Monday, December 19, 2011

Hitting the Wall

Members of InnerCHANGE tell me that what I'm going through is expected. After 3 months in the ministry, many of us experience some sort of emotional meltdown.
What am I doing here? Where are the fruits of my labor? Why aren't more kids coming to our Bible study? Why won't they take me seriously?

Sometimes it feels like I'm wasting my time. Sometimes it feels like I'm taken for granted. Sometimes I feel like nobody cares.

"Me, me, me." It's all about me it seems. In these times it is easy to forget why I'm really here.

I'm called not to please people, to live in conformity where conflict is rare. I'm called not to have thousands of followers and disciples, where the youth is always nodding at my every word. I'm called not to impress people with my fruits, showing them in full display to finally silence those cynical and unbelieving voices.

I'm simply called to follow my vocation faithfully.

I'm simply called to seek first the Kingdom of God  and His righteousness. 

I'm simply called to leave everything in His hands and trust that He is in control.

I realize that what God is asking of me is not easy, but it is simple. I tend to complicate things, over think them, trying to decipher the secret code to ministry, solving complicated equations where the answers to all of my questions are finally answered.

How easy I forget that I'm simply the pen and not the author.

Photo Credit: r. f. m II.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why God, Why?

Let's face it. Most of us at  some points in our life feel tempted to ask this question. I confess that I've asked this question many times this past week.

I'm still having doubts over many things that I'm listening in prayer. Yes, I have received some confirmations from other people of what I heard, but when everything around you seems to contradict what you're listening, and when there is no sure way to tell if what you're listening is really coming from God or not, it is very easy for me to fall into doubt.

I can give you a couple of examples.

First, the Bible study at Thursday night. I felt that God wanted to revitalize this group, and that He wanted to use me in it. The group's been dwindling down lately and it has for quite a while. It's been a year since I received this, but nothing seems to change.

Second, my anxiety. Many times I have heard that God wants to either heal me, liberate me, or offer some sort of relief from my anxiety, but little has changed.

I've been suffering from anxiety since I was a little kid. At times it gets better and at other times it can be debilitating. Many times I feel trapped in my own mind.

Anxiety and depression are deeply connected and I feel that while I haven't succumbed to depression lately, at times I feel deeply discouraged and saddened, and a big part of it is coming from my anxiety.

There are many other examples that I can give you, but these two suffice to make my point. Yes, some things that I've heard in prayer has come true.

Yes, I haven't been as faithful to God as I can be. I haven't offered all these things in prayer as often as I should. I haven't been seeking and knocking on Jesus' door as I feel He wants me to. Yes, I haven't been seeking the Kingdom of God first in everything that I do.

So all I can do at this moment is wait. Seek God first and wait. All of this it's better than asking "Why" questions that probably won't lead me anywhere.

Photo Credit: open pad.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Introducing Comunidad San Dima's Rapper Jaime

Jaime is an interesting character. He is a very quiet and jovial person. His unassuming presence exudes with humbleness. You look at him and the last thought that comes to mind is one of a rapper. But he enjoys rapping and has written a few rhymes.

He's a new volunteer at Comunidad San Dimas, a prison ministry where I do most of my ministry, but in his short time coming with us at juvy, he has become famous with they youth with his rap.

He's currently discerning his vocation to the priesthood, and I'm sure he'll appreciate your prayers for his discernment process.

I share with you a video of Jaime performing one of his rap songs. We were coming out of juvy one Monday night, so I apologize for the poor lighting conditions.

Monday, November 7, 2011

So a Catholic Missionary Goes Into a Pentecostal Church...

This is something that happened to me this past Sunday. I want to share this experience just to showcase how unexpected this ministry can be.

One of the youth we've been working with for the past year called me one night at almost 11pm. At times I call him and he is not in the mood to talk. He can be borderline rude, cutting me short and hanging up on me a few seconds into the call.

And then he can call me, and when he feels in the mood to talk, we can talk for hours. Unfortunately for me, that night when he called me, he felt in the mood to talk.

At 12 am, struggling not to fall asleep, I tell him that maybe we should meet for Church next Sunday, maybe the one he goes to. "Oh yes!". He seemed very excited. The night before I called to confirm our meeting at his church, and to ask for directions. He gave me the directions and said that he would be there.

So I come to this small church on Mission Street at 3pm when the service is supposed to start. As soon as I get in I see many ushers welcoming in. Oh no, I think to myself it is a Latino Pentecostal church. Not exactly my cup of tea.

First, I notice the loud music. Too loud actually. The worship band is playing the same song for almost 15 minutes. I didn't know the song when I came in, but after a while I almost memorized it.

I start looking for my friend, and he is nowhere to be found. Call him, he doesn't answer. Text him, he doesn't answer either.

The church is located on the second floor of an apartment building. There seems to be more ushers than churchgoers. Almost all the women are wearing veils over their heads. I'm surprised to see that a couple of women are actually wearing pants.

I always wondered why Latino Pentecostals manage to have a different accent than the rest of Latin Americans. They pronounce their "t's" softly, for example, as if an adult North American is trying to speak Spanish for the first time. The melody of the accent is also different. It seems as if they are perpetually preaching when they are speaking.

I suppose this is due in part because of the Pentecostals missionaries from North America that came to Latin America and started planting churches. Maybe, but I could be wrong.

Then they start this endless medley of upbeat worship songs. People start to stand up, some of them going to the front of the church. They start dancing. I see a woman with a flag waving it frantically, but she couldn't possibly be less gracious in her radically and undiscriminating movements. Two people with colossal horns start making even more noise. 

I see another woman going around in little circles rapidly, and just when I think that she is going to fall out of sheer dizziness, she stops and starts dancing on the same spot.

At almost 3:40 I see the pastor coming out from a door. Where was he this whole time?!. I'm still waiting for my friend and he is nowhere to be found. The loud music is giving me a headache. I'm deciding whether to get up and start dancing or keep sitting down and be awkward. I decide for the latter.

After an hour and 15 minutes of worship music, most of them repeated almost ad infinitum, I decide to get out of the church.

This ministry can be unexpected, and the flakyness of these young people can put you in situations that you wouldn't be otherwise.

Photo Credit: wharman.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Earthquakes, Halloween, Ghosts and Jesus...

