Unguarded Gut Level Stuff

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I did something crazy last weekend. I buried my old boots. I made my annual trek to Cape Cod and The Prayer Boots came along for one last walk down the beach.

Those worn out old boots were a physical reminder of who I had been when I started walking with God and letting go of them was also a way of letting go of those perceptions of myself that I had carried on my journey up to this point. That was much harder than I expected but it was time to finally put to rest the worn out illusions I had about myself and about God. I couldn’t embrace what is right in front of me until I could put down what I was carrying so protectively.

To do that meant letting my guard down. For the first time, my kids came with me to Cape Cod and so they were in a space I have jealously reserved as space for me to be alone with God. Understand that it is exceptionally hard for me to let people close to me really see me being, well… me. It’s honestly easier to be myself in a room full of people I don’t know than it is with the people who see me everyday. Because while I’ve changed over the years, people’s perceptions of me have not always kept pace. Thus, to let my boys witness me bury an old part of myself in a spot that only God and I understand was a whole new level of vulnerability. But there we were on Saturday morning, as I walked a mile or so down Head of the Meadows Beach with the boots tucked under my arm, dug a grave and buried them in not-so-random spot and, all the while, my teenage sons offered their commentary.

“Mom, you’re not seriously going to do this…?”

“Aaaaand there she goes… ooookay…walking away now…cuckoo”

And yet, despite their banter, one helped me dig and the other found a piece of driftwood for a head stone. They knew this was important to me and they accepted it as such even if they didn’t totally understand it. I had made it as clear as humanly possible that my time on the Cape is sacred to me and allowing them to be a part of that was a big deal. I’m not sure that totally registered for either of them until that moment when I put the boots down and started digging.

They were very good about giving me quiet space in the evenings to read. Knowing I had five nights to read as late as I wanted, I had brought two books with me to the Cape: Lies We Believe About God by William Paul Young and Doing the Truth in Love by Michael Himes. The latter was assigned while the former was not. As it turned out, both were important.

Himes talks about the sacramental nature of everyday life. Anything which allows us to become aware of God’s omnipresent grace is a sacrament. I couldn’t throw away those boots like everyday trash, because to me (and surely no one else) they were part of many a sacramental encounter.

Young talks about so many things but the one that deeply touched me was that God is never disappointed in me simply because God never had any expectations that I would be any different than I actually am. God knows who I am and what makes me tick better than I do so of course God doesn’t expect me to be something other than me. The one with the impossible expectations is me, not God.

On a gut level, I already knew these things to be true but to see them printed in black and white was an affirmation that I needed. There seems to be a lot of these little affirmations the last few weeks. Learning to trust my gut has become a theme of Lent this year for me. I’m rolling with things I don’t totally understand on an intellectual level because on a gut level I’m trusting that God knows what God’s doing and that God knows how to deal with me being me so I can stop apologizing for being the weird and sappy nerd that I am.

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Trust, Love & Ice Missiles

 

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Race Point Beach

I spent last weekend on Cape Cod enjoying my annual pilgrimage to solitude and sanity. I had hoped to leave everything behind but alas, life conspired against me and I ended up bringing homework with me. As it turned out, that was precisely the way it was meant to be. Uninterrupted, I read voraciously, finishing one novel, reading another cover to cover, re-reading half of Eve and dabbling in some rather basic Lutheran theology. New England weather was at its finest with everything from 50-degree temperatures and blue skies to wicked snow and 50 mph winds. In short, this was heaven!

Two rainy mornings left me with some time to reflect on what I learned about trust during Holy Week. Being a student is an escape for me. It’s so easy for me to examine trust as an abstract thing. I look for proof or evidence to make an argument for the existence of trust. I can see it in others but what I miss is that I’m also already in the midst of a trusting relationship. How else would I be where I am right now?  On top of being physically able to be in school, through every assignment, every 5 a.m. paper, every registration decision, I have been led and guided all along the way. Deep down, if I let myself feel, I know that. But there’s always that lingering fear of being abandoned. Maybe that goes away. Maybe it never does. Maybe trust is hanging on in spite of that fear. One thing I’ve come to understand: trust isn’t an abstract. It’s a gut feeling and it comes only with experience. God hasn’t left me yet so I’ll take the next step and see what happens.

Those same two rainy mornings left me the time I needed to finish a paper on relationships and love. Ah yes, love, another gut feeling that  I prefer to hold at a safe distance. ‘Love bites’ was clearly not going to be a great starting point so I had allow myself a less jaded approach. What is love?  Digging past all sappy romantic notions, love is seeking the good of the other and a willingness to hold open space for the other to grow, to be and to become who they are. After all, isn’t that very simply what God does for me? God works for my good and allows me the open space that I need to be who I am, even when who I am is deeply flawed. I have been given the open space I need to grow, to fail, to explore, to be and to become. That same space has allowed me to accept love or to hide from it, to trust or to go it alone. No matter what I choose, that space is always open for me.

Typically, I spend my Sundays at the Cape on Race Point Beach but this time I had planned to spend Sunday morning at church. A little church dating sounded like a good idea. I combed through Google and social media and found a little Lutheran church about fifteen minutes from me. Instead, my last full day dawned to rain which quickly turned to sleet then to snow. 50 mph winds whipped snow into blinding curtains and kicked up whitecaps in the inlet outside my window. Driving would have been a very bad idea. By noon, there were a few inches on fresh and melting snow on the ground and the skies cleared to deep, clear blue. Church hadn’t happened but Race Point still called my name.

