Saturday, August 30, 2014

FOCUS USC: A New Chapter

As many of you know, I have transitioned from Arizona State University to the team director at the University of Southern California. It's been a crazy change but feel very blessed to be surrounded by such an amazing staff & team. I am so excited to see how the Lord will work in the hearts of students here in LA! 

Meet the new team!

Tanelle Berard
-first year missionary
-born in Canada, grew up in Iowa
-Elite Triathlon (2 time Junior National Champion & 7th place Worlds Finisher) & D1 Cross Country/Track runner)

-graduated from University of Northern Colorado in Greeley with a degree in Chemistry
-pastimes: playing sports, reading, and being outdoors

John Potts
-first year missionary
-from South Dakota
-graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences
-worked in a regional laboratory following graduation
-pastimes: soccer, spending time outdoors, and education

Danny Zink
-second year missionary (served at Auburn University in Alabama)
-from St. Louis, Missouri
-graduated from Benedictine College with degrees in Theology & Chemistry
-pastimes: reading, playing pick up sports, theological discussions

Emily German
-team director, second year missionary
-from Humphrey, Nebraska
-graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations and a minor in Art
-pastimes: painting & drawing, spending time outdoors & with people

Pray for us as we serve Christ at Our Savior Parish at the Caruso Catholic Center. :)

In Him,

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nicaragua FOCUS Missions Trip: The Art of Living

It's taken me a while to post about the incredible experience of serving on a FOCUS Missions trip in Nicaragua, but I think I've finally had enough time to upack (literally & figuratively) the trip to attempt to share the impact it has had on my heart and the hearts of the students.

In the eyes of the Western world, the way that the Nicaraguans live - the clay huts, the wood burning stove, the lack of technology - is heartwrenching. We want to fix their lives, with hopes of finally allowing them to be happy, but we've totally missed the point. The people that I encountered are happy, much more than most anywhere I've ever been.

During our first day of work we took the Nicaraguans off guard with our speed and focus on the task at hand. They watched us, laughing as we got lost in our speedy work and eventually asked if we would slow down. They explained that they enjoy working alongside one another. They desired to converse and form relationships as we worked to complete the task together.  I began to recognize how easily I get caught up in my work, moving from one task to another, and forget to be totally present to those around me. The truth is that we can never completely eradicate poverty from the world - it just isn't possible. We can do everything possible to alleviate the pains of poverty, but the true beauty of serving is living with compassion and solidarity with those in poverty, and translating it to the poverty around us and within us.

Mother Teresa says, "The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty - it is not only a poverty of loneliness, but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." So which is the greater poverty? The people that I encountered in Nicaragua were so filled with joy of the Gospel. They didn't desire more things or money - they were content with what they had. They recognized the spiritual poverty that many of us carried, and they reflected the hands & feet of Christ in loving us and teaching us the true importance of life. 

Celebrating Mass with the Nicaraguans was easily the most powerful of all. In recognizing the universality of the church, we recognize that Christ is present in Nicaragua and in every Mass in which we partake. This unites us all - we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are truly the body of Christ, and they treated us in this way. During the sign of peace I felt as if my heart may explode with love as men, women, and children flocked us with hugs & kisses. They were filled with such love and gratitude for us being there. The parishoners explained to us that merely taking the time to be there, we reminded them of the importance of "going outside of yourself" to share the faith. They continued to describe their joy in sharing in the body of Christ with us.

Throughout the week we worked to replace the roof of a church - their tin roof had begun to rust away and had several holes. Later in the day we spent time praying with families and playing with the children & teaching them Bible stories. My fellow missionaries and I gave talks to the student missionaries to teach them different forms of prayer and to aid in translating the experience into lifelong mission. It was truly beautiful to see how the group came together and opened up through nightly sharing of testimonies and experiences throughout the day.