I feel much better at this moment. A couple of weeks have passed since that chaotic week when I lost my job, when ministry seemed to go downhill, and my anxiety and emotions were getting the best of me.

Many opportunities for ministry have come my way now that I don't work at nights. I'm not ready to say that I lost my job just so I can concentrate on my ministry, but I know that God can bring out good from many unfortunate events in our lives.

This past Thursday's bible study was great. I took my team-mate's idea and, since Halloween is just around the corner, we talked about demons and ghosts.

The guys loved it, and everyone seemed anxious to share their ghosts stories. Hearing the almost fabled nature of these stories made me wonder how much of it was true and how much of it was glorified for mere shock value.

We had two earthquakes in San Francisco that day, and the second one added a literal shock value to our stories. While we were in the middle of sharing our stories the earth started to shake. The room's lights went off for less than a second, and everyone was in a state of utter shock.

Thankfully, the lights came on again. Everyone was silent. My mind was wildly amused by the apparent coincidence, thinking to myself, “what the heck is going on here?”. It was as if God decided to add His little touch to the stories.

Of course, talking about darkness seems meaningless, unless you include the contrasting light of Jesus. Later we talked about how we can fight darkness with God.

I learned many things in the past two weeks, and on that Thursday night I had to relearn something that I had apparently forgotten: the message of the Gospel is unnervingly simple, and its strength lies in its magnificent simplicity.

No need to complicate matters with heavy and pretentious theological terms. No need to delve into deep philosophical complications. And while these theological and philosophical endeavors have their purpose and place in God's plan for us, they fall short in revealing God's glory.

I learned the lesson St. John Bosco learned in his ministry with the youth, that the Gospel message should be presented so simply that even a little kid could understand it. Oddly enough, a simple presentation of God's message often leads to deep discussions, and more importantly, deep transformations in our lives.

Photo Credit: Sarah Ackerman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


It has been over a month since I updated my blog. The reasons for this are many. Part of it is the lost of habits that transitions can bring. Other part is just the difficult times I've been having lately.

I don't wish to just write a list of "bad" things that has happened to me, and so enrich my feeling of self-pity, however tempting that may be.

I just want to share my feelings of helplessness and sorrow.

I feel like I'm failing in all areas of my life.

I just moved into a missionary order that I love and works in the same area where I've been volunteering for the past 5 years. It is a great joy to be received in this community!

But of course, this is not to say that I don't have any difficulties. I feel that I have failed in ministry. Last Thursday's Bible study was a nightmare! I found myself giving a topic that nobody seemed interested at all. A very humbling experience.

I haven't been feeling that good over the past two weeks, as confusion and doubt started to sink in in my mind. Am I really hearing God's voice when I seek His guidance? Or have I deluded myself to such point that I guide myself to wherever I see fit?

Things in life can come up that can threaten this sense of guidance, and I feel like I'm walking in darkness. Where is God's guiding light? Can I even recognize it? I know that His sheep hear His voice, but do I really?

I have reasons to believe that I do, and reasons to believe that I don't. The doubts seem endless, and the anxiety that comes from them can be overwhelming.

I was feeling like this when I was  heading to work last night, and being fired from the job didn't help at all.

I don't know what to do exactly, other than beg God for His guiding voice in me. I hope these times will help me to grow in my relationship with God, instead of alienating me from Him.

God, have mercy on us all. Amen.

Photo Credit: fallingwater123.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting for My Next Big Step in My Life...

What is it about waiting that is so difficult? Why is it that most of the time we rather just not wait?

Could it be that waiting can be a personal limbo? Maybe waiting can force us to stay in idleness? Or maybe that we lose control while we wait?

Whatever the reason, I'm finding it really difficult to wait before taking my next big step in my life.

I applied with the missionary order InnerCHANGE, and thank God, they accepted me!

When I heard the news I was very excited, literally dancing in my steps.

I also got a new a job that fits almost perfectly with my schedule with the order.

But I can't move in with them until mid-September, and the wait is getting difficult. It is not simply a childish desperation to move to the next stage of my life. The difficulty can get heavy at times, sorrowful even.

I moved in with my aunts and uncles in Daly City in August because is closer to my new job. This is (I think) the third time that I move the past year.

While I'm training at my job (a one month training) I can't do much  ministry because of the schedule. I train for one hour every weekday at night.

I really don't feel comfortable where I am. Not because my family here is not welcoming, which they are. It just doesn't feel like home. It doesn't feel like I'm doing much either, just living one day at a time.

I guess moving around and being surrounded by this instability can have its toll on you. But is that all there is to this feeling of sorrow?

Ever since my summer internship ended with this order I have been feeling very nostalgic. Nostalgic about the experiences lived in it, nostalgic about Oakland, nostalgic about many things.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm entering some sort of mild depression. I wonder if there is more to it than just the simple fact that I'm waiting and there's not much I can do about it. Have I lost my peace? I don't think so. But there is still some heaviness about this period.

I'm very excited about my future, however, and I can't wait to see what's ahead of me. I genuinely feel called to this order.

So all I can do is wait. And also pray.

Photo Credit: red twolips.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Oakland Catholic Worker House

This is my second month in Oakland. The ministry opportunities for this city are numerous, so much so that it can get overwhelming. The harvest is ripe in this ministry field.

One ministry opportunity we were fortunate to connect with is the Oakland Catholic Worker House. They offer hot meals to anyone who knocks on their doors, and shelter to many Latin American Immigrants.

After coming one afternoon to OCW during a prayer walk in East Oakland, we promised that we would return some other day to volunteer. We met many of the volunteers, including Lee (if you're reading this, am I spelling your name right?) who was staying there for the summer.

So we came back this past week the day before Lee was leaving (great timing!). We helped with the cleaning and attending the doorbell, which normally signaled that someone is looking for a meal.

I was amazed by the amount of meals served at that place, and how one volunteer was expected to carry out the whole operation by herself.

After the kitchen was closed and the cleaning was done, Lee and I talked for a while about our lives and ministry. She is a theologian student and hopes to finish her Master degree soon. I told her about the ministry with Comunidad San Dimas and she seemed really interested in it.

"Well, maybe you can come next year as a summer intern to try it out" I told her. She said she would think about it.

