Escalator to Heaven

For those who don’t know, I teach eighth grade religious education at my local parish. This morning, I was going through my notes from this year’s religion classes, and I found a little scribble in the margin of my Gospel print out: “escalator to heaven?” That day, my topic for the class had been our duty as Christians to help others find Jesus. I tried to explain that in any relationship we are in — whether its a friendship, romantic relationship, or even a parent-child relationship — our primary goal should be to help the other get to heaven. I remember trying to discuss this with my religion class, but spring fever had already hit them hard, and honestly, I’m still not sure if any of them understood what I was trying to say. So, hopefully this makes sense! If not, you have my permission to send me an angry email.

Obviously, we are responsible for ourselves and our own choices. Eve’s experience in the garden showed us that neither temptation nor peer pressure is a valid excuse for disobeying the Word of God. But, if all your friends are going to go out and sin until the cows come home, is staying home that night enough to obey God? Is sitting on your couch while your friends are all out breaking Commandments willy nilly okay? I don’t think so.

Led Zeppelin has a Stairway to Heaven. But stairs are exhausting. Build an escalator to heaven. Make it easy for others to seek and find God. Better yet, become the escalator yourself! Make it so that all people need to do to reach Jesus is simply latch onto you. Deliver people safely to God and His ways.

Ask your friends to volunteer somewhere with you, or ask if they’d like to come with you to church. I find a lot of my friends made their Confirmation in eighth or ninth grade and treated it as a graduation from religion class, never to set foot in a church again until their wedding day. But our faith is one of constant growth. Nobody ever graduates or retires.

Don’t allow your friends, parents, sisters or brothers to lose their relationship with God as they age. Promote that relationship. Screw Led Zeppelin’s stairway to heaven; nobody wants to take the stairs when there’s a perfectly good escalator right next to them. Be the escalator.

Always Seeking, Never Ceasing

We all have friends that fly under the radar until they need something: advice, a ride somewhere, someone to show up to the party with. Of course, I have nothing against these friends. I love them just as much as all my other friends, and kudos to them for having the courage to ask for support (or a shirt to borrow) when they need it. But last week, I discovered the complete opposite of this kind of friend.

If you couldn’t tell from my post last Monday, last week was rough for me. I was beyond angry at God and everyone else in the world. I was even considering finding coverage for the Saturday mass I sing at, just so that I didn’t have to face God. Then, on Thursday, I got a text from a friend I had barely spoken to in months, inviting me to a Christian youth group Friday night. Out of nowhere, right when I needed it the most, she was there for me to restore my faith and provide support and healing in one of my lowest moments.

God is this kind of friend. He asks for nothing but love and trust in return for a lifetime of support and healing. God does not reach out to you only when it benefits Him; God is constantly seeking us, even when we have stopped seeking Him.

After attending the youth group with my friend, I felt more at peace with life than I have in months. Understanding and revelation filled my weekend, and I feel much closer to God. I know that He sent my friend Mary Kate to me at that moment to pull me back into His arms and to save me from myself.

When you start listening and watching for the Lord, it is so abundantly obvious that He is always seeking us and calling us back when we stray too far. Find friends that not only support but encourage your ever-growing relationship with God.

I cannot be any more grateful to Mary Kate for showing me the way back to the Lord.

Fatherless on Father’s Day

I would like to start by saying that I love Father’s Day. There is nobody in this world more deserving of a BBQ and a couple handmade cards than the dads of the world. I am so glad to see so many people spending time with their dads and telling them how much they love them while they’re still here. On the other hand, Father’s Day for someone who has lost an incredible dad (me, in case you didn’t put that together) SUCKS.

For a solid month, every store is filled with “Best Dad Ever” merchandise, and ever since the dawn of technology, it’s even worse. Advertisements for “the perfect gift for dad” take over Instagram, Facebook, and even Twitter. Radio stations play songs about fatherhood for a whole week, and my favorite radio station even spent all of Father’s Day weekend having listeners call in and share their favorite stories about their dads. Once Father’s Day finally rolled around, everyone on the planet posted pictures of them with their dads. At first, I thought I was angry at everyone for still having a dad. Then I realized I was just sad.

Kids my age posted pictures of their multi-generational Father’s Days with their fathers and grandfathers. People older than me shared pictures of their father-daughter dances at their weddings, and photos of their fathers holding their brand new baby. All of these people got to watch their dad become a grandpa. They got to dance with their dad on their wedding day. My dad won’t even get meet whoever I end up marrying.

