Spirituality

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Starting a new ministry has its ups and downs.  Some days I live in fear that no one will want to participate in a gap experience and this attempt will fall on its face.  Other days the fear is that it will take off and doubts emerge about my ability to deliver.  It is my suspicion that this is normal and that most of us live with fear.  The rise in anxiety and depression seems to be rooted in fear: a fear that we are not good enough, will not be liked, cannot manage school or work, will not have the finances to pay our bills, will miss out on the latest trend, will not be included, accepted or love.  Superficial relationships rooted in technology can add to a mistrust accentuating the feelings of fear and isolation. Fear is often the source of stress, anxiety and our worst behaviors. 

Maribeth and I have been watching the Netflix series The Kominsky Method.  It is the story of the relationship of two older friends.  Sandy is a failed actor who, ironically, teaches an acting class.  His best friend Norman, who is his also his agent, just experienced the death of his wife.  Norman has become a crabby, bitter curmudgeon who acknowledges his own brittleness since the death of his wife.  In the final episode of season one, Norman’s grief catches up with him as his anger is unleashed on an innocent widow at a charity event.  That same evening Norman goes missing, after wandering the streets of Los Angeles to clear his head only to be found by Sandy at a Police station.  As Sandy drives Norman home, they have this conversation:

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Norman:          I think maybe I’m losing my mind.

Sandy:             You’re not losing your mind.

Norman:          Oh, like you know.

Sandy:             You’ve just been through the f***in’ wringer, your wife died, your daughter’s back in rehab for the umpteenth time, and I don’t know if this needs to be said out loud, but you’re also like a thousand years old.

Norman:          I thought I was angry . . .  but the truth is, I am scared.  I am scared all the time.

Sandy:             Listen to me, we’re all scared.  And you know why?  Because it’s a scary f***in’ world.  But we get through it because we’re not alone.  You’re not alone.

Norman:          Who do I have?

Sandy:             (Exasperated and agitated) Me, you dumb s**t! 

Can you see me?  I am right here in front of you…….

(Waving) Hi!  Hello, there.  I see you.  You see me? (Norman nods. Sandy pats him on the shoulder.)

 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
— Nelson Mandela

Norman is angry and out of sorts because he is afraid.  He has legitimate fears:  he is scared because he feels alone after his wife’s death, he is afraid for his daughter and her struggle with addiction, he is afraid of his own mortality.  These fears are probably very much like your own: relationships, family, purpose and mortality.  As Sandy points out the answer to fear is an authentic, open and supportive friendships. Through the first eight episodes Sandy and Norman get on each other’s nerves, try one anohter’s patience, have arguments, but when the chips are down they find the ability to let down their guard and be open with the other. Norman is comforted by the fact that Sandy reassures him he is not alone.  He has an authentic friend who knows his anger, fears and Idiosyncrasies who he can rely on. Sandy does not promise everything will be fine and there is nothing to fear.  He tells him that whatever you experience I will be with you.   

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Perhaps it is an unlikely show to discover God, but isn’t this what God says to us?  It might surprise you to know that the phrase that appears in the Bible most often is a version of “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.” God knows the human condition and understands the terror we feel when we are out of control.  Therefore, he issues this command the most often:  do not be afraid.  Often people say if there was a God then that bad thing would not have occurred.  My father would not have passed away, my significant other would not have broken up with me, we would not have gone through bankruptcy, I would not have lost my job.  God does not promise that life will not be difficult.  The command “Be not afraid” is not followed with you will not experience difficulty.  No, God, like Sandy, promises to be with you.  Do not be afraid I am with you. 

 

Here are five examples:

  1. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

  2. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you."  ~ Psalm 56:3

  3. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

  4. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” ~ Luke 12:22-26

  5. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

Our task is to find and trust in the presence of God.  Like Sandy, God is saying to us, “Do you see me?”  through that friend who you can rely on, your spouse, pastor, teacher, mentor, your child or co-worker.  Life is not going to be easy, but you are not alone.

 

Hi!  Hello!  Do you see me?? 

 

Do not be afraid.  I am with you.

 

Questions for Reflection

  • What causes you fear?

  • What relationships can you depend on the most? Where do you find God in that relationship?

