July 9, 2015

What God Can Do in a Decade

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I really like  “Timehop” and the “On this Day” apps.  It’s always entertaining and sometimes surprising to see a snapshot of what I was up to several years ago.

One day I was scrolling through those memories and it occurred to me that a lot has happened over the past 10 years.  If you had told me at 19 years old that over the next decade I would travel to two other countries, live abroad for a year, get a job in Southwest Kansas, teach Theology of the Body in English and Spanish, marry a man I met on the internet, meet the Pope, earn a Masters degree in Theology, and then have a baby…. I probably would have thought you were insane.

There’s just no way I would have been able to process all of that.

19 was a dark time for me.  I was getting ready to go into my sophomore year of college, I was living at home, my Mom was dealing with a debilitating illness (which was hard on the whole family), and I was also struggling through some serious addictions and pain of my own.

At 19, I thought my brokenness was only going to get more broken.  Sure, there were good days.  But I was hurting, and I was looking for happiness, love, and peace in all the wrong places.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that while I thought my wounds were only getting larger, God was already at work doing some major heart surgery.

When I look back at the last decade as a whole, I can’t help but see how God laid a foundation over the years, and how each step had an influence on the next. 

I went from studying Italian to Spanish, which led to a study abroad adventure in Costa Rica.  That experienced inspired me to want to serve as a missioner in Mexico for a year after graduation, which led to a job in Texas.  The highlight of that year in Texas was being exposed to Theology of the Body on an even deeper level and meeting my husband.  That new found love of TOB led to a job in Southwest Kansas, where I’ve been for almost 5 years.  Being in Dodge City connected me and my husband to a MA Theology program, which is how we ended up in Rome with Pope Francis over our honeymoon.  And our graduation present?  Baby Johnston ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, those are just the major highlights, but I know that there were even more moments and experiences that God used to draw me closer to Himself over the years. 

Now here I am at 29… a married mother in ministry

God used some of the darkest, most challenging, and most inspiring experiences lead me to where I am now.  I’m still growing, I’m still in formation, and God is still faithful, even when I’m at my worst.

There’s a song by Gungor called “Beautiful Things“.  The entire song moves me.  The beginning of the first verse goes:

All this pain,
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way,
I wonder if this life could really change at all.

Then refrain and bridge articulate exactly what comes to mind when I reflect on the last decade:

You make beautiful things… out of the dust. 
You make beautiful things…out of us.  
You make me new, you are making me new.

God’s plan for our lives is more incredible than anything we can imagine for ourselves.  If I’ve learned anything over the past decade, it’s that God will make something beautiful out of our brokenness, but we have to let Him into it
Sometimes it is really difficult to see the “bigger picture”, and it is easy to forget that God is at work in each and every moment.  I still struggle with this. 
I don’t always remember to look at where I am in my journey or actively discern what the next steps might be.  Yes, God can do so much over the years… but am I open to what He is doing in my life right now?  Do I realize that if I’m willing to give God each day, one moment at a time, He can do the impossible?  
Maybe you’ve experienced a dark moment in your own journey.  Maybe that’s where you are right now, and it’s hard to see hope or how God could possibly bring healing into the situation.  If I can give any encouragement, it would be to be patient with yourself and be patient with God.  God loves us too much to leave us exactly where we are, and He really can make something beautiful out of the darkest and most broken pieces of ourselves.  

While I may not be dealing with the same things I was ten years ago, I know God is still healing my heart and preparing me for even more adventures that will lead me even further out of the boat.  More than anything I hope that I can continue to learn to give God one moment at a time, and to cling to His promise, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5)

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


June 13, 2015

The New Adventure

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Just one year ago my husband and I were preparing to share the big news with our families.  We were excited, nervous, and morning sickness was becoming part of my regular schedule.  “Baby J” would be arriving in February… but I had no idea of just how much this little one was going to change our lives.

There’s a quote in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I’ve come to love ever since studying and teaching Theology of the Body:
God has revealed His innermost secret: God Himself is an Eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange (CCC 221).  