Then I realized I actually was mad. At God.

Why would a loving God take away my dad? My dad was funnier than all the other dads . . . nicer than all the other dads . . . he even gave a brand new umbrella to a homeless man in Manhattan even though he still needed it. Why why why would God take such a positive force off Earth?

A few weeks after my dad passed away, my mom and I attended a mass with a homily that stuck with me like no other. The priest told the congregation that he often has people come into confession to say that they were angry at God. But he said that isn’t a sin.

Think about a few different relationships you have with others and try to think of times that you were angry with them. You should notice that the people you are closest to and love the most are also the people you get angry at the most. The priest told us that anger at God is just a sign of a living relationship, and the fact that we get angry at God rather than simply abandoning Him is a testament to that relationship.

So yes. I spent the whole week leading up to Father’s Day hysterically crying in public, and all of Father’s Day weekend boiling with anger, and hopefully tomorrow will be better, but if not, that’s okay.

Family, Faith, Forgiveness

After spending five days in Disney World with my mom and sister, then coming home and immediately going to a family get together, I have reached the conclusion that there is nothing in this world I will ever love as much as my family. It was even my uncle who gave me the idea for this blog post! Family has such a huge influence on us and our lives, and I have been blessed beyond belief with tightknit families both on my mom’s and my dad’s sides.

Appropriately enough, this weekend in mass, the presider spoke about the importance of families during his homily. Since we are all brothers and sisters through the Lord, we are all family, and we need to start treating each other as such.

When it comes to my family, forgiveness and understanding reign. When I come home and my mom is stressed out, I know she had a bad day, so I back off; God knows I don’t judge my mom for being stressed out. When Sam “accidentally” gave my cell phone number to a complete stranger, I may have laughed at her a little bit, but I wasn’t mad. Even last night, Sam and I got into an argument (over who had control of the remote, if you were wondering), and this morning I woke up to a text from her that said “Are we still fighting? I have stuff to tell you!” Anger never prevails and grudges never last when it comes to our families, so why do we embrace anger and grudges when it comes to strangers?

I work in the service department of a car dealership, and a few weeks ago, I had a very angry customer call me at work. He asked how many miles we usually recommend between oil changes, and when I told him 5,000 miles or 5 months, he flipped out and told me I don’t know what I’m talking about. He insisted on speaking to a man. Angry people are a staple of life, but for some reason this guy really bothered me to the point where I am still thinking about it weeks later. But why? If it was my mom, cousin, aunt, or uncle who called me at work and wanted to speak to one of the guys – who do, in fact, know exponentially more than me about literally everything car-related – I wouldn’t be mad at all.

I know its way easier said than done, but if we can treat strangers like family, we can let go of grudges, judgements, prejudices, and every other negative, lasting feeling we have towards others. That guy on the phone probably wouldn’t have screamed at me in the first place if he thought of me as family.

We can all do our part to make the world a tiny bit nicer. It’s impossible to be 100% positive and never get angry at all, but once we start thinking of everyone as family, the anger fades just a little faster, and forgiveness prevails.

Stop Time

As I’m sure some of you know (since I haven’t shut up about it for the past three months), On The Island is off the Island this week; we’re in Disney World! Being one of the most fast-paced “working vacation” destinations, it can be hard to find time to yourself to reflect, pray, or just gather your thoughts. But if you can do it in Disney World, you can do it anywhere!

My family and I are staying at our favorite Disney World Resort: The BoardWalk. Luckily for me and this blog post, the boardwalk itself is one of the calmest corners of the world you’ll ever find . . . in the morning, that is. This morning, I woke up early and headed outside to watch the sunset from the boardwalk.

I also brought a small journal to document my trip so that my memories are not just photo-based. Writing in the journal throughout the trip — and this morning — has helped me to stop and reflect on my day and truly absorb the happiest place on Earth. As I sat on the boardwalk and watched the vendors opening their stands and the old fashioned Coney Island-reminiscent restaurants flipping their Closed signs to Open, I centered myself with God before my hectic day.

I just finished an 8-week grief counseling program. One of the things my counselor stressed week after week was finding “zen time.” Whether that means taking a walk around your office building during your lunch break, stopping at the beach on your way home from a party, or setting your alarm to watch the sunrise in Walt Disney World, make time. Reflect, pray, center yourself and outline your goals for the day (although in my case, my goals are: (1) buy a pin (2) eat some Mickey waffles (3) ride some rides).

