About the Contributors

Jason Kraft
Jason Kraft is a follower of Jesus, husband, father, hypocrite, all-around messed up dude saved by grace!

Alissa Molina
Alissa Molina is a spirited Catholic girl who strives to live love loudly. Mostly through the daily hugging, holding, feeding, changing, and growing of five beautiful blessings she and her husband/best friend/hero get to call their own.

Wednesday
Sep302015

Spilling My Heart Out about Our Pope Francis Trip [Part Two]

(Read Part 1 here

He is just a man.


He is a man.  He is not superhuman.  He does not possess any special powers.

And perhaps that's what makes this whole thing almost unbelievable.  The man is not a king or a president or a general, but a simple shepherd, a humble servant.  And I dare say that what this humble servant accomplished in six days was nothing short of miraculous.  The layers and layers of love, wisdom and hope that he left behind will take years to uncover and sift through.  Remarkably, his messages reached across class and race and religion.  A true ambassador of peace, justice and mercy he reached out to all people, not just the ones in his flock.

Those who allowed his messages to sink in are forever changed, softened, strengthened, empowered, and inspired.  Our trajectory has been altered.  Our hearts conformed more to the heart of Christ. And the implications are truly startling as we realize:

We are like him, in our humanity.

In our sin and in our failings we are like him.

In our capacity to love, forgive, show mercy, and proclaim hope

we are just as capable as Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome.

Therein lies the true power and possibility behind the Holy Father's visit to our beloved country.  We have the capacity to do what he did.  Because the man is only human.  He has simply decided that nothing else is more important than the work before him. The hope of the gospel flows from his mouth, the love of it's message pours out from his actions.    

What could happen if we,

those of us who are just men and just women

focus on the work at hand too?

What if, like Pope Francis, simple gestures of kindness, expressions of joy, acts of mercy and attentiveness to the struggles of those around us became our main focus?  

What if we allow everything else to fall away?

Streets of gold.  That's what will happen.  I know because I saw it first hand.  I knelt in the middle of Benjamin Franklin Parkway Sunday afternoon with the people of God.  And it was like that verse from Revelations:

"'Come, I will show you the wife of the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven from God.  It has the glory of God and the radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal....and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass." [Rev. 21:9-11, 21]

I realized that we were indeed experiencing a foretaste of heaven.  Hundreds of thousands of us, kneeling in reverence and in worship.  Tears streaming down our faces, hands clasped across our hearts, eyes closed in that incredible moment of total unity and at the same time, total uniqueness. 

This must be what the streets of heaven look like, I thought.

Because nothing else mattered at that moment.  Not our languages or our bank accounts or our health or problems or failings--Christ was what mattered.  Only Christ. Adoring Him, receiving Him, seeing Him in each other--it is all that mattered.  We were creating streets of gold in our midst.  

What is both terrifying and exciting about Pope Francis is that he is an example of what happens when love and mercy poured out to everyone becomes the focus of our lives. Many of us are terrified because it is scary to think of what we will have to let go of in order to start or continue the work.  Our pride, anger, hurt and personal agendas will have to go by the wayside.  But at the same time, we are excited, renewed and energized by what we witnessed on that Parkway, or the floor of Congress, or on the front lawn of the White House or at the podium of the United Nations or at the prison and school.  Ultimately, Pope Francis gave example after example of what happens when we show up and extend Christ's love and mercy to everyone. :

 

The prisoner embraces.

The leaders weep.

The children come.

The elderly give witness.

The hard-hearted are softened.

The seeds are planted.

The weary find rest.


Kneeling on the streets of the Parkway on Sunday, and seeing the sheer volume of people--young, old, rich, poor, black, yellow, white, and brown--my heart learned what Pope Francis must already know: When mercy is extended, the streets of gold are widened to make room for more of us broken-hearted children of God.  With every act of mercy, the streets of gold begin to swell.  Mercy, I learned, is most often, the key that unlocks the stranger's heart and brings him home.  And that is indeed very good news. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Our family's pilgrimage to Philadelphia could not have been more beautiful.  I'm certain we were able to experience such a wonderful time because of so many who prayed on our behalf.  Thanks to all who covered us in prayer.  If you take anything away from these few highlights from our day, take these three things: 

DREAM BIG, GOD DREAMS BIGGER.