I’m sure many different theologians have said something like this, but I will always remember hearing Christopher West talk about how a husband and wife are called to participate in God’s life giving love.  This exchange of love is so powerful that nine months later they could be giving that love a name.  
On February 10th at 9:22am, we named that love Alexandria.  

When Alexandria Elise was held up for me to see and brought to my arms for the first time I was breathless.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to adequately put into words the joy and awe of meeting my daughter.  God is an eternal exchange of love…and he has destined us to share in the exchange.  And we did!  And there she was!

She was placed in my arms and we just stared at one another.  It was love at first sight.  “You were so worth it.” I said, over and over again.  Every pain, every discomfort, the long wait for her arrival, the pain of childbirth… it was all worth it because she was right here.  

Over the last four months I’ve realized that this is a whole new chapter in the journey.  As I continue the daily adventure in motherhood and I know that I still have lots to learn.  Life has changed for our family, but in a more wonderful and profound way than I could have ever thought possible. 

I feel like I’ve grown a lot over the past year.  It’s hard for me to imagine what life was like before Alexandria came into our lives.  But more than anything I recognize the reality of CCC 221:  God has destined us to participate in His life giving love… and I am humbled by and grateful for this vocation of motherhood.

This is a new adventure.  The call to “get out of the boat” is stronger than ever, and I recognize that in this new adventure, we’re called to trust God with everything, just like He’s always called us to do.

Life out of the boat will be different, more exciting, perhaps even at little scary at times (and I’m not just talking about the blog! ;)).  Yet, I already know that it will be 100% worth the effort. 

God has blessed us with a beautiful, happy, and healthy baby girl and she is a reflection of that “eternal exchange of love” in which God has called us to participate. 

I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all!

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


January 18, 2015

Learning How to Look at Others

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There’s a little detail in this Sunday’s Gospel reading that made me pause and think about how I approach ministry.  
It’s one of the classic moments in the Gospels, where we hear about the Call of the First Disciples in John 1:35-42. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples decide to follow Jesus, which leads to Jesus telling them to “Come and see…”.  Then Andrew, one of the two, goes and gets his brother Simon Peter and tells him “We have found the Messiah” and then he takes his brother to Jesus.  
And this is where I think it gets really interesting.  It doesn’t say that Andrew took Peter to Jesus and then Jesus started preaching to the group.  It also doesn’t say that Peter showed up and Jesus started rattling off orders of what he needed to do.  
It says:  Jesus looked at him…
Those words really made me think for a second. 

It’s such a small detail… I mean, you’d assume Jesus was looking a Peter when they met for the first time.  But the fact that John 1:42 specifically says “Jesus looked at him before going on about the big moment when Jesus tells him what he is going to be called, makes me think that Jesus wasn’t so much concerned with pushing his own plans on Peter as he was focused on recognizing who Peter was.  

Jesus looked at him.  

This is a skill that can be tempting to forget, especially when we’re involved in ministry of any kind.  It’s easy to hear about someone’s situation and say “Oh well you just need to get your kid baptized…” or “You should get your marriage convalidated so you can return to the sacraments…”.  It’s easy to tell people that “all they need is Jesus”, or that they just need to pray a certain prayer, or better yet that they just need to go talk to the priest, or counselor.  And all of those things may very well be true!  Sometimes we really do need to enthusiastically encourage people to get involved in the life of the parish and invite them to go deeper in their faith journeys.  
But before any of that can happen, we have to be able to see people.  
I know for myself working in full-time to ministry, there can, at times, be a temptation to just go through the paperwork for baptism or marriage preparation without ever really getting to know the people sitting in my office.  It’s easy to fill out census forms, hand people checklists, and pass on my business card.  It’s another thing entirely to step back and spend time getting to know who someone is, and listen to their story.  
When I think about the moment that Jesus looked at Simon Peter, I don’t think it was an awkward silence or stare down from Jesus before giving the poor guy a new name.  I think was more like Jesus’ eyes met Peter’s, he probably gave one of those classic Jesus smiles, and Jesus’ heart was full of love and compassion for this new disciple for whom God had some pretty big plans.  I mean, spoiler alert, he called him “Cephas” (which means “rock”).  
Jesus looked at Peter and all of the disciples as children of God first as foremost, which means he loved them as God does from that very first encounter. 
photo credit

It makes me wonder, do I see people the way that Jesus does?  Do I care about who they are and what their unique story is?  Do I see them as children of God or do I see them as another person who needs another “thing” and then send them on their way?  

