25 April 2016

4 Unique Reads for The Year of Mercy

Sure you could read something by Pope Francis.

But if you're looking for different types of books to read during this jubilee year of mercy, I'd recommend each of these unique perspectives on mercy and forgiveness.

Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
This book is incredible. There are very few books I have ever stayed up all night to read and this was one of them. It is the story of a young woman who survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994. She lost most of her family except one brother. She forgave and met with some of the men who slaughtered her family. Immaculee is a woman of courage, faith, and radical example of mercy and forgiveness.
Just read this book!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice & Redemption
I read this book several months ago. It was absolutely eye-opening and equally heart breaking. Bryan Stevenson is a man who works tirelessly for men and women on death row in the South. He looks at some many issues that affect the incredibly high incarceration and death row numbers: poverty, racism, and prejudices of the criminal system still in effect today.

While I have always saw the death penalty as a critical pro-life issue, this opened my eyes in so many ways to the reality of life on death row and the many issues that affect the high incarnation rate in the US. A hard read, but one I think we all need today.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
I just finished this one. WOW. 
Fr. Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest living and ministering to the Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. He created Homeboy Industries to help men and women leave the many life, create jobs and training, and offer them a new life of hope and healing.

Fr. Greg's writing was incredible and often left me breathless and deeply reflective. He is now on the ever growing list of people I would love to meet someday. Reading about the gang lifestyle opened up my eyes as it is not something I am terribly familiar with. I finished this book with a fuller, richer heart. And you will too.

Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community 
This is maybe one of the best books I have read since the New Year. What initially interested me in the topic is that the author and his wife purposefully moved to Boys Town in Chicago, a predominately LGBT community. Their life work is dedicated in ministry, outreach, and working to have this conversation with love and understanding in the church.

When my brother was in college he did a mission trip to Boys Town with Emmaus Ministires, reaching out to and ministering to men in survival prostitution. I remember the experiences my brother shared with me, and being so touched by what he told me. It was something that stayed with me.

The premise of this book is how to have loving and pastoral dialogue with those in the gay community, whether Christian or not. An enlightening read that helped me start to understand the perspective of someone who identifies as a gay Christian and the pain many have experienced from church. This is an area I am increasingly convinced that the Church needs to be able to dialogue. 

Mercy, grace, and forgiveness come in many different shades. 
We can learn these life-changing lessons from many simple, even unexpected places, people, or situations. 
Each of these books for me is giving me a radical, unique insight into the power of grace and the healing that comes from forgiveness. If you're looking for an different kind read during the year of mercy, I'd highly recommend any of these!

What books would you add to this list? What reads are teaching you about grace and mercy right now?

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21 April 2016

Homemade Blueberry Tarts

While I typically do not consider anything fruit related to be a dessert, I had a recent hankering for something sweet when there wasn't any ice cream in the house.

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits, so when I realized there was some Phyllo dough in the freezer, I decided to put both to good use together.

I made this up as I went along, but all I know is they tasted pretty good. Not to mention it was fairly easy.

Sheets of Phyllo dough
2 cartons of blueberries
1 stick of melted butter
Lemon juice

1// Thaw out Phyllo dough to room temperature.

2// Spray mini muffin tins with baking spray. Preheat oven to 350.

3// Carefully cut dough into long triangles. Gently cover muffin tins.

4// Brush on layer of melted butter on Phyllo dough

5// Add another four layers of dough with brushed butter in between each layer. This will help prevent burning and make a mini crust for the filling.

6// Wash blueberries and fill into the muffin tins. Add a squirt of honey and lemon juice.

7// Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until tarts are lightly browned.

Pour yourself a glass of sweet tea or cold milk and enjoy a fresh taste of spring!

Do you have a favorite fruit? What kind of recipes do you like to cook with it?

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11 April 2016

3 Words that Define Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)

He's at it again!

Apparently now whenever Pope Francis writes or says something it gets everybody talking.
Heck even a secular magazines like Vogue!

Friday morning went live the apostolic exhortation (The Joy of Love) which summarizes the concluding findings of the Synod of Bishops, which gathered for two years to discuss modern challenges facing the family today.

To be honest, I am still slowly making my through the 256 page document.

But as I continue to write, highlight, and read articles online, three specific words Francis uses continually keep repeating in my mind: Accompany. Discern. Integrate. These words need not re-define Church teaching, because well they actually can't.