YOUR FAMILY (immediate and extended) IS YOUR MOST PRECIOUS GIFT. Do what you can to love them NOW.  Small gestures of love go a long long way.

HAVE COURAGE.  God will supply it and GREAT things will come of it.

 

(To read more of Alissa's blog posts, click here)

 

 Oldest four pilgrims, fresh off the train.

 

Security check point.  We made it early enough that the wait was just over an hour.

 

Chillin' at the security check point.

 

Sweet Spot to wait for Papa.

 

Getting lunch for everyone with a sleeping baby [like a boss].

 

LUNCH!

 

Passing 6 hours in the same spot.  [Mostly]

 

Worth the wait!  Papa Francis!!!!

 

Mass Begins.

 

Prayers of the faithful.

 

My reaction to seeing this:  big fat tears.

What happens when you get to receive Jesus at the Papal Mass:  Joy.

 

End of Mass

 

Wednesday
Sep302015

Spilling My Heart Out About Our Pope Francis Trip [Part I]

We are crazy. 


This I know. 

To pack up five children, a baby bed, two car seats, one booster seat, all manner of snacks and essentials and head to the airport at 5 a.m. Thursday morning is FLAT OUT NUTS. 

And as the time for our adventure inches closer and the fervor over Pope Francis rises all around me, I feel a tiny bit of panic rise inside of me.

"What if this is a disaster?"
"What if we get nowhere near Mass and are stuck on the outside looking in?"
"What if we walk miles and miles and miles and the kids mutiny?"
"What was I thinking?  Why are we doing this?"

But then I flip on the television and I see him.  Papa Francis. 

And the panic and fear subsides and I am left with a beautiful quote I saw just the other day:

And this is at the heart of why I'm determined to get myself and my family 1,700 miles away from home this weekend.  Because every day I stare in the face of this reality: We are all headed Home. Isn't this just glorious news?  That this world is not all there is. This place ain't the final destination. The suffering and the sorrow, the anger and the hatred, the fighting and the polarization, the poverty of our human spirit and our human condition---none of it is our resting place.
Not even death is our resting place. 
Home is where we are headed.  Home is where we will finally find rest.  And peace. And everlasting joy.  Of this I am certain.  You know that feeling you get after you have been away from home for a while?  No matter how awesome that time away was--the feeling you get when you get home is even better.  It's familiar and cozy.  And often, your most favorite people in the universe are there.  
Every day we get a little bit closer to the glory of Home.  And what I'm starting to realize is that I get to choose every single day, how I will walk you and I Home.  I can grab a frying pan, knock us over the head with it, and then drag us there---but I'm learning that perhaps that's not my way. It is true that God created me loud and crazy and passionate---and you'd think my way would be the screaming way--but Pope Francis has helped Jesus open up a part of my heart that I never knew existed.  
It is a gentle heart.  It is a heart full of compassion and mercy.  
I make this pilgrimage with my family to at least be in the same vicinity of the man who was God's instrument in this new found heart of mine.  The one who inspires me daily with his mercy, compassion, and humility.  I go to be re-energized and to fill my cup up with hope.  Because this world is brutal at times.  The migrant crisis, loved ones dying, the brokenness within our families, the day-to-day struggles so many have with finances, addiction, mental illness, sickness, hurt, anger and loneliness all weigh heavily on my heart.  Sometimes I say to Jesus--"It's too much.  I cannot walk myself Home, much less your people Home.  The road is too long, the journey too hard."
But He is persistent.  This is my new work.  I am to walk His people Home.  And I am to do it with a gentle and loving heart.  
My first job is to walk my own people Home.  My five littles and my beloved.  And my hope is that somehow this trip will plant deep seeds in my littles' hearts.  My hope is that when they are all grown-up and out in this amazing world--this trip is weaved into their memories as the time when mama and dadda took them on a pilgrimage of hope.  My prayer is that their little hearts can feel and sense and see the joy that abounds in living a life for and with Christ.  This trip is a tiny stop in the journey of walking my babies and my husband Home to be with the One who loves them with an everlasting Love.  
I've wanted so much to grow in holiness by growing in love, mercy and compassion and I have Papa Francis to thank for pointing me to this new desire within.  I have already been overwhelmed with the opportunities for love this trip has afforded me--the most humbling of which is the honor of taking so many prayer intentions with me.  These deep longings others have entrusted to me cause me such intense love, I can scarcely describe it.  
I ask that if you are reading this, you pray for our little family.  I plan on writing a few pieces during our adventures and sharing a few pictures.  Here are a few from the current preparations:  
The Journal filled with everyone's prayers.

