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 Mud puddles and toy cars have been replaced by a driver’s ed classes and an old Bonneville parked in my driveway, waiting to be driven.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.

The Prayer Boots

img_7787With a March snowstorm in the forecast and my annual trip to the Cape fast approaching, I had was heartbroken when my favorite boots gave out. The heel of the sole broke completely free from the rest of the boot and the kids talked me out of attempting to use super glue to fix it. I have a reputation for ending up hopelessly glued to stuff. So instead, I drove two sales ladies at the shoe store completely bonkers trying to find me a pair as close to what I had as possible. I came home with my new boots and, seeing the laces in the old ones were still good, I pulled the old laces out and set them aside. I took the old ones outside, but when it came time to put them in the garbage can, I started to cry. Yes, cry. Over a worn out pair of boots. Not a sniffle and a stray tear. Oh no. we’re talking a sit-down-on-the-steps, holding-on-to-the-boots, tears-rolling-down-the-face kind of a cry.

This is stupid. I told myself. Who in their right mind cries over a broken down pair of boots?! But the reaction was so visceral, I had to ask myself why they mattered so much to me. Honestly, I’m forty-some years old. It’s not like I’ve never thrown out a pair of boots before.

But these boots were different. These had a history. Over eleven years, I walked hundreds of miles of empty beaches with God as my companion. As beautiful as that may sound, I wasn’t always the most pleasant of company on those walks. And there were plenty of times when I resented God’s very presence in what had become the only safe space I had left. My life was in such a miserable state, all I wanted was to be left alone. It was not uncommon for me to walk four miles and spend the entire four miles yelling at God to either help me or get out of my way. Funny thing is, over time, something gradually shifted and those walks with God on the beach became less confrontational. Little by little, I stopped yelling. I stopped demanding. I stopped begging. I accepted God’s company and I found that even on those days when I thought I really, really wanted to be alone, what I actually wanted was to be alone with God because God was the only who understood what was brewing inside of me.

Over the last eleven years, I didn’t learn to trust God by sitting in church on Sunday. I didn’t learn to surrender all the stuff that was killing me inside by reading a prayer book full of prayers I was supposed to have memorized and couldn’t. There were days when I was just so hopelessly tangled up inside, the only way to untangle the mess was to take a walk down the beach and let God do the untangling. And the only way that works is to let go and let God do God’s thing and accept that maybe, just maybe, the Creator has a clue about how this particular creation ticks.

All those miles, all that sand and salt water, all the tears and pain and hell I’d walked through was soaked into a clunky, ugly, worn out pair of old leather boots. God transformed all that into a life I never dared to hope for, a life touched by unfathomable grace. Sometimes a pair of boots is more than just a pair of boots. Sometimes a pair of boots become sacred objects. So maybe that worn out pair of boots isn’t going in the garbage can after all. Maybe they’ll be given a very quiet burial somewhere only God and I know about.

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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.

Swearing at God


These last two weeks have decidedly not gone at all well. To fully appreciate this post you have to know three things: I have serious fear of bees. When I get hurt, it is always in the weirdest of ways. Patience is a virtue, but it isn’t one of mine.

Since I was a little kid, I have been deathly afraid of bees. So when I parked at the beach two weeks ago on a beautiful, breezy Sunday morning, planning to spend a Sunday morning as I often do, praying and writing and listening to the waves, I was horrified when three yellow jackets came into the car. They weren’t buzzing around where I could shoo them out an open window. They crawled down between the seats, into my purse and essentially settled in for a lengthy stay. I, on the hand, bailed out of the car barefoot, having kicked off my sandals when I parked. There were scores of angry, aggressive yellow jackets outside the car too. I couldn’t get in the car and I couldn’t stay outside the car. I ended up fleeing down the sidewalk, down a flight of steps and across a rocky beach to escape the little devils. I actually had to call my sister to bring a can of Raid so I could at least get back into my car.

