All posts by Lianna Mueller

Lianna is a case manager for refugees in Ohio. Becoming "the best version of herself" and inspiring others to do the same is her aim. She enjoys writing, learning about other cultures, and trying to pick up other languages.

Embracing Every Season

Yet another summer has slipped away, remaining only a memory. Just like nature, the seasons of our lives changing is inevitable; it doesn’t always happen with our consent, however. With any season of change in our life, we can be tempted to hold on to what was. Change isn’t always comfortable. But grasping onto the past blinds us. We pine for something that was and that brought us to the present. Focusing on the past doesn’t allow us to see the work that God is doing with the now.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” In our lives, just as in nature, the seasons are purposeful. The seasons allow the old to die and make room for new growth. We must trust in the wisdom of God as we navigate seasons of change.  We don’t always know why we are being asked to make certain changes. There are seasons when we don’t choose change. Yet we can trust in the wisdom of God.

One key to navigating a season of change is gratitude. We must be grateful for the memories of theunsplash.com past and the ways in which we were shaped. Even if we are not particularly happy with our present circumstances, we must also be grateful for these. One day we will look back and see how we were able to grow closer to the best version of ourselves. Another key to change is openness. If we are not open to the new, then we cannot accept the blessings and teachings it brings. Some people thrive on change; others push against it and wish that life could remain comfortably the same. We must remember that the only thing that is unchanging is Christ.

In this season of change, I will be saying goodbye to writing a monthly article for Ignitum Today. I am so thankful for this community of writers, readers, and dialoguers. It has been a joy to share this journey with you. I pray that we may all continue to seek wisdom and truth in all that we think and do. May we all trust in Divine Wisdom in every circumstance of our lives and readily embrace the changing seasons of our lives.

Learning Gratitude When Life is Tough

Are you in a situation where you are discontent with circumstances? Have you ever wished that things could just turn around? We could waste our lives wishing that situations were different. We must learn to be content where we are during the times when life is less than desirable. The Lord uses every circumstance of our life to teach and mold us. However, when we feel stuck in our circumstances, we can’t let negativity take root. There is one important step we can take to help us find peace in our circumstances: praise and gratitude.

 

It might be difficult to praise if you’re unhappy in your current situation. Try to use a Psalm for prayer, or put on some good praise music. Worship God for Who He is. When you start to praise God, things to be grateful for likely will come to mind. You’ll be amazed as you remember the blessings and His faithfulness in the past. Once you get started, you will begin to focus on positives in your life. Your perspective will shift. Praise won’t change the circumstances, but it will show you Who is in control and the positives that are present in your life.unsplash.com

Each of us has been given so many good gifts, if only we take the time to recognize them. The circumstances that we loath today may one day turn to our joy. Consider the person who doesn’t get the job they really wanted—and later finds out how corrupt the company was and that lay-offs were imminent. We don’t know what our Father is doing. We must praise Him regardless, and trust. Romans 9:20 tells us:  But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” The circumstances of today are nothing compared to what God is molding for the days ahead.

Praise can never steer you wrong. It will strengthen your relationship with your Creator and your awe. It will also bring you a more positive mindset and a focus of the positives in your life. Praise leads us out of the valley of bitterness. Praise leads to joy, gratitude, and the loving arms of our Heavenly Father!

 

 

Jesus: The Great Interrupter

“Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.”-Matthew 4:18-22

A few months ago, I heard a sermon that really stuck with me and was based off of the reading above. It brought up an idea I hadn’t thought of before: Jesus as the “Great Interrupter.” Usually we think of an interruption as something negative. Jesus brings another kind of interruption: He asks us to let Love in and to allow our lives to be radically transformed. He asks us to abandon or re-evaluate our plans and ways of living for something greater.