The Molina 7 packed in ONE suitcase
Reconciliation before Pilgrimage thanks to a dear friend who wrangled the youngest 4.  

Goodies and spending money for the trip from our best friends.
A card from an angel who sent us a wad of more spending cash! 
Wednesday
Jul222015

On Walking Away From My Christian Faith

This quote had been swirling in my mind.  It gripped me and pained me because of how seemingly true it had become in my world.  My life had become a contradiction of sorts.  I found myself going through the motions of my faith, while at the same time feeling alienated by so many who professed it.  It became a struggle to embrace my faith because the faces of the faith often left me troubled, confused and sometimes even angry.  This kept on for weeks until one day, a fleeting thought stopped me in my tracks:

Why don't you walk away?

The thought took my breath away.  But instead of running and hiding from the question, I sat with it. I let it cover me up and I decided that I would not appease it with a simple, "Because."

Because it's what I've done forever.

Because it's all I know.

Because it's what I am supposed to do.  

The question came for a reason and to answer it honestly and with careful contemplation would be the only way to come to peace with whatever the answer would be.  During the time I wrestled with this question I had a few really good conversations with a friend who allowed me to vent, but then challenged me with probing questions and thoughtful observations.  After one of these especially intense conversations she sent me this text:  

She went on to say that the zealots are the ones who scream the loudest.  Out of fear, mostly.  She urged me to look around and really examine which voices I was listening to.  Were they the trusted ones who have walked with me in my journey of faith?  Were they the true leaders of our Church? The ones I had come to trust and admire?  Or was I listening with too much of my heart to angry voices on the internet?  

These probing questions forced me to walk out of my comfort zone of complaining and whining about my Church and the humans which make it up and ask the question again with a mind and heart willing to listen to the quietest voices of my faith.  The sure voices.  The ones that I don't meet in a combox, because they are out in the world, loving, healing, teaching, lifting, forgiving.  I began listening to the voices who have made up the life of the Church for the last 2000 years.  The workers in the vineyard who go about the business ofliving the gospel, not shoving it down throats. I unplugged from most social media outlets and began to listen.  And now I feel much more prepared to answer this question with honesty:

Why don't you walk away?

Oh Church,

I contemplated what life would be without you.  Without the messiness of conflict.  I contemplated finding like-minded people who would support and agree with every thought and idea I have ever had.  I thought that I might find a much easier existence without you, with fewer demands and less pushing me to contemplation. And Church?  I found that life without you would simply not do.  We are walking this journey together, aren't we?  The lot of us.  The ones who like to scream and the ones who like to whisper and the ones who are confused and even the angry ones.  We believe that we are led by our name-sake.  Our Christ.  And isn't it so hard to follow our name-sake? Because how can any of us live as He did?  It is the hardest work.  Isn't it so easy to feel the snares of hypocrisy creep in? We preach forgiveness and compassion like He did, but then realize how utterly hard it is to actually forgive and be compassionate. We hear Him prod us to be Light, but sometimes the darkness in our own lives makes us feel ill-equipped to do so.  We remember that He told us we would be filled with His very Spirit--that we might have courage, but we look around at our world and we are afraid to step out in trust to heal and serve.  Church.  I cannot walk away from you because we are the same and we are in this together. We were baptized into our very lifeblood.  The very Source and Summit of existence is the name we carry.  How lovely. How very lovely.  I get it now Church.  We are a hot mess. The lot of us.  Just like Peter with his "To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life" one minute and then, "I don't know that man" the next minute.  We are a broken lot.  But He trusts us anyway. That we have been given the exact same charge given to Peter and his friends 2000 plus years ago seems so reckless of Our Christ. Doesn't He know us?  Hasn't He met us? We are no more sure than Peter was. We are no more wise.  But He trusts us anyway. Because maybe without Him we can do nothing, but maybe with Him we can do everything.  If twelve hot messes could spread the radical message of Love in such a way that would endure the ages, we can too.