Before saying good bye, knowing that I will probably not see her again, at least not anytime soon, I told her, "See you next year!". "Ha!" she responded while laughing. "I hope you are not a prophet".

We will see.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Playing Soccer as a way to do ministry

Matt's face was striking when he came into the house at almost 7pm. He was talking on the phone, his eyes open in perpetual shock.

His voice was unusual, raspy and deep. "Man I was seeing stars coming over here!". "You guys won?" I asked, amused. "We lost. We were tied by the end of the game. We had the option of going to extra time or penalties, for some reason they decided to play extra time!"

It was 94° outside, and they played soccer for two hours.

He immediately went to the fridge to get some orange juice to recover from his sugar low.

He tried watching t.v for a while, and his face of comical affliction reminded me of my Sims characters when I willfully neglect their basic needs.

The park was literally a hellhole. The field was uneven and the sparse grass spots struggled to cover it. The thing could have easily been confused with an immense abandoned lot. The only seats available was a miserable couch someone had abandoned there, which the guys covered with blankets to make it usable.

And then there were the young guys playing. They were full of energy. Most of them came from Central America. All of them seemed amiable. Some of them were gangbangers. 

I connected with some of them, playing with them for a while before the game began. At the same time I had this deep sense that a huge ministry opportunity was being opened for us.

Many hours later, when both Matt and I were at the house, I realized that I wasn't the only one with that sense.

"Daniel, I had this 'Holy Spirit moment'", he told me. I got closer to him, intrigued. "Yes, when I was playing with those kids it just hit me, there could be a ministry opportunity there". "I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt it" I responded with my usual smile.

The gangbangers who were playing were from a different gang than the "chili peppers". Maybe God is trying to connect us with these two prominent gangs.

Many of them want to learn English but are unable to go to night classes because of their schedule. They told him that if only they could find somewhere they could go to learn English that would fit their schedule, many of them would gladly go. Matt had the idea that maybe we can offer them English classes in the context of a Bible study. We'll see.

Who knew that playing soccer was a legit way to do ministry?

Photo Credit: ElvertBarnes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Scripture Tag- My Three Favorite Verses

    Trista from not a minx, a moron, or a parasite tagged me in a blog meme to blog about my three favorite verses. Seeing the fun in all of this, I began to think about my favorite verses. Truth is, there are too many to choose from! But I managed to narrow it down to three verses.

Corinthians 12:3

"Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed', and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit" (NIV)

Those who know my testimony can tell you how important the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was in it (you can read it in the "About Me" section above). Being drawn to the Charismatic Renovation movement, this verse is particularly interesting to me. Knowing that I am able to say with that "Jesus is Lord!" only through the Holy Spirit brings me a lot of joy.

Psalm 23:1
"The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want" (King James Version)

Yes, I know, this verse is too popular, but for a good reason. I know that if I make Jesus my Lord, leaving everything into His hands and putting Him first above anything else, then I shall not want anything, for I have everything I need in Him. But this is easier said than done! Our pride gets in the way, our need to have control over our lives and surroundings. This is our daily struggle, our constant surrendering to Him as we die to ourselves to live for Him.

James 2:17
"In the same way, faith by itself, if it's not accompanied by action, is dead" (NIV)

This is one of my favorite verses not only for the potential apologetic discussion it brings against the doctrine of "Sola Fide", but also because it is a reminder that our faith in Christ, in order to be alive, must be accompanied by works. It is easy to get comfortable and feel that we have accomplished what is "needed of us" by simply going to church every Sunday. As if we are making God a favor just by going to Church on Sundays! This can happen to many of us, myself included. My prayer is that we reflect on ourselves and our actions so that we learn that this "church thing" is not a duty for every Sunday, but a living faith sustained by a relationship with the living God and those around us.

So there they are! And know it's my turn to tag:

Rules of the game: You must include a link to my blog, blog about your favorite three verses and tag three other bloggers. Simple, right?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Doors being Opened in Oakland

I think I'm starting to like this place. Today marked my second day working as an intern for InnerCHANGE in Oakland, and it was a hectic, at times tedious, and yet satisfying day.

We started off the day with mass, going to the beautiful parish of St. Elizabeth. We had the opportunity to listen to a passionate preacher, Father Martin. His message of forgiveness as an important aspect in working toward justice with the poor was not only touching, but fitting to my experience.

I introduced myself to Fr. Martin, telling him my involvement with a missionary order for the summer, and that I was looking for a parish and for some ministry opportunities. He welcomed me warmly, and instructed me to come back to the parish office for more instructions.

After mass, our little group of three (my leader, her fiancee and me) went to one of the leader's house for morning prayer. After prayer and lunch we went grocery shopping and found ourselves burdened with unforgiving loads of bags, walking for one mile to get home.

We walked approximately 5 miles in our little adventure.

Arriving at the house, we didn't even bother with putting the groceries inside the fridge, but we were automatically led to the couch, where the three of us crashed simultaneously. 

Minutes later we awoke from our improvised nap and headed out to the parish office. We had a meeting with Fr. Martin where we shared our work with InnerCHANGE and our desire to connect in some way or another with the parish.

We talked about gangs. He shared how the parish High School is unfortunately known as a Chilli Peppers gang (not actual name of the gang, of course). He told us of the multiple ministries opportunities available in the parish, and that if we wanted to work on something specific he is open to listen about it.

He also told us of the charismatic nature of the parish (yay!) and of the two youth groups available at church.

We went out from our meeting rejoicing for the door God was clearly opening for us. "It's a Chilli Peppers High School!" I absurdly said with joy to the group. As I did this I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit stirring in me. I feel this is a great ministry opportunity and I'm excited to see how God will develop it.

It is unfortunate that these streets are filled with violence and tragedy. The stains of poverty are clearly seen in the colorful garments that these streets wear. The poignant faces of  frustration and struggle are looking at us from every corner.

But there is also great joy in these streets. Openness and friendship meets our gazing eyes almost everywhere. There is the hope of an open field, where the seed of the gospel is being planted by many. Its fruits are clearly seen with the eyes of faith.

Photo Credit: jdnx.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Oakland Here We Go!

Orientation is finally over. 5 days of information overload can, in a tragically fun way, burn you out.