The entire time we were in Nicaragua I felt as if my heart was coming alive within me. I've realized that traveling reveals a part within myself that I never knew to exist. God reveals the beauty of Himself to me in a new way, through nature and people. I often ponder this reality of "beauty" and of "God the Creator" and the ways that God reveals himself to me through His creations. As an artist, this speaks deeply to my heart. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his letter to Artists says, "That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their 'gift,' are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission. Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life:  in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece."

The greatest lesson that I have taken from the people of Nicaragua is the art of living. I've learned that the art of living is in being completely present to the moment at hand and to love the person next to you with the joy of Christ. It is the ability to see with God's eyes, to hear with God's ears, and to love with the heart of God. In being present I am able to recognize the way that the Holy Spirit is working through and in me right now. How I choose to respond are brushstrokes on the canvas of my life and of others, and He has entrusted me with the task of bringing Him glory through creating a work of art, a masterpiece.

If you'd like to see more pictures, check out my entire 
Nicaragua Mission Trip album here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is Lent?

The word "Lent" often draws thoughts of "giving something up" for a period of time. But what is the true meaning behind the 40-day season? 
At the heart of the Lenten Season lies preparation for Baptism and a renewal of baptismal commitment. As the candidates for Baptism enter their final period of preparation for Baptism, the rest of the Church accompanies them on their journey and together, we prepare to renew our baptismal vows at Easter. Lent then, is truly baptismal, whether for one who is entering the Church for the first time, or for someone seeking to grow closer to Christ and renew their Baptismal promises.

So why do people fast during Lent? Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and His way of life. Lent is a 40-day season. Let's take a look at where the number forty appears in the Bible:
-Noah waited 40 days before opening a window on the ark and releasing a dove. (Genesis 8:6) 
-Moses fasted on a mountain 40 days and returned with the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28-29)
-The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness searching for the Promised Land. (Exodus 16:35) 
-Goliath taunted the Israelite army for 40 days before being defeated by David. (1 Samuel 17:16) 
-Jonah warned the city of Nineveh that they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. Within those 40 days the people repented and God spared the city. (Jonah 3:4) 
-Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days enduring the temptations of the devil. (Matthew 4:1-2) 
-After Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection He appeared to the disciples for 40 days and then joined His Father in Heaven. (Acts 1:3) 

As you can see, the number forty has long been biblically recognized as an important number, one often associated with a period of trial followed by grace and renewal. This is exactly how we view Lent. A time of preparation followed by renewal of spirit. In order to grow spiritually, we must turn away from sin. The goal is not to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ. Fasting is a way to develop self-control and to gain the ability to say "no" to the small things we enjoy, even if they are ultimately good, so that you can say "no" to the things that draw us into sin. Fasting should also be connected to our concern for those who are forced to fast by poverty or are in need for any reason. Thus, fasting is linked to living out our baptismal promises. By our Baptism, we are charged with the responsibility of showing Christ's love to the world, especially those in need. When human suffering is accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, we believe that our suffering can be united to that of Christ and so in union with His Passion. Fasting can help us realize the suffering that so many people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to greater efforts to alleviate that suffering. (This recognition of suffering will become a strong reality as I set off for a FOCUS Missions trip to Nicaragua with several students and fellow missionaries in just a few days! Pray for us!)

But why put ashes on our foreheads? The ashes for Ash Wednesday are made from blessed palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. The ashes are sprinkled with Holy Water and incensed before distribution. Ashes are applied to our forehead in the sign of the cross as the words, "Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return" or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel" are spoken to us. The words "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return" are from scripture. They occur after The Fall when God is explaining to Adam one of the main consequences of Original Sin -- separation from God and mortality. God reminds Adam that his body is dust, and after the fall, to dust it shall return. Ash Wednesday takes us back to that moment. We are standing in the Garden with Adam and Eve. We are dust and to dust we shall return. There is a great schism between God and us, and how can that relationship be repaired? Jesus' death and resurrection reconciles us with God, and is precisely the focal point of Lent -- Easter. We look forward with hope to the celebration of Easter. We remember that we are nothing but dust if we do not have Easter; it is only Jesus' resurrection that gives us hope that we too shall be risen from the dust. When we hear the words, "you are dust and to dust you shall return" it should call to mind the spirit of Lent, reminding us that not only are our bodies dust, but so are all of the things of this world. All money, possessions, and earthly accomplishments are not important in themselves. They are all fleeting. They are all, ultimately, dust. Lent is a time to re-evaluate our lives. Yes, we are dust. Do we spend our lives chasing more dust? Or are we chasing the one thing that can truly make an eternal difference? Are we chasing the one Being who can breathe life into dust? For a people of dust, this is our only hope. Receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday symbolizes our mortality as well as our need for ongoing repentance. It is a reminder that this life is short and merely a foreshadowing of what we shall become through the redemption of Jesus Christ on the cross. We look forward to when we are raised from the dust, in resurrected bodies like His own and called to the eternal communion of heaven.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Feast of the Martyr, Saint Valentine!

