Let me be the first to say, you are welcome here, brother or sister.
Come as you are, not as you should be, for we are all pilgrims on this journey, and though we may seek the highest levels of holiness and perfection (i.e., to become great saints), we must also be honest with ourselves in admitting that we are not there...yet.
And that's ok. Because at this moment in time, we are right where we are supposed to be. The Lord is leading us, and though we know not where the road may go, we can trust that - so long as we follow our gentle and tender Shepherd - we need not be afraid.
In the About section of this site, I wrote of my wanderings over the years and how the Lord has brought me back to Him through them. Let me assure you, though, this transformation did not take place overnight, and I am still far from perfect. However, as a good friend recently pointed out, we can still be joyful in the process of being perfected because we know that God will indeed make us perfect in His time.
If you're like me, you might find momentary comfort in the thought that the Lord is forming you slowly, but after reflecting on this rather romantic notion for a time, you grow...restless. I grow restless. I return to my worldly wanderings, not wanting to wait but to act NOW, to do great things and take grandiose adventures to far-off places, and for what?
To get another stamp in my passport? I've found most of them to be disappointing and too light on ink to be worthwhile, and I certainly don't sit at home each night flipping through this little book, reminiscing. So, no lasting satisfaction there.
To cross off another country on the rose-gold scratch map that hangs on my wall? Hardly. The last few times I've scratched off new places I've visited, I scratched too hard and ripped that entire section of the map. Sorry, Washington and Oregon...that week last summer was fun, but now you're just a poorly-patched memory on a pretty pitiful map. So, sayonara to any satisfaction on that front.
To take pictures so that I can say I've been here or there? Perhaps..after all, we see such things posted on our friends and family members' social media accounts all the time (often without even knowing they were gone)...spring break trips to impoverished areas, summer getaways to exotic locations, two-week European excursions...the list is endless. Perhaps your pages are full of these, too.
Don't worry, I'm not judging; I used to be the same way. I lived my life through lenses and screens, unconsciously craving the love and attention of others through likes, until I was so caught up in what other people thought of me and how other people perceived me that I lost sight of the only person's opinion that mattered: God's. The vanity fair my life had become became clear to me the semester I studied abroad in college, when I arrived in Italy, iPhone in hand, ready to capture the world with my camera.
Our time began in Rome, and during the first week there, I lost my phone. The best I can come up with is that it slipped out of my pocket on one of our many bus rides, and - as anyone who has been to Italy will know - once something is lost there, it will never be found. Pickpockets are a real thing and, this time, they didn't even have to pick: my phone was literally handed to them on a silver platter (or, more accurately, a blue bus seat). I imagine the person who picked up my phone probably felt like he or she had hit the lottery.
Sei il benvenuto, amico.
Suddenly forced to encounter the world without a filter, I realized something incredible: not only was no filter necessary, no picture was ever necessary.
Call me crazy, but I compare this piece of enlightenment to a scene from one of my favorite films, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (Fair warning: The next three paragraphs will include spoilers so feel free to skip ahead, though I like to think it would be worth reading...)
There's a pivotal scene at the end of the movie where Walter has finally found Sean in the Himalayas, where Sean is lying in wait for a snow leopard to present itself. When the rare creature finally emerges from a crag in the cliff across from them, Sean smiles in wonder...without moving to take a picture, which is the whole reason he's there.
Walter, confused by his apparent hesitation, asks, "When are you gonna take it?" Sean simply responds, "Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment - I mean, me, personally - I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just wanna stay...in it."
Walter softly echoes, "Stay...in it?", to which Sean reiterates, "Yeah, right there...right here." He then looks at Walter and smiles, showing that he cares more about sharing the moment with Walter than capturing it on camera for the whole world.
This brings to mind something from a more spiritual standpoint - namely, a verse from Scripture, where the Blessed Mother is said to have "kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51).
Though sometimes the Lord asks us to share parts of our heart with the world in order to shine the light He has placed there, there are also times when it is better to remain humble and simply be present to the people around you or even to keep special spiritual truths between you and your heavenly Father.
I have found this to be true not only in my travels but any time I share a part of myself with others, be it in person or over some sort of social media outlet. I believe sharing something about yourself always begs the question, What is my hope for this encounter?
Friend, I want to be totally transparent with you from this very first post: my hope with this blog, this YouTube channel, this podcast, with joyinhope in general, is to shine the light of God through the dark in which I find myself and others in order to uplift & inspire us all to lead happier, holier lives, and to bring us closer to Christ.
It is not for the likes, the followers, or the subscribers, all of whom are God's own anyway. They do not belong to me.
That is my goal, and that is my aim. I promise to never pretend to be something or someone I'm not, and I hope to never come across as someone who is holier-than-thou, either. I am a sinner in desperate need of God's grace, striving to do His Will and hear His voice, and to return to Him as often as I stray, seeking His love and mercy...
In short, I am simply a saint-in-the-making, as are YOU.
Do you believe that?
I would like to end with something I was inspired to write while in Italy. I actually lived and studied in a tiny town on the outskirts of Florence during that time called Settignano, but one of my favorite spots was in another hilltop town known as Fiesole. I won't be surprised if you haven't heard of these places, as I hadn't either until I was already there.
I like to think that this is how all aspects of joyinhope will be discovered...not because it's already well-known or as common of a name as "Coca-Cola," but because it's as rare as seeing a snow leopard or as precious as the ponderings of the Blessed Mother...beautiful in a simple way, and never asking for attention.
all for His greater glory,
"She Can Be Florence" March 18, 2016 She can be Florence, and I can be Fiesole... she the grand and well-known European city, I the modest Italian countryside... She can be the rose and I the daisy... she the obvious beauty, the mark of passion and the prize of love, while I am content to grow near the earth and be discovered only by those who take precious care to glance down and admire simple beauty... She can be the Saint who is canonized, who has her own feast day, while I merely join the Communion of Saints venerated one day a year... she the one churches are built in honor of, who is revered for centuries to come, while I will touch the lives of those closest to me while in this life and then be forgotten in this world... ...and that is perfectly okay. At my life's close, and at every point until then, it's only about me and God. It was never between me and her anyway.