Somehow in my escape, I managed to step wrong or miss a step or step on something. Being in a full-blown panic over the bees, I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what I did but in the end, I injured my heel and could barely stand to put weight on my foot. So naturally, knowing something was obviously very wrong, I limped around for a week hoping it would just go away. Yeah, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was explain to the family doctor that was I pretty sure I broke my foot running from a nest of angry yellow jackets. The man has already witnessed the time I sprained my knee while dressed up as the Easter Bunny and the time my dog broke my nose so I really, really didn’t want to add this little gem to my file. But after a week, I couldn’t stand the pain anymore and I went to see him. He was kind enough to keep a straight face. While it’s not all out broken, there is a hairline fracture on the heel spur and I’m to stay off my foot for a few weeks until the swelling goes down and I can put weight on it without pain and then we’ll reassess how to treat it. Yes, I, the hopeless klutz, am now on crutches. Yes, this is a disaster in the making. I never appreciated how many steps I take in a day, usually with something in my hands, until I had to use these blasted things. I am a horribly impatient patient.

When I parked at the seawall two weeks ago, I was in a pretty decent place with God. We had stuff to talk about but it was all good. But as I settled into my place and mindset of prayer, all hell broke loose. For most of the following week, every time I tried to pray, the first words out of my mouth were, “What the [expletive] was that?!?!”  Okay. Understandable. I was a little shaken and in pain. But now two weeks later, every conversation with God is prefaced with, “I’m still royally pissed off at You…”

The writing I was planning to do that day remains unwritten. And I’ve had a hard time being still. I’m frustrated beyond reason by my sudden, temporary limitation. I try to tell myself to be reasonable. I mean really, what was God supposed to do: put a bubble around my car? Send angels to carry me to safety? Smite the bees? Smiting the bees really would have been my first choice. I don’t know what I expected, but the fact that I came to a quiet place, to keep a standing date and was not only chased from it but wounded in the process really bugs me. (Pun very much intended.) If this had happened anywhere else, would I be as angry? Probably not. Was it that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? No. And have I dealt with far worse without being such a brat about it? Yes. Is there a lesson in this mess? Probably. And maybe it’s that it’s okay to honestly give God a piece of my mind now and then, even if it’s over stupid little stuff.

Writing The Weeks

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Around Christmas, I stumbled across a Twitter post about an Anglican rosary-making society. And the first thought into my head was: Wait a minute – I thought the Catholics had an exclusive on that.  It should be said that I have never been a devotee of the Catholic rosary. The nuns tried but like the Act of Contrition and the Baltimore Catechism, the Catholic rosary just didn’t take hold for me. No matter how much I tried, it felt forced, awkward and confining. I envied those who found so much peace in the decades.

I was intrigued by the pictures the Anglican priest had posted and asked him for more information. He sent me a link, which led to another link and there I was, several links and an hour later, ordering myself an Anglican rosary. So if the Catholic rosary was never my thing, why would I even bother with reading about, much less buying, an Anglican rosary? Pure, relentless, incessant curiosity.

The Anglican rosary is far smaller than a Catholic rosary, only 33 beads rather than 59. There is a cross, an Invitatory bead, and then four sets of seven beads called The Weeks which are separated by four larger beads known as the Cruciforms. The prayers are variable, some are the prayers of saints, others are lines of scripture, most are no more than few lines long. As I started to explore, what I found was simplicity and a whole lot of open space. Six months later, I have found is that I adapt those prayers to fit where I am in life at the moment. Whether it’s a prayer for strength, trust, mercy, or stillness, I have found what I needed.

In the month leading up to the Week of Guided Prayer, I prayed for clarity. God gave me far more than I ever expected. And while, God gave me clarity, God also gave me homework. The lines of scripture that hit home for me over the past few days will become a part of my daily prayer. I spent my Sunday morning writing out the lines that will become the Weeks and the Cruciforms for me for the foreseeable future. That was easy part of my homework. I have lot more writing to do in the coming months. But I’ve found a way of praying has the meditative quality found in repetition and yet the open space I need to be at home in my own skin. That combination has been nothing short of a gift. I also found that while the Weeks and the Cruciforms have changed, the Invitatory prayer that has been my mainstay for the past month remains the same.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

~Saint Patrick

Stuff My Dad Taught Me

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I could spend this weekend trying to avoid Father’s Day. I’d actually gotten quite good at avoiding it over the years. Seems kind of stupid really. After all the good times we had, why would I try not to remember? (She types bravely with a tissues close at hand.) I was looking at some of my favorite old pictures and ran across this one. I was 11 and we were in Kansas City then. I still remember that Christmas Eve. It was cold, as in 15 degrees below zero cold and that was actual temperature. Cold, as in we got to church for Midnight Mass and the water in the baptismal font was frozen. I don’t mean it had a thin crust of ice on top. It was frozen into one big solid block or as Dad put it, “Holy ice cube, Batman!”