I learned a lot about InnerCHANGE, so much that I'm afraid I'll forget half of it by the end of the summer. And what a better way to start my internship in Oakland with a much needed day off?

To say that I'm excited about this opportunity is an understatement. This is in spite of (or perhaps because of it) there's no clear direction in this ministry.

I'm staying with a group that it's just starting out in Oakland. Are we going to minister to the youth or the homeless, or even better, both? Is God calling us to this neighborhood or another one? There are so many open questions, and it is exciting to be part of this new beginning.

And then there's the danger. Oakland is infamous for its dangerous streets. I even think I heard gunshots last night before going to bed. And this being an incarnational ministry, we normally move in to the worst neighborhoods to minister.

To say that I'm missing the ministry in San Francisco is also and understatement. I haven't been gone for a full day and  yet I find myself missing it.

One misses the immensity of transitions until we are taking that last step to them. As I was in a car last night, my things jam-packed in the trunk and back seat, with the Oakland skyline ahead of me, it suddenly dawned on me.

This is probably one of the biggest steps I have ever taken in my life, and to say that I'm excited is a gross understatement.

Photo Credit: gerbache.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sometimes I feel Discouraged...

This ministry has its way of surprising you. These mixed surprises are one of the few constants that one can rely upon in this seemingly unstable, volatile and at times fragile ministry.
They aren't always pleasant. Half of them aren't. Last night shouldn't have come as a surprise, but its unpleasantness can still be felt.

Nothing extraordinarily bad happened last Thursday night. It's seemingly uneventful nature was striking. It felt just "meh", boring even, and that was the biggest problem. Usually on Thursday nights things go one way or the other, great or terribly bad. The unbearable middle is unfamiliar, and to a certain extent, unwanted. Best part is that I was leading. Perhaps this is just an overly pessimistic view of it, it probably is. I know good things came out of it in the end.

I know God wants to do great things with this little group, but sometimes it feels like it's just dying. One night, last year, I was to lead the group as well. Nobody came so I just stayed there praying. I was saddened by the absence of the boys. But something happened while praying.

I felt God was giving me these undeniable sense that He wanted to do great things in this little group. He wanted to revitalize it, and He wanted me to be part of it. I was deciding whether I should continue volunteering in the group at the moment.

So I stayed, and the group slowly became one of my priorities. In fact, I felt in love with it. Good things started to come, but no drastic change, and at times it feels like nothing has changed. 

The group isn't consistently growing. There seems to be a lack of progress. Nights like yesterday makes me wonder if I was wrong in thinking that I was listening from God. It can be difficult to believe that when you see not much change.

But then again I have been lazy. I haven't planned out things as I should. I had relied too much on improvisation. I haven't prayed as much about it as I should. I forget that it is not my work, but His.

I find encouragement in this 19th century African American Spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead:

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

This is my prayer today. Come Holy Spirit come. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Photo Credit: jhcloud8.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hello Hurricane...

 How many months has it been? 5 or 6? I'm stopping to care to even count the months, let alone the days that this storm has raged in me.

Sometimes I wonder, in despite of all that I'm hearing in prayer, is this really the will of God? Am I suffering in vain? Is there a way out? Because there are times when I just don't want to remain in the rain.

"Hard times will come, but don't fear for I am with you", I heard one December morning after prayer. A few days after this I felt all my walls crashing down.

With this came the unnerving sense that these "hard times" won't be short lived. I guess I have too many things to learn before I move into this new transition in my life.

Sometimes I wonder, is this a punishment from God? His way of telling me that I did wrong in getting out of seminary? I have no desires of going back, but is that a sign that God isn't calling me for that or just my selfish desires? I pray that in reality I am being guided by Him, because in the end, He knows better than I do.

All these questions that are mingled with an almost endless anxiety (I've been suffering with anxiety since I was little kid), plus all the things that I have described in past blog posts (yes, I'm STILL in pain over those events) are part of this storm. Oh and the waiting, I never liked waiting.

But I would be lying if I said that I don't feel peace in my prayer. I would be lying if I said that no good fruits are coming out of it. I would be lying if I said that God hasn't helped me at all.

The fact that I'm still here is all due to His unending Grace, and I have nothing really, to complain about.

But sometimes I wonder, I hope I'm being guided by you, my dear God, for without you I am nothing.

Photo Credit: El Frito.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A New Ministry opportunity for the Summer...

One of my dreams in life is to have a full time ministry. That was the main thing that impulsed me into seminary a few years ago, but discerning that the priesthood or religious life isn't my calling, I was again looking for options to fulfill my dream. I even was concerned with the idea that maybe God wasn't calling me to full time ministry, but still, the desire persisted in my heart.

I was given the opportunity to participate in a 40 day journey called SummerXChange with InnerChange, an ecumenical missionary order. They were the founder of Comunidad San Dimas, which is the community where I volunteer for my youth ministry.

I am very excited about this opportunity to live with this community for the summer. God willing, I will be staying in Oakland for the summer, where InnerChange is starting a new team. I feel that my ministry is in San Francisco, but this 40 day journey with InnerChange will help me discern if God is calling me to this kind of life.

You can find  more about SummerXChange here.

Prayers are certainly appreciated and needed!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Youth Ministry.

It's been two interesting weeks to say the least. Life is giving me the opportunity of choices and decisions, decisions that can have serious repercussions in my life.

It hasn't been easy, but then again it never is. Without getting too much into the details, I have been offered two ministry options; I have also been rethinking my role at my current ministry, the difficulties that accompany it given my peculiar situation that I described in other posts, and whether I should continue in it.

Thanks be to God, I feel that I have been given clarity on the matter, and I hope that I am doing His will in the end, though it is impossible to completely purify our motives.

The ministry continues with its up and downs, as it always has. Last Thursday, two of our boys came drunk and made a big spectacle. It is hard to deal with these situations, and can be potentially dangerous. One of them even wanted to get in a fight with me. This was surprising because I have been ministering with this kid for quite a while now.

The meeting was almost canceled. No, let me rephrase that. We practically had no meeting. All of our energies  occupied in trying to control the situation.

In one of my visits to Juvenile Hall I saw a kid who was playing with a car that doubled as a candy dispenser. An oddity to be sure. He was so concentrated with his candy-giving toy, that I could hardly speak to him about anything, let alone God and the Bible.

