Thursday, June 18, 2015

Paradise Lost?

              In Theology of the Body, a teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II, we look to the Garden of Eden to show us truths about the human person.  Often, when talking about the Garden of Eden, we talk about how great it was, with all of the innocence and peace, and how all of that is lost forever because of sin. This was how I understood the story of the Garden of Eden for a long time, that we had one chance for paradise and we blew it. We would always be controlled by sin which meant that I would always be stuck in a whirlpool of sin and unhappiness. It is true that mankind was expelled from the Garden because of sin and, through our disobedience, we broke our relationship with God.  This would be a really awful story, if this were the end.  It’s not. Christ came into the world and died on the cross to redeem us.
            Redemption in Christ offers us something better than the Garden. Here, I would like to differentiate between restoration and redemption. Restoration would be to go back to the original state of being in the Garden. Redemption involves a saving transformation. God has made it new. God is all-knowing. He knew we were going to sin when He created us with freedom and so made a plan to give us something better than the Garden.
This is not just about living in a heavenly paradise. It’s also about our daily life. He gave us Christ who instituted the sacraments.  The grace that we receive in the sacraments gives us the power to live out the call of the Kingdom of God. “What is the Kingdom of God?” you ask.   Jesus gives us the answer to this question in the Gospel of Luke. "The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or, 'There it is.' For behold, the kingdom of God is among you" (Lk. 17:20b-21). Every day, we have the opportunity to live out innocence and peace through grace. We can choose love instead of use, generosity instead of greed, and humility instead of pride. It is when we choose goodness that we make the Kingdom of God present in the world. At times, this seems insurmountable.  You do not have to look far to see the pain and hurt caused by sin, but by grace, we are set free from sin. Slowly but surely, God changes our hearts to love Him better. He has changed me. I once thought that the battle against sin was hopeless and that even trying to overcome sin was pointless. I felt helpless. God would not let me keep believing this lie and showed me that He had given me the power, through the sacraments, to choose freedom instead of sin. Here’s the thing about grace, it’s stronger than sin.

This relates back to Theology of the Body because in our relationships, we can feel like we will never be able to love the other person as we should. Sometimes, chastity seems too difficult to master but we have to remember it is grace that enables us to love our significant other.  There’s a story of several bishops in the early Christian Church, who saw a prostitute passing by. All but one bishop turned away as she walked by so that they would not lust after her. The one bishop looked at the woman intently with love. As a result of the love that this bishop showed her, the prostitute turned her life around and became a saint, St. Pelagia. The difference between the two responses, both noble, is that God ultimately wants us to be able to look at everyone the way that Adam looked at Eve in the Garden. The freedom that the one bishop had is offered to all of us. When we have this freedom, it translates into our relationships. In freedom, we can truly love. This is the essence of the Garden of Eden: freedom and love. These are not lost to us at all but through Christ, available to us right now. Let’s not forget this truth.
Guest blogger: Camilla MacKenzie

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Lies of Love

In 7th grade I dated a guy for 1 day and then we broke up. Why? He was not performing the bells and whistles of proving his love to me. I was not “feeling” him, therefore, I ended it. BOOM!  No mercy here. I had this idea of how I wanted my man to express the grandeur of love to me through our dating relationship and I would not settle for anything less.   

When teaching in class, we define love for the students as, doing what is best for the other person. You would be amazed by how many of them think that love, to be true, must have feelings. Those warm and fuzzy feeling are simply infatuation but they are neither good nor bad. These infatuating feelings can sometimes lead to love.

I can assure you, it is possible to be infatuated with someone and not do what is loving for them. Think about celebrities… I am one of the world’s newest Swifty fans. I LOVE HER 1989 ALBUM! If I saw Taylor Swift out walking down the street you bet I would express my infatuation for her talent. But it would not be very loving, if I tackled her causing her to get hurt. The loving thing to do would be to shake her hand and say thank you, right? We have all heard those stories of celebrity fan sightings and restraining orders happening as a result of them going overboard. So, yes it is possible to be infatuated with another person and not do what is loving for them.

Can you authentically love another person and not be infatuated with them? It might be surprising to hear, but yes this is possible as well. If anyone has ever been irritated with their parents or annoyed with their siblings then they can recognize this truth. My brother and sister are 8 years younger than me. Yep, I am a third-wheel to their twin bond for life. Haha. They are my favorite people and I love them very much (I do what is best for them). When we were living under the same roof, I would get home from school and walk into my room to witness my sister trying on all of my clothing and my brother eating all of my snacks. You better believe I kicked them out of my room so fast. I did not have warm and fuzzy feelings for them. It wasn’t like I walked into my room and saw them destroying my life and said, “Oh brother of mine, thank you for eating all of my snacks.” RIGHT? No one does that, we are human and sometimes we get upset. Therefore, you can see how we can love another person without being infatuated with them.

