Never Good Enough

My father used to love to sit outside early in the morning and watch the daybreak.  I love to sit outside in the early evening and watch the nightfall.  What interesting terms we have: “break” and “fall” seem a bit harsh for something that happens gently, gracefully and peacefully.  I’ve spent a great deal of time the last few weeks reflecting on the simplicity and complexity of nature.  The light and the dark. The sun and the moon.  The snow, especially I have spent time with the snowfall.  There is nothing in nature quite as amazing as the snow.

Yes I know, many people are quite sick of the snow.  It’s inconvenient to shovel.  It causes delays and even cancellations.  But I’ve noticed that no matter what the weather, we’re never completely happy.  If it’s too cold, we want it warmer.  If it’s too hot, we want it colder.  If the sun is shining, it causes sunglare during rush hour.  If it rains… well you get the idea.  If only it would snow just on the weekend.  If only it was sunny on the day of picnic.  If only…one of my favorite sayings.

But if something as beyond my control as the weather is never quite right, what about the things I can control?  What about my cell phone?  My car? My clothes?  There’s always an upgrade waiting.  Always something bigger, better, faster, more!!!

Now comes the scary question.  What about my kids? I catch myself at times eyeing the clothes they’re wearing and wishing they were in Gap or Abercrombie, but those are not in my price range.  I watch their grades and then try get a feel for how the other kids in the class did on the same test.  Does it matter if math isn’t a good subject this year?  They aren’t into organized sports.  Are they missing something?  The bad attitude that I get from them, is it just the way their friends are these days?  What about the rules of respect that I demand?  And do I compare them to each other or to my pre-teen self?  I was a high honors student who failed several of my classes and skipped as much homework as I completed.  I don’t want them to make those mistakes but I don’t want to punish them before they’ve even had a chance to live their own lives.

Why is  (FILL IN THE BLANK)  never good enough?

Maybe that is my fascination with nature.  It just is.  Raving about the bitter cold tonight won’t warm me up but standing in the eye-watering cold and admiring the stars, which are incredibly bright tonight, does bring about a deep sense of wonder.  I am innocent, if only for a brief time.  There was a time of innocence in my life when nothing mattered but the beauty of the warmth of the sun, the chill of snow, the droplets of the rain and the puddles they left behind.  The people around me were who they were, no improvements or changes were expected. Everything was good and “enough” was a classification I had yet to learn.

Random Perfection

As my household has settled in for the snowstorm that is just beginning, the third so far this winter, I find myself drawn to linger outside.  I have a good excuse to slip out to walk the dog, but despite the cold, I’m reluctant to come back inside to the light and noise.  The snow is just starting to fall and the busy world seems to have paused for a bit, at least until the storm has passed.  So far this winter I’ve enjoyed two snowstorms and they were so very different.  The first had howling winds that snatched the words from my mouth and carved, even sculpted the snow into magnificent drifts.  For two days the winds roared with a noise that could not be ignored, but with practice could be tuned out, not unlike the pleas of an insistent child.  The second was so hushed and so quiet that even the dog stopped to listen.  I could actually hear the snow falling.  I stood in wonder and listened to the near-silence.  There was whisper, like that of a lover, as each flake drifted slowly and carefully into place.  Each flake stacked on top of others, piling up on the bushes around the house.  As I wandered over to the bush to take a closer look at the snow that was clinging to the branches, I could see every snowflake.   Each one was perfectly formed and perfectly balanced on the others.  The photos I took don’t even begin to do justice to the amazing sight.  The feeling that came over me was that of seeing and hearing a mirrored reflection. 

There in the snow, I saw random perfection, uniquely and deliberately formed.  Outside in the darkness, I heard the reverberations of my soul.  At times, a roar so loud that it drowns out everything and at other times, a hushed whisper that seems to say, “If you want to hear, be quiet.”  I was reminded of  the passage in Isaiah where God describes his servant. 

Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.

This was a passage I stumbled across it at a time when I had all but given up on God.  I remembered the desire I’d once had, a flame that had diminished to a smoldering wick.  I was bruised, but not broken.  I found hope in those words and now several years later, there is a new fondness for these words.  I have a deep appreciation of the mercy and gentleness of my God, one who surrounds me with beauty and fills my soul with wonder.

Today as the newest storm begins, appointments are rescheduled, schools and businesses are already closing,  and everyone has hunkered down to ride out the storm.  I find myself filled with quiet anticipation, breathlessly waiting for the ever-changing beauty that tomorrow will bring.  There is nothing like snow to remind me of all that is new, clean and good.  Even the rusty old chain link fence can be transformed.  Imagine.  If God can do that with a fence, what incredible things can he do with me?

