Tuesday, March 20, 2018

...a future full of hope.

I realized over the weekend that it was the two year anniversary of our family jumping out of the safety of the ship and joining Adore Ministries as a missionary family.

There have been so many blessings during this time. There have also been some curveballs named "Harvey". Who thought that our mission would be displaced until further notice and housed at a different parish?

But as we've experienced, God is good and he does provide. Our youth group and events are back in full swing, we are still helping families put their lives back together, and we continue to pray for you and your families for your making this possible.

I started a blog a while back about our Harvey experience but I never finished it. But I wanted to share something that has been on my heart and that I've been speaking about every chance I get: I'm sure you have all heard/read Jeremiah 29: 11 "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope." But it is so important to realize when God is saying these things. He is telling his people about this future of hope while they are in exile! In the midst of such terror it is hard to think about a hopeful future. But what does he tell them to do? "Build houses to dwell in; plant gardens, and eat their fruits. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. There you must increase in number, not decrease. Promote the welfare of the city to which I had exiled you; pray for it to the Lord for upon its welfare depends your own." - Jeremiah 29: 5-7. In the midst of tragedy God tells them to continue to live and promote life and to keep on keepin on. But we can't do that alone!

Soon after Harvey we had a mission trip group from Hinkley High School work in houses in Dickinson. I was told a story about when they drove into town how one of the students said, "Why are we here? Everything looks fine." But by that time all of the trash for the most part had been picked up. It wasn't until she entered a home and saw all of the walls torn down and all the mold still left behind that she said, "Oh, I get it." Tragedies like hurricanes make getting out of our comfort zones and entering into others' houses and lives easy. Shoot, I could tear out a whole house of walls and never talk to the owner. But God does work through us in these times and we see real love and care for our neighbor. It opens up opportunity to step into the houses of others' hearts and see how they are really doing on the inside. But honestly, that does not impress me. I know as humans we are good. What will impress me is when after all of the sheet rock, furniture, carpet, tile, belongings are replaced and everyone moves back into their homes that the stepping out and into each others lives continues. We continue caring for and reaching out to our neighbors. Instead of just a wave we walk over and ask how each other is doing and really mean it. When our neighbor loses their job, instead of saying well cowboy up, we say "Hey, how about y'all come over for dinner."

Although displaced, our youth group is back in full swing. We continue to aid those affected by the floods. We are looking to the future and striving to loving those right in front of us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Of God, Novenas, and Buffalo: Part 3: The Reason for my Journey

Earlier this year Dorothy had found a lump in her breast…breast cancer. At St. Ann they have a powerful and active charismatic prayer group. In between appointments she had them pray over her for healing. At her next appointment the lump was gone and she was clear. So of course I wanted to be prayed over!

Dorothy had spoken with Leonard who leads the prayer group and they had decided they would hold a simple prayer session for me. After we were finished we told the group that I was going to be prayed over, it wasn’t mandatory, but all were welcome. Everyone that could come came. Before we started Leonard gave a beautiful explanation of what was going to happen and the power of prayer. We started with some praise and worship and Leonard was so reminiscent of Johnny Cash. When it was time Leonard called me up and his team assembled to intercede and catch me in case I rested in the spirit. He also invited others to come up and lay hands on me. Leonard asked what I wanted prayer for. I named my shoulder because I’ve been having issues and my head because I’ve had migraines since 1st grade. We prayed. Nothing. We prayed again. Leonard asked if there was a change or tingling in my head or shoulder. Nothing. But I was thankful.

Leonard then opened it up for everyone. Anyone that wanted to be prayed over could come to one of the prayer teams and receive prayer. It was powerful. Many of the teens did not have experience with charismatic prayer much less praise and worship. The visiting youth minister as well as some of the teens rested. There was even and instance of powerful spiritual battle in one of the teens. The whole group was asked to leave to remove any distractions and prayer won out. Not so simple a night. But for me, that was just the beginning.

The morning of my last day in Belcourt we had mass in the cemetery and processed around it praying 
 the Divine Mercy Chaplet. We went back to the rectory for me to pack. My flight was at 6:30AM on Sunday morning so they got me a hotel Saturday night and a taxi so we wouldn’t have to drive out at 2AM and worry about deer along the way. As we entered the rectory Fr. Tony, one of the SOLT priests, was in the entryway speaking with some of the SOLT sisters. Dorothy then did something I was not expecting. She told Fr. Tony, “Hey Fr., Chris wanted you to pray over him before he leaves.” I must have looked like a deer in headlights. I never said that! But I figured if he had time then what could it hurt?

Fr. Tony called me when he was ready and we met in the chapel. He opened up our time of prayer with the most beautiful prayer asking Mary to join us and for Jesus to pour his blood over us. He then asked me, “What do you want to pray for?” I told him my head and shoulder like the other night. Again we prayed yet nothing happened. Fr. assured me he has the gift of healing but it is not him but God working through him and sometimes he does not grant the healing so we prayed that if it is his will that I would be healed later. He then asked me, “How much time do you have?” I said I wasn’t on a strict schedule. He proceeded to empty his pockets to get more comfortable. What was I in for?