We have been entrusted to help the weary travelers--the outcast--the abandoned towards the One who loves with a depth that knows no bounds. 

And how lovely it is that when we find ourselves too weary, we need only to look at each other--the Body of Our Christ--for support?  And how glorious that our Christ invites us into the loving mystery of receiving His Very Self into our very selves because He thought of everything when He took His seat upon His throne?  He knew we would need each other.  He knew we would need Him to nourish us for this hard work of discipleship. And isn't this work hard Church?  The work Our Christ wants us to do? Every. Single. Day?  But isn't it also wonderful that we have such examples to look to?  Centuries of examples.  Like our Beautiful Mother.  The one who bore Light into the world inspires us to do the same.  The one who didn't run from suffering, but who instead sat at the foot of it--how She teaches us to stay close to her Son because sometimes suffering ends up ushering in Love Unimaginable. And then there is Augustine and Paul.  Remember how far on the fringe they were?  Remember how far from Love they lived?  Blinded by self and by law, they lived so far from Love, until Love tracked them down with a Power so deep and wide, they would become some of the best preachers and lovers of the faith ever?  But Church. We need not look so far back. There are the priests and the religious doing the heavy lifting right now.  Right in our very lives. There is the priest whom my husband went to a few years ago when our marriage was threads from snapping and collapsing--the one who calls us every few months to make sure healing is continuing. The one who assures us his prayers are with us.  And Church?  This priest is not the exception.  If you look closely.  He is the rule.  As it turns out.  We are all the rule.  

Collectively Church, we are all the rule.

We are attempting to follow Perfect Love. And that work gets messy and scary.  But we have a depth of goodness to turn to--we have the Church teachings and traditions as a guide--we have our Holy Father--we have the Sacraments--we have Bible Studies and Retreats and Youth Ministry and Vacation Bible School.  We have the Word of God poured out to us during the holy sacrifice of the Mass.  We have social ministries and spiritual direction.  Church.  The list goes on and on.  

I have been renewed Church.  When I stepped back and looked in, I saw astonishing beauty.  We are beautiful, mainly because He is beautiful.  But Church?  We can alwaysdo a better job.  When we continue to do what we've been doing just because it's what we have been doing, we run the risk of falling into a place of complacency. And sometimes this complacency leads us to make an idol of our own way of doing things--our own way of living the gospel.  This is something I struggle with daily.  We need to allow ourselves to be "pushed to our limit" by our faith like my friend suggested. It's not a bad thing to take a look around and take stock of how we are living the faith we profess.  

I love you Church.  I cannot walk away because you push me, you guide me, you lead me towards Our Christ--the Head of this Beautiful Body.  And I think You are very much like the Christ whose name you carry.  

Wednesday
May272015

My Empty Cupboard, Empty Refrigerator

Several months ago, our pastor told a story involving one of my all-time heroes.  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was, in my estimation, such an awesome combination of strength, courage, love and compassion--all of which made her one of the most amazing saints of our time. That's why when Father Miskco began his homily that Sunday with a story I hadn't heard about her, I listened intently.  Fr Miskco said:

"There's a wonderful fact about Mother Teresa and her sisters...they have a rule...the Missionaries of Charity...that every night in each of their convents around the world the kitchen pantry must be empty before they go to bed. They must have given awayeverything that they have to the poor that day and then get up the next day and rely on the generosity of others to provide what they need to live themselves and then to serve the poor" (Homily Feb. 1, 2015)

I sat dumbfounded.  I tried to wrap my brain around the trust and faith in God that this rule must require.  I thought about the intense love of the poor that the sisters have to have to want to give away everything to them, every single day.  I left that day somehow changed.  You know when you look back and can see a spot in your life when you begin to look at things differently?  This was one of those times. The pesky story stayed with me.  The homily propelled me into Lent which would begin a few weeks later.  In Lent I would take a good hard look at the Golden Calves in my life....the things that I put between me and my love and service of God.  I was knee deep in the work of sorting through the places in my life where I could bring God back into focus when I suffered a stroke.  My stroke left me with little energy or desire to do anything other than work on getting my brain back in order.  Mother Teresa's neat little story was put back on the shelf and I went about the work of healing.  