Epiphany

Happy New Year my friends!  It is so hard to believe 2010 is over and a new year has begun.  This year went by in a blur, which makes trying to look back over it dizzying at best.  My well-intentioned plan of reviewing my journals for the past year took longer than I planned.  I was startled to find I had filled five and half journals, not counting the notebook I used while on retreat or the separate journal where I record short notes on scripture passages.  I’d forgotten how much had happened during this past year. 

In looking back over the year, there were a great many entries on the day-to-day stuff of life.  The year started out with the kids being sick and their record number of doctor visits.  There were many days worrying about missing time from work and how I would have the money to pay my bills.  But there were also the deeper entries.  My growing frustration in the parish as time and again the adult ministry was formed and re-formed, eventually morphing into a model I ultimately can’t accept.  The emotional anguish of selling my wedding band and diamond engagement ring, a sad reminder of all the empty promises, unfulfilled vows and lack of discernment that it symbolized.  That which had meant so much to me fetched enough money to pay my car taxes and re-register my car.  There were my weekly Lenten meetings with Deacon Ron, both a retreat and great gift which yielded  new challenges along with a number of strange and vivid dreams along with numerous cross-references to the my notes on scripture passages or other books and  papers.  I gave my testimony for my annulment, which is still pending as this new year begins.  There were the three days of bailing out a flooded basement during Holy Week.  Then the Beginning Experience retreat the weekend after Easter filled with the upheaval of anger that I’d tried to bury or just plain forget.  The joy of Mother’s day when Eugene made his First Communion and stood at the pulpit to give his first witness talk – a few kind words about me as his mom.  The increasing concern over the continuing deterioration of my health.  The agonizing decision to leave the parish that has been my home and haven for 25 years to escape the constant head games of my ex, only to end back there for Mass. Taking my first vacation alone,  I relished the solitude and freedom to enjoy a pilgrimage of sorts to the home of one of my favorite poets.  Parties and dinners with dear friends were bright spots throughout the year.  The hellishly hot days of summer and long lazy afternoons spent at the beach trying to escape the heat and humidity. My struggles during the Week of Guided Prayer to find both focus and honesty within my heart, while moving from concern to fear as my eyesight rapidly decreased.  That was a time when wild and seemingly random drawings filled a fair number of pages.  Gradually those gave way to the letters to God.  And always the nagging worries about the boys, the bills, and my health.  There have been struggles to set goals for great future plans but the day-to-day living has often proved too pressing for such  plans.

I could go on for pages but on this Feast of the Epiphany, I have to say I feel cheated.  The year went by so fast. There was never enough time and what time there was felt harried and scattered.  As with the rest of this year, Christmas came and went far too quickly.  The Feast of the Holy Family followed the day after Christmas  and I missed Mass that day, being trapped at home by the blizzard. Now I’ve arrived at this day a mere 8 days after Christmas.  I was only able to hear the beautiful Gloria sung twice at Mass and people are already posting on Facebook that it’s time to pack up the Christmas decorations and get back to normal life.  Wait!  Stop!  Let me catch my breath and take in all the wonder that is part of the birth of Jesus. 

The image of the Wise Men crossing the desert in the dark with only a star to guide them has long been my favorite.  Their understanding that something amazing had occurred and their search for the mysterious king hits a raw nerve with me.  I know something amazing has happened, something far beyond my understanding.  I know this king is someone I seek, yet I know only what little I have read or been told about him, which seems like far too little.  I am reminded of my many walks along the beach at sunset, returning to my car with only the moonlight to light my way.  There is just enough light to see my way for the next few feet.  On this spiritual journey across the darkened desert I bring with me only the gifts I have, which seem like precious little. When I find myself before the king, what gift do I ask of him?  That much I know for certain.  The gift I seek is the fire I saw in my father’s eyes as he lay dying,  a fire I have yet to find words to describe – a melding of faith, trust, love and fierce desire that burned brilliantly as his soul shone through his cancer ravaged body.  But I knew from the moment I saw it that it was a fire I wanted above all else.  As the years have slipped away and my life’s mistakes have mounted, I asked less and less for the fire or for anything at all.  My pleas have far more often been “please don’t hate me” which has lessened to “please don’t be angry with me” and further still to “please don’t be disappointed in me”.  Only recently have I learned to ask again.  Now asking simply, “Be with me here.”

This past summer, as my vision slipped to its lowest point ever, there came a moment when the question raised in my heart was this:

“What if this is the path I need to walk to obtain that fire?  What if the only way to receive that gift is to accept that all of the random chaos that is my life is part of something beyond my understanding, requiring the one thing I struggle most to offer – trust.  Am I willing to make that journey?”

Without a doubt, but not without fear, I still want that fire and if this road is the one I have to walk to get there, then everything that happens along the way is worth it.  Every step brings me closer to that which I seek.