Saturday, November 28, 2009

Witness talk

A couple of weeks ago I gave my first witness talk at Lifeteen. I seem to find that the more I work with Lifeteen, the more I grow in my own relationship to God. It really is an amazing thing. Anyway, I've been meaning to post my talk. It was planned only a day before Lifeteen. I was actually supposed to be planning a couple of weeks in advance for my Life night, but my friends Sarah and Darrin lost their little boy Henry that week, and so my priorities were elsewhere. So a day before my Life night I got together with my youth minister to try and figure out what we were going to do for a night that revolved around choices and beliefs, and trying to get the teens to vocalize what they believe. We decided we would split them into groups and have four stations, and one of those stations was my witness talk, which means, yes, I had to give it four times. It was very hard for me to open up to the teens, but it ended up being a very rewarding experience. So here is what I said:

I want to talk to you tonight about my choices and my beliefs, and how my choices have affected my beliefs. Like many of you, I was brought up in a Catholic home. I went to church on Sundays, and when I was your age, I decided to get confirmed. My mom gave me the choice of whether or not to get confirmed, but I felt it was something I should do, so I did. It wasn't because I felt some great connection to God, but because I felt I should do it. I don't feel that it made my relationship with God any better and I still didn't feel a huge connection to God or the church.
Around this same time in high school I began to deal with clinical depression. This only had an affect on my relationship with God when I would get really down, and then I would get angry. I hardly ever prayed, but on my worst days I would blame God. My biggest question was why. Why me? Why do I feel this way? If you're so great, why do I feel this way? If you healed all those people why can't you heal me? If you LOVE me SO much, why can't you take this away from me? This isn't love! God answered me, but I never heard him.

After high school I moved out to Maryland for a year, and while I was there I met a guy. I fell in love with this guy and he had no interest in God, so neither did I. It wasn't that he was an atheist necessarily, he just really didn't care if there was or wasn't a God. I became so wrapped up in him that I forgot all about God. Everything I was, or thought I was, was identified in Jeff, not in God. And it didn't matter that he put me down on a daily basis. It didn't matter that I spent hours getting ready for a company Christmas party because I thought he would finally tell me that I was beautiful, only to have him say nothing when I revealed my new outfit, hair, make-up and nails that I had worked on all day. It didn't matter that he made fun of me for my weight. And it didn't matter that when we would argue he would hit me, or throw me down the hall. It didn't matter because he loved me. And he was the only one that was ever going to love me, or so I believed at the time. He loved me, so the abuse didn't matter...and neither did God.

Finally after five years with him, I came to my senses and moved back to Wisconsin. I still did not feel I had a relationship with God, and I rarely prayed. Even so, I found myself surrounded my religious and spiritual people. It wasn't that I was looking for those types of people, I just seemed to be drawn to them. This was especially true when I went back to college for music. The majority of friends I made there were people who had good relationships with God. One of those people in particular was my husband, Jonathan. Jonathan and I were friends long before we dated, and he had a fairly good relationship with God. We would often discuss God, along with other "meaning of life" conversations.

Almost two years ago, while I was living in Milwaukee, I started to have trouble with depression again. I didn't have health insurance so I couldn't afford to see a doctor or be on any type of medication. I had never felt pain like I did then. I was sad and exhausted all of the time, and I do mean all. I lacked motivation to do much of anything, including going to school. It got so bad that one night I called up Jonathan and I said "I love you, and thank you for being there for me, but I'm not going to be here tomorrow. I've decided to end my life. But it's okay, because it's not going to change anyone else's life. I'm just in too much pain and it doesn't make sense for me to stay here. "

Jonathan talked to me for hours that night. He told me of his love for me, and of God's love for me. I again questioned that. "If God is so great and loves me, why is he letting this happen to me?" It was during this discussion that I heard church bells being to ring. It was spring and my windows were open, and the parking lot of my apartment building shared the parking lot with a church just behind my building. But in the two years I had lived there I had never heard church bells. I immediately thought it was God's way of mocking me, which made me more angry and more determined to end my life. But Jonathan somehow convinced me to get through the night and let him call me in the morning. In the morning he called me, and about 10 minutes into the conversation I heard the church bells again and I began to cry. But this time I wasn't crying because I thought God was mocking me, I was crying because I could feel God's arms around me. I have never felt so loved in all my life. I knew that He had been talking to me and holding me for a long time, but I had pushed so many people away in my life that I included Him, and I wasn't willing to listen for the answers he was giving me.

