Unsettled Waters

Unsettled Waters

After the way Lent has gone this year, I was more than happy to get away last week. I had five days alone on Cape Cod, days which included my birthday and Palm Sunday. I had completely reached my capacity for dealing with other human beings so I was not at all disappointed with there was fog, mist, rain, sleet and snow in the forecast. Cold and damp means empty beaches. Empty beaches make me very happy.

My first day up there, I went out to Head of the Meadows just before low tide. As I’d hoped the fog had kept everyone away.

Wreck of the Frances - sunk in December 1872

Wreck of the Frances – sunk in December 1872

There in the shallows, was the wreck of the Frances, easily visible from the shore. The sand bars went almost right up to it and I seriously considered wading through the shallows to get out there but then I remembered that I had promised my mother that I wouldn’t do anything stupid. So instead I opted for a long walk down the beach. I love the fog. It was impossible not to feel it wrapped around me and equally impossible not to breath it in. The smell of salt water and fresh mist felt so good and so clean. I kept my eyes on the fog, watching it roll down from the high ground to the beach and to the edge of waves. It might have been wiser to watch the sky behind the high ground because after I had meandered a couple of miles down the beach, the sky opened up with cold, steady rain. I meandered my way back towards my car and just before I got there, the sun came out. Gotta love God’s sense of humor. I headed back to the resort to dry clothes, a long hot shower and to curl up with my Kindle by the windows.

My second day started out rainy and I knew I was going to get wet. I have a thing for water so I don’t mind the rain. For the last couple of years, the only thing I wanted was to see a seal on the beaches. I hadn’t bothered with looking at a map. I pointed the car East and drove until I hit water, then turned South. I wound up at Chatham Lighthouse. I parked the car and looked out across the water to one of the many islands. There in front me were seals. Hundreds of seals. An entire colony of seals. There were cars parked, with people taking in the view from the warmth and dryness of their cars. Not me. I was down the stairs on to the beach in a heartbeat.

Chatham Coyote

Chatham Coyote

The rain switched over to sleet and walking North on the beach would’ve meant walking into the wind and sleet. I’m a little crazy but not that crazy. I started to walk South but hadn’t gone very far when I saw something move on the bluffs about a fifty feet away. I was being watched by a very large coyote. It decided to run up and down the beach between me and the only way to back to the car. It wasn’t afraid of me in the slightest. I, on the other hand, have enough sense to know I didn’t want tangle with it and was suddenly very much aware of the fact that I was the only one on the beach. I made my way back to the car, timing a dash for the stairs as the coyote was a little further up the beach. Gotta love God’s idea of surprises. I headed back soaking wet, half-frozen and giddy after my close encounter with the wild kingdom. Another long hot shower and a lazy afternoon with my Kindle. But as night fell, I caught myself doing dishes, restless and just rattling around the townhouse, staying up far later than I normally do. I realized I was keeping vigil for my Dad the way I had when I was younger. When my Dad died, it was shortly after midnight, a Friday night into Saturday, not very long into my birthday. I hadn’t stayed up to watch the minutes tick by like that in years.

Saturday morning started with rain but quickly changed to wet snow. I decided spending a quiet day curled up in front of the windows, reading and watching the snow come down sounded like a perfect way to spend a birthday. I ordered in delicious veal parmigiana dinner, completely enjoying the silence. I read. I wrote in my journal. I read some more. I wrote some more.

Palm Sunday was the lone day of sun and gorgeous blue skies. I stopped in Wellfleet on my way up to Race Point. Wellfleet had huge chunks of ice washing ashore a few weeks back.  Alas, I had missed them so I continued on my way up to Race Point.

The folly of man

The folly of man

My usual parking lot was closed, buried under a foot or more of sand. Seeing the arrow for the parking area pointing directly into an impassable pile of sand amused me to no end – the folly of man and the power of nature. I wanted so badly to go in the water but with a windchill of 24 and a water temperature of 38 and rough surf, I thought the better of it. I stood at the edge of the breakers and argued with myself. My more sensible side won out. That’s a rarity.