When James and John set out on a boat that day to start work, they didn’t know that their lives would never be the same again. They had no idea that they would literally drop their nets, their careers, and lives as they knew it, and follow Jesus. What an eventful day that must have been! Mary certainly wasn’t expecting an angel to show up to her family’s abode in Nazareth and announce that she would carry the Son of God in her womb! Jesus never leaves things as they are.

We make plans for our lives; some of us are determined and don’t want anything to derail us. Are you ready for Jesus, the Great Interrupter? If He asks you to lay down your plans and take a different direction, are you ready? Or are you determined to push away all interruptions, even if your Lord were the one stepping in? Take a moment to reflect. Is He stepping in and asking you to take a different direction?

Jesus: the Great Interrupter. With Him, our lives here and eternally will never be the same!

(originally published on sunflowersojourn.wordpress.com)

Retreat and Refresh

Every Christian should make time for a retreat. Retreats help to rejuvenate a person spiritually, mentally, and sometimes even physically. Think you’re too busy for a retreat? Even Jesus went away sometimes. He “retreated” from the people He loved and His ministry in order to pray and reflect. He asked His disciples to do so, too. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them,’Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31). His word speaks to us in every age and so modern day disciples must also take time out of their busy lives to “retreat”.

We all get worn out by life. Battling day after day wears us down. We need to get off of the battlefield sometimes and simply let the Lord love and renew us. For those discerning big decisions, such as what vocation or career to pursue, a retreat is a time to earnestly seek the Lord. Going on retreat allows you to get away from all the competing “noises” in your life to hear the Lord more clearly. Get out of the small picture of your daily life in order to evaluate the whole picture.courtesy of unsplash.com

There are many benefits to taking a retreat. Retreats allow you to deepen your relationship with God, give you the opportunity to set aside your responsibilities for a time, and allows you to solely focus on God’s love for you. As human beings, there is a limit to how much we can give; we are not Energizer bunnies! Retreats allow us to be filled up again and recharged, to go back into our daily lives with more strength. On some retreats, you’ll be able to meet other Christians and forge new friendships. Numerous are the people who have built strong, lasting friendships with those they have met on retreat.

If you’re trying to figure out how to spend your summer, I’d strongly encourage taking some time for a retreat. If you think you’re too busy for a retreat, I venture that is an even stronger reason that you need a retreat. For the weary, the discerning, and those wanting to grow closer to the Lord, a retreat may be just what you need in order to provide balance and clarity to your life.

“Unleashed” Book Review

Are you a woman who desires a closer relationship with the Holy Spirit and yearns to see the ways (courtesy of pursuingthesummit.com)that God is communicating with you each day? Are you seeking freedom from the habits that enslave you? “Unleashed: How to Receive Everything the Holy Spirit Wants to Give You ” by Sonja Corbitt could be just the book to pack for your journey!

The title speaks to being unleashed from sin and also how to unleash the Holy Spirit in our lives. Negative habits and relationships keep us from experiencing the full and abundant life that our Father hopes to pour out on us.; carefully reading and praying with Scripture better allows us to be more tuned into the ways that the Holy Spirit is moving and desires to move in our lives. Corbitt highlights various passages to connect with each chapter.

The author’s vulnerability is a breath of fresh air. She shares some very personal experiences from her own life and also how the Holy Spirit has set her free. Her tone is very conversational. I felt that a wise friend was teaching me as I soaked up each word. Reading this book was very encouraging for me to go even deeper in my walk with God and evaluate my habits and relationships.  The idea of “pop quizzes” is one that Corbitt proposes. For example, let’s say that a person struggles with patience. If a person is hoping to improve in the area, God will surely send a “pop quiz” to test her and hopefully allow her to grow in their area of struggle. I could very easily relate to these “quizzes” in my own life. I now have a firmer idea of how to pray with Scripture after reading this book and of how to ready myself for challenges that will come.

