November 9, 2014

Of Thanksgiving, Gratitude and Praise Fest

So it's ten-thirty o'clock on a Sunday night and I'm drinking coffee-ish stuff so I might as well blog.  In particular I will be blogging this talk I gave on Friday at this event called Praise Fest.  I was super nervous and I was kind of freaking out but it went very well.  I got some compliments and everything.  For those of you who don't know, at Praise Fest, us teens have Eucharistic Adoration, Benediction, we say the Rosary, Chaplet, and sing songs and stuff.  And we socialize.  Obviously.  ;) But anyway, here is the talk.  :) You might not get some of this stuff if you have never been to Praise Fest or don't know the people I talk about, or if you don't know me that well.  But here it is anyway. 

Praise Fest Talk for November 7th, 2014
                I remember one of the first Praise Fests I went to.  It actually may have been the first Praise Fest ever.  It was at the McGrath's house and Elena and Josh were giving the talks.  I was a freshman and the seniors or college students give the talks and so I had at least three or four years before I would even have to worry about maybe giving a talk.  But that night, I distinctly remember thinking, "Wow.  I am never going to give a talk at Praise Fest.  Mrs. Luke and Aunt Ce-Ce can try, but they won't be able to convince me to give one when I'm a senior in four years.  That is totally not happening. I'm not going to give one. Ever."  Obviously, God had other plans, because here I am.  
                For those of you who don't know me, my name is Jessica Miller and I am seventeen years old and a senior in High School.  I have been homeschooled for my entire life and I have lived in the Dayton area my whole life.  I am the second-oldest of six and I have three sisters and two little brothers.  I have a small extended family and I'm not really close to my three blood cousins anymore.  Therefore, our family has many adopted, spiritual cousins.  Our family likes to do a lot of things together including laughing, playing games, and watching movies.  Something we especially like to do is to dance and "sing" and listen to music.  We jam out and play air-guitar, flip our hair and listen to a variety of music anywhere from Matt Maher to Joe Bonamassa to Weird AL to Taylor Swift to Jamie-Grace.  It's one of my favorite things to do as a family. 
                So far, this year I have had a tough semester.  People always told me that junior year was the hardest, but for me, senior year is hard too.  And on top of all my school, I've been thinking about college.  A friend of mine said I have senioritis which is not being sure of what you're going to do in college, or if you're even going to college.  I think I agree.
                About a month or two or three ago, a lot of people were doing this "gratitude challenge" on Facebook and I think it went around on Google -plus too.  Basically for five days you would post five things you were thankful for.  I never actually did it, but it was cool to see people posting random things they were thankful for.  People were publicly being thankful, even though it wasn't Thanksgiving.  And they took the time to show gratitude, because gratitude is worth it.  Especially if you express it.  Because then it makes other people grateful that you remembered their act of kindness or whatever they did to make you thankful.  People are happy that you care enough to thank them and then the gratitude gets spread around.   Gratitude leads to joy and if gratitude gets spread around, then there is more joy.  One of my favorite saints once said, "If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!"  I think we were created to be joyful and grateful and to spread joy, so we are setting the world on fire for God by just being appreciative.    Saint Catherine of Siena knows what's up. 
                I remember one of the times in my life when I was grateful for a new friend.  Some years back, I had a friend who I was pretty close to and I could see us becoming closer and being good buddies.  But her family was in the military, so she moved away a couple years after we met.  After that we kept in touch for a while but we kind of lost touch and we haven't talked in quite a while.  I was pretty sad and even a few years after they were gone I was still sad and missing her quite a bit even though I didn't realize how much.  Then, a couple years ago, I made a new friend.  She was a lot like my other friend since they were both from military families, had similar personalities and even looked alike.  I was so glad to have a new friend.  I really believe God put her in my life when I needed it and she unknowingly filled a place in my heart.  I found more opportunities to be thankful for the friends I already had and very thankful for new friendships.  One of the easiest things for me to be thankful for now is friendships.  All of them.  Now, I realize for that particular situation, God took one friend out of my life and put a new one in, but He's not always going to do that.  I think He's taking things out of my life and making room for Himself.  I think that I don't have enough room for God and so He's taking out some unnecessary things in my life and showing me He's better.  And it's hard because it's hard to be grateful when something doesn't go as I hoped. 