I spent a lot of time reading during those days. Deacon Ron recommended a book to me before I left titled If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat. I made it through six of the ten chapters before driving home and I’m still reading. It made me think how much my life has changed in the past year, far more than I’ve taken time to appreciate. Taking that five days to stop and rest and reflect made me realize that it’s no wonder I drove up there feeling overwhelmed. In the space of one year, my RA went into remission, I lost my beloved furry companion, I went back to school, my younger son started middle school, my older son explored his passion for engines, and I’m still figuring out this whole dating church thing. Trying to balance my life’s changes with the changes in my kids’ lives has been almost too much at times. I needed a quiet, calm, reflective Lent. I guess God thought otherwise because instead I was reminded how passionate I can be about the ordination of women, how deeply my past has affected me, and just how unsettled I feel right now and that’s just for starters. Deacon Ron asked me before I left for the Cape if I felt like I was on a bridge between two places. That’s pretty accurate and what became clearer during that time away was the image of that bridge: a scary high rope bridge with space between the planks and neither side being very securely anchored.

I love Triduum and I wait all year for those three days. And yet this year, I dreaded them. After Ash Wednesday and another incident in mid-March, walking back into the Catholic parish that had been my home for so long was an unpleasant prospect. But the idea of stepping into something entirely unfamiliar wasn’t any better. Holy Thursday, I couldn’t bring myself to get my feet washed like I had in years past. I couldn’t let my guard down that much. Good Friday wasn’t much better. The kids refer to the Passion as “that service where Mom cries the whole time” but aside from the uncontrollable flinching as the spikes were pounded into the cross, there would be no tears. I was edgy and uneasy until the end. As I came up to venerate the huge wooden cross, I rested my head against it and most of the junk I’d been carrying rolled off. Yes, I said most, not all, only as much as I would let go of. Easter Vigil was amazing and by the time it was over, I had let my guard down as much as I possibly could. I walked away feeling like I could make a clean break now. There was nothing left open and raw now.

So am I walking on water? I jumped out of the boat almost a year ago. Now, I’ve panicked and started to sink. I’m not looking for the boat yet. I’m still reaching for His hand to pull me up.

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Spiritually Honest

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Some years, Lent is quiet and reflective.  Some years it’s a struggle. This year, thus far, it has been a swift kick in the ass. Ash Wednesday really hurt and while I’d like to say it happened, it hurt, I’m okay now, and walk away from it, I can’t. Because if I won’t take the time to understand what broke loose that night, I’m just going through the motions and at that point, the weight of this holy season would be completely lost on me.

I learned some things that night:

1) I have panic triggers I didn’t know even know existed, even after seven years out. This scares me.

2) I have incredible, supportive, faith-filled friends and family. This encourages me beyond words. I love you all.

3) I was lazy, dishonest and prideful Wednesday night and I paid a heavy price for that.

These three things will take a lot of working through over the remaining 37 days of Lent.

I have my list of excuses. I was legitimately exhausted, having not slept Tuesday night. It was dark and brutally cold. I opted to drive the mile to my old familiar Catholic parish rather than the ten miles to my Lutheran church. Even though I brought my mother to Mass, I didn’t want to tell her that I would rather go somewhere else for Mass because I didn’t want admit anything that even remotely resembled weakness. I stayed in a situation that I realized would be difficult because of territorial pride. This was my parish first! I was here since childhood! How dare this interloper come in and take over!

I set myself up and I got knocked down hard. It was a wake up call I needed. Showing up in my Catholic parish because I didn’t feel like dragging my sorry self to the next town over for Lutheran services is nothing less than spiritually lazy and worse, spiritually dishonest. Bringing my mother to Mass is a good thing and had that alone been my reason, all would be well. But settling for what is convenient, familiar and, therefore, comfortable is wrong. I can’t continue with a foot on either side of the line. I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of girl. In or out. Yes or no. Can I accept all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and professes? No. Okay, then I need to be out and quit running back because it’s a mile away and I’m quite fond of the pastor. Those are not valid reasons to be there.

It took me about a day to fully reset the emotional switches after Ash Wednesday but I learned a hard lesson in love and trust. It’s easy to love and to trust when things are going good.  But when the bottom drops out unexpectedly, when I get clobbered with far more than I can handle, can I love and trust Him even then? More than that, can I let Him love me, even when it scares me to admit I screwed up? Yes. God doesn’t want perfect. He wants honest. He can work with honest. And I needed to learn that  – again – for the hundredth time – and God knows, I learn everything the hard way.