There is a prompt at the end of each chapter to illuminate your mind and heart about the chapter’s topic and specific Scriptures to ponder. It is important to remember that growth happens through community, and the book can also be used in group settings. The book contains Group Study questions for those interested in getting a group of women together to read the book. I would highly recommend this book for any women longing for something more in her life and her relationship with God. Are you ready to go deeper with the Holy Spirit and let go of your old ways?

The Sorrows of St. Joseph

On March 19, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph. Though he had the treasure of living with the holiest, most amazing two people to ever live, the life of St. Joseph was filled with sorrows- but these sorrows eventually brought joy. Like us, St. Joseph didn’t know how the sorrows of his life would turn to joy; he choose to trust God and obeyed in the midst of great challenges. image_st_josephs_day_452556950

Can you imagine the heartache St. Joseph must have felt to learn that Mary was pregnant? This woman, filled with virtue, appeared to have committed a great sin. The news of her pregnancy was a huge shock. The thought of also being separated from Mary must have also filled his heart with grief. He was betrothed to a perfect woman! Being a faithful Jew, the culture and law dictated that he had to part with her.  St. Joseph resolved to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19), not wanting her to be subject to public shame. Then an angel came to him in a dream, informing him that this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and was the Son of God!  St. Joseph chose to have faith and to take Mary as his wife and the Child as his son. He had the great privilege of parenting the Son of God! No other man on earth can claim that. What he thought was sorrow turned to great joy.

Months later, Joseph and Mary were on the way to Joseph’s hometown in order to be counted in the census, as was every other person native to the city. There were no rooms available and Mary was due to deliver the baby. St. Joseph tried and tried, but there was nowhere to be found. St. Joseph likely felt a blow to his manhood- he was tasked with protecting the Son of God and the Child’s mother and all he was able to provide was a stinky stable for this Child to enter the world into? This must have equaled sorrow for him. However, sorrow turned to joy when the shepherds and the magi came to worship the Child. This Child, a great King, had been called to enter the world in humility and St. Joseph helped to provide that.

St. Joseph must have felt sorrow when going into Egypt. Again, he was tasked with protecting his wife and the Son of God but now they were refugees, on a trip to safety filled with perils and dangers. He knew that King Herod was looking for his Son to kill Him, though Jesus was only a toddler! Can you imagine the grief and fear that must have filled St. Joseph’s heart? However, as he had learned to do, he trusted God and obeyed when asked to do so. He brought the Holy Family to safety and refuge. The joys of the family must have been many as they raised Jesus and enjoyed time as a family, living in safety and harmony.

When Jesus was about twelve, there was a period of three days in which Mary and Joseph did not know where He was. This would have been a great sorrow. Any parent who has lost a child for even a minute knows how overwhelming and terrible of an experience it is. St. Joseph probably blamed himself for Jesus’ disappearance, thinking that he didn’t do well enough in watching out for him. Upon finding Jesus teaching in the temple, his sorrow turned to joy at watching his Son’s wisdom and steadfastness in carrying out God’s will.

These were just a few of the sorrows in the life of St. Joseph. Like us, he had to endure much suffering. These sufferings eventually transformed into joy as God’s plan was revealed. It is much the same in our own lives. St. Joseph teaches us to trust God and obey, though a situation may appear to be hopeless. As we celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph, ask for his intercession in your own sorrows. He will guide you in the path of obedience and trust in God, leading you to great joy.

Sacrifice and Solidarity

Lent is a time of increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Paragraph 1438 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that: “The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” Many Catholics “give up” one or more specific things during the Lenten season as penance. Though they may seem trite, these penances are meaningful to the persons undergoing them. These penances can bring us into greater solidarity with those who are suffering close to us and those who are suffering far away.

People living in affluent societies do not realize how accustomed they are to excess. Giving up simple pleasures such as chocolate, soda, or social media can be very difficult. Some people never go without and so when the time comes for sacrifice, they are tested. These small tests can bring us into greater solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters across the world and social and economic classes. In some small way, as we wish for that chocolate bar that we enjoy so much, we can be drawn to remember how others suffer daily. The “space” that our sacrifices free up in our lives can also bring us closer to our loved ones as we pray for them and perhaps even offer up our suffering for them.