  • What relationship would you like to improve? How can you meet your goals for that relationship?

  • What is the one thing that scares you that you will commit to trying?


Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1. He has been a Pastoral Minister since 1991 serving as an Executive Director of Inspirio Youth Ministries for six years. It is his belief that to renew the Church the Spirit is calling us beyond doctrine and to become humble servants like Jesus caring for people as they are and allowing God to do the rest. Joe and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, eight grandkids and an oafish Golden Doodle named TS Eliot.

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When We 'Ghost' God

Since I’ve been home I’ve been talking. Talking a lot. I’ve spent countless hours with my friends and we have not shut up. After the magical last year of my life most people assume that we have been chatting about all of my wild adventures. Those people are sweet and misguided. Boys. We have been talking about boys. To be fair we have also been talking about girls. Essentially the only thing on our minds is dating. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Does he like me? Should I ask for her number? These are the questions we are spending hours dissecting with more thoroughness than we ever did while diagraming sentences or analyzing our Shakespeare homework.

I have yet to regale the tale of me accidently plunging into a rocky pool in Thailand and pulling myself out because I was all alone. Or shared the joy that was giving a rescued elephant a bath at Elephant Nature Park. Or the time I rode a toboggan down the Great Wall of China or rode an ice bike on the river surrounding the Summer Palace. So many adventures. So many stories to share. Yet the other night at trivia, we spent more time analyzing the texting patterns of relative strangers than we did answering the actual trivia questions. On occasion we do talk about other things. For example all of the pop culture references that are beyond me because I simply missed them. I have no idea who Laurel or Yanny are. I was blissfully unaware of the horror men like Harvey Weinstenin had caused. I didn’t watch the royal wedding and I have no strong feelings about Avengers: Infinity War.

There is one in particular term that I keep chewing on. To complete this rambling circle l I have to admit it, it is about dating. Ghosting. Ghosting is a practice that I am horrified by. In case you were out of the country like me or simply missed this less than delightful memo on the latest dating trends, ghosting is when a person ceases all communication and contact with another person thus ending the relationship. In all reality this could probably happen with any relationship but I have primarily heard in reference to romantic ones. Apparently this has become a social norm.

And. I. Am. Horrified.

The biggest problem here is the blatant indifference to others. Perhaps I am taking too strong of a stance on this. There very well may be people out there who prefer things to end in a vacuum of silence. However, based on the conversations I have had with people of all sorts, those people are few and far between. Rejection is fun for no one. No one likes being told that they are not wanted. Obviously not everyone in the world is going to be attracted to us. We know this. But hearing it is not high on my list of things I like to do in my free time. That being said, I never ever want someone to simply disappear off of the face of the earth. You’re not into it? That’s ok. Tell me and then we can both move on. I’m not looking for perfect closure. I am well aware of how rarely endings are tied up in pretty little bows and honestly I’m annoyed by people who wait around for closure, those who demand life be gift wrapped. But that’s another blog entirely. All I’m saying is I don’t expect a promposal of an ending. If I’ve had coffee with you once in no way do I expect to talk for hours about our feelings in order to amicably come to conclusion that this just is not worth pursuing. I have zero issues with a text that literally says “Hey you are great. I’m great too. The thing is you are just not the kind of great that I’m looking for.” Boom. Over. On to the next great or maybe not so great thing.

Beyond rage, this scares me. Now that I know about this depressing phenomenon, I can clearly see how it is crossing over into other areas of life. I’ve even read articles about people ghosting from jobs. They simply stop showing up! What madness is this? When did accountability stop being an important character trait? Even more concerning is this same lack of care in the Church.

Learn more about   Discovery House  , a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

Learn more about Discovery House, a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

I recently accepted a new role as a Youth Minister and in that process I have become distinctly aware of how easy it is for people to ghost God. It’s heartbreaking. But then I need to remember, I also ghost God. Just last Sunday I was feeling overwhelmed by my anxiety and the struggles I am having adjusting to life back in Milwaukee so I chose to stay home from mass. I didn’t pray. I didn’t reflect. I just skipped it. I didn’t have a second thought. I ghosted God because my interests were more important than His.