Honestly, there are moments where I fail big time in this area.  A couple will show up 15 or 20 minutes late for their appointment, they will be gruff or short with me, and in the end I’m just happy to get the meeting over with.  But then there are other times in which I really get to know a person or their family and I hear incredible stories.  
I get to hear stories like the mom who wasn’t coming to Mass every weekend, but her husband had died a few months earlier and she was finally at the point of functioning again and finding hope in her faith.  
Or the adults who grew up far away from any kind of faith life or spirituality and have discovered the beauty of the Catholic Church and are hungry for more. 
Or the couple who comes in wanting to start marriage preparation after decades of cohabiting because they have had an encounter with Christ through a retreat or prayer service and are longing for the sacraments. 

There are some inspiring and beautiful stories that I get to hear, often when I least expect it.  But it requires taking the time to really see people, and to focus on who they are more than what I can offer them.  

Before we send people off to another formation program, or tell them to talk to a priest, or give them paperwork to fill out, we have to look at them.   We are called to look at them, to love them and to hear their story

Sometimes what people need to hear before the checklist or form are pulled out is that we recognize who they are as a brother or sister in Christ and that we care.

Lord, teach us how to look at others.  
Teach us how to see them as you see them, 
and to love them as you love them.  
Give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to love.

Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid

January 7, 2015

2015 Word of the Year: Be

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At the beginning of 2014 I really felt called to embrace the words “Your will, not mine, be done.”  Six words, sprinkled with lessons in surrender and humility.  I knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I don’t think I realized how God would lead me to learning the significance of those words in every aspect of my life.

Sure, I knew it was going to be a busy year:  thesis writing, new changes and challenges in ministry, plus we were just navigating through our first year of marriage, which is a whole new adventure in itself.  But I think the place where God really taught me the meaning of those words was when we were trying to get pregnant.  It took me a little while to realize that “Your will not mine be done” is NOT the same as “My will should be done on my timeline.”  Go figure.  In the end, I realized that God’s timing is absolutely perfect, and His will and plans are much better than anything I could come up with on my own.

Now here we are at the first week of 2015.

When I was praying about what the “word” for the New Year might be, I was surprised by how short and simple the answer was: BE.  While that word doesn’t seem like much, I feel called to live it out in on three different levels:

 Be {still and know that I am GOD}.

Psalm 46:10

In a world of constant go go go! and schedules that are always full of something…. then add a baby on top of all of that, it’s extremely easy to get caught up in the things to do and forget the simplest of tasks: to be still and simply be with God.  No lofty or complex spiritual plans or agenda… just the constant reminder to be still and acknowledge that God is God, and I am not.  That’s more important than trying to read 10 spiritual books or telling myself I’ll pray the rosary every single day before breakfast (though those are great goals to have!).  It all begins with learning to be still, to be silent, and to really soak in who God is. 

Be {in the moment}.

“Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified do not be discouraged, for the LORD your GOD is with you wherever you go.”  – Joshua 1:9  
As I step into my new role as Mom I know that there are many new moments ahead.  There will be beautiful moments of soaking in the the miracle of life, the joy of being a parent, and how our lives have been changed forever.  And of course there will also be some sleepless nights, diaper bombs, a lot of tears from both Mom and baby, and I’m sure there will be times of wondering whether I’m really cut out to do this.

But no matter what I am facing, beautiful or frustrating, I need to remember to step back and just be in the moment.  This is a new adventure!  It’s going to be a year of humbling moments mixed with baby giggles and spit up :).  In every moment, every struggle and every success, I need to learn to just be in the moment.  This will mean letting go of my expectations at times, and soaking in whatever it is we are facing.  

Be {Deanna}.  