But just as with many of the other hard lessons I have had to learn in my life, God has been persistent.  Now on the upswing of my recovery, this idea of "the other" has stormed back into my thoughts.  Just over a week ago, I read an article about the atrocities occurring in the Iraqi regions which are being tragically and barbarically overtaken by ISIS. The article is heart-wrenching to say the least.  And as I sat with tears streaming down my face, simultaneously shaking my fist at the universe and wondering how little me could do something...anything to help these brothers and sisters, I again was struck by something that has yet to leave me.  The author wrote:

"We aren’t where we are, to just peripherally care about the people on the margins as some superfluous gesture or token nicety. The exact reason why you are where you are — is to risk everything for those being oppressed out there. You are where you are — to help others where they are. The reason your hands are where they are in this world — is to give other people in this world a hand.  Because God forbid, you don’t get a roof over your head, food on your table and the safety of no bullets shattering your windows because you deserve more — you only get all that so that you get to serve more.God forbid, you don’t get to live a comfortable life because you’re better — you only get your life so you get to make someone else’s life better with a bit of comfort.
God forbidyou don’t want to climb a ladder up to the American dream, when you could throw a lifeline down to people living your worst nightmare."

Again, I sat dumbfounded.  She was right.  I am not given the life I have so that I may just continue to focus on making my life better.  This truth is what I have come to:

I am given this life--these blessings--SO THAT I MAY BLESS OTHERS

But here's the thing:  Coming to this truth and actually living this truth are two very different things.  After contemplating this truth for some time, I became really frustrated that I can't save the world in two seconds by giving away all my possessions, moving to some distant land and working with the poor and outcast for the rest of my life.  But God came near in my frustration and said,

"Woah. Woah. Woah.  Slow down there, girl.  Rome wasn't built in a day."

God wanted me to begin where he always wants me to begin--with my heart.  So I started small.  I gathered the kids and the husband around and shared with them a small idea I had.  I said to them that we live out of abundance.  We have a home, cars, food, toys, and most especially--each other.  I told them that we need to begin to do a better job sharing our abundance--blessing others because we have been blessed.  We must "Love our Neighbor" in a more intentional and consistent way.  So I told them, that every time for the rest of our lives, when we go to the grocery store, we will buy one thing to give to the poor.  One sack of flour, one bag of rice--something.  The kids would be in charge of first reminding mom and dad when we head to the store, but when they are given birthday money or money for the extra jobs around the house they do, they will be expected to also purchase one item for our "Love Your Neighbor" box. 

I thought this lesson would be a good way to begin the work of blessing because we are blessed.  A good and easy way.  But what I have found is that it is much harder to train a heart that has been focused on self than I imagined.  Just the other day, I headed to the store to get a few things to get us through the end of the month.  With the medical bills rolling in, my gig as a stay-at-home mom, and the husband's gig as a coach--we have to be precise and careful with the budget.  I entered the store with a list of 16 items.  When I turned to leave, I remembered that I hadn't gotten an item for our box.  I begrudgingly turned around and grabbed a $1 container of oil to add to my basket.  I had to reflect about why it was hard to spend just $1 on a stranger who is hungry, when you can find me in the $1 spot at Target living it up, just about any day of the week.  It was a tough pill to swallow: 

Giving is easy when it comes from our abundance, but becomes much more difficult when it takes from our scarcity. 

It's all fun and games giving when it doesn't affect our bottom line.  But when we have to suffer, even a little bit, for the good of another--all of the sudden giving isn't so much fun. 