Just one more thing in life that makes me a hypocrite. I was outraged by the lack of care and accountability in others and here I was exhibiting the same behavior. I’m going to make some broad generalizations here, but it’s the best I can do. I think we are so terrified of confrontation, so worried of hurting others, so lazy in our communications (a behavior enabled by social media) that we have decided that ghosting is acceptable in all relationships – even our relationship with God. Of course I’m not speaking in absolutes here, I know not everyone does or feels this way. However, I am seeing a whole lot of this behavior both in and outside of church. It’s gut-wrenching because this could not be further from how Jesus taught us to treat others, from how He taught us to love.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
— Brene Brown

The challenge here is to break those social norms. To stop being lazy. People matter. Even if they are on the other end of a phone, tablet, or computer and you have never even met. They matter. Just as importantly, so does God. When I realized I had exhibited the same behavior that I’m mortified by in others I was devastated. God has given me so much. So many things that take my breath away. He has surrounded me with beautiful people and given me the courage to live out so many delightful adventures. When I look at all of the blessings in my life it is absolutely wild that I could not take the time to thank Him. To pray to Him. How selfish of me. How cold. How downright awful.

I can be lazy in my relationship with God. I need to hold myself accountable so that I can pay forward the blessings he has given me in the best way I can, be being a disciple. One way I can do that is by being kind to others. That means no ghosting. Perhaps the attractive but dull stranger sitting across from me on a first date hasn’t bestowed blessing upon blessing on me but does that mean they deserve any less care or effort? No. So now the challenge is to remember that. Even if it is easier to disappear I am going to be accountable to others. Because they matter. God matters. I matter.

 

Questions for Reflection

  • Where in your life do you lack social accountability?

  • What can you do to help yourself be more accountable to God?

  • If you could change one thing about how we communicate in your relationships today, what would it be?


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Margaret Russell is an almost thirty something who has looked for God just about everywhere – even China. Nothing about her journey has been traditional and it turns out that is exactly how it was supposed to be. She thinks. Maybe. With a background in education, a self-awarded doctoral degree in tacos and a propensity for the ridiculous, Maggie hopes to spend the rest of her life loving as loudly as she laughs and sharing the joy that is her faith.

SHINE!

Then maybe your bright morning light can discover a diamond of hope in this dark heart of mine.

Morning light shine on me…. SHINE!
— From Spitfire Grill

For the past two months I have been working on the musical “Spitfire Grill.” The show was written by Wisconsin musical legends James Valcq and Fred Alley. The show is based in Gilead Wisconsin, a town modeled after Door County. I play the protagonist Percy Talbott, who was just released from prison and moves to Gilead in attempts to start a new life. Although the events in my life and Percy’s do not model each other, I relate to her personal conflicts. Percy has been dealt some terrible cards in life; although she caused none of her obstacles, she blames herself for them. By the second act, Percy attempts to reconnect with God through the dramatic song “Shine.” The song resembles a baptism into self-acceptance; she is now able to forgive herself.

As an actor, having to immerse myself into the life of someone that complex is very challenging. To enhance my portrayal, I have been reviewing difficult chapters in my life and focusing on my inner-struggles. Although this is stressful, it is just as rewarding; I get to experience the same revitalization as my character. This past week when I did the scene, I felt a true sense of renewal with myself and with God. All of my insecurities were given up to Him.

Then I acknowledge my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
— Psalm 32:5

This experience has reminded me that of the many things in our life that may change, God is not one of them. He is constantly by our side, advocating for us to be the best versions of ourselves. I encourage you to revisit things you have never forgiven yourself for and give them up to God.

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Questions for Reflection

  • What renews your life?

  • How do you overcome insecurities? Where is God in the midst of those?

  • What life experiences have helped you to see God in a new way?

 
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Amira Elsafy, a rising senior at Dominican High School, lives in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  She attended the local public schools until high school where she has become active at Dominican.  She has been the class Student Council President,  a member of the honor roll for the past four years and loves to volunteer.  Outside of the academic world, you will find Amira on the stage, recently winning an award for playing the Witch in “Big Fish”. In the next year, she will share her experiences of failure and success, friendships, family her senior journey through the college process and ultimately how all of this impacts her faith.

Saints in the Outfield

Alright friends buckle up. I’m about to make a sports analogy…

 

For.                The.                Entire.           Post.