It’s hard to find the time to remember God when you’re in such a craze of dinner reservations and fastpasses — or even trying to balance work, school, and socialization — but I always remind myself that time is a man-made tool for our organizational benefit. If you don’t have the time, stop time. Hit pause on your life and take a second to breathe. Watch the sunrise, even if you can’t watch it in Disney World this morning.

Tough Battles and Strong Soldiers

For those of you that don’t know, I lost my dad to Lymphoma just over seven months ago. I can’t tell you how many people have sought to console me by saying “Well, ya know, God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers!” As if that makes it okay . . .

But here’s the thing: I disagree. So much. I’ve seen people dealing with immense loss and suffering who do not have what it takes to bear the load. I’ve seen people who are the epitome of strength living perfect lives. I don’t think that God looked down on my family and said, “Yeah, they’re strong. Lemme send some incurable cancer their way!”

So, if I don’t believe that God gives the toughest battles to the strongest soldiers, where does that leave us? I believe that God does not give the battle, He gives the strength. I don’t know if everything is predestined, fated, or totally coincidental, but I do know that God has all of our backs. When times are tough and the battles we have to fight are tougher, God will provide the strength.

So often, my religion students ask if we can pray for them to get 100s on their upcoming exams. Instead, we pray for God to give them the stamina and drive to study successfully. Rather than asking God for the result, we ask for the strength to achieve the result ourselves. image1 (1)

In situations like mine and my family’s, we can’t pray to reverse time and get my dad back. We can pray for him, and we can pray for us, but we can’t get him back. So instead, we pray for the strength to bare the load given to us, and we pray for a heavenly reunion when we all reach the age of 105 and join my dad behind the gates.

Just about a week ago, God blessed me with the strength to pick up my guitar again and start learning songs without my dad’s help. For the past seven months, I’ve gone into the music studio, picked up a guitar, and laid on the couch procrastinating. Now, I’ve been given the strength to play on my own, and I pray that I’ll soon be given the strength and ability to get out there and play a gig on my own.

No matter what battle you’re fighting, God will provide the strength to bear it . . . if you only ask.

Reasons Not to Pray (spoiler alert: there are none)

For those of you that don’t know, I teach a religion class of fifteen eighth-graders. A few weeks ago, we discussed prayer, and I asked them all if they pray every day. Not surprisingly, many of the teenagers do not pray every day, but their excuses for not praying were surprising.

One student told me he doesn’t pray because he doesn’t need anything. His life is fine, so why would he need to pray for something? Another student told me he doesn’t pray because he didn’t do anything wrong. He has nothing to apologize for, thus no reason to pray. Another told me she doesn’t pray because it’s awkward to talk to nobody alone in her room, and another said she simply doesn’t have enough time between school, sports, clubs, and homework.

Let’s go through these one by one. The first two reasons involve lack of a need for prayer. But everybody needs prayer. Even if you’re living the dream in a mansion in East Hampton while simultaneously donating all your time and money to animal shelters, homeless shelters, and hungry children in Africa, you’re still not above prayer.

My mom taught me from a very young age that we always need to remember to thank God for the good things in our lives. I still remember kneeling in church, folding my hands so tight in prayer that my knuckles were white, manically screaming DEAR GOD THANK YOU FOR BALLOONS DEAR GOD THANK YOU FOR BALLOONS DEAR GOD THANK YOU FOR BALLOONS in my head for the full length of Communion. Anyway, when you have nothing to ask God for, and nothing to apologize for, thank Him for that. There’s a reason you have everything you need. Thank the Big Guy for it.

Onto the next excuse: its awkward. Okay, as the literal most awkward human on the planet, I understand this 100%. It can definitely feel like you’re talking to yourself when you’re praying, but that’s where faith comes in. Then, once you trust that you’re not talking to yourself and God is getting your message, it’s even more nerve-racking. I constantly find myself wondering what position I’m in to be talking to God.

Then I saw this quote by Max Lucado: “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” It doesn’t matter who we are, it matters who God is.

As far as not having time goes, once you realize that its okay to pray awkwardly and feebly, there’s less pressure on prayer. Since God is everywhere, you can pray anywhere. As my Aunt Eydie told me, “Wash your hands and say your prayers because God and germs are everywhere!” You can pray anywhere – your car, the school bus, in your head at work, etc. – so unless you have no time to think, you have time to pray.

If you hadn’t gathered it from the title, the main idea of this post is that there are no reasons not to pray at least once a day. If you can find time to talk to your family or friends, you can find time to talk to God.