A composition of thoughts from the past and present. My mind goes down so many rabbit holes over the course of a month, and some of them are worth sharing. Here, you'll get a glimpse into my pauses and reactions to various experiences and conversations in my life.
In my last blog, I had mentioned having "Catholic" and "daughter of God" bubbles in my identity Venn Diagram - the former living inside the latter. Having both bubbles is important to me because my family and many of my religious experiences are interdenominational. However, my struggle within the Venn Diagram project, and a good chunk of my life, was determining how I treat those two aspects of my identity in relation to each other. What it looks like to claim the identity of "Catholic Christian" versus simply "Catholic." During high school, I started by trying to understand what it means to be a Christian. In undergrad, my pursuit shifted to me deepening my understanding of Catholicism. It was during this time that I also became aware of divisions I had been blind to most of my life.
It was within this journey that I volunteered to talk at the Christian Unity Prayer Service being held by my Newman Center and the University Lutheran Church last year. My main reason for doing so was a sense of duty to honor my background. I knew that on paper I looked like one of the more "qualified" people from the Catholic student group to speak. In reality, I felt far from it because of my increasing awareness of the divides within Christianity. I remember mentioning to the Lutheran speaker that I was going to base my talk on my previous summer's experience working at an interdenominational mission trip site and him warning me to not make this about myself. I inwardly chuckled because I knew the talk would fall flat if I were the main character. I knew the witness of numerous preteens of numerous denominations would speak louder than my own works ever could because they reminded me what unified Christians can do.
Below is a copy of my talk. I hope you get as much out of reading it as I did out of writing it.
The Vine and the Branches
John 15:1-11 is one of my favorite passages from
scripture.It speaks of
connectedness.Of the tender, attentive
care the Father gives each of us so we can grow.Of the beautiful sweetness we can all bring
to this earth.All of this by remaining centered
in Christ.By being a Christian.
We gather here representing different branches of the same
Christian vine.Jesus says the Father
“takes away every branch in [him] that does not bear fruit,” and that “a branch
cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine.” I can attest that
Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and others bear good
fruit.The Father has not removed any of
us from the vine.
I grew up with a Catholic mom and a Lutheran dad.Relatives on both sides of my family represent many denominations.They all
have taught me so much about our shared faith and their lives attest to the
beauty it brings. When we live in unity, we talk of the Christian life and grow
in it. We can reach each other in our painful moments and together praise God
for the blessings He gives us. We bear
fruit. When we act in ignorance of Christian unity, we create painful moments and separate
ourselves from God.Then, we are no
different than a branch detached from the vine of Christ.
One of the commonly cited reasons why non-Christians don’t
give Christianity a chance is because of the conflict between
denominations.In it, they do not see
the love we are all called to embody.Between
the dismissive smirks, cutting comments, and cold shoulders I’ve witnessed, I
see their point.
I have also seen the
incredible things that happen when Christians of all types come together with
open hearts.The tightest of friendships
form in the matter of days.The outcasts
and brokenhearted encounter peace.Burdens
are shared and anxieties are soothed.These fruits bring people to Christ.
I had the privilege to run an interdenominational mission
trip site one summer with two other amazing people. Let me tell you, if you want to see Christian
unity at work, this is the perfect setting. I will never forget about the impact our
campers made at one of the service sites.
It’s an outdoor learning lab garden shared by the charter schools in the
area. They needed help keeping it up
during the summer, so our organization stepped in. An elderly Japanese immigrant named Miss Yoko
worked alongside the kids and let them know what their tasks were for the
week. Week 1, she told me how she didn’t
believe in God and was amazed how these Christian kids traveled from all
different states to help her. Weeks 2
and 3, she would cry when the new groups of kids came and left because she was
so overwhelmed by their selflessness and love. Their dedication to serve and
what they shared during devotions. By
the end of the summer, campers told us Miss Yoko wanted to become a Christian. This is what can happen when we choose to embrace what
unifies us as Christians. This is the
fruit we can bear together.
Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. When we remain in Christ, and him in us, we bear much fruit.
These past couple of years have involved a lot of moving around for me. First, moving to Eau Claire for undergrad. Next, moving out to Italy for a semester abroad. A little over a week after returning from there, I left for Colorado and then for York, PA to spend the summer out east. Came back to WI for my final year of undergrad, and then I moved to Madison for an internship. And now, I'm sitting on my balcony in St Louis, gearing up for graduate school.
Each move uprooted me in one way or another. Going to UWEC I knew a couple people from high school, but not many. I had some family there, but I didn't spend the majority of my time with them. I was still in school, but the structure of everything changed. To most people on campus, I was a complete stranger. Heck, I started off living with someone I had only met once before. In a way, my life was a blank slate. Yes, I brought my background with me, but few people knew where Hartland was on a map. No expectations were laid out…
One of the things I think about fairly often is how many people are struggling with feeling lost to themselves. Who feel like they need to find themselves. Who wonder what it is like to love themselves. I think about this because I only briefly experienced it myself, and I want people to be free of these feelings.
I think about how there's a departure at some point. As kids, we don't ask these questions. The idea of not knowing who you are feels absurd because you just are. But then other thoughts creep in, whether they're from classmates, teachers, family members, friends. We develop insecurities and lose ourselves. Some earlier than others. I met this battle head on my first year of high school when I felt a growing distance between my core friend group and myself. Thankfully, a year later I was able to work through it and return to loving my authentic self. Insecurities still exist, but I don't give them the power to completely take over my view of myself…
I know I'm a little late, but I want to recognize Mental Health Awareness week. The purpose of this week is to educate and increase awareness of mental illness. So, I want to do my part. I've had my own battles with mental illness. Specifically, I have a history of depression and anxiety.
The first time I suffered from depression was my freshman year of high school. However, I was never officially diagnosed and never went to a counselor for it. Stressors seemed to continuously pile on. Transitioning into high school meant playing less sports I loved and being surrounded by more people who were better than me in areas I had previously been a top performer in. Adding to this, I felt an increasing distance between me and my grade school friend circle. As we all started making new friends, I noticed how I increasingly heard names everyone but me recognized and shared stories about. To cap it off, my grandpa was diagnosed with and quickly died from pancreatic cancer.