 

To be fair, I do not get credit for this glorious comparison (Megan, you are the bee’s knees). But hey, look at me, sporting. It is a miraculous day. Anyway…

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Baseball. America’s favorite past time. I’ve been to three games since I’ve been home. Granted those were little league but my cousins crushed it. That’s more than I can say about a few of the Brewers games I have watched since being back. Other than attending the occasional baseball or hockey game, I don’t participate in sports often. I enjoy the socializing that takes place but I just don’t get the fanatical aspect. I could stand on a soapbox for hours and argue about how the salaries of professional athletes could be put to better use. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to talk about statistics. That’s right, sports and math in one blog. There is a good chance the world will be ending later today.

Despite my lack of sports know how, there are a few things I do know. Primarily the funny clichés and other odd ball phrases that are used during the game. I used to go to games with the most wonderful family who would yell things like, “Shred his lettuce!” and “Fold his chair!” Honestly, I cannot imagine anything more delightful to be hollered from the stands. I adored this family and their creativity. Slightly more common baseball lingo includes the phrase, batting a thousand. And herein lies my point.

Today at work Megan enlightened me on the statistical significance of this particular phrase. I was aware that batting a thousand means you are perfect. What I didn’t know is that bating three hundred is what is expected of professional players. That means that they are getting on base 30% of the time. 30% of the time! When I was in school my parents were disappointed with 70% and yet here are people making careers out of getting it right 30% of the time. Amazing. Outstanding. What a concept. These players are far from perfect, so why should I be?   Why should you be?

This is shocking for me and my ego. My last post demonstrated how my ego tends to get in the way from time to time. My ego and my quest for perfection can be crippling. But what if I was kinder to myself? What if I gave myself a break 70% of the time? Where would I be? Well, I’d be a saint.

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Located in Saint Paul Minnesota, the Saints are a baseball team that is a member of the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. While they are not associated with Major League Baseball, they have a history that is grounded in fun (Bill Murry is their Team Psychologist for crying out loud). These men are all striving for 30%. 30%?  Can you believe how often it is acceptable for them to fail?  Except these men have “Saint” splashed across their chests. Now I know this is not a comparison they are asking for but I’m going to make it anyway.

Here are these men, fully devoted to their cause and putting in more than a good effort to be worthy of the honor of being a professional athlete in today’s hyper-competitive world. And yet they will fail.  Is that not what a saint is? A good person. A holy person. A person who is declared to be worthy of special honor particularly in the Christian church, one who is trying to be good, but who may get it wrong more often than they get it right. Perhaps I’m over generalizing. But here are these baseball saints doing all they can to reach and potentially exceeded a measly 30% and they will move on to bigger and better things.

Learn more about   Discovery House  , a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

Learn more about Discovery House, a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

What I find even more interesting is what happens when players cannot reach this number. Baseball players are notoriously superstitious. Many have incredibly intricate practices that they follow to ensure they do their best. When that isn’t result, they slip deep into funks that are irreversible until the next big hit. If I’m being honest (and perhaps over generalizing again) that is not far from how I practice my faith. I have intricate practices and perform them as a member of the Catholic Church. These have become fundamentally important to who I am as a person. I do my best to live out my beliefs knowing that I am human and will fail to live up to these from time to time. Even knowing this, I am still not happy unless I am batting a thousand and being the perfect disciple.

I ask myself again, what if I was kinder to myself? What if I gave myself a break 70% of the time? Where would I be? I probably would not be a saint or a professional athlete but other things would change. Perhaps I would not be submitting this blog late. After my last post, I got some really good feedback from a few of the people whose opinions I value the most. When it came time to write this month’s entry, I choked. What if they didn’t like this one as much? What if no one had ever really liked my posts? What if Meagan reads this and thinks I butchered her idea and my comparisons to the church are horrendous? What if I just think I’m good at this and I’m really a self-indulgent ninny? And the tailspin continued.