Infatuation comes in waves throughout a relationship. It is not always going to be present. We cannot base our love on the feelings. Love is a choice and it involves and action. We choose to do what is best in our relationships.

This leads me to my original dilemma. I grew up for a large part of my life thinking that love HAD to have these feelings, but I was wrong. It has taken me a few years to change my mind-set on love because our society drills into our brains that love is about the feelings. I mean we see it on every TV show, in movies, throughout the books we read, and even in our daily conversations. The scene is always the guy and the girl in a place that somehow it is perpetually raining. The guy has made some silly mistake and now he is begging for her love saying, “Tell me Susie, do you really love me, do you have feelings for me?”  Now can you begin to understand how our over sexualized culture is affecting our thoughts by confusing authentic love for infatuation? But, honestly, most of those scenes are just referring to infatuation.

As I have grown up past 7th grade, my thoughts on love and what kind of man I would like to marry have shifted. I no longer want to be with the man who I have those infatuated feelings for, who will complete me. I want to be with the man who inspires me, challenges me to be better, and the man who will truly love me by doing what is best for me. I read an article recently on the dating problems of our generation today, which you can check out here. It struck me in more ways than one but I want to share a few thoughts.

 True marriage and relationships are ok if they have elements of infatuation but the goal would be to date and marry someone who has a patient openness to loving a flawed human being.  In this kind of openness to love, we allow ourselves the freedom that infatuation-based relationships do not. This is the freedom to be ourselves, and to not worry if ‘who we naturally are’ will be a deal breaker.  Even though our society basically pukes infatuation everywhere, that is not what will bring about a deep lasting marriage. Marriage is going to be tough. It is not about personal gratification, but about growth and goodness between the two of you.   

The author shares a story about a couple’s choice to get married and it might surprise you.

“They gazed into one another’s eyes as they told me their love story, and it struck me how incredibly simple it all was. They had dated for a long time before they broke up—unsure of each other’s imperfections and afraid to commit to someone who wasn’t the right match—and then finally got back together again. But they didn’t get back together because they came to a resolution regarding one another’s flaws or because the stars were finally aligned. They got back together and ultimately decided to marry because they didn’t know anyone else they would rather struggle though marriage with—and they both wanted marriage.”

 This is now my goal in my relationships, especially the ones that are romantic. I would like to love someone, who I can fully recognize how they are a flawed human being. At the same time not let that thwart our affection. Our own weaknesses can build up the relationship to make it stronger. So that, in the end, we still strive as a team to do what is best for each other in leading the other to heaven.

Do you love those in your life authentically or are you simply letting infatuation be the base of your relationships?  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Heartbreak Warfare

“You are not the one.”

My boyfriend held me in his arms, looked deep into my eyes and said that to me. WHAT? This was the beginning of THE END for us. Unfortunately, we did not have a clean break up. It was filled with a lot of tears and the spiral of emotions that accompany a broken heart.  We intentionally wounded one another and ended all communication. We both ended up losing a friend.

We need help when the emotional aftermath of post break-up overtakes our lives. I want to share with you The Break-Up Guide, which was derived by my househould sisters. We have come up with some ways to help cope with the initial post break-up stage.  This consists of the 3 day period right after someone has broken your heart. This also applies if you are the one who has done the heart-breaking.

 (We will look at this from a female perspective.)

During these 3 days you are allowed to wallow in the pain from your broken heart, the dream of the life you envisioned getting ripped from you, and the storm cloud that continually looms above.

These days may include ugly tears, chocolate and junk food, remembering all the cutsie Facebook/Instagram photos, obsessively analyzing all of your old texts to see where exactly things went wrong, not showering for days because you don’t care enough to function, and avoiding the real world because you do not want to see your ex anytime soon (or ever again.)

On the 4th post break-up day you must begin to get your life in order:
 a.       Shower.
 b.      Don’t stay in your pj’s all day- Get dressed in the morning, it will make you feel a little better. 
c.       Apply make-up, looking great will help you feel great.
d.      Stop posting melancholy Coldplay song lyrics onto social media. (We all know who you are talking about and that you are hurting from him.)
e.       Clean up your room/apartment because you know you have an overflow of tissues and crummy pizza boxes by the trash can.
f.        Don’t obsess and stalk him on social media.
g.       Go to class/work.
h.      Resume your normal favorite activities.
i.        Don’t resort to self- destructive behavior such as excess drinking, smoking, drugs, picking up men for a one-night stand, or self- harm. 
j.        Communicate with others who have been wondering why you dropped off the face of the earth.
k.      Delete your ex’s old texting conversations so that you no longer live in the past dream that is not going to come true. 
l.        Possibly delete your ex’s number entirely to help with him not being a part of your life anymore.
m.    Spend time in prayer surrendering your pain to God and allowing Him to comfort you.
n.      Remember who you are. You are an independent person who doesn’t need another person to know they are valued and worthy of true love.

Here are some additional thoughts to keep in mind during this time:

1.      Having good girlfriends to support you helps. Vent to the person(s) who you know well, love, and trust to just be a good listener. It is ok to be selfish with your time right now, as your heart is healing. Try to avoid spending time with people who might drain you and bring you down instead of building you up. At this time you are going through your whole relationship ‘play by play’ so you will repeat the story multiple times. Even if you don’t realize it now, you will ‘word vomit’ a lot and will most likely be very annoying, so pick your friend who will listen wisely.

2.     Recognize that everyone goes through this stage of the raw post break-up differently. Ever heard that song about how “the heart does not break even?” It is true.  So be patient if you know someone who is in this stage and simply be there for them.

3.      While the hard and fast rule is 3 days… you may adjust the number of wallowing days according to the length of the relationship. For example: 1 month dating you only require 1 day for wallowing. Or 2 years dating, it is ok to take a week or so to be consumed with the sadness. The important thing is to just give yourself a cut off day when you will get out of bed, dry your tears, and begin to move on with your life.

4.      Just because you have gone through this process does not mean you will never think of your ex again, but it is a good idea to get to a place of thanksgiving for what you have learned when he crosses your mind. This way you do not dwell on him, just move on in your thoughts. 

These are the things I have adopted in my life when it comes to break-ups; they have been very effective! It may seem difficult to put these suggestions into practice. However, sometimes when we don’t take extra steps for our hearts to heal in the aftermath of a break-up we could end up creating a larger wound. I know every break-up has its unique wounds, but trust the Lord to guide you in healing your heart fully in His time.

Happy healing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Too Scandalous for Hollywood

You could categorize me as: the girl with Dad wounds. This has affected a lot more of my life then I usually care to express. I've never been very emotional; there wasn't time for that when I was a kid. I had to be the strong one, the adult at a very young age. I needed to take care of my siblings when our mom was gone for work and dad decided to let addiction lead him down a destructive path.

Place of prayer and Adoration
Portiuncula Replica at
 Franciscan University of Steubenville 
When I was a freshman in college my parents were finalizing the long awaited divorce and one night I received some heartbreaking news. I felt like no one would understand. I didn't know what to do. After my tears ducts stopped leaking I literally ran (in my pj’s) to the chapel for prayer and Adoration. I broke, in the soothing presence of the Lord.

One moment I was eye to eye with the Monstrance, the next I was resting in the peace of the Spirit with Jesus. I was looking around, no longer in the chapel, but on a sandy beach. The Lord gives us the desires of our hearts, and I was just beginning to realize this truth, for I love the beach. I’m basically a sunshine child.

As I looked around this beach scene I was startled by beauty. The fall seasonal, crisp, salty wind (my favorite season) was blowing the waves in to crest perfectly, and the greenest grass I had ever seen blew just so. I still had no idea why Jesus wanted to show me this place, so I looked for some sign of a lesson I could learn or take comfort in.

After a moment of seeking, I saw a man and rushed towards him because my heart knew him before I could fully make out who he was, my Beloved, Jesus. Overwhelmingly, joy burst through my soul, by being in the physical presence of the Lord. He just held me in his arms for what felt like forever. We walked along and explored the beach, as the waves sang a lullaby of peace, putting to rest all my worries, helping me to trust in the Lord who was leading me.

I shared my experience with a priest friend of mine because, yes, I know, this seemed crazy. I promise you it is real, so stay with me. He just smiled and said, “Ah! You two have a place.” What a delight it was to go to my place with Jesus and talk. Not every prayer time would lead me to rest in the Spirit and go to this place, but sometimes I was given the gift of being with him there.

Fast forward a few months… I went on a retreat to grow in becoming the Beloved’s through a deeper understanding of womanhood. Sitting in Adoration, my place with Jesus kept coming to mind. I had to figure out why. As we walked beyond the beach to an archway that seemed to have no end, outlined by dozens of trees, I asked Jesus. On one look I could tell these trees had been there for a very long time. They had a shade of soft, blush pink leaves that covered the whole sky forming a tunnel of beauty like I had never seen. My favorite color is pink.