"How did you get that?" I finally asked him. "In a Bible study, I gave the right answer to a question and I won". "Oh really? What was the question?"."Who was Jesus' betrayer". "Judas, right?". "Is it Judas?! I said Simon".

Sure, Peter's denial of Jesus can be portrayed as betrayal, but still, my guess is that whoever organized the Bible study just wanted to make the kid happy. We decided to play chess for the time remaining, where I lost miserably. Need to get back to chess.

I saw the guy who was drunk last Thursday and wanted to fight with me, who also happens to be Marcos. "Hey I wanted to talk to you about last Thursday". He smiled and just said "I know, estaba pedo (drunk)!", then he added, "I feel bad about it...I f***ed up man, I'm telling you man to man". That is the closest he could get to an apology, which was enough for me.

Photo Credit: KirrilyRobert.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Does it Feel Like to Have a Normal Life?

It was a cold afternoon in December of 2010. I was getting out of college and meeting with a young guy who comes to our youth group. His brother, Marcos*, was shot a few weeks ago.

He was in the hospital, recuperating from a bullet wound on his back. He was barely able to walk with the help of crutches. He can't move one of his feet.

After meeting with Marcos' brother at mission street, where most of the gang activity in the city occurs, we hopped on the bus and headed over to the hospital where Marcos is. This would be the first time that I would meet Marcos.

Marcos' charisma was still shining through his smiles and his perennial jesting, treating everyone around him with great hospitality and warmth. After an hour, Marcos' brother and I leave the hospital and decide to go to his house.

"I don't think I would go to heaven when I die" Marcos' brother told me while we walked in the hospital's hallway. "Why not?". "Because of all the things I've done".

We got home, and his girlfriend was in the house with their little child. I was hungry and in need of burritos. "Let's go out and eat, I'll invite you". Marcos' brother was resting in his bed, not too excited with the idea. His girlfriend was, and convinced him to go.

"What does it feel like to have a normal life?" he asked me while eating. I am surprised by the question and remained silent for a few seconds. I looked at his girlfriend and their toddler, who was struggling to eat some chips with her feeble, stubby little fingers. If this is not "normal" than I don't know what else is.

"What do you mean, you do have a normal life". "No" he quickly answered. "I can't go wherever I want, you can", reminding me of how careful he has to be in order to not be noticed by a rival gang member. He can't be careless now, with a family to raise. He is not longer gang-banging and has an honest job where he is doing great. He's been recently promoted.

At one occasion during dinner, he raised his fist and offered me to punch it. I did. "You know what that means?" he asked me. "What does it mean?". "It means that we're friends now".

*Name has been changed to protect privacy. To see other posts about Marcos click here.

Photo Credit: Mike McCaffrey.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Nature of the Ministry

Sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes this ministry has a way of surprising you, in good and bad ways. Sometimes I ask myself, what have I got myself into?

I have a sense of this question this past Thursday. We had a fancy dinner/party that we were invited to. The invitations could not be obtained in time and we couldn't attend. I realized this, of course, only after I had dressed up for the event.

Oh well, this party was to be replaced by going to a karaoke place. Fun! But this too was canceled. The reasons for this are unfortunate.

Someone who has been coming to our group for quite some time, and who is not a gang member but knows a few of them, decided to stay drinking that night instead of coming with us. He got jumped by gang members and we had to pick him up.

This is sad because this young guy is really trying to change his life, and even made some great progress, but alcohol is his weakness.

The outing was canceled, and everyone called it a night.

Did I mention that a little more than a month ago some guys who we minister to took the van used for the ministry one night without permission , joy rid on it, and screwed up the suspension?

Oh yes, this ministry has its way of surprising you, by constantly throwing at you the unexpected. And we are just along for the ride...

Photo Credit: John Holden on Flickr.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I'm not Ashamed of the Gospel - the simplicity of the gospel.

The message of the Gospel is simple. It's simplicity is such that it can be covered in one verse, as it is the case with John 3:16 and Romans 10: 9.

Seeing this, we can be tempted to unnecessarily complicate the message, and in trying to add to the message of the Gospel, we can be diluting it's essential message, and unfortunately, its power.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (NIV). Its power lies not in the complexity or sophistication of its message, but on the living Word, which is Christ Himself.

Paul also said: "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (NIV). Again, its power lies not in its "eloquence" or "superior wisdom" but on the power of Jesus Crucified. This was demonstrated in the ministry last night.

In our meeting we shared the story of Christ's passion. The message was simple and clear to them: Christ took our place, took the punishment we deserved, and we are forgiven of our sins by his sacrifice. The guys were on fire! One young gang member even repeated the simplicity of the message with great enthusiasm, telling us how we are forgiven by God.

One guy told us that this marked the first week since he quit smoking weed. Last week he asked for our prayers to help him change.

Ideas on how to improve the ministry and how to spread the word about it were being shared by them.

Curiosity about the Gospel arose. They started to share the Gospel by themselves while the discussion raged. The fire and power of the Gospel was clearly on display last night, in all its glorious simplicity.

Photo Credit: Peat Bakke.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Conversion is a Slow Process...

Our path to the cross is one decision away, but it takes
a lifetime to traverse.
Reading the Acts of the Apostles, one is tempted to think that conversion is a one time event. It seems that we, as responsibles of Jesus' Great Commission, must simply preach the Gospel and expect great numbers of converts. Most often than not, this is not the case.

I remember when I started to get involved in youth ministry with Comunidad San Dimas more than 4 years ago and my almost naive expectations of the ministry. I thought that we would just preach the Gospel, call for repentance, and see mass conversions. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

I remember having a conversation with a member of Comunidad San Dimas, seeing my disillusionment with the lack of conversions. She told something like this: "You never know what's the end result". This is especially true in some aspects of our ministry, as we go and share the Gospel in prisons, and we don't see what happens to most of them after they go out of jail.

Conversion is a painfully slow process. Change doesn't happen overnight. Conversion is a gradual step, a perpetual construction where God, our Architect, is constantly working in areas where we allow Him . While I'm not saying that miraculous conversions don't happen anymore (as it had happened in the ministry, and I will share one story of such conversion in a later post) most often than not it doesn't happen overnight.