When I was thinking about this last one I wondered if it was a little silly or childish to say it this way.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize it might be one of the more challenging aspects of life this year.  This year I’m going to learn a lot about myself, and discovering my role as “Mom” is just a small part of that.  I really want to be the woman that God created me to be.  I want to embrace who that is.  I want to be authentic and honest with myself, and not get distracted by trying to fit a perfect image of what I think the world expects me to be.  Of all of the models of Motherhood and Femininity, Our Blessed Mother is really the only one that I should be striving to imitate.   Knowing myself, this will be a hard one.  But I think that learning to be still and to be in the moment are going to help me to be myself.
2015 is going to be a great year.  In just a few more weeks our first child will come into the world and life will be different.  As tempting as it is to worry or wonder about the unknowns of this year, I’m more excited knowing that God is faithful and that His plans are far beyond anything I could imagine for myself or my family. 

I am looking forward to learning how to “be”.  
What is your word of the year?

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid


November 5, 2014

Settling into a New Month and a New Vocation

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There’s something very refreshing about flipping the calendar to a new month.  It’s one of those little “resets” that we get 12 times a year.
Didn’t get everything done I was supposed to do last month?  That’s OK.  New Month.
Didn’t do as well on my personal or spiritual goals the last few weeks?  That’s OK.  New Month.
Of course, that refreshing new month feeling quickly turns into What do you mean the month’s half over?! panic if I don’t pay attention.  But for the most part a new month means “Deep Breath. Let’s start again.”
So here we are in November. 
At the beginning of every month I usually take some time to figure out my major goals, projects, tasks, etc. for work and at home, and try to get a sense of what my schedule will be like for the next 4+ weeks.  This month is no exception, and it turns out I’ve got plenty to keep me busy between now and Christmas… and then life slows down for a moment while I finish making this baby. 

But in the midst of goal setting and calendar sorting, I’m also finding myself trying to balance the busyness of the month and just enjoying the moment.  Yes, there are classes to teach, presentations to give, paperwork to complete, and plenty of unscheduled excitement that ministry provides on a daily basis.  Yet as I slip into the third-trimester of this pregnancy, I’m becoming more aware that I need to just enjoy the day, the week, the month, and not worry so much about the things to come.
And trust me, I tend to lean towards the worrier sometimes.  I know for a fact that there’s plenty of things for me to potentially worry about.  Like some of the presentations I’m giving over the next two months, getting things ready at my office before I head out for maternity leave, preparing the house for Baby J…
…OR even just the reality that we’re having a baby… This little person is making his/her grand appearance in about 13 weeks and I have no idea what to expect.  That’s a little overwhelming sometimes. 
So I have a choice.
I can spend the next 13 weeks worrying over details at work, freaking out over the fact that I really don’t know what life will be like when Baby J arrives, plus a million other things I haven’t even thought to about yet….
OR I can enjoy this moment. This day.  This week.  This month.
Because things will get done, plans will be made, and this baby will arrive all in the proper time.
Plus, let’s face it.  Life is going to be a lot different come the end of January or beginning of February.  Becoming a Mom ain’t no small thing!  This vocation is taking on a whole new level of “Jesus I Trust in You!” and that’s exciting!
But I need to be at peace.
I need to rest in the moment and allow God to continue working on my heart and soul.
Yes, there are details to sort through.  There’s work to be done in preparation for being away from the office, and there’s practical “nesting” like things that I need to start doing at home.  There’s probably some books I should be reading about childbirth (started one. it was terrifying.), and I know I need to make time for the breastfeeding and birthing classes.
Still, with each week and each new month I know the ultimate goal is simply to be at peace and to rest in the moment with God.  
There’s no amount of reading or specific number of classes that will perfectly prepare me for the months ahead.  One of the best things I can do for myself, my husband, and our baby is to strive to allow God to form me into the woman He wants me to be.  That won’t happen with “to-do lists” or even the perfect birth plan.  
I need to be at peace.  I need to listen.  I need to trust. And I need to focus on Christ.

Surely, motherhood will be one of the best “life out of the boat” experiences to date!

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid