Separation Anxiety

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After a semester that involved a lot of theological and philosophical reading, I finally had three weeks to read anything I wanted before diving into my summer classes: Catholic Intellectual Tradition I & II . So naturally a novel about a suicidal theologian who spends three days on Patmos with the Apostle John would be high on my list of fun reads. Because, of course, my idea of a light and fluffy summer book involves a sarcastic Saint John picking apart every theologian from Polycarp, Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian to Luther, Calvin, Barth, and MacDonald. I realized the absolute hopeless depths of my church nerdiness when I started giggling out loud about Augustine being described as leading the West to exhaustion. It all came down to the same question: union or separation? Well now, that’s a fine way to distill the last three years of my studies.

But one line especially knocked me for a loop.

“The gospel is not the news that we can receive Jesus into our lives. The gospel is the news that Jesus has received us into his.”  

– Patmos, C. Baxter Kruger

Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior? That question has always irked me for reasons I couldn’t quite name. It became a foundation for my Salvation Cupcake Theory. There have always been things that never rang true for me, things I could not learn or absorb (not for lack of trying). As I read this book, all of of the sudden it clicked that every single one of those things I could not take in taught some idea of separation from God. Every one implicitly or explicitly taught that some how, some way I had to find, make, discover, earn, repair, or rebuild a way back to God. But here’s the thing – there is no way back. There is no need for a way back. God never left. Deep breath. Say that again. God. Never. Left. And I don’t have the power to leave God. Somewhere along the line, I simply closed my eyes to what was right in front of me. He was already there! And I couldn’t see it because I closed my eyes to it like a three-year old with my eyes shut tight – if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. I’m not here and neither are you.

I close my eyes when I’m scared, when I’m hurt, when I’m tired, when I’m overwhelmed, when I want to be left alone or when I don’t want anyone to see me cry. I close my eyes when I start to panic and the whole world has suddenly become too loud and too close. I close my eyes when something triggers a flashback. I close my eyes to stop and think when I know I’m about to say something I may regret. I close my eyes to protect myself and somewhere along the way, I felt a need to protect myself from a made-up version of a distant, angry-parent God that never existed and to hide a made-up version of myself that was, at best, a horrible caricature of who I really am. That has been a lot to let go of and little by little, I have been and still am letting go of it. For the last three years, as the worst of that mess has settled, I’ve found myself having the same conversation with Jesus over and over. He asks me to look with his eyes and see what he sees. And my best answer is, “Show me.” But to do that I have to open my eyes. Some days I start to wonder if I really want to see want to see what he sees. But then some days, one line on one page of a book I picked up for just for fun makes a third of my life suddenly make sense and I’m blown away by the sheer simplicity of it.

 

Book Recommendation: Patmos by C. Baxter Kruger

A Soul Rekindled

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In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. And God who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.   (Romans 8:26-27)

In what often feels like another life, I used to take my boys camping. Now it should be noted that my very loose definition of camping involved a 35- by 8-foot trailer with a screened-in porch, electricity, running water and WiFi. But it was the woods – okay so it is was in a campground with dirt roads, lots of trees and real woods around the borders – but there were chipmunks, bugs, and frogs aplenty. And dirt – there was lots of dirt – everywhere. In those days, I got very good at building fires and making s’mores and I taught my two little boys how to use the hose to make a giant mud puddle for their trucks. That trailer was a safe haven for me at a time when home was not a safe place to be. I had a freedom there to just be me. Many nights, I would tuck my boys into the queen-sized bunk and set them up with bedtime snacks and Scooby-Doo cartoons on my laptop. I would go sit outside and watch the fire burn down to embers. In those days, most of the time it felt like God and I were on very shaky ground. But at night, sitting in the quiet darkness, watching the fire dance in the embers, it was different. Gradually, I would realize that there was a gentle and familiar presence there that didn’t require fancy words or proper rubrics. Had you sat down beside me then and asked me if I was praying, I would have said no. I was at a point where I was all out of prayers and I wasn’t so sure God had been listening to them anyway. But I would sit and watch the fire play in the embers and feel the presence that was all around me, never realizing that just sitting by the fire was a prayer in its own right.

To say that life has changed drastically since then would be something of an understatement. Those little boys are almost grown now. Mud puddles and toy cars have been replaced by a driver’s ed classes and an old Bonneville parked in my driveway, waiting to be driven. Scooby-Doo has given way to Lord of the Rings and The Fast and the Furious. The trailer is long gone and it’s been over a decade since the last time I got down on my knees and built a fire, coaxing flames to burn ever higher. And what about God and I? I know the ground I’m standing on is solid and I know God is standing right there with me and that’s a very good place to be – most of the time. I still have my moments when things feel a little wobbly and I suppose I always will.  I’ve come to accept that it’s all part of this whole learning how to trust thing.

When I went to Gettysburg, I had some time alone in a quiet prayer space and when I first entered that space, I walked right into the gentle and familiar presence that I had known so well around the campfire. Except this time, instead of gradually becoming aware of God all around me, God was already there, fully present and waiting for me. It was so startling, I instinctively turned on my heel and walked right back out of the room and sat down in a chair in the hall. The brief inner monologue went something like this: That’s God in there! Well, duh, what did you expect?!  It took a minute or two before shock gave way to wonder and I was drawn into that space where God was waiting for me to come and sit and just be for awhile. I was invited to come in and sit down and know the presence that surrounded me. I didn’t need words, which was a good thing because words completely failed me.

A little later that day, about three hours into the drive home, I suddenly realized that for the first time since I was child, I was seriously making long-term plans for my life. I had spent so many years in survival mode that I had forgotten what it was to have dreams and plans for a future. I was so stunned by that realization that I started to cry and I ended up having to stop for awhile until the tears stopped. I found myself sitting in a noisy crowded McDonald’s, looking out at the blue sky stretched over the mountains of Pennsylvania and being aware of the presence of God, even there amidst the mundane and noisy chaos of a fast food joint on the side of the highway.

That was how I spent Palm Sunday. Holy Week and Easter have now come and gone. My younger boy was confirmed last Friday night. My classes have ended for the semester. Finals week is upon me. My older boy’s graduation is coming up quickly. Summer classes will be starting soon. Life, in all of its glorious and messy chaos, goes on. And yet, in all of this, that gentle and familiar presence is still there, in the space between breaths, if I but stop to notice. I came home from Gettysburg very much changed and yet very much the same. I am far more aware not only of God’s presence but also that I am completely at home with who I am in God’s presence.

Friday evening, after coming home from a visit with Deacon Ron, I went out for a burger with my older son. On the ride home, we opened the car windows, enjoying the first warm spring evening we’ve had thus far. Someone in the area had a backyard fire pit going. The smell of a campfire brought all those memories of my nights at the trailer roaring back. And it occurred to me that all those times I had spent silently watching the embers, I had been seeing a reflection of my soul. The fire had been burning deep inside all along, waiting for the breath that would rekindle the embers to flame at precisely the right moment. It would happen in God’s time and not mine, and it would happen regardless of my ability, or lack thereof, to express it in words.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.                                                                                                                                 (John 20:21-22)

Unicorn Convention

gettysburgAt the beginning of Lent, I found myself reading through my past Lenten journeys and trying to get some sense of where this year was headed. Nothing really solidified for me and I sat down the day after Ash Wednesday and wrote Jesus a letter. While most of that is between me and him, I can tell you I wrote this: Show me a way to get closer. I’m not good at trusting but I’m learning. Help me get closer. Teach me a new way to trust. Then I closed the notebook and purposely left it alone until Palm Sunday.