                For me it's hard to find anything to be grateful for when I'm suffering or angry.  But suffering brings me closer to Jesus.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta said "Pain and suffering have come into your life but remember…Pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus.  A sign that you have come close to Him that can kiss you."  That is a really powerful message for me.  It's amazing to know that I'm that close to Jesus when I'm suffering.  It gives me a reason to be grateful amidst suffering and realize I can be joyful and know that I'm not suffering in vain.  It's very possible to grateful in suffering. 
                For me, gratitude is being thankful right now for the things I have right now.  It's not being thankful only on certain conditions or being grumpy that I don't have something and wishing I did and only be grateful when I feel like it.  Gratitude is about being happy and thankful in the moment and keeping that gratitude.  It's about finding a reason to be grateful in every circumstance and situation.  And when I have rough times, I can look back to when I was grateful and find that joy in the hard moment.  I once saw a quote that went something like this: "What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?"  For me, that quote really hit home.  It honestly made me think, wow.  I better be more grateful.  There are so many things to be grateful for, but oftentimes I forget that.  I dwell on the bad and the things I don't have and I get really annoyed.  But, I need to slow down and be grateful because gratitude truly brings joy.  Some people think that Thanksgiving is "that day to be grateful."  But we're supposed to be grateful everyday not just Thanksgiving or November.  Thanksgiving is a great holiday and it's so cool to have a holiday for just being thankful for what we do have.  But we should celebrate God's gift of life everyday and let everyday be a celebration of gratitude.  I have so much to be thankful for, but I'll just list a few things that come to mind here.  God, all the saints in heaven, my family and friends, theater, music, the color purple, hot apple cider, chocolate, 1950's dresses, handwritten letters, the Rosary, and of course Praise Fest.  
                This year God has especially helped me in starting to trust Him.  It probably first started when I went to a Steubenville conference a couple years ago.  I was handed a Popsicle stick with a bible verse from Proverbs on it.  "She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future." [Proverbs 31:25] For me, it was a reminder that God was in charge and to not be afraid and just trust him.  It wasn't that hard at first, but recently I was having trouble trusting God mostly because I didn't have college plans figured out.  I was trying to manage everything and I thought I had to do it all.  But lately, God has been showing me that I can trust him with anything and everything.  He can do it all and I don't have to be afraid.  He know the plans He has for me and he'll show them to me when it's the right time.  And until then, I keep trusting Him and trust He knows what He's doing.  Because He does.  And so I am very grateful to God for helping me find this trust and peace and I trust that He'll keep coming through.  I thank God through prayer mostly, but there are many ways to thank God.  One way is obviously prayer.  Prayer is an excellent way to tell God how thankful you are in a personal way.  And it doesn't have to be elaborate because it's just between you and God and he knows what you're thinking.  Or it could be super elaborate; whatever expression of gratitude works for you, God understands.  But a different way I think is a good way to thank God is by celebrating.  And I mean celebrating by having ice cream or something like that.  Not using gratitude as an excuse to eat ice cream, but rather a way to stop and take a physical thing to thank God and appreciate Him with your senses.  Sometimes I think it's good to have a physical thing to remind us how grateful we are.  It also could help to make our gratitude more real and not just in our heads.  I think it works well for me. 
                Gratitude is a great thing to have all the time.  There are so many opportunities to be grateful and since joy comes in part from gratitude, the world would be a happier place.  First Thessalonians Chapter five, verse eighteen says, "…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  So I am thankful for having all of you as friends and I have much gratitude that you listened to my talk about gratitude.  Have a happy Thanksgiving!!   

So thank you for reading this far and for reading any of my blog posts.  I appreciate it.  :) So have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and remember to be thankful and joyous all the time.  :) We can work on it together. ;)