I found out later that spring that someone had donated the money for church bells at that church, and that Saturday and Sunday that I heard them were the first times they were used. After that night, I waited to hear them everyday and have since loved the sound of church bells.

This is not my way of telling you to wait for some sort of sign from God to fix all your problems, but this is my way of telling you to trust Him. He is there, and He is listening and He loves you! Hand him your struggles and he will take them. He may not take them in the way you expect, but He will take them. He will always catch you when you fall. We put our trust in Earthly things and not in God, and then we are hurt when that trust is broken. But God is constant. Your trust in Him will not be broken. Be willing to listen to what he is saying to you.

This is also not to say that I don't still struggle, because I do. I have bad days, and there are things that happen that I don't understand, and I go back to questioning God. Last week one of my oldest friends lost her three-year-old son, Henry. He was such a beautiful and joy-filled child, and he was my friend. When he died, I wanted to know why. I know that Henry is in Heaven, but why did he have to die. Why do my friends have to go on living without their son, and why are so many of us left with this hole in our hearts? But I realized that asking why isn't for us to do. There are times when we find out that answer, but more often then not, we don't find the answer. This is not because God is cruel and won't tell us, but because we have Earthly brains that can not comprehend the vastness of God's Kingdom. And God has reasons for things that we can not fathom.

Faith means sometimes believing before understanding. When Henry died, I had to have the faith to know that he was with God and God had reasons for his death, even if I don't understand those reasons.

What I want you to do now is take a piece of paper and write down something you struggle with. No one will read this paper but me, and don't put your names on them. I am going to read these and I am going to make you two promises: the first is that I promise I will read these and pray for each and every one of you. The second is that if you take your struggles to God, He will listen, and He will always catch you when you fall.

The struggles that the teens wrote down really were amazing. They opened up to me, because they knew they could. I was God's instrument that night, because as sure as I'm sitting here typing this, I'm sure God was reading those papers with me. And I have faith that He was holding each one of those teens in His arms, just as I have faith that He is holding Henry high above us until we can see him again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sometimes God literally smacks you in the face...

Have you ever seen an episode of a show where someone gets overly worked up about something and another person slaps them across the face to calm them down? I'm particularly thinking of Will & Grace right now, but fill in any appropriate show you like. Well Sunday night God decided I needed that smack in the face...

Some may know and some may not that I lost my job at the church. Here's a little back story. Our church has a program called Lifeteen. It's an international program that some Catholic churches have and some don't. The point is to have a service that's a bit more contemporary, followed by a "Life Night" that is educational and yet social. Teens tend to get bored at regular service and in a classroom, so for the sake of retention, we want them to enjoy what they're learning and have a say in their faith, instead of just going through the motions. Anyway, about 10 years ago when I moved back from MD, I wanted to be part of the Life Teen band. I was told by the director at the time that I couldn't be in it, and I should join the choir. A lot of things happened between then and last year, but because Jon played for the band, I found out last August that their director (who had changed since I had been interested) was leaving and they needed a new director. It didn't take long before I got the position.

I was ecstatic. Little did I know how hard it would be. I worked my a$$ off to make the powers-that-be happy and finally last spring ended with a great group of people. We blended well, and better yet, we had become very close. However in June I was told that I was being replaced. Not because of anything I did, I was told, but because they wanted the person who had been doing the choir for years to take over. Long story and not worth the details, but needless to say, I was crushed.

Then in August I was faced with a decision. Even though I was no longer employed by the church, I was still part of the Core Team. The Core are the mentors for the teens that run the Life Nights, go on retreats, and, as our motto says, "Lead teens to Christ." This is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, but I had to decide if it was something that I could continue doing at a church that I felt had really done me wrong. On top of it, I was offered the music director position for the youth Mass on the other side of town. The same position, just a different church. After a LOT of praying and discerning, I decided not to take the position at the other church. For a lot of reasons, but mainly because I did not want to leave the teens and the Core Team that I was so involved with last year. In addition to great teens, the Team surrounds me with people who teach me on a weekly basis, pray with me, and aren't afraid to show their honor for God.