They say never pray for patience or you will be given opportunities to be patient. Well, trust me on this one, asking for a new way to trust works pretty much the same way. I discovered that on Thursday as I drove from my home in Connecticut to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. What should have been a five-hour drive turned into more than eight hours of driving in the rain with limited visibility through the Pennsylvania mountains while being surrounded by more trucks than I have ever seen on any road trip ever. To add to the fun, I couldn’t take the route I had planned to take because the bridge I needed to cross has been closed indefinitely. I’m sure there’s a metaphor for my life in there somewhere but that’s another post entirely. I prayed all the way for the rain to stop. And it did. Right when I crossed the town line into Gettysburg. God has such a sense of humor.

I was there to spend the weekend talking about church and God and life. It is something of a running joke on the Sacred Heart campus that being a religion major is quite a bit like being a unicorn – a rare mythical creature that most people have heard about but no one has ever actually seen one. I spent this past weekend in the company of unicorns. It was such an amazing experience to be surrounded by people with similar passions and questions. As one person put it, “For every question I find an answer to, thirty more questions come up.” And every head in the room was nodding in understanding and agreement. Conversations over breakfast started with things like, “So who’s your favorite theologian?” or “Have you ever read…” There were more formal discussions and small group gatherings. There was time to gather in prayer with my fellow unicorns.

While I kept my usual journal the entire weekend, on Sunday morning I opened the notebook I bring with me on retreats and reread that letter I’d written at the start of Lent and laughed. Okay, really Lord, there had to be a better way to teach me to trust than eight hours of hellacious driving conditions. But then, before us unicorns gathered for the last time, I spent some time alone in the quiet prayer space. I realized that for the first time I can remember I was openly standing still with God. I wasn’t running away from God. I wasn’t chasing after God. I was standing still in God’s presence and had been the entire weekend. And as if that wasn’t huge enough, I wasn’t hiding anything. And as if all of that wasn’t shocking enough, I realized I had done the same thing the entire weekend with people I didn’t even know. Me, the quiet introvert, who loves the back left corner of any classroom, was openly engaged in deeply personal conversations with more than forty people I had never laid eyes on before in a place I had never been to. And I had never felt more at home – physically in that space, emotionally in my own skin, and spiritually at home with God. And none of those things freaked me out. All the way home, on a lovely sunny, almost truck-free Sunday, the realizations kept coming. For every one thing I came to understand led to thirty more.

So there’s a lesson here. Be careful what you pray for. Because God answers prayers and God has a sense of humor.

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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Coffee Matters

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I’ve been waiting for ages for the release of the film version of The Shack. Not to worry, no spoilers here. I have read that book at least twenty times, if not more. I can recite most of the major conversations from it. And knowing the film is never quite what the book is, I can honestly say I was not at all disappointed in the movie and I’m hoping to catch it again while it’s still in theaters.

That being said, as I was driving home from the theater, there was something nagging at me. Like there was something missing in the film version that was vital and yet, I couldn’t quite place it. I knew what conversations were in it or not in it and what things had been changed even slightly. But this was different, more subtle. It wasn’t until I walked in the house and smelled the pot roast my mom had simmering on the stove that it hit me.

Much like the book, the focus of the movie centered on relationships and those relationships were framed in conversations. Mack was often split off talking to Jesus or Sarayu or Papa one-to-one as he established some sort of working relationship with each but the overall mealtime camaraderie of the book was lost. The lack of time that Mack and his hosts spent around the table gnawed at the back of my brain. Very little of the playfulness and love shared amongst the Trinity over meals made it to the big screen. In addition to lighthearted flow of love within the relationship of the Trinity and also in their love for Mack, there also was a deeper level of kindness and thoughtfulness that went into something as simple as a bag of sandwiches. While I wouldn’t say the movie faltered for lack of a bag lunch or a cup of coffee left on the bedside table, those small acts of love demonstrated a deep level of intimacy and care for Mack and an anticipation of his needs that are an important piece of the story. It’s one thing to tell someone you care for them and another thing entirely to know exactly how they like their morning coffee.