As I starred in awe at these trees, Jesus got down on one knee, took my hand into his own, and looked right at me. He said, “Chloe, I love you. I am yours and you are mine… Will you let me be enough for you?” This was his proposal to me as my Beloved, of course I said yes! Then we danced. I stink at dancing, yet love to be a part of the intimacy of a dance; somehow Jesus was the perfect teacher.

In the midst of dancing he whispered, “Chloe, this place, our place- the fall air, the beach with the peaceful waves, the wonderful aged pink leaf trees- where you can always find my presence, is the beauty of your soul. I cried as I realized how the Lord really knows my heart better than I know myself and how he took the time to romance me exactly how I needed to be healed of past wounds.

If it is true that our hearts and soul are made for God, then we starve for beauty.
I heard in a homily once that we are not defined by our own wounds but by the wounds of Christ. This stuck with me as a lot of times in my past, out of anger; I let my wounds define me, but no longer. Just to remind myself of this I even sign my letters/emails with “In His Wounds, Chloe.” I am the Lord’s and I will remain hidden, taking comfort in his wounds rather being crushed by the weight of my own. He makes me whole, new, and beautiful. The things that have broken my heart are actually the ways God shows my unique beauty.

We are all made in His image and likeness, yet our own sin twists and distorts our view of ourselves and others making it difficult to see one another truly in the light of Christ.  But this is something we so deeply need to recall in the presence of each human person.

Know that God is revealing himself more and more to you through your daily lives and how wonderfully perfect he is guiding you to discover yourself anew. You are, right now, just as he desires you to be. Hold onto the truth that he has not created a flaw in you, he never leaves you.

People ask me all the time about why I work in the ministry field. My experience lit a fire in me to help others notice just how lovely the Lord sees them. Honestly, I am so drawn to the beauty of the broken souls, through sin, we are all broken souls. At the same time I stand in awe of the healing hand of the Lord in our lives. I love the broken, in that I strive to see Jesus in each of you, and to respond in kind. If I can share and show the loving mercy of God to one person I encounter on this earth; that is when I am doing his will. We all have to keep a stubborn, tenacious faith in the mercy of God; which if we let ourselves, we often see through others around us.

Our calling as authentic men and women is to be beautiful from our souls, reflect the Lord, so that others may know him.

P.S. A common question I have received upon telling this particular story of my faith journey is: are you going to enter the religious life? No, I have discerned, with the Lord, that I am called to the vocation of marriage!    

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Naked Notification

Photo Credit: Boise Tech Mall
I was babysitting eleven kids a few weekends ago at a hotel. Every child was under the age of 11, and all of them were well versed on how to use technology. They knew how to work smart phones better than I did. They just assumed that the hotel TV had On Demand movies recorded already. They had no idea what I meant when I explained that the TV only had basic cable. Even the one-year-old knew how to turn the iPad on with the button and a swipe of her little finger.

Technology has been pretty helpful in my own life. I remember plenty of times being lost while studying abroad in Europe. When in Paris, we were able to use my Smartphone to find the best viewing spot of the Eiffel Tower.  Or when at the Head and the Heart concert (that happens to be one of my best friend’s favorite bands) the option to record a song was a wonderful way to include her in the memory. Also, being able to connect with family and friends overseas has been a blessing!

But at what cost?

The social media world seems to be finding convenient ways to help us all stay plugged in and connected. We have Instagram, where we can take and edit pictures so people only see the best side of us. We have Snapchat, so that others can view our stories through images. We have Twitter and Facebook, where we share all the great things about ourselves. And many more Apps and websites are available to draw people closer to the amazing details of our lives.

We are now supposedly more connected with each other than ever before. We thrive on the amount of followers we have and the amount of likes we get for each update or photo we post. I would venture to say that instead of technology connecting us, the reality is… We are losing the ability to connect with others. Beyond all the ways we share with our “friends,” we actually end up feeling isolated, instead of feeling more connected.

As part of my job, I talk with teens about chastity and the beauty of God’s plan for our sexuality, but as you can imagine there is some down time when we can talk with the teachers as well. This past week I was able to talk with one teacher on this subject of technology and social media. She has been a teacher for many years and has noticed a very interesting shift in her students’ behavior. She said her students’ attention spans have decreased since technology has become more and more “at our fingertips.” She even noticed her students need more review in order for them to retain any information. They have little desire to remember anything because they have the ability to ask Siri or look it up on Google.