What does all that mean for the next 37 days?  I don’t know yet. This year Lent for me has slowed to a one-day-at-a-time crawl. And that’s okay. I got knocked down and I will crawl until I can walk and walk until I can dance.

Love In The Ashes

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Lent started yesterday with ashes, as it always does. It was the tears that were so unexpected. For some crazy reason, I didn’t sleep the night before Ash Wednesday. I have to get the boys to school and I have to work which means the only Ash Wednesday services I could get to had to be at night. My Catholic church had a 6:30 Mass.  The university had one later than that but I was completely exhausted. My kids were going to the Catholic church with their father. ***Sigh***  I wasn’t up to facing my ex. Maybe another church. I checked the times and found I had other options. But at the last possible moment, my mother asked me if I was going to Mass and could she come with me. Mom hasn’t been up to going to church since Christmas and she loves our Fr Tom so I didn’t even suggest the other parish I had in mind.

We settled into her usual pew, way in the back. That suited me just fine. I haven’t been there much for quite some time and I wasn’t feeling especially social. At the start of Mass, my ex’s new girlfriend announced that she and he would be our lectors for the evening.

Oh my God. Really? REALLY?!  I really do not have the stomach for this tonight Lord.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with her. I’ve met her a few times.  She seems very sweet and my boys like her. And I truly don’t care what my ex does with his life because I don’t have to be part of it anymore. I managed for the last six years to avoid the Masses where he served in any visible role. High holy days, I’ve learned to shut my eyes if he does serve in any visible role. But lector? I didn’t expect that one. And here I was, trapped as the captive audience.

‘RUN!’ Oh yeah. The Gremlin showed up full force. That bastard was loving this.

‘This has been my home for almost thirty years and I’ll be damned if I’m leaving.’

‘Have it your way, Kid.‘ The laugh. The awful, nasty, evil laugh.

My ex read the second reading last night. 2 Corinthians. I can close my eyes but I can’t close my ears. My only option for avoiding this was to walk outside. To literally get up and walk out of Mass. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I steeled myself. thought I could handle it. I was wrong. As a result, I heard something else entirely. Years of emotional abuse replayed in my head at full screaming volume interspersed with The Gremlin’s snickering. So what I heard went a little something like this:

Brothers and sisters:

You stupid, miserable waste of breath

We are ambassadors for Christ,

You are USELESS! TOTALLY USELESS!

as if God were appealing through us.

You are the worst mother I have EVER seen…

We implore you on behalf of Christ,

Know what’s wrong with this house?! YOU’RE IN IT!

be reconciled to God.

Stupid, hopeless piece of trash!

For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,

You are so completely WORTHLESS!

so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

A worthless PIECE OF S***

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

You are NOTHING but…

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

A. COMPLETE. AND. TOTAL.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;

WASTE. OF.

behold, now is the day of salvation.

LIFE.

At first, I started to laugh and that immediately turned to tears that would not stop until many hours later. Waves of nausea washed over me and I fought to keep down what precious little I’d had to eat on this day of fasting. All the while I desperately fought the urge to run. I pleaded for Him to silence The Gremlin, for sanity, for calm, something, anything…please just help me.

I love you. Stay with me. A whisper, nothing more. To walk out the doors was to walk out on Love. And He was asking me to stay now. I couldn’t walk out on Him.

Calm didn’t come and the racket in my head didn’t subside. Those few minutes felt like hours and when they were over, I felt eviscerated. I received ashes with tears still running freely down my face. By the time I received Communion I was shaking all over. Something inside broke loose last night. One of my protective walls came crashing down on top of me. I don’t know what exactly. I still have walls inside of walls inside of walls and I’ve long since lost track of the where or how or why of most of them. I invited Him into that space a long time ago and apparently He’s decided to rearrange things a bit. I was still teary this morning as I washed the ashes from my forehead. I sat at the beach this morning in spite of the cold. After a little while, the last of the pain subsided and the dust inside finally started to settle. I suspect Lent is going to rough this year.