Let us look at our own conversion stories for evidence. I'm sure most of us didn't convert to God overnight. By golly if you did, I want to hear your story!

And so, as I and many other work with these "kids" (as we like to call them, as an endearing term of course), or with any other population, it is important to remember that conversions is a process so slow, that it last a lifetime. Indeed, all believers are in this process, a process of constant repentance and change, a process that last until we die.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Blog Changes...

I have made some important and major changes to my blog that I want to explain. The changes are not merely in the design, but changes will also come in the content of the blog. So many things will change that this can be considered a brand new blog. Random thoughts is no more...

So what are the changes?

  • Content: I thought that Random thoughts covered too many topics. While there is nothing wrong in taking a holistic approach to blogging, I think it's better to narrow down my topics, and concentrate on a niche. Content, from now on, will concentrate mainly on the ministry that I work in San Francisco. The blog will retain its personal aspect, however.
  • Design: I had worked somewhat in improving the look of Random thoughts, and never felt satisfied with it. It seemed too simplistic. I think the new design is better and fits perfectly the new theme of the blog. Of course, I will work on improving the design as the blog progresses.
  • Posting: Random thoughts was my first serious attempt in getting somewhat serious in blogging, but it was nothing more than a hobby. The blog was neglected, and there was time that I paid little attention to it. This will change, as I will try to be more constant and serious in my blogging. After all, I want to glorify God in this blog, so while the blog will retain its personal taste, its main focus will be God and the ministry.

I want to dedicate this blog to the glory of God, and while my feeble attempts can't add nothing to His perfect glory, it is my desire that He will be glorified through this blog. It is my humble prayer that this blog will be under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John Bosco St. Thomas More and St. Dominic Savio; please pray for us!

P.S: Yes, the title of this blog is inspired by the song "God of this City" by Chris Tomlin, one of my favorite songs. If you haven't listened to it, here it is:

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Strongly Feel God is Calling me to be a Saint...

I remember my conversion 9 years ago. I remember the refreshing air that seemed to surround my atmosphere. This fresh air brought winds from a new creation. This is the best way I can describe what I was feeling in those days: the joy, the peace, and the incredible desire to be a saint.

But, as the years started to go by, and life's experiences brought me back to even where I was before I converted, that feeling started to "die" slowly, so slowly, that I was unaware of its own death.

I tried to revive this feeling, and while I made some progress in terms of devotion, the feeling was hard to resurrect. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, the feeling remained dormant, with little hints of it surviving. Until now...

These past events in my life, including the current storm, has brought me into an intimacy with God. "I feel" I told my spiritual director once "I feel as if God and I are in a honeymoon at this moment". This intimacy has gradually increased with time, and as the tribulations rise, His love is even more abundant.

Even though I don't feel God is calling me to be a priest or a religious, even though I'm probably headed to marriage, in despite of all this, I feel so strongly in my heart that I must be a saint, and nothing else would suffice. I feel God is tugging strongly in my heart, this sense of tranquil urgency; I must be a saint, there is no way out of it.

But I believe all of us are called to be a saint. We must receive this calling in our hearts as well, while we are looking for Him, our Beloved, in prayer. Will I fail? If I trust in my own strength, in my own habits and humanity, I will surely fail. With God? I cannot fail.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I like being busy, but I hate being tired!

My life has changed substantially in the past few months. I now find myself trying desperately to adjust to a difficult schedule. I'm sleep deprived, tired, and best of all busy.

I have to admit, I like being busy, but as of late, I'm starting to dread being tired. I have noticed that my emotional level goes down considerably when I'm tired. I tend to dwell more on pessimistic thoughts, my faith gets bombarded by doubts, my anxiety betrays the sense of peace I thought I had. In a nutshell, everything seems to simply suck when I'm tired!

I'm working 32 hours per week and studying part time. On paper this is not a disagreeable situation at all. Only that I have to work the graveyard shifts on Mondays and Thursdays. Mondays (and consequently Tuesdays) are the worst days because I have to go to school the next day in the morning, getting off from school in the late afternoon, to finally go home and rest! As I shared in a Facebook update not too long ago, despite the fact that I'm walking around campus as if drunk, and my biggest academic achievement is to stay awake during classes, I seem to be managing well!

Thursdays are a bit more manageable. I go to school almost all day, then head off to the youth group for ministry, and finally end my day by working the graveyard shift right after the youth group. We usually have some time for fellowship after the youth group, which I unfortunately am obliged to miss because of my work schedule. This is rather unfortunate, given that this fellowship is essential in establishing relationships with the young people who attend. And since the ministry deals with gang members, this relationship is even more important in order to gain their trust and share the Gospel in a personal way. Friday morning I have to commute back to my house, which is 50 minutes away from where I work. Staying awake during this commute is a massive undertaking!

But I'm getting used to this schedule. Staying awake seems easier. And while I like being busy, I'm still getting used to being tired.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Still Struggling in the Storm.

It's been 2 months since I received that letter. To tell you the truth, yes, I'm still in pain. Besides the pain, there are some other things that I'm still struggling with, which I'll share briefly in this post.

I have a desire to pursue marriage sometime in the future, but this desire comes not without its struggle. I feel called to full time ministry, and I'm worried that If I get married, my ministry would suffer. There is also a sense of guilt over leaving seminary, even though I don't feel called to the priesthood or the religious life. But as the anxious person as I am, I'm constantly thinking of the repercussions that this decision can have in my ministry and life. Would I be able to serve the youth in my full capacity, without the status that a priest or a religious person enjoy? All these questions, given their hypothetical nature, are difficult to answer in a personal level. But, despite the emotional struggle that my decision brings, I still have peace over it.

I'm also struggling with my grieving over this girl. My feelings for her have not changed, and at times, seeing her is painful. She is part of the same ministry I work with, and there are many opportunities to see her. In dealing with past disappointments, I would simply detach myself from that person for a good period of time, until the memories lost their painful aftertaste. I have asked God permission to leave the ministry for a while, but I keep getting the same answer: He doesn't want me to leave. He is giving me the strength to deal with this situation, and by His grace alone I have been able to continue in the ministry. He keeps telling me to trust Him and to leave everything in His hands, even my future with her. I don't understand exactly what He is doing, but I'm putting my trust in Him, even though I have to admit, it is not always easy.