As you are led into the desert of Lent, let yourself feel the thirst of whatever you gave up. Let youdesert with flowersrself long for more. That emptiness is meant to draw you into dependence on God and it can also allow you to focus more on charity. Open your eyes to the ways you can better serve your family and friends. Not having those things that you enjoy so much could remind you to pray for people who are suffering in a much larger way. Some choose to more freely give alms to a charitable organization, perhaps the money they save by not buying a $4 coffee each day. Others might be led to be give of themselves by volunteering at a homeless shelter or at meals. The time that you are not spending on social media could be used to reach out to a person who is lonely. However your penance draws you, let yourself be drawn to a higher level of giving to others.

Let the difficulty of your Lenten practices pull you into closer relationship with God and also into greater solidarity with suffering people. Sacrifice has a way of stripping us of our selfishness. As you sacrifice, let yourself be drawn to give more to those who suffer every day. How will you give more fully of yourself this Lent to those who are suffering–in your own circles and throughout the world?

Your Wait is Not in Vain

Waiting is a theme in every human being’s life. Nothing that we aspire to or achieve comes without some sort of waiting period. Most people struggle with waiting, yet, a wait is actually a blessing as it prepares one for greater things ahead, and often greater and newer challenges. God gives us the gift of a waiting period so that we might grow closer to Him and closer to the best version of ourselves. Waiting is never in vain, but produces a blessing.

The theme of sowing and reaping is rampant in the Bible and Jesus talks in many instances of a tree bearing fruit. That doesn’t happen overnight. The process starts underground, unseen, with a tiny seed. Little by little, the tree comes into view. It doesn’t seem much at first, but the water and sunlight continue to do their work. Finally the tree reaches its full height one day, and it is a glorious sight. The tree stands tall and has beautiful branches that bear fruit. It is able to withstand storms much better than when it was a seedling. It is the same with us. When we are “seedlings” still in process, we are weak and find the storms of our lives very difficult. However, over time and as we grow in our relationship with God, we grow stronger. We begin to bear fruit and produce great things. What are you waiting for?

One common wait is for finding a husband or wife. If you’re a single person hoping and praying for your spouse, trust that your marriage will be blessed due to your wait. God is working on both you and your future spouse at this very moment. He is shaping both of you to be even better spouses for one another, and better parents, too, if you will have children. It’s up to you to use the time well and not for bitterness or complaining. Waiting is purposeful. Our Heavenly Father makes us wait for our good and growth.

An artist doesn’t finish a masterpiece in a day. He or she continues to put touches here and there, and small details, until he steps back from the canvas and marvels at the work he has created. It is the same way that our Heavenly Father works in our lives. Every day He is putting touches on the canvas of our lives. The picture may not make sense now. It is incomplete and there are many spaces that are not filled in. Yet the Master Artist envisions exactly what the end product will look like. It will be amazing beyond your imagining. Time will pass and the picture will become more and more complete. When you step back to look at your life, it will be evident how your Father was working and cared about even the smallest details of your life.

God is working behind the scenes right now, though we do not know how; we can only see what’s straight in front of us. We must, however, learn to trust God’s wisdom and guidance in our lives. Our trust in the plan of our Heavenly Father for our lives doesn’t depend on what we know, but on faith. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”- 2 Corinthians 5:7. It’s up to us to live the present day He has given us well. Thus we prepare for the next day, and someday, our wait will come to an end. As you wait, live each moment to the fullest. Don’t waste time simply waiting around. Time is to be used for our good, not for hoping for a future that may be different than we envision. The better we live the now, the more we will be able to receive the great future God has planned for us.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”- Lamentations 3:25

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Baby Changes Everything

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A baby changes everything. Any person who has become a parent knows the truth of this statement. Every aspect of his or her life is forever altered. At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of a very special Baby. Isaiah foretold in chapter 9 verse 6 that the Child “will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus came to transform the entire world. Yet the transformation begins small: it begins with individual hearts. It begins with your heart and mine.