So here I am, in this mode of challenging my heart to not only be thankful for my blessings but to see them as opportunities to give more.  It's a paradigm shift for sure---to trust that even if we give out of scarcity we will be blessed. The biggest shift I hope for is really a shift of my heart. I am working on beginning to put the good of my neighbor among the first things I think of--right now in small, but concrete ways--and hopefully one day, in larger--empty pantry--kind of ways.

Wednesday
May062015

Dear Single Mom, Widowed Mom, Teen Mom -- I See You! 

I'm slowly learning how to consistently see beyond myself.  I am learning how much more whole I feel when I take a moment to get off Planet Alissa and all that being on that Planet entails.  Which to be honest, mostly entails feeding, bathing, dressing, kissing, hugging, disciplining and growing five very different, very amazing small people. Every once in a while though, I try to take a moment to come up for air and take a look at the world around me.   Sometimes, the state of the world hurts me--sometimes it even frightens me.  But often it inspires me.  I could write pages upon pages of how this person or that has pushed me to think more about who I am and how I am living. People who, because of what they are doing out in the world, make me want to be better, give more, love wider.

I am learning that the people who inspire me most are the ones who are terrific at seeing people. They don't look past anyone, but instead try to see the goodness, the strength, the struggle, the journey of those around them.  They see them, and they love them.

Recently at Mass, Fr. James said that in order to pray for people--really pray for them--we must try our best to enter into their circumstance.  We must imagine ourselves seeing as they do, walking in their steps, feeling what they feel.  Obviously we can never know exactly what their journey is like, but attempting to imagine ourselves in their place is one of the strongest ways to pray.  

I've begun to try this type of prayer in my effort to see.  Instead of just running through my litany of names of people to pray for, I have begun to attempt to take just a few people and imagine their walk when praying.  It has been humbling, eye-opening, and sometimes crushing. 

As I began to see all the ads for Mother's Day popping up, I caught myself thinking of all the different moms in my life. There are so many who have had a hand in crafting me into the mom I am today.  It occurred to me that maybe as a little project, I should attempt to see all the different kinds of moms who have made an impact in my life. Each who have, in their own way, inspired me to be make motherhood the focus of my life.  

There are the generations of moms before me who I owe just about everything to.  They are the ones who inspire me with their faith and commitment to family.  There are the single moms who inspire me with their heroic perseverance.  There are the teen moms, who inspire me with their determination.  And the widowed moms, who inspire me with their strength.  There are the spiritual moms, unable to conceive, who inspire me with her ability to trust. There are the empty-nest moms who shows me the power of letting go, and the step-mom who shows me the power of welcome. There is the mom who chooses adoption in order to give her baby a chance, and the mom who adopts to show that love is bigger than blood.  There are the stay-at-home moms and working moms who show me the merits of tireless love. There are the military moms and first responder moms who inspire me with their generosity.  There are moms who have gone away to heaven, who wrap their children in constant prayer, and show me that love transcends time and space.  And then there are the moms--those who inspire me most of all--the ones who have had to let their children go to heaven. These are the moms who know truly what is important in this life and what is not.  These are the ones who show us all how to better see each other.  

Because it matters.  Really and truly seeing each other--it matters.  Being present and loving--these are the most important job requirements in life and in motherhood.  

Seeing our children.  Seeing who they are and not who we want them to be.  Being present when they want to tell us something exciting--being present when their hearts ache.  This is the beautiful job of motherhood.  Loving them when they are at their best and at their worst.  Loving them with guidelines and expectations.  Loving them by gifting them a faith of their own.  Loving their passions and loving them through their fears.  This is the exceptional job of motherhood.  

It is often that I am brought to tears when I think upon the lives that have been entrusted to me to love and see.  It is often when I am overcome with gratitude that these people are mine to care for.  The time is fleeting.  I feel it running away.  So I wrap myself up in it.  This time with my children.  I wrap myself up in its giggles and stories and backyard games of tag.  I wrap myself up in the family dinners and bedtime prayers.  And I try to do better loving and seeing them.  I take my inspiration from all the beautiful women in my life who also stumble through this wondrous work.  I draw upon their strengths and this Mother's Day, I pray for them--by name--by circumstance--that they would all know how very lovely--how very seen--they are.