But these words illustrate the call of Francis to how we as church must walk with people, the actual nitty-gritty of how we do pastoral ministry. That it takes great discernment, pastoral care, grace, and mercy; that every person and situation is unique. 

The Holy Father writes, "By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties" (paragraph 305).

Making people and situations black or white is something I have struggled with a lot in my own life.

Archbishop Cupich of Chicago summed it up well when he said in a press conference the exhortation was "not about reform of rules of the church-it's about reform of the church...it's about having a very radical change in the approach we have to people living everyday lives" and also about discerning new opportunities for "accompanying them."

So what does it look like to accompany, discern, and integrate families, men, and women in the modern world today? It is unique and different for every single person and situation. It looks like listening and understanding. 

It looks like how Jesus treated the woman at the well, Matthew the tax collector, the woman caught in adultery, or the prodigal son. It looks like love and mercy spoken in truth. It looks like grace for the hurting, broken, addicted, ignorant. It looks like being that field hospital in the middle of a battle field Pope Francis often speaks of.

Francis speaks strongly about the weight of mitigating factors and circumstances that people are facing today. We cannot see all the things that shape and impact a person and their life, and there needs to be a loving awareness and discernment to that as we walk with and minister to each other.

I think we all do the work of ministry whether or not we officially work for a church. Each of us does ministry in the life God has called and placed us in. These three words (accompany, discern, integrate) can find meaning and purpose in our individual mission field in life; whether its the business world or changing those poopy diapers. 

  • What would it look like to live out the words accompany, discern, integrate in your own mission field?
  • How can these words challenge us as church to enhance how we love and serve each other?
  • How can these three words change our approach to accompanying people right where they are?

I sure as heck haven't got this all figured out in a nice, packaged way. 
All of it challenges me to constantly be praying and reflective about the ways I strive to love and serve other people.

When a person is lying dying in a battlefield you don't start analyzing how their actions led to the injury.
You administer to the wound, the pain they are experiencing.

However messy or awkward it can be at times, let's as believers minister to the pain and hurt of our brothers and sisters right where they are.

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06 April 2016

Life lately + why you just gotta eat the fish eyeball.

"Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all." 

Helen Keller is associated with these words. A woman born blind and deaf, still managed to seek out and experience her life as a daring, beautiful adventure. 

This past week I find myself associating with her words right now where life has me. Life feels and looks like a daring adventure for me, even amidst a broken kind of beautiful.

On Sunday I ran my second half marathon. While I overslept, was running a little late, and didn't feel like I ran my personal best, I still did it. I ran across the finish line feeling like a champion that can kick a%$ anything life throws at me.

I have started a new small group at my church, and am really enjoying. It is yet another reminder of how much I belong; just another broken soul seeking after the heart of God like everybody else.

This week my divorce was finalized. A sad painful day, but a day filled with such great peace and comfort. Standing in front of the judge felt so surreal, but I knew Jesus was right up there standing with us. I was really humbled by all the love, prayer, and supportive messages from people in my life throughout that day. My pastor even sent me a text message telling me he was praying for me. Knowing I am not alone is such a comfort, and makes the bad days a little easier to get through.

The same night my siblings and I enjoyed a night of delicious food, good drinks, and just being together. I cannot imagine any other people I'd rather help me close this chapter in my life. As the night went one, we ordered lots of different dishes on the menu. Have you ever eaten 9 or the 14 entree's on a menu? Well, we did :)

At one point it came time to enjoying a whole cooked piece of trout, complete with scales and intact eyeballs. Known at times as a picky eater in my family, my sister encouraged me to eat one of the eyeballs. While I gagged it down with a slurp of hard cider, I was glad I did it.

You know what? Sometimes you just gotta eat the damn fish eyeballs!

Take a risk. Live on the edge. Be spontaneous. Have an adventure. Maybe for you it doesn't look like eating the fish eyeball. Maybe its starting that blog or submitting your free-lance work. Maybe it looks like traveling without an official agenda or forgiving that one person who still doesn't get how they hurt you.

Life is an adventure. A messy, painful, beautiful adventure, but an adventure nonetheless. I don't have as much certainty as I used to about my life. Things aren't as color-coated or mapped out as I used to obsessively do. And that's okay. 

I am learning I am not really in control. God is slowly teaching me what radical dependance on Him looks like in small moments of everyday life-not just in the big plan of life.

Seek out the adventure in your own life, take some risks.
Go find and eat the fish balls in your own life. In the end, you'll be glad you did.

I promise. I know I am :)

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