Last week, I was sitting in a prep meeting for the Confirmation retreat when my arm went up. I volunteered to do a talk, y'all. A personal testimony! In front of a bunch of teenagers. I can only think it was the Holy Spirit nudging me on. I don't do these things. I don't talk about my personal faith journey. Ever.
The topic was God's love. It was Emma's Confirmation retreat and Michaela and I were helping. I didn't make it through without crying and I made Michaela and Emma cry plus most of the adults. I hope I touched the hearts of some of these teens.
I stepped out of my comfort zone. Here's my talk in its entirety:
What is the definition of love? Merriam-Webster has “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another such as the fatherly concern of God for humankind or a brotherly concern for others.” as one of its definitions for love. God created us and even after the fall of man through Adam and Eve, his love for us never wavered. He became man and faced death to help redeem us. He sacrificed Himself and endured sufferings for us. His death bridged the separation between humanity and God that resulted from the fall of man. We returned back to God’s love, the love for which we were created.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father.” John 1:14-15
In my earliest memories as a cradle Catholic, I remember the rules. The rules of behavior and what can happen when we sin. I was not taught about the benevolence of God. I learned of the love of God as I taught my children about the beauty of our faith.
How could that be? Sometimes you get into a rut of living just day to day. Routine makes it easy to not be conscious of all of God does for us. After all, it’s routine. It becomes very simple to take things for granted, such as your health.
Sometimes the rut of day to day living makes us forget to focus our lives on God. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we were created to know and love God. We get wrapped up in the little details and decisions needed to move through the day. Our daily lives sometimes can lead us to think we have the illusion that these things are within our control. Well, we all know that the best laid plans can go awry. I may have attended mass on a weekly basis and even attended daily mass once a week, but my faith life? It was not focused on God. It was focused on the next task. Trust? I thought I had it spades, but it turns out I trusted my ability to run the household and daily life.
So I was learning about God’s love, yet, I still didn’t really understand the divine love of God. What does it even mean? It’s the idea that he was willing to sacrifice His life to redeem us. The words redemptive suffering came to mind as I was pondering this talk.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 says “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
The past two years have been hard. I lost a dear friend who was a mentor and teacher for my girls. The ripple effects from her death continue to this day. I would pick myself up expecting the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year would be better. It has to be. How could it get worse? I should’ve known never to even ask that question. During all of this, I didn’t question God’s love, but I also never even thought about it. I just lived my life.
Think about that. I just lived my life. God wants more from us than for us to just live our lives. After the Fall of Adam and Eve, He did not just abandon humanity to merely live their lives. God wanted humanity to turn to Him, and in order to bring them closer to Him, he joined humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ, who took up the Cross and suffered and died in order to bridge the gulf of sin between God and man in order to bring humanity back to God’s love. The love for which God created man in the first place.
In February, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was quite a shock and I was worried but the prognosis was optimistic. Then, just as I was preparing to start chemotherapy, I received the news that the cancer had already spread and I had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. The cancer had spread to my bones, but not to any of my organs. There is no cure, there is only hope for containment. The prognosis is shockingly grim.
Surprisingly, I very rarely ask why. Instead of asking why, I take solace in what God has given me. This cross is quite the cross to bear. This comes under the heading of redemptive suffering.
The cross of my diagnosis and prognosis, while heavy, provides me with a way to connect with God’s great love for me. It shifts my focus from the day to day concerns of this world, in which I have the illusion of control and allows me to focus on God’s love, God’s will in my life and for my life and helps me realize that I was made to love Him. Through my suffering I am redeemed because the suffering is the means by which I can focus on God and his infinite love.
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of hearing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5
I believe so much more in God’s love for me. Do I have a terminal illness? Yes. However, I know that God is with me every step of the way. He carries me through my days. He gives me the words or the acts of love I need to help my children through those tough days of uncertainty and bad news.
So, I choose on a daily basis, joy. Joy from the love I know God has for me. I choose joy because I’ve been given that day. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, therefore each day I choose to love as God loves me.
I challenge you from this day forward to choose the love that God gives to you freely. It is your choice as God gave you free will. You do not have to experience suffering such as my cross. Christ suffered for us and redeemed you; each and every one of you. By following Christ, and letting him work in your lives as your God, who created the universe, you can experience the depth of God’s love in your lives.
I leave you with this from Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”