In an odd sort of way, I was kind of glad those details were missing because it forced me to really focus on what I was not seeing rather than what was right in front of me. For all my bluster about wanting God to be a little – okay, a lot – more direct, I can’t point to a single time in my life that I didn’t have exactly the right books, the right music, the right poetry, or the right scenery to show me that God is present in all those little details that make me so happy. It’s still not easy for me to accept that such little things about me would matter to God and yet if I’m being really honest, I have to say God knows how I take my coffee. And that matters.

“…if anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will be the same again.”

Wm. Paul Young

The Shack

Evening Came

I took some time, during this craziest time of my year, to make a silent retreat. It was not my first choice of weekends. Actually, it wasn’t even on my list of chosen dates. But after asking for nearly every weekend between the end of August and the end of February, the only weekend that had an opening was Halloween weekend. God’s decidedly questionable sense of humor: Come spend time with Me. How about Mischief Night?

I had four days of silence to pray, to read, to write, and mostly to listen. Except for Sunday, which was Mischief Night. God likes surprises. I hate surprises – as in with a capital H. After taking my morning tea back to my room, the last thing in the world I would have expected was a knock at the door and an order to leave the property for an undetermined length of time. Bizarre circumstances landed me and three nuns on the front porch of a home about a mile away and, by lunchtime, I was at a diner having lunch with 15 Catholic nuns of at least three different orders. My private silent retreat had given way to a lively discussion about ordaining women and the election. By the time lunch was over, we were allowed to return and I was back in the silence of my own room. Less than an hour before that knock on the door, I had been writing about the lovely energy that radiated from that same group of nuns. It spread across the dining hall like sunlight. To have ended up chatting with them over lunch under what was referred to as ‘never happened before’ circumstances was definitely God’s mischief.

The following day was Halloween and also the day I was heading home. I stood outside and watched the sun come up, soaking in the silence and watching the light explode across the water. I had my tea and then met with my director one last time before packing up to go home, carrying with me graces I had never anticipated. By nightfall, I was at the top of my little dead end street with my teenagers dressed in spooky costumes, playing creepy music, scaring some adults, and handing out candy to the neighborhood kids. The shifting of gears was little surreal but isn’t all of life about shifting gears? We juggle. We balance. We shift and shift again.

Over these last two weeks, shifting gears has taken on whole new meaning. My house has known elation as my Mom’s beloved Cubs finally won a World Series, ending her nearly 83 year wait. We saw large-scale celebratory gatherings in Chicago and wished we were there singing Go Cubs Go. A week later, we have known shock and trepidation as Donald Trump won the White House and incidents of violence and intimidation have broken out around the country. We’ve seen protest marches, some peaceful and some devolving into riots. I have friends and family who are happy with the election results and I have many friends and family who are deeply afraid of many things that an all-Republican government could bring. But most frightening of all is the sense that white supremacist groups and even racist individuals are feeling emboldened by this election. When I read that the Ku Klux Klan is throwing a victory parade because they feel this president-elect is a savior for the white race in this country, I am deeply alarmed. These are turbulent days. Evening has indeed come and we must all be on guard that, no matter which side we stand on, violence and intimidation must not become a part of our national norm. I find myself re-reading the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Midnight is a confusing hour when it is difficult to be faithful. The most inspiring word that the church must speak is that no midnight long remains. The weary traveller by midnight who asks for bread is really seeking the dawn. Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come…Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.

And so we shift gears. Baseball and Halloween are forgotten. We wait. We watch. We pray. We stand with those who are afraid. God is a God of surprises and sometimes mischief, but God is also our steadfast hope. So long as we stand for what is right and just, we will not stand alone. Evening has come. But morning will follow as it has since the very beginning of Creation.