But not all is gray and sour! God has blessed me immensely! I finally have a job and things are going well. Studies are going somewhat smoothly. There are many blessings that God in His infinite mercy has bestowed upon me. And, even in the middle of the pain, His joy and peace are there to remind that indeed I'm not alone, and I will never be alone.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Pain no Gain!

Aren't you tired of that clichéd phrase? I sure am. This phrase is meant to motivate us to go through a painful process in order to gain something. I've seen it plastered inside gyms, as indicators that your pain is not in vain. For me this phrase is just a painful reminder of our reality: we survive from one painful experience, get a little breath, and when we start to feel comfortable, another painful experience awaits us in the next corner of life. That seems to be the reality of our life, however dim this perspective strikes us. But, however pessimistic this perspective of life seems, it is through these painful moments that we gain everything by losing everything.

I have gone through the experiences and events that led to my current storm in life in my past post, so I won't dwell on those things here. Writing is strangely therapeutic, and so I decided to write a few more posts about it while I am going through it. It helps me to put things into perspective, and perhaps (I hope) it will help others who are going through similar situations.

So getting back to pain. Many of us, in remembering those past storms in our lives, can see that we had gained something from those painful moments. For some of us is strength, to others a wake up call, to others pain is simply there to remind us of hope, of our longing to be fulfilled. What have I gained in this current storm? Even though the storm is still raging in me, I can perfectly see what I had gained so far in this storm.

I feel that I have gained strength. Talking to a friend not too long ago, she recalled how fearful I seemed a few months back, long before this storm even started. She is right. I was hopelessly fearful. I remember my past disappointments (especially romantic ones!) and how poorly I coped in those situations. I was fearful of pain. I wanted to avoid pain by not venturing out of my comfort zone. I restrained myself needlessly in order to not feel the sting of disappointment. My self esteem suffered from the isolation of these risk filled events, and the successes they sometimes bring. I was also fearful in trusting God, troubled with endless loops of doubts. What if I trusted God with something and He didn't show up? How would I deal with the disappointment? I chose to trust Him superficially, to play things safely. This lack of trust, of course, affected deeply my relationship with God. "Now I see you with such courage, you are different than before!" she told me. Courage?! I didn't even realized it, but God had truly changed me in this storm. I am by no means the most courageous person, but I'm tired of fear governing my every step. I'm tired of fear keeping me from loving and trusting the beautiful and magnificent God that we serve!

I feel that I have gained more faith. There is nothing more fertilizing than a storm for the cultivation of faith. When every secure thing in your life crashes down, when insecurities taunts you mercilessly with the uncertain future, and when every constant is robbed from your presence, what is left for the human soul but to look upwards to the only constant in his or her life? In situations like these, we are almost forced to trust and have faith in God, because there is no other in whom you can trust your uncertain future. I feel that slowly, God is giving me faith to trust in Him and His mercy. I don't have faith that can move the mountains, but I feel I have gained the faith to bring me back to my knees, and let God do the moving.

I feel that I have gained more purity. To be purified we have to go through the fire. It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life. When we feel hopeless, that pain is robbing us of every good sparks in our souls, when normal and small details irritate us and we are prompt to anger and pessimism, it is in this apparent despicable state that we are being purified, even without our noticing it. For the past 2 years I had struggled with a habitual sin that I just didn't seem to have enough strength to defeat it. There are other habitual sins that I have also struggled with, and, in trying my best to defeat it, there is some progress, but I always seem to slip back to my old self. But in this state that I find myself in presently, I have noticed that this habitual sin, and some others, are being eliminated, without my trying so hard. I gave up control by losing it, and not through my own strength I have been set free of this, but only by the grace of God. This alone makes the storm more than worth its pain.

I am sure that I can name many other things that I have gained through this storm. The best part it's that the storm is not over yet (wait, am I really saying this?!). I have still a lot more to gain it seems, and I'm sure God won't abandon me in the middle of it. I am a work in progress, with a perpetual sign over me that says "God at work".

Monday, January 10, 2011

I have a confession to make: I am in pain...

I have a confession to make: I am in pain. My walls seems to be crashing down on me. Everything seems sour and gray. The sun doesn't hold its enchanting light, even if it's burning down in my face. Rain only adds to this atmosphere; oddly appropriate for this storm in my life. The coldness of the winter has left me with little air to breathe. What was once relaxing is now tiresome, welcoming now an opportunity for nostalgia to sink in, to bring its ruthless reminiscing, its ceaseless movies of memories draining the energy out of me. Yes I am going through a storm in my life. Certainly not the worst, nor is my suffering one that should be pitied. But still, it hurts.

I left seminary 3 months ago. I will not share in this post why I left seminary. I have no care or energy to explain them now. All I can say is that I don't want to be a priest anymore; I just don't feel called to it. My desire to serve God in full time ministry is still there, but not longer as a priest. I loved the community I was in. Leaving it and the securities it offered me is difficult, a difficulty that I'm still paying. Did I make the wrong decision? Decisions like this are never easy. They always leave a trail of anxiety and yes, even doubts. But I am in peace with my decision, and I'm still glad I made the decision. Yes, even in this storm, I have peace, which can only come from God.

I have another confession to make: There is a girl. Or to be more specific, there was a girl. I don't like to personally reveal this, as the immediate thought can come that I left seminary just because this particular girl came into my life. This is not the case. Those who know the process of my decision can tell you so. At this point if I'm believed or not, I couldn't care less than just show my hand over those cynical eyes. Yes, I won't lie. It affected my decision. Why wouldn't it? How couldn't it? But she wasn't the reason I left. I've been struggling with this decision for over 9 months, perhaps even more. Long before she came into my life. Losing this girl has been very difficult. She is special, one of those girls you are lucky enough to meet. She is not perfect, far from it. But everything about her seemed to "click" with me. I had to fight to not like her. After all I was in seminary when I met her, this is not supposed to happen right? But it did. After I admitted to myself that I liked her, I had to fight to not fall in love with her. How can you fight these feelings? After a few weeks of leaving seminary, I confessed my feelings for her. I now understand that this was a big mistake, as I felt God was telling me to wait, to not rush things. I acted selfishly. I wanted to know if she felt the same. If she did, great! If she didn't I just wanted to move on and forget about her. Move on before this feeling became even more potentially hurting. Holding this feeling in secrecy was just too much, its torturing and sweet melody was causing a turmoil in me, one I chose not to hold in any longer. It wasn't the right time, she was not ready for it. She didn't feel the same, but liked the idea of us. We decided to go out on dates. After trying to control the outcome of this, I felt God was gently drawing me closer to Him. He was gently asking me to offer control of this relationship. He told me that it was not unpleasant for Him what we were doing. He offered His guidance in it. I did, and as soon as I did, there was an overwhelming peace that rushed through me.