My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.
— Hank Aaron

What I need to remember is none of that matters. Just like my fears about practicing my faith in community again, they are ill-founded and just not the point. If I celebrated my 30% instead of wallowing in my remaining 70%, my outlook would be drastically different. Take these blog posts for example. Up until this very moment, I have written 3,502 words for the Human Experience Blog. That means at least 2,451 of my words need to have struck a chord with someone. And thanks to a few lovely and vocal people, I know I’ve already done that. Touchdown! Wait, I’m getting my sports confused.

God does not expect me to be perfect in my faith.  I do not have to knock it out of the park, but if I can love others and myself more; worry less about the reactions of others then I can be just like the Saint Paul Saints.  My (and your task) is to put every effort into being my best:  loving others, loving myself and loving God.  I can do that. I can do that at more than 30% of the time. In baseball that makes me an all-star. In faith, it is what makes us saints!

 

Questions for Reflection

  • How have your attempts at perfection kept you from God?

  • What strategies will challenge you to keep trying even when you have failed and feel frustrated?

  • What do you need to forgive in yourself?

 
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Margaret Russell is an almost thirty something who has looked for God just about everywhere – even China. Nothing about her journey has been traditional and it turns out that is exactly how it was supposed to be. She thinks. Maybe. With a background in education, a self-awarded doctoral degree in tacos and a propensity for the ridiculous, Maggie hopes to spend the rest of her life loving as loudly as she laughs and sharing the joy that is her faith.

Cherish the Moment

Discovery House   is a service based gap year experience for individuals ages 18-24. Participants can select commitments of one month, a semester or a full academic year.

Discovery House is a service based gap year experience for individuals ages 18-24. Participants can select commitments of one month, a semester or a full academic year.

We’re back!  It is that time of year, the time that I like to call “stress season.” Unlike most seasons, that only last for a few months, this season lasts for nine months.  And August is the kick off. The month where the summer lifestyle starts to drift away, and the school schedule starts to get into full swing. It’s the time that, whether school has started or not, the stress for the awaiting year starts to brew. There are books to read, school supplies to be bought, practices to attend, and for me—and many others seniors—the time to start applying to colleges. For me, once school starts I never stop working until the semester ends. I am always studying for a test, writing a paper, attending a rehearsal, or trying to catch up on sleep. Although I love Dominican, the transition back is never easy.

Now, one week into the school year, my to-do list already stretches a mile. Unlike every other year, I love my overbearing tasks! I have finally realized before my senior year how precious my time is in high school, because in one year there will not be an opportunity to redo it. With this in mind I am trying to soak up every experience and engrain it in my memory, because soon I will be walking across the Dominican High School stage receiving a diploma and throwing a cap in the air.

Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”
— Earl Nightingale

However, it is not just high school, or college, any other event I should cherish, it is every day—ordinary or extraordinary.  This past summer I have truly appreciated the simple gift of life. A gift we all take for granted that God has magically bestowed upon us. It is a true miracle that you and I are alive, and at any moment it can be taken away from us. Today I could land a big part in a musical, but tomorrow I could get in a car crash. Every second that God grants us is a second to savor. What becomes sad is when people disregard their gift. All people—whether they have a disability, disease, or are healthy—have something to learn, something to experience, and something to teach the world or an individual person. Do not assume you will have the same opportunities today that you will in ten years, go out and see all the things life has to offer.

This, my FINAL year of high school, I am reminding myself to love every minute. That includes dances, football games, performances, papers, tests, and even, lots of homework. I encourage you to savor every moment: of parenthood, your job, being a college student, or simply being alive; In addition, try something new! Whether you are faithful or not, life has the same significance.

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Questions for Reflection

  • What makes you happiest in life? Do you take it for granted? How can you spend more time doing that?

  • Is there anyone or anything that causes unnecessary stress or problems in my life? Is it worth continuing with that person or thing?

  • What is something that you would like to try or experience? How can I make that happen?

  • What is something I can teach someone about the world? What is something they can teach me?

 
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Amira Elsafy, a rising senior at Dominican High School, lives in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  She attended the local public schools until high school where she has become active at Dominican.  She has been the class Student Council President,  a member of the honor roll for the past four years and loves to volunteer.  Outside of the academic world, you will find Amira on the stage, recently winning an award for playing the Witch in “Big Fish”. In the next year, she will share her experiences of failure and success, friendships, family her senior journey through the college process and ultimately how all of this impacts her faith.