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Translation: I Love You

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So here I am, six full weeks after injuring my foot and I am still using crutches 90% of the time. Perhaps, suggests my Mom, it would have been less time if I hadn’t walked around on the fracture for a solid week before going to the doctor. Perhaps, suggest I, she should shush and leave me be.

Yesterday, I managed, with a lot of padding in my shoe, to hobble around the kitchen sans crutches long enough to bake a batch of molasses cookies and clean up the kitchen afterwards in my usual cookie meditation methods. But this batch had less to do with my desire to bring order from chaos and a lot more to do with stalling. The inspiration for this post came a week ago and I have been stalling about writing it ever since. I was secretly rather pleased with myself yesterday when I sat down with my tea and a warm cookie and noted that it was rather late in the day to start writing. At precisely that moment, I got the following text message: Listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.

No, I am not even kidding. All the times I have joked about how I wish God would just text me suddenly came around to give me a swift kick in the ass. Moral to that story: be careful what you wish for. And yes, I know I’m still stalling.

Last week, I drove my mom to the grocery story and waited in the car with a book for an hour while she picked up a few odds and ends. When she came out with the cart half-full with groceries, I got out of the car to help her load them in the trunk.

Mom: ‘Get your butt back in that car.’

Me: ‘Yes Ma’am.’ I obediently plopped myself back in the car and waited for her.

We got home and I parked with the trunk of my car literally six inches from the back stoop. I open the trunk and reached for a bag to help her unload the groceries onto the stoop.

Mom: ‘And just what do you think you’re doing?’

Me: ‘I’m helping you. I can walk a little bit.’

Mom: ‘Good. Go walk yourself into the house. You’re in my way.’

These are the days that I call her Miss Daisy, because the only right answer is: Yes Ma’am. I was giggling over this with some old friends and one of them said, ‘You’re in my way. Translation: I love you.’ Now anybody who speaks Mommish knows that is precisely the proper translation.

While I laughed about it, it really got to me. Ever since that morning when the bees invaded my quiet prayer time, I have been entirely thrown off my groove. I’m so tired of sitting around with my foot up and doing nothing that I’m twitchy even when I really, really want to be still. I had nice little rhythm to my days, especially my time alone in the mornings. And for five of the last six weeks, I looked at this annoyingly twitchy space I’m in as God’s way of saying, ‘Suck it up, Buttercup.’ Like somehow it was up to me to overcome the twitchyness all by my lonesome so I could be still and pray in the manner in which I had been comfortable. But this last week, the words that kept coming back to me weren’t lines from scripture or the various prayers of my rosary or some other bit of inspirational writing. No, the words that kept coming back are: You’re in my way.  So, while I’m a little huffy about it, I’ve stopped trying to be not twitchy. I’ve let myself be this restless mess that I am right now. I baked when I should’ve rested. I set up my fantasy football team when I should’ve been reading. I still went to the beach every morning but I talked to the seagull who sits on my car when I should’ve been talking to God. And somehow all of that was okay because I stopped trying to do what I couldn’t do and I got out of the way and somehow I’m a little less twitchy. I don’t what God is up to right now but something is up and for now I’m okay with letting God do God’s thing because You’re in my way translates to I love you. 

That being said, I kinda hope God hurries up because I don’t know how long I can keep this stay-out-of -the-way thing going.

Imago Dei

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In the hours after the Paris attacks, I had an exchange with a certain priest online. I had challenged him, as a man of God, to tell me what God had to say about this evil rather than posting articles about dangerous refugees written by some opinionated member of the media. It was surprising, and rather disconcerting, that a man who can usually rattle off God’s opinion on everything had no certain answers but rather a question.

His question: I have conflicted ideas on what God says about this evil. Is this just plain evil or is this a purification? What do you think?