I found the driver’s side of my car completely clean. The passenger side was encased in ice and snow. That should have been a clue. But I was so thrilled to be headed to my happy place, knowing the storm would have whipped up the surf and the winds would be wild that I cleared the car without even thinking. I queued up an hour of good music and started driving. I drove the first few miles admiring the snow on the trees and the blue skies. I made it about three miles before the ice missile hit my windshield and scared me half to death. That wasn’t snow on the trees. It was ice. Big, heavy chunks of ice. For the rest of the hour drive I dodged raining ice missiles of death. The closer I got to Provincetown, the more deserted the road became. It left me to wonder if perhaps other people knew something I didn’t. The wind started to really shake my car and I considered turning back but my gut feeling was to keep going.

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Snow Squall, Race Point Beach

The parking lot was empty. It took both hands to push the car door open enough to get out. The roar of the wind matched the roar of the ocean. It was worth every second of the hair-raising drive. I walked up to the edge of the surf feeling so completely alive. The blues in the sky and in the water were beyond description. Then I turned around saw the curtain of black cloud coming straight at me. I got caught in a snow squall walking back to the car. I was truly in my glory.

But on the drive back, I noticed something. The shady, leeward sides of the trees were still covered in ice. Unless the sun and the wind could reach, they would stay that way. About eight years ago in the confessional I was told that my penance was to stand outside with my face tipped up to the sun and to let that warmth soak in until it melted all that was still frozen inside me. Most of that thaw been a long, slow process. But during my time on the Cape, something worked loose. Some ice missile of death was blown harmlessly to the ground and shattered. What I keep hidden in the shadows will never thaw. Pulling those pieces into the light and then letting go takes trust and the open space that only love can give. I have both.

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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Out to Sea

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I’ve spent the last few days alone at a lovely resort on Cape Cod. The townhouse where I’m staying was booked back in November as a birthday gift from my sister and her husband. Being a divorced mom, managing a chronic illness, working part-time and picking up freelance projects as I can get them doesn’t leave a lot in my budget. Five days anywhere is an incredible luxury for me but to stay here with a view of the water, a wall of glass doors with the sun streaming in every morning… It doesn’t get any better than that. Or does it?

Life has been crazy lately. Working in insurance as the healthcare deadline approaches has meant more and more stress and demands on me at work. Both kids, my mom and I all battled a brutal cold that meant several doctor’s visits and still isn’t completely gone. Snow days and sick days made my tight budget even tighter. And for some unknown reason my younger son got himself on an ‘almost late for school’ kick, because mornings aren’t stressful enough already?!

But it’s Lent so instead of blithely giving up my morning prayer time at the beach and hoping to ‘catch up’ the next day, I started going up to bed earlier. To be clear: early is 8:00. There are toddlers with later bedtimes than me. Be that as it may, I abandoned the nightly Homework Wars and managed to find time in the evenings to spend with God. Sounds great except by early evening, if I sit still for ten minutes, I’m asleep. But He already knows that and the effort to find the time is enough.

Five days alone to be quiet and still has been such a blessing. The Cape is fairly empty in March. I’ve been wandering up and down miles of ocean beaches and had them all to myself. The first full day I was here, I trekked up to Race Point Beach, as far north as I could go. There were a few cars in the lot but I never saw a soul. I walked for a couple miles and then did the one thing I just had to do. I went in the water. Yes. The North Atlantic. Yes in March. And I don’t mean I dipped my toes. I took off the boots and the wool socks, rolled my jeans to my knees, waded through the shallows and into the breakers. I just couldn’t NOT go in. It was too beautiful. To admire that water from a safe distance and not experience it would be a sin. And God, with His wonderful sense of humor, shifted the clouds just so and the sunlight broke through in the most beautiful rays and I took my eyes off the waves. I grew up in Jersey. I know better than that. But I looked away and the next wave that came in soaked me to mid-thigh and almost knocked me down. I managed to catch my balance and dragged my soggy self back to dry land just in time to save my boots which almost floated away. And suddenly I was very glad that beach was empty. I stood there with cold ocean water pouring out of my jeans, threw my head back and laughed harder than I have in a long time. I found a log about hundred yards away and sat down to dry out a little before walking the miles back to my car. The clouds started to break up and the sun made things a bit warmer. Every time I looked down at my soggy jeans I started giggling all over again.

Yesterday, I took the drive up to Head of the Meadows Beach in North Truro. It was a beautiful clear sunny day and I was somewhat shocked to find mine was the only car in the lot. The 35 mph winds kept everyone else away. Being a March baby, I love the wind, especially when I’m by the water. I headed up over the dunes in search of the shipwreck that can be seen at low tide. I found it almost immediately and being a history geek, I was thrilled. Even more so because the beach was swept clean by the wind. There were no footprints anywhere. Even my own disappeared within minutes. It was perfect and untouched. I didn’t walk very far. I found a spot in the sand and sat down enjoy the view. And yes, I went in the water, but only in the shallows this time. I walked back to where I’d left my boots and watched the tide slowly reclaim the wreck. All the while, the wind howled off the dunes behind me and I was getting sandblasted. Sheets of sand went sailing past me. And me, being me, thought that was the coolest thing ever.

I said I’ve spent the last few days alone. But really I haven’t. God and I have hung out together, like old friends catching up. Yeah, that’s new ground for me. I mean we spend time together but there’s a timetable and I make an effort to try to relax. Why that’s so hard for me, I don’t even know. But these last few days I can’t even say I let my guard down. If I had it up at all, it got swept out to sea with that first big cold wave at Race Point. See, as I sat there drying out and laughing over my chilly sogginess, God laughed with me. And as I sat at Head of the Meadows mesmerized by the incoming tide swallowing the old shipwreck, a quote from the Sufi poet Rumi kept echoing in my head:

“You are not just a drop in the ocean. You are the mighty ocean in the drop.”

And then came the whisper than finished the thought,

“I know because I made you that way and I love you. See what I see.”