God chose to send His only Son to earth as a baby! God so loved the world that He became a human being to die and rise, for our salvation. It is difficult to fathom, that God could be so humble to come as a person and share in the sufferings of human life, yet that is exactly what happened. People are drawn to babies. Perhaps by coming as a baby, God wanted to show us how approachable He could be- we could have a personal relationship with God and more easily come to know Him. Next time you hold a baby, realize that the Savior came as baby. As close as you hold that child to your heart, that is as close as Christ desires to be with you.

We celebrate a baby at Christmas. More than any other baby, this Baby changed the world. More than 2000 years later and He is still transforming it, heart by heart. This baby, Jesus Christ, can change your life, too; however, you need to give Him permission. Let this sweet Child grasp your hand and lead you. Has He already changed your life? The journey won’t end until the end of your earthy life. As you grow in your relationship with Him, your purpose will become clearer. He will bring you the peace that “surpasses understanding,” a peace so deeply rooted that it can only be supernatural. As we celebrate Christmas, commit yourself to Him. If you’ve known Christ for years, re-commit yourself. Here is a prayer of total surrender to Christ. Jesus is always waiting, and He will change everything.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was his own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”-John 1:9-14

Mary’s Yes, and Yours

Advent has come upon us. We watch and wait with Mary, as her fiat, her “yes” to God’s will comes to fruition. The Annunciation isn’t an event that makes sense on a purely human level. Mary was just a young girl—and God asked her to carry the Savior of the world within her, conceived by the Holy Spirit! Sometimes, too, it becomes unmistakable that God is calling us to do something that may not make sense. Will we have the courage to say “yes”?

annunciation

There are many decisions to be made in our lives. Decisions are complex, and so is discernment. There are times when we realize, along with the help of holy advisors, that we are being pulled in a certain direction. God sometimes asks us to do things that push us outside of our comfort zones. We are asked to obey and say “yes,” though we don’t know the implications of what will happen after our act of obedience. One of the most difficult aspects of this earthly life is the unknowns. It is intimidating to make big decisions or to take risks when we don’t know what those decisions will bring. That is where trust in God comes in. Mary knew that it was a risky thing to be an engaged woman and pregnant out of wedlock. Though she knew it would cause controversy, she trusted God to be God and gave her “yes”. From her fiat, her “let it be done unto me according to Your Word,” a Savior came to Earth. He loved us even unto the point of death, so that we could live eternally.

The decisions that we are asked to make don’t have such drastic consequences. Yet often the consequences can be eternal. Think of the person who leaves a lucrative job to bring Christ somewhere where He is not yet known. How many souls did that person help to save? What about the woman who gives her child life against the doctor’s advice due to her frail health, putting her own life in danger? In one particular case in 1920, a woman in this very situation decided to give her child life, bringing Pope Saint John Paul II into the world. In scenarios more possible in our own lives, accepting a job that tears you from what is comfortable could be the step that leads you to your spouse. Often God pours down blessings through obedience. In my own life, I can think of situations where I knew what the right thing to do was, but delayed. Once I made the decision that I knew God was asking, it seemed as if the floodgates of blessing poured down.

When God asks us to obey, the consequences may not always be desirable in our eyes. For example, a move that we clearly discerned may not pan out how we had hoped. Yet these situations can humble us by reminding us to rely on God alone and His purposes, instead of searching for our own glory. Only God knows where our obedience will lead. It is up to us to take the step of saying “yes” and walk into the great unknown.

What will your “yes” bring? As the angel Gabriel told Mary, “do not be afraid.” Trust God and know that your “yes” will work for your own good and for His glory. Step into the great unknown, holding the hand of your Father Who loves you more than anything.