Valentines day is fun. I love any opportunity to be completely ridiculous with my cheesy puns and pick-up lines, and I enjoy showing my appreciation for all my dear friends that love me despite my punny humor. I've spent every single Valentine's Day in my life perfectly single, and I still love it. I admit, at times I catch myself thinking about how it would be fun to have an admirer (and sometimes I have to resist listening to "On My Way" by Boyce Avenue - *cue emotional chastity lecture), but having an admirer would be fun every day of the year, not just on Valentine's Day. This is because I connect Valentine's day with a different kind of  love rather than romantic love. (My favorite valentines are from my mother. Seriously, isn't this the cutest?)

I do wonder what St. Valentine, a third century Roman martyr, would think of what has become of his feast day. His name is now connected to romance and sex, twisted into something far from the love that Saint Valentine truly represented.

Don't know much about Saint Valentine? St. Valentine was a holy priest in Rome at the time when there was an emperor called Claudius who persecuted the church. Claudius also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people, based on the idea that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afriad of what would happen to their families if they were to die. Valentine secretly married couples and was eventually caught, imprisoned, clubbed, and beheaded because of his stand for Christian marriage.

St. Valentine represents a kind of love in which one lays down their life for another, a Christ-like love. While this holiday has been reduced to something much less than its true meaning, I choose to celebrate  the kind of love that St. Valentine represented and died for. I celebrate Christ's life giving love. And that is truly a reason to celebrate. After all, Christ is the...

No matter who you spend Valentine's Day with, I hope this day calls to mind the love of Christ. Happy feast day of Saint Valentine!

Love in Him,

Saturday, February 1, 2014

¿Quién causa tanta Alegría? ¡La Concepción de Maria!

In just five weeks I will be on a plane enroute to Nicaragua. 

Over ASU's spring break, I will be traveling with four Arizona State University students, and sixteen other students & FOCUS missionaries from across the nation to serve the poor on a FOCUS Missions trip to Nicaragua. We will be serving in a mountainous community on the northeast area of Nicaragua, Ayapal. This is where the Bishop of Jinotega has deemed 'most in need'. The community is just south of the border of Honduras. Some of the churches in this area are only reachable via horse or canoe, or simply walking long distances. Living and working with the people, we will be helping to build some of the chapels from the outside communities. The people in these areas lack much of their material needs. They are war-torn people from the recent civil war that ended only in 1992 and there are many families without the fathers and/or the sons as a consequence of the fighting. The need for the message of forgiveness and hope is what the people need and we will be there for them. 

Missions has truly grasped my heart. People often ask me, "When did you decide to apply to become a FOCUS missionary?" The answer is while I was on my very first FOCUS Mission, a trip to the Dominican Republic. There was a powerful moment as I crossed the muddy water from the Dominican Republic to Haiti, I watched the native people bathe while their children splashed in the awful smelling, cholera-infected water. Careful not to touch the water for fear of sickness, I thought to myself, “These people don’t even realize that they are swimming in infected waters.” I couldn’t help but wonder what my campus would look like if I placed a spiritual lens over my eyes. I suddenly saw my own friends unknowingly swimming in dangerous, infected waters of hopelessness, confusion, and sin. Translating the physical need of purification in the Dominican Republic to the spiritual need on my own college campus placed a sense of urgency and mission on my heart. I am so looking forward to seeing how the students’ hearts will be transformed as they serve and become a witness of God's love. 