Last week was our first Life Night. I knew it was going to be hard to be sitting with the teens during Mass watching someone else do MY job, but as our youth minister put it, I took a leap of faith. Well that Mass was harder than I thought. Every time a new song started it was something we had done the year before (our church isn't terribly open to "new" stuff, even though the stuff they do is contemporary), and I would start to cry. I literally felt like my heart was breaking. The thing I kept thinking was, "I just wasn't good enough." To put salt in the wound, both the director and the liturgist told me how much they still wanted me to sing with the group, but once the director found out I couldn't make it to rehearsals, she wouldn't let me. But she WOULD let someone sing that she knew, but that wasn't a member of the church, never attended Life Teen Masses, and also wasn't at rehearsals. I know that music like the back of my hand, not to mention I have 3 music degrees...I think i can handle blending in. Anyway, it was very hard and by the end of Mass I was not only questioning my decision to stick with the Core Team, but I was questioning my abilities as a musician. Thank God Kayla (another Core Team member) sat next to me and gently put her hand on mine from time to time, just to let me know she was there.

Our Life Night on Sunday was a social for the Packer/Bear game. This is what we usually do for the first LN so that teens can get to know us and each other and vice versa. Basically it was a hall full of kids yelling and throwing candy. At one point I was a little overwhelmed and went out in the gathering place, and Kayla came out shortly after. We both needed a breather and Kayla mentioned that she thought some teens had gone outside and perhaps we should check on them. We went outside and found three girls and one of them was on the phone. I jokingly asked, "Oooh, is it a boy?" They said "Yes, but it's not good." Apparently she was arguing with her ex-boyfriend she had dated for over a year. They have been broken up for 4 months, but still talk every day. As you can imagine, at the age of 16 it was all very dramatic.

After getting off the phone with him, he then called one of the other girls, who proceeded to argue with him. She told him he should stop by as he said he was going to, but that he wouldn't be able to talk with his ex alone. She hung up shortly after that saying that she was annoyed with him because he said he wasn't coming but instead was going to go home and use his dad's shotgun. I didn't know a lot of the story, but what I did know was that, regardless of whether or not the intentions were real, this kid needed help. The girls seemed to think it was no big deal because he had said it before. I asked the ex to call his parents, but before she could he pulled into the parking lot. I asked the girls to go with Kayla while I talked to him.

I kneeled down next to his car and told him that I had heard a comment that he made that I didn't like having to do with a shotgun. He immediately started crying. When I asked him why he made the comment he said he had no reason to live and that he kept screwing everything up. I assured him that he had many reasons to live, even if they weren't evident to him right now. We talked about things he had done "wrong" and I explained God's forgiveness and why these things were not the worst thing in the world. He talked about how mean his younger brother is to him and I explained that words are the only power a younger sibling usually has over an older sibling. I told him that I saw a lot of myself at 16 in him. I shared with him some of my battles with depression and some of the lessons I've learned because of those battles. I then asked him to pray with me, which he did, and we prayed for God to take his pain away. We prayed for him to know that God loves him and gave his only Son for him, and for us, so that we will have no more pain. We prayed that he will know that he is surrounded by people who love him, which isn't always easy to see. I prayed that he knows God is not ready for him yet and that he still has a lot of living to do here on Earth. I didn't think about anything I said, it just came out of my mouth. His parents called while we were talking, and he told them what was going on. Thankfully they already had knowledge of his depression and had him on medication and in therapy and knew the seriousness of the situation and came to pick him up. When they got there I didn't say much, just told him to remember what we talked about.

After he left I went back inside, completely overwhelmed but in a good way. Kayla had told Matthew and Steve, our youth ministers, what was going on. When I walked in Matthew said "I can't talk to you long because otherwise I'll cry, but I have to say this: Do you think God wanted you here tonight?" Well that was all it took for me to cry again, but this time it wasn't because I was heart-broken or envious of a position, but because of the overwhelming feeling you get when God literally works through you, or as I like to say, smacks you in the face. The events of earlier that evening and the sadness it brought me were wiped away. I knew I was supposed to be where I was and that I had made the right choice.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Ok, this post is not going to be as dramatic as the title might lead you to believe. I am the hypocrite here, and only because when I find a moment and remember to click on blogspot from my favorites column, I am disappointed if there have been no updates from friends. And yet I haven't posted since December of last year.