That was also the year that the RA first acted up although the doctors wouldn’t find it for another 26 years. In that picture, he’s got my hand completely wrapped up in his because mine were so cold, they’d turned white. He said he could feel the cold on the other hand right through his flannel shirt. Everything hurt that night. When Mass was over, my knees and ankles hurt so bad, I could hardly walk. Dad left Mom and I in the church while he brought the car around. He carried me to car, stopping to let me swipe my fingers across the the holy ice cube on the way out. When we got home, he carried me inside and he sat on the couch next to me holding my ankles in his hands because the warmth made them feel better. It’s funny looking back, I don’t remember anything I got for Christmas that year or for my birthday a few months later. What I remember was his tenderness and his mischievous sense of humor. I hear that same sense of humor from Eugene on a regular basis and Andrew inherited that big heart of his. I can only imagine how much fun they would’ve had with their grandpa, and how much trouble they would’ve caused together.

So instead of avoiding Father’s Day, and with only a little sniffling, here are a few of the things Dad taught me in the 14 years I had him and the things I try to pass on to my boys.

Practical jokes break up the monotony of life. They require forethought and careful planning. Some also require an escape plan.
(He had his car keys in his pocket, ready to roll and flipped the ceiling fan on high over the receipts Mom was carefully sorting for tax time. It looked like snow. She yelled and we ran like hell. We spent the rest of the day at the mall. He cooked her favorite dinner later to make up for it.)

Read. Read everything. Read it over and over. Read until you can recite it. Reading is knowledge and one of the greatest joys in life.

Reach for the books on the higher bookshelves. Teach your kids to do the same.

When you read to a kid, use THE VOICES. Yeah, you know which ones.

Beauty is everywhere, even in the ugliness. You only have to open your eyes and see it.

Never pass up a chance to do something kind for someone. It’s the little things in life that mean the most.
(He used to bring my mom two cups of coffee in bed every morning on a pretty little tray he’d bought for her on one of his trips to Belgium.)

Knowing all the constellations is wonderful, but sometimes you just need to look up at the stars in awe.

Whenever you have the chance to take in a scenic vista, do it. Stop. Get out of the car and breathe in the view. You may never pass that way again.
(I mean this quite literally. On the way from Connecticut to Indiana, we stopped at Niagara Falls. He talked me into going on the Maid of the Mist and I still remember breathing in the spray. I’ve never been back.)

Learn the names of the wildflowers. Leave them where God planted them.
(He taught me that one only after I had picked a big handful of bloodroot. Yuck!!)

Take the time to look at the flowers. They may wilt by tomorrow.

Learn the names of the birds in the back yard. Sing back to them.
(I have lovely conversations with the mourning dove who lives in the tree behind my garage. The neighbors think I’m a wee bit odd.)

Catching bugs is fun, so long as you let them go.

Wild animals are meant to be wild, not caged. Predators aren’t cruel. They only hunt for food and they are part of the balance in nature.
(Beauty in the ugliness. I’ve developed a particular fondness for the osprey that hunts in the Stratford Marsh.)

Praying isn’t something to do in church on Sunday. It’s as all day, every day conversation.

Learn to be quiet. That’s when you hear God.
(Dad’s habit of a 5 AM coffee on the back porch makes more sense to me with every passing year.)

Read the Bible. Read it so much you know whole passages by heart. Someday, you’ll need those words when the book isn’t close by.

Never quote the Bible to score points in an argument. Using God’s words to win man’s arguments is the utmost sign of ignorance and arrogance.

Sometimes life gets so absurd, all we can do is laugh. And that’s okay. God has a sense of humor, so should we.

Sing. God gave you that voice and it’s beautiful to Him.
(Either that or God is deaf, I haven’t quite decided that one for myself yet.)

Bad stuff happens in life. It’s not God’s fault. Someday we’ll understand why.

Death is part of life. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.