In college, I studied the Catholic faith and how to pass it on. During one class on youth ministry my professor predicted that in the future he has a concern that teens won’t ask, “Who is Jesus?” but rather, “What is a relationship?”  At this point, here is our dance with technology.  With all the ways we seem closer through our Apps, we are missing out on the truest form of intimacy we all crave by establishing REAL relationships.

Plugging into our digital lives more and more could cause us to forget how to form an actual relationship with another human person face-to-face. What a scary thought. If one day, people can’t form relationships they will be unable to find authentic love. Our hearts long for authentic love and the fleeting attention we receive by the number of likes in our media will not fulfill our desire for this love.

The solution? Silence. 

All the technology in the palm of our hands has caused a growing problem. We don’t like silence. We can’t just be still anymore. We fear the silence. Maybe we want to avoid the truth that we would have to face if we allowed ourselves to reflect inward on the longing of our hearts. This might sound extreme but we are numbing ourselves to reality. Avoiding the unpleasantness, loneliness, sufferings, anxiety, boredom, we use the noise or the notifications to fill the false need instead of the real need of being wanted and loved. 
Photo Credit: Nashua College 
 Silence creates the room for us to hear God. For me this was not an immediate thing I woke up and did. It takes practice. We must begin to discipline and train ourselves. The more we grow in prayer, the more natural it will begin to feel to rest in the stillness. The most important relationship we need to grow in is our relationship with Jesus Christ and silent prayer time is a great starting place. As we become more rooted in Christ we can more fully shed the things of this world. Letting go of the earthly things “connecting” us gives us the freedom to give our lives and connect our hearts to God. So I pose this question to you:

           Is logging into your technology logging you out of true intimacy? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

DJ's Introduction

I would like to take a moment to formerly introduce myself to the PCE community. My name is D.J. Hueneman and I am honored to join such a dedicated staff here at PCE.  I am proud to say that I was born and raised in Cincinnati and attended Elder High School. I went on to earn degrees in Secondary Education and Paramedical Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. I currently hold an Ohio teaching license and Ohio paramedic certification. I enjoy speaking with young people about God and have had the privilege of leading several retreats. This has been an exceptionally exciting start to the school year as my wife and I await the birth of our first child.

The call to ministry came later in my life after pursuing several other careers. I have worked as a paramedic, firefighter, and science teacher for several years before arriving at Pregnancy Center East. My previous job experiences gave me a direct look at lives devastated by poverty and broken homes. I’ve noticed that many young people have a distorted view of love, and there are few options offering God’s view of love.  I am excited for the opportunities I will have to spread the word of God to young people with PCE. Kelly and I had an amazing opportunity to speak to 147 High School students about True Love and the Dangers of Pornography at the beginning of the school year. This was a unique assembly style talk we hope to continue in addition to our In Control and Theology of the Body classes. Kelly and I continue to work hard finding new and exciting ways to reach our students.

Chloe's Introduction

My name is Chloe Morrill and I am happy to introduce myself as Pregnancy Center East’s newest Chastity Educator. I hail from a little town named Fruitland, Missouri, which is located an hour and a half south of Saint Louis. I earned bachelor degrees in Theology and Catechetics from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Most of my family lives in Missouri, but as my mom says, “Although Cincinnati is far from Missouri, you will love working in the pro-life movement.”

I was involved with the middle school and women’s ministries at Franciscan University, which deepened my understanding and love for the dignity of the human person. I have been blessed to speak with women, men, and teens about the truth of their respective identities as sons and daughters of God. I have walked with many as their lives have been transformed by the Lord. These moments took my breath away and gave me a desire to work in a faith filled environment upon graduation. I hoped to work in a ministry that upholds this dignity and fights on the front lines of the pro-life movement.

You can imagine my delight when I discovered Pregnancy Center East! During the summer I helped teach the Theology of the Body for Teens summer classes while training to present our chastity programming in 22 elementary schools, 4 high schools, and 7 parishes here in my new home, the beautiful city of Cincinnati. I look forward to the opportunity to tell many more young people how wonderfully they have been made in His image and help them discover the beauty of the Catholic faith through Chastity Education.

So far, this journey has been an adventure of humble growth. I have two degrees and a little experience under my belt, but I am so excited about all the things I am going to learn as we continue through the school year. I have big shoes to fill, and the opportunity is a great honor. I am diving in with all that I am to serve the Lord and the members of the Pregnancy Center East family. Please pray for me!