So where to start. This last year has been a combination of wonderful and not so great. May 16 was indeed the best day of my life and I wouldn't have changed a thing. Even though the weather was cold and windy, it was sunny and didn't rain which was all I cared about. The number of people was perfect, the garden was gorgeous, and I felt like a queen for a day. The minister did his sermon on the passage from Ruth that we chose, which was our favorite. We both cried, our parents cried, other people was awesome. One thing not many people were able to see was that there were two ducks, a male and female, standing at the fountain behind the minister the whole time. I thought that was neat. The reception was great as well. I wish I would have gotten to spend more time with people, but I suppose that's how any bride feels. We have yet to get out our thank you cards, but they are coming!!

I am now married to a wonderul man that makes me feel loved and safe on a daily basis. Like any couple we have our heated discussions, but because we were friends before we dated we seem to be able to really talk things out. I can tell him anything and vice versa. The best part is that not only does he love me, but I KNOW he loves me. He does so many things for me, and not just things like making taco dip for my work cook-out (which he did last night) but little things like putting my water bottle in the fridge when I forget. Things that may not seem like a lot by themselves, but all add up to the fact that I'm with the person I was supposed to be with.

My family has had quite the time lately as well. My cousin, Amanda, moved up to Wisconsin and in with my mom in June. She is originally from Indiana and was tired of the city she was living in and its limited resources. The city, Richmond, is actually where our parents are originally from. Amanda's mom is the only one that never left. Anyway, she's living with Mom and working for Strategic Fundraising and I just really like having her around. We're the youngest of all the cousins, and most of the others are quite a bit older, so she and I were always close.

Our oldest aunt, Auntie Jo, had surgery last month to have a knee replacement. My mom went down and stayed with her husband who has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and can't stay alone. (I all of a sudden feel like I'm writing a Merry Medical Christmas letter...don't feel bad if you have no idea what that means). Shortly after that both Auntie Jo and Auntie Trisha (Amanda's mom) were in car accidents on the same day....what the crap? LOL Only fender benders and everyone is fine.

Anyway, when it rains it pours. On July 21st my friend Nicole passed away. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (the same kind of tumor Ted Kennedy had) in August of '08. She went through chemo and radiation and then was trying Avastin. She was a fighter and never gave up the belief that she would beat it, so it was a shock to find out she had passed.

The day of Nicole's funeral also happened to be the day of the Coldplay concert. Her funeral was in Milwaukee and my friend Jo and her friend Zane were nice enough to let me ride with them to the funeral, and then we met Gina and Amanda after the funeral to go to the concert. Adam and his sister Naomi also met us at Alpine. As usual they were awesome and we had a blast. It seemed weird to be attending a concert on such a solemn day, but in a way it also seemed to be a celebration, which is what her husband asked of us.

The summer has absolutely flown by and I've gotten nothing done that I planned and have seen people about 5% as much as I wanted to. I lost my job at St. Raphael's as the music director. It was taken over by Karen Dean which, according to her, has been in the works for a few years. (thanks for telling me) I'm actually ok with it though. In fact, when the east side parishes asked me to be the director for their teen mass, I turned them down. Granted it was less money, but it wasn't about that. Jon and I plan on starting a family soon, and we've enjoyed the lack of stress that the summer break from the Lifeteen band has given us. So I decided just to stick with being a frontline member of the Core Team and I'll occasionally sing with the band. Having a relationship with the teens and leading them in their relationship with God is really the most rewarding thing about LifeTeen, so I'd rather stick with that.

In October Jon and I will be moving into a duplex. We've kind of had it with having neighbors whose balconies are only 75 feet from ours and being able to hear their loud parties and kids crying. We've never had an issue with our immediate neighbors being loud, it's always the people in the building behind ours. Anyway, the duplex has a full basement for the music and recording equipment as well as our treadmill, and then there are two bedrooms upstairs. We also have a deck and a small fenced in backyard, and we've already picked out the colors we want to paint the rooms. All in all, I'm very excited about it.

Well I think I've rambled on enough. It's a slow day at the bank and today is our golf outing for work (windy and 60 degrees). It should be a good time, but it seems like we haven't had a weekend with a billion things going on in a while. School starts the week after next, and then the week after that LifeTeen starts, so it's going to be another busy year. I guess that's all I have for now.