My answer: I don’t believe God is ever cruel and for events like this to be a purification would be cruel. So that leaves evil, which we know thrives on rage, hatred, fear, and cruelty. How many times has humanity faced horrors brought about by these things and sworn by all that is holy that it will never happen again? But within a generation, two at the most, we forget. We go back to feeding fear, anger, rage and hatred and then sit back, shocked that evil rises again in the world. God weeps not for us, but with us. And like a parent, God will continue to show us the way over and over and over until we learn it. All of humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. And until all of humanity learns this lesson, we will repeat the cycle.

I could go on to write volumes about the outpouring of support and prayers for Paris, or on the rising xenophobia across the Western world, or on the way history has a terrifying way of resembling the future. But instead I ask the question: Do you remember Aylan?

So many of you told me two months ago that you would never forget him. I hope you do remember and I hope you remember this about him: his family was fleeing the very same violent monsters that unleashed hell in Paris on Friday night.

What do you think God says of this evil? What will it take for us to learn the lesson of imago dei? And once we do, how do we teach it to others? 

A Tale Of Thorns & Lawnmowers

My Week of Guided Prayer wrapped up this morning. I suppose I should’ve seen it coming when the week started off with a few days of reassurance. Remember this? We got through this together and you’re still in one piece? Remember? Well sucker that I am, I thought maybe God and I might spend the entire week sort of reminiscing on how He never abandoned me. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were full of all these little reminders of hard times but ones that stand out so clearly as times only God could’ve brought me through.

Then Wednesday happened. The scripture readings and the book I had been reading coincided with all the subtlety of an Acme safe being dropped on my head. I talked to my director, who by Tuesday had been aptly dubbed by my mother as “NotRon”.  NotRon told me she felt like quite certain I was being pruned. It was just the image that came to her and as soon as she said it I knew she was right. I also knew exactly which passage in John she was talking about and we circled back to again on Thursday and Friday.

I watched my neighbor lovingly prune her rosebush earlier this year, carefully cutting away all the dead stuff and tossing it aside into what became a huge pile. Later in the summer, that bush bloomed beautifully. I’ve never seen it with as many roses as she had this year. Okay this is an image to work with – right? Well, I had a rosebush once. It was kind of small and scrawny but I loved it. Then my brother ran it over with the lawnmower. It almost recovered. Then he ran it over again. At which point, despite my best efforts, all I had dead thorn-covered stick in the ground. After the last few days, I can now tell you that when it comes to pruning, what may be from the gardener’s perspective a careful and loving pruning, from the bush’s side feels every bit like getting run over by a lawnmower. Twice.

Adding to the overflowing *joy* that was the result of being safe-dropped and lawnmowered, twice, my schedule that I so carefully cleared decided to take on a life of it’s own. My ex-husband decided to use this week to rid my ex-house of not only my ex-stuff but also of many things I had saved from the boys’ earliest childhood. He showed up at my house twice, sending the boys in carrying boxes of stuff to pick through, deciding what I could keep and what could be tossed while he waited in driveway. Meanwhile, at my house, my mother had also decided she needed this particular week to purge stuff and suddenly anything and everything of mine was in her way. By Thursday night, thankfully, she had stopped. She sat and watched me quietly as I sorted, for the second time, through a box my ex had dropped off, tossing aside the cards full of lies and the calendar I’d hung in Andrew’s nursery to hide the hole my ex had punched in the wall next to my head. 17 years later, I was suddenly back in that room, a scared 25 year-old new mom using my bare hand to brush the sheetrock dust out of the crib and out of an infant Andrew’s hair.

When I finally got ready to go up to bed, Mom asked me, “Is it traumatic? To see it all again?”

“Yes. Very.”

End of conversation. But somehow it was enough.