The Feast of The Immaculate Conception is the patronal feast day of Nicaragua. The Nicaraguans call this feast "that of The Most Pure One", La PurísimaOn the feast of La Purísima, Nicaraguans honor Mary with songs, processions, and firecrackers. They call this feast day celebration, “La Griteria” which literally means "The Shouting." Year round, Nicaraguans greet one another saying, “¿Quién es la causa de tanta alegría?” (“Who is the cause of so much joy?”), and the common response is "¡La Concepción de Maria!" ("The Conception of Mary!") I have a deep admiration of Our Mother, and her receptivity to the Holy Spirit and her most beautiful fiat, so I am unbelievably excited to join in "La Griteria," shouting "¿Quién es la causa de tanta alegría? ¡La Concepción de Maria!" through the streets of Nicaraga. :)

Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare for this journey!

Love in Christ,

If you would like to donate towards my mission trip to Nicaragua please go to:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Home for Christmas

I was blessed to be able to spend some much needed time at home with family and friends over Christmas break. It felt so good to be greeted by many dear people upon my arrival to Omaha! We enjoyed some sushi, drinks, and good conversation.

My high school invited me to speak to the students about my ministry work with FOCUS and how they can get involved in college. It was such a cool opportunity to share my journey with all of the students and to see their excitement to learn about the New Evangelization!

I was able to meet up with my discipleship chain from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and their new FOCUS discipler, Megan, before everyone went home for Christmas break. It was so encouraging to hear how the Holy Spirit continues to work within the house of Delta Gamma.

My family and I made the trip to Iowa for the wedding of my cousin, Erin. My dad is one of eighteen children so it made for quite the family reunion! There were so many new little German babies to be snuggled, which I loved of course. 

Christmas was celebrated as the German tradition always goes:  Christmas Eve Mass (my sister played the organ at the children's Mass for the 14th year in a row!!), home cooked dinner, and Christmas gift opening. It was lovely to have the whole family home to celebrate the birth of our Lord. 

I was able to catch up with my NHRI (Nebraska Human Resources Institute) mentee, Ashlie, who is doing big things at New York University. Ashlie is on the diving team and has even been named Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III Metro Diver of the Week as a freshman! From the west to the east, we were united once again in the heartland.

And of course, much more time with family and friends. :)

My friend, Wyn, was gracious enough to plan a trip for a group of our close friends to ring in the New Year in the mountains of Colorado. We spent some quality time catching up on each other's lives and enjoying good company. My friend, Emily Solo, summed up our trip best: 

"I am so blessed to have spent the past almost-week with some awesome friends: the type of beautiful souls who help strangers (with limited English) push a stuck car, make each other breakfast, build an epic snowgirl, dance with little kids in a bowling alley, and will happily kill you in a mafia game by midnight. I am grateful."

My roommate and disciple at Arizona, Lesley, was even able to meet up with us as well! She brought along her best friend, Catherine who had just returned from studying abroad in Florence for a semester. It was so wonderful to see my Arizona and Nebraska worlds collide. 

Just hours after my return to Arizona I was on a twenty hour bus ride headed to Dallas, Texas for the FOCUS Student Leadership Summit. ASU brought twenty students to Dallas to explore innovative ways to carry out the New Evangelization on campus and deepen in relationship with Jesus Christ. I loved having the opportunity to be a small group coach. All of the women in my small group were in a sorority so we were able to have productive conversations about how to spread the faith within our sisterhood.

And now that I'm back in Arizona, I am preparing to hit the ground running with outreach to greek students on campus. Elissa, a student who attended the Student Leadership Summit, has been a huge help in taking over all of FOCUS Greek ASU social media. We are ready for 2014!

May the Lord bless you in this New Year!