I felt God was giving me many good signs about this relationship. One of it was His peace. He told me to wait and to not rush anything. That I let things flow naturally. He also told me that I had rushed things by telling her too early about my feelings. I tried not to rush anything now, and just wait, and wait, and wait. But I was getting afraid. I feared that the more I shared time with her, the more my feelings will grow for her. And what if she doesn't feel anything in the end of it? I was putting my feelings on the line, I was terrified of being hurt. God kept telling me to not worry about tomorrow. To trust Him, and to wait. Wait. That word again. "But God, I have no need to be begging for love! I already have you! If she doesn't like me I can get someone who does! What if you are making me wait and then nothing happens? What if you are telling me to wait for nothing?!" I said and asked one morning, filled with frustration. I heard Him say immediately "I never make someone wait for nothing!". I shut up. Of course, what else could I say? After all I wasn't begging for love, I was just waiting.

"Why wait Lord? If you don't want me to be with her just tell me!". "Because before you move into this new transition, you need to learn how to wait". God is right. He has that characteristic of always being right after all. Anyone who knows me can immediately tell you that I have little to no patience when it comes to waiting. I am a desperate person, an unfortunate consequence of the rushing and "microwave" generation that I'm part of. I also felt that God was telling me this: "Okay you want this? You want to have someone in your life? There are some habits that you need to work on first". I needed to be more organized in my life. I needed to get closer to Him. To love others through Him. He gave me a scripture to work on "Look first for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added onto you". One morning He gave me another scripture to meditate on, chapter 15 of the Gospel of John. While I was in this relationship I felt I was drawing even closer to God. I felt (and still feel!) His love in such an overwhelming way, that it was like I was living heaven on earth whenever I was praying! I felt the Holy Spirit move in me in such a strong way, that even in the anxiety of the wait, my soul was filled with joy and peace! "Why wait Lord?" I asked stubbornly another morning. Getting an answer from God was more difficult this time. I insisted. "Why wait Lord?". "Because she is not ready yet", He answered clearly. And again, God is right.

There are many other good signs God was giving me about this relationship, ones that I can't share with you yet, as God is telling me not to share it at the moment. I can share one: what I feel for her. It feels like it's the first time I feel something like this. It feels pure, with a surprising lack of lust. Yes, of course, there is a physical attraction. But it goes beyond that. It is a feeling that is hard to describe. A feeling that compels me to be there for her. A feeling that compels me to protect and guard her. Yes, protect and guard her. I shared this with my spiritual director, and he told me that God was giving me the vocation of Adam, which was to protect and guard Eve. "For some reason God is giving you this woman as your vocation right now. This does not necessarily mean that you will marry her. Maybe you will. Maybe God is giving you this woman as your wife. Maybe not. But He has given you this vocation". I think this was the moment when I stopped thinking that this feeling was offensive to God. Yes, God gave me many good signs about this relationship. But I don't think He ever promised me that she will remain with me. The first month and half of the relationship seemed to go well. There seemed to grow an intimacy between us that was sweet. Friendship was growing, even though the word "friends" is still painful for me. But in the last two weeks of the relationship she changed. There were many red flags. She apparently felt nothing. She was going through a depression at the moment. A depression that perhaps she is only getting out of at the moment. She seemed more distant. It was subtle, but I could feel it. One day we talked. A break of dating came in during the holidays. After the holidays she ended it (whatever relationship it was) with a letter. She felt nothing, and even though she wanted things to work, she felt nothing. She wants us to remain friends, as she chooses singleness for the time being.

"My son, hard times will come, but don't be afraid. I will be there with you and I will carry you through it". God revealed this to me one morning during the holidays. Yes, I was anxious because I was having a break of dating with her. But I felt fine, calm. Perhaps a bit sad, but nothing major. After new year's eve, everything changed. I felt, all of the sudden (and remember, this is before I received the letter from her) sad. I felt that everything was crashing down. I still haven't found a job and a place to live. I'm still living with my parents. This state of limbo that I find myself in is part of the storm. But I felt (and still feel!) grief, grief for her, grief for my situation. Everything seems to go bad, every step seems an effort. Before the holidays started I had a sense that God wanted me to be single for a while. That not only she was not ready, but I was not ready. That I needed to spend time with myself, working on myself. A few days after I received the warning of the storm during the holidays, I asked God if this sense or intuition of being single for the moment was coming from Him. He answered with a yes. I realized that she was probably coming from the break with bad news. God then told me that there will come things that would be hurtful for me, but to not be afraid. Again, God is right.

It's been 4 days since I received that letter. I still feel hurt. I feel grief not just because of her, but of my current situation. This major transition is not easy, and everything is turning out more difficult than I imagined it. Few things seems to be going smoothly. I can't stop seeing her, as she is part of the same ministry that I work in. I asked God if could take a break from the ministry. Just some time to grieve and forget about her. He told me not to do it. That He wants to use me there. But it is painful, seeing her. "I know this hurts. I know the pain you are going through. I am destroying every wall in you and that's why it hurts. I am doing this not to punish you, but because I'm building a new foundation in you. I will be your foundation. I promise to rebuild these walls and make them new. I will purify them", God told me this recently. What will happen in the future? I don't know. God is telling me to leave the future in His hands, even my future with her, whatever that is. Of course, I wish things would be different. I wish she would come back. I don't know what will happen in the future. That is in God's hands. But for now, even when I struggle in self pity, when I feel that my patience is escaping in a mess of irritability, I am thankful to God for this storm. Because I am growing. Growth is painful, but the effect of it is well worth it. And God's consoling spirit is still even in me. His presence brings me comfort. This intimacy that I'm experiencing with God is something that I plan to enjoy.