide. I told them that we needed to go in and get ready for mass. My oldest Elanor, 5 years old, asked if we could just go the next day and keep playing. I told her that it was Sunday and that meant that we went to mass. There was mass on other days but Sunday was our requirement as Catholics. We were to keep the Sabbath day holy and as Catholics that’s how we do it as a universal family, we go to mass.

She then asked why we could to other days and I told her in the Church’s wisdom mass was offered daily, except Good Friday. I told her that we tried to go as often as possible because the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we come to know him and love him and then we are able to know and love our neighbor and even enemies more. “Loving enemies is hard and we need Jesus to help us with that,” I told her. She then said, “Like in Tangled.” “What do you mean,” I asked. She then said, “Like Mother Gothel. It must have been hard for Rapunzel to love Mother Gothel.”

Kids know what is right and wrong. They can even tell you immediately after something they’ve done if it was right or wrong. They know what love is. I’m learning as I continue to parent these intuitive souls that very little escapes their eyes and minds.