“What else do you want to pray for?” Fr. Tony asked. All I could think of in the moment was our mission so I said to pray for us as a missionary family and our mission in Dickinson, TX. He proceeded to offer it up to Jesus through Mary’s hands.

“What is your desire for your ministry?” asked Fr. I thought about it and responded that it was what it always has been, to draw teens closer to Christ. “Can we offer your desire to Mary and Jesus so that their desire becomes your desire?” He always asked permission. “Of course”, I said. And during this whole time after he’d pray and we’d enter into silence I would observe him listening and saying, “Mhmm”, “Oh,” “Ok”, etc. He would later tell me that he was just listening to Mary and asking/telling me whatever she told him as she guided him through this time of prayer. What?! This was nuts! I had never experienced anything like this before!

“Did you hear anything? Did your desire strengthen, weaken, change?” “Nothing,” I replied. “But, the only thing that stood out is a certain person’s face was clear as day in my head.” We prayed again. “Are you afraid or reluctant to be a father figure to any of your teens,” Fr. asked. “No,” I replied. “But,” I continued, “it’s interesting you mentioned that because this person that popped in my head has had a hard time with God the Father due to problems with his earthly father.” He then asked me about this person and his relationship with his father. “Can we offer this person up to Jesus through Mary?” “Of course.” “Has this person truly forgiven his father?” I told him I figured he had tried but I didn’t know for sure if there was real true forgiveness and that honestly I doubted it. We prayed.

“3 things”, he said. “1, he has to forgive his father. That’s not from me, that’s scripture, that’s the Our Father, that’s straight from Jesus. 2, it’s impossible. He can’t do it on his own. He has to ask Mary to see his father through her eyes with her heart to see that no matter what he has done or will do he is loved by her and he is her son and she wants to draw him closer to her Son. He will have to ask her to allow him to forgive his father with her heart. 3, he has to forgive everything that his father has done by name. Mary has shown me what his life will be like if he is able to do this. He will flourish, his marriage and family will flourish, and his ministry will flourish.”

Woah, this was heavy. He didn’t know this person, yet he could tell me all about him. He joked that he is no Padre Pio but that they worked together, haha. I cracked up, haha. He asked what I thought about this and the fact that I needed to help this person through this. I was open to it and found it very interesting because the day before and earlier that morning I was praying and wondering why I had come. What was I supposed to leave with. Of course I was there for the novena and to lead the teens in the evening sessions, but what did God have for me? The answer I received was “prayer”. I felt a strong call to prayer and to come back home and pray with/over people. And then this session of prayer happens!

Fr. assured me that I needed to lead this guy in this prayer. “Are you nervous or unsure about this?” “Yes,” I replied. “Why?” “I don’t know,” I said. “Can we ask Mary to reveal why you are nervous to lead this person through this prayer to lead them to forgiveness?” We prayed. “Are you worried about messing up or not doing it right,” Fr. asked. “Exactly, that’s it,” I replied. Fr. continued, “Can we ask Mary to reveal to you if she will help you through this and make up for any mistakes you might make?” We prayed, and the answer I received from her was, “Of course I will.”

Then Fr. Tony dropped the bomb, “Are you mad at yourself? Is there anything you have not forgiven yourself for?” I had no idea what he was talking about or where he was going with this. I took a good bit of time to think about it. If there was anything it was the time in college I wasted and screwed around which caused me to take 7 years to graduate. It set me back and then set my marriage back. “Can we offer this up to Jesus and ask Mary to allow you to forgive yourself with her heart.” I said of course and then proceeded to weep. Wow! This is not what I signed up for. But, the overwhelming peace that came over me was relieving. “Are you at peace,” Fr. asked. I told him yes. “Can we ask Mother Mary to reveal to you who you are to her, how she sees you?” “Yes.” In that moment she spoke to me and said, “I love you, you are my son.”

Fr. told me that if I was at peace then that is how we knew we were finished. I was. He closed in prayer and we walked out of the chapel. As we made our way out of the rectory Fr. grabbed me and said he needed to tell me something. “You have the gift of healing. You have the same gift as I do. I don’t know if it’s emotional healing, physical healing, or both. But you have it or are developing it.” Totally not expecting that to come out of his mouth, I replied, “Wow that’s interesting because for the past 3 years or so I’ve been feeling called more to charismatic prayer.” With that we parted ways. (I don't share this part of the story to make myself look a certain way but to share my experience of another's gifts from the Spirit.)

I came home and I’ve been sharing this story every chance I get. I met with my spiritual director and a friend who are both spiritual directors and charismatics and they gave me great advice on how to proceed. I prayed with my friend and it was powerful. It took us two straight hours to pray through everything he needed to forgive. I asked him what it was like for him and he came to a powerful experience of peace. He also spoke about how he had never really had a strong relationship with Mary but when we prayed that she would let him know who he was to her she told him, “You are my son, I love you.” And during our whole time of prayer he felt a feminine presence in the room.

I began to realize that yeah, I went to ND to speak, but this was orchestrated so I could come back and start my new journey. God has not stopped since. He’s been bringing people into/back into my life, in my path to encounter.

Headed home with Gandalf

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.