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38

The Gift of Encouragement

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

If you’ve experienced encouragement at the just the right time, you know the truth of the verse above. A word of encouragement is truly a grace, giving one strength to carry on. Sometimes a simple phrase is what will give somebody the courage to keep moving on. This spiritual gift, sometimes also called “exhortation,” is one that we have the opportunity to practice daily, and we may take for granted how powerful it can be.

From the time a child is young, she needs encouragement; words of encouragement are like building blocks for a child’s self-esteem. Even as adults, we still need to hear encouragement. Even if someone appears to be doing well on the surface, you never know if he is ready to throw in the towel. A word of encouragement is like a spark that can set a fire blazing again, giving someone the force to carry on. In the book of James, chapter 3, the tongue is said to be a member that can set fires. I venture that, if used as intended, the tongue can set off sparks in a positive way and spread to others as well.

Your words have the power to build up others every day. Affirm your spouse. Talk to your children about the things they are doing well. At work, find ways to compliment your colleagues. It can be easy to take for granted those in our daily lives, but we must also remember that we are placed in each other’s lives for a reason. Don’t forget to be mindful of the opportunities that arise to encourage others. I venture that encouragement can take other forms. For example, a friend buying you a cup of coffee when you’re having a tough day can be a source of encouragement. Lending your ear to listen to someone who is undergoing a hardship or simply needs to talk can also encourage her. Offering to pray for someone (and following through) can also be a huge dose of encouragement.

Try to be mindful about the opportunities to encourage others each day. Whether you are married and the parent of many, or a single person enmeshed in your career, opportunities abound. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can encourage others. It is often simple words of encouragement that gives someone else the ability to carry on. Exhorting others can also strengthen their faith. Take the time to build up others. You never know how it will affect them, now and forever.

End Your Day With the Examen

Praying the Examen is a great way to unwind at the end of the day. St. Ignatius of Loyola popularized this method of prayer. The Examen is similar to an examination of conscience, but there a few added pieces- the Examen gives you an overall picture of the day and helps you to see God’s presence in each moment. It can also assist you in periods of discernment. I wholly recommend this method of prayer.

So, how does one pray the Examen? First, find a quiet place. Be still. Ask for the Holy Spirit to guide your time of prayer. Review your day. If you are a writer, you may want to journal your thoughts as they come. What brought you joy? Give thanks to God for these blessings. As you continue, think about what brought you frustration. How was God with you during that time and also during the joyful moments? If you’re feeling empty of God’s presence, ask Him to reveal moments where He was with you. Maybe you didn’t clearly discern the presence of God throughout the day but looking back you are able to see moments where Christ was clearly with you. As you reflect upon the day, faults and failings will come to mind. Ask forgiveness for the times that you sinned. Accept the tender mercy of God and pray for the grace to do better tomorrow. Close with a prayer such as an Our Father or Glory Be.

At one point, I was regularly practicing the Examen at the end of each day. I used a journal to write down the blessings, frustrations, failings, and the ways in which I saw God operating in my daily life. Practicing the Examen helped me to find the joy woven into the many frustrations during a difficult period of my life. I was able to pinpoint certain “themes”. These recurring joys assisted me in figuring out more of what makes me tick and they also helped me to see beyond the frustrations. Praying the Examen helped me to figure out what kinds of steps I should take for the next portion of my journey. If you are at a point where you are encountering many disappointments or hoping to make changes, this can be a great prayer as it is a great discernment tool. Praying the Examen can bring peace and it helps to re-orient oneself each night and prepare for the next day.

The Examen is a great way to reflect upon the ways in which God is working in your life. This method of prayer allows you to see the blessings present in your daily life and also to recognize where you can do better. It is a prayerful way to end a day and to ponder how to walk more in the light during the next one. I hope that you can also find peace through this prayer and walk more closely with God as you recognize more clearly His hand in your daily life.