IMG_2529I spent Friday morning at the beach and finished the book. I went home and holed myself up in Andrew’s Man Cave for a few hours until it was time to meet one last time with NotRon. Feeling every bit like a dead thorn-covered stick in the ground, I journaled for awhile and I looked at a picture I had stumbled across mid-week. It captured so perfectly what I felt. It came alive for me. A heart desperately trying to fly away, branded Useless, wrapped up in barbed wire and chained to a huge weight. And I know, really deeply know, what that heart feels like. Every time it tries to break free, the barbed wire cuts in deeper and the chain drags it right back down until it slams into the ground like an out-of-control kite. There’s nothing to do but wait to be held still by strong steady hands, wait to be cut loose, and wait to be carefully untangled. The words trust and surrender and pruning and deeper healing have all been batted about this week. But I think the words that will probably stick with me the most are these:

So if God is waiting around for the same heart to feel nice, loving, warm, pink, fuzzy things about someone who is my enemy, well, I think God might be waiting a while. So I wondered if maybe the prayer part of the “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” bit was about how we love them. Maybe my little “God, help me not to be an asshole” prayer was the smallest little opening for God to do God’s thing.

-Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber Pastrix

Somehow God doing God’s thing sounds less scary to me than surrender. Maybe because it sounds like God actually knows what He’s doing and isn’t just gassing up the lawnmower.

God Ain’t Santa

Flashback: Christmas 1981

The one thing I really wanted for Christmas that year was a Matchbox Sounds of Service Garage.  I had written it carefully in my letter to Santa and come Christmas morning, there it was under the tree.  It was carefully wrapped but already assembled with batteries in it, ready to go.

Newsflash: God Ain’t Santa

erectprIt took me a long time to figure out that sometimes gifts from God are already whole and complete. But most of the time, it’s like getting an Erector set… one…tiny eighth-of-an-inch screw…at…a…time…and then getting the tools and instruction manual last.  As you know, patience is a virtue, it isn’t one of mine.  So my conversations with God tend to go a little like this:

God: “Here.  Hang on to this.”

Me: “Why?”

God: “It’s important.”

Me: “But what is it?”

God: “You’ll see.”

Me: “Yeah, but when?”

God: “Later.”

Me: “Can’t You just tell me?”

God: “Nope. You’ll know when you need to know.”

Me: “Do You have any idea how absolutely frigging infuriating You can be?!”

He never answers that last one but I can always feel the Divine Smirk.

The thing about that Matchbox garage is that I knew exactly what I wanted.  When it comes to my spiritual life, nine times out of ten, I have no clue what it is I’m asking for.  Yeah, there are those times when I know I want wisdom or clarity or courage but more often than not I see something I can’t quite name, something just beyond my understanding and all I know is I want that, whatever that is.  And that’s okay because unlike Santa, who requires an exact list, God already knows what the vague and nebulous that is.

Every year, Deacon Ron asks me what gift I will ask of God for Christmas.  This is one of those years when what I want is something I can’t quite name.  I saw it last week in a little boy.  He was about eight years old and was sitting a couple of pews in front of me at Mass.  He caught my eye as he was so thoroughly captivated by everything happening on the altar. Meanwhile, his little sister had fallen asleep in their mother’s arms.  When it came time to receive Communion, their mother was trying to position the sleeping girl on the pew and while she wasn’t looking, the little boy darted out of the pew. With his hands jammed into the pockets of his winter coat, he put his arms out like airplane wings and ‘flew’ his way up the aisle. Oblivious of the adults piously processing forward, he ran ahead and cut in front of the entire line. After receiving the Body of Christ, he turned and flashed his mortified mother a smile that I will never forget. For a moment, the world stopped spinning beneath me.  All I could see was his face and all that I wanted was what I could see in his eyes.

For the life of me, I can’t tell you what I saw.  Innocence? Joy? Freedom? Love? Grace?  Some concoction of all of those?  I don’t know. But I want it.  I pointed it out to God in that moment as the world stopped beneath me.

THAT – right there – that – I don’t know what that is, but You do and I want that more than anything.”

And I felt God smile.

I really hope this isn’t going to be one of those Erector set gifts that is going to come one little piece at a time. Much assembly required and batteries not included…yet.  But for some crazy reason, God seems determined to teach me patience.

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