Thursday, December 31, 2015

too poor to afford a lamb

So Christmas day came, and Christmas is still here, and there has been much celebrating, lots of wine, and a whole lot of cheese that is sitting like a brick in my stomach as I write.  Santa was good to us, and friends and family were even better to us, and despite all of the stress and the chaos that this secular world turns our Christmas into, Christ was born.  Our God, our help, has come to save us.  All of that worry, all of that anxiety, all of the shopping and planning and cleaning and wrapping.  It changes nothing.  It means nothing.  It is a moment-a fleeting moment- and it comes and it goes and the scraps of red and gold paper are thrown in the trash and the kids run off to their rooms with their various gifts and there we are left, under the tree, wondering if the world is truly aware of the gift we have been given?  Wondering if our own family knows the true meaning of Christmas?  Wondering...do I truly understand?

I realized this Christmas what a horrible slave to money I am.
Funny, I know, because you would think that to be a slave to money, one must have money.
But that is not the case.
My mind is constantly preoccupied with the worry and fear that I will not have enough.
That I will lose my home.
That we will have no food.
That the kids will suffer the most.
And even when gifted with a substantial amount of money, a gift card, or check, or a stack of bills, even that does not put my mind to rest, because then I panic at what the best use of such a gift is.
Does it go to gifts, or bills? Food or gas? Should I buy boots for myself, or coats for the kids? Do I put it towards rent, or finally get the Dentist off my back? Do we throw it towards state tax, or pay down the electric bill?
And so you see, with or without, I have come to learn...or rather, I have come to wonder, is it ever enough?
With, our without it, I am a slave.

And do you want to know what has been bothering me the most?
Not once, when gifted and helped, did I ever think, "Who can I share this with? Who can use help more than me?"
I held on to it tight, afraid to let it go.
Like a slave to the things of this world, I stored it for myself.
And what a tragic thing to recognize about your own self, that not once when freely given, did I even consider how I could freely give to someone else.
God gave me such an awesome opportunity to spread joy, to spread light, to be His hands and feet...but I was too busy looking at myself to see anyone else.

I read something a few days ago that has stuck with me.
Luke, chapter 2 verses 22-40.
The story of when Mary presents her baby Jesus.
Every first-born male was to be consecrated to the Lord, as well as an offer of sacrifice.
Mary offered two pigeons.
Not a very glamorous bird, to say the very least.
You would think that when presenting the Savior of the world, you might have a better sacrifice than a couple of pigeons.
The truth is, the normal combination of a sacrifice was a lamb and a pigeon.
However, for those too poor to afford a lamb, two pigeons were accepted.

Mary was too poor to afford a lamb.

And I can not even read that, or as I have just discovered, even write that, without crying.
The Mother of God was too poor to afford a lamb.

I scroll through Instagram and I see what our children see...I see what this world wants us to see...the sparkle, the glamour, the sex, the clothes, the beautiful the expensive, the rich and full life.  And then my eyes turn to John 2:14-17, "Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.  Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.  But whoever does the will of God remains forever."

I may be a slave, and I may be enticed by what I see, but I know that deep down in my heart, a heart made by and for God, I want to be like Mary.  I am not impressed by the Kardashians, or Hollywood, or how many cars and homes anyone owns.  And if I am...because I am human and weak and yes, I do see what you have and at times I do covet your things...but even so, if I am ever longing for things of this world, that desire is so fleeting.  I know that things do not last.  I know that what I have and hold onto and hoard for myself is only a sparkly empty road block to where I truly long to be; to where my restless anxious heart desires to find rest.  Rest does not happen in anything comfortable that is given to us from this world.  In fact, I have discovered that when you seek out rest in things, you quickly become even more restless than when you first started.  The truth is, we will only find rest when we seek out God- when we detach ourselves from the comforts of the world and embrace the comfort of that hard wooden manger inside of a stable.

Mary was too poor to afford a lamb, and yet, God chose her.
Mary was simple and humble, and yet, God chose her.
Mary was an ordinary young woman, and yet, she was to become the Mother of God.

This is the last day of the year, and the time when social media blows up with women announcing their "word" of the year.  (OK, so mabe there are some men out there that do this too, but for the most part, I think this is a chick thing) They choose a word of inspiration and decide to focus on and live by that word through out the new year.  If you are struggling to find that word for yourself, perhaps I can offer some suggestions.  How about simplicity, mercy, or humility?  Or what about ordinary, poverty, or sacrifice? 

I pray that this is the year the world recognizes God (John 1:1-18).
I pray that this is the year we get out of ourselves, and give all we have to others.
I pray that this is the year we break down the road blocks this world sets before us, and we set out on a path that leads us to holiness, everlasting joy, and that in our own personal struggle and journey, we lead others to Him as well.
I pray that this is the year we can detach ourselves from all things, and open our hearts in a profound way to the love and mercy of Christ Jesus.
I pray that this is the year we value life, every single life in all its forms, and respect and cherish this invaluable gift that God gives to each of us.
I pray for each and every one of us; may God bless you this New Year, may you embrace and accept whatever comes your way, and may you trust that He holds a beautiful and good plan designed just for you.
And for myself, I pray that I embrace an ordinary, normal, and poor life well enough to see the extraordinary way that God will work in and through me, and that it is with an overflowing cup of Thanksgiving that I can offer my two pigeons of sacrifice, and know that it is well.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

for those still searching for that one last thing

And just like that, tomorrow is Christmas.

You know, I took a minute to run through TJ Max yesterday, to find that one last thing,
and the place was picked clean.
Two husbands, like a couple of lost sheep, were in search of a very specific jewelry box, and I pointed them in the direction it would have been in...had they planned a little better.
"Look at us! Two stupid husbands waiting until last minute", they laughed as they thanked me and ran to the other side of the store.

I knew they would not find what they were searching for.

It is crunch time, for us weary moms and back aching dads, for us scrambling husbands and wives.  Wired kids are home from school, and the house looks turned upside down, and the groceries are at least in the house, and this is the point where we stand among the chaos and mess and those last minute details and wonder, "how on earth will I pull this all off?" Until we realize...

we don't need to pull of anything.
He already pulled it all off.
We only need to stay awake so we don't miss it.

He is coming to be born to us...to the folks who are wrapping and cooking and running and stressing...the people who have forgotten why we are doing what we are doing...the families who are tired and the husbands and wives who look at one another and have no idea who they are looking at anymore...the children who are lost and feel forgotten...the people who are stuck in the dark and see no way out...the scared, the lonely, the ones paralyzed by sin, the doubtful and the angry, the miserable and the overjoyed...all of us...He is coming for us.

And it is not too late.
Do not think for a minute that this year "you missed it."
There is still time.
There is always grace.

And there is no last minute detail, no one last thing, that will satisfy any of us to the point where we can sit back and say "there. I am done."
There is only the one...
and He is not done...not with any of us...and praise God for that.
And I am praying that we can all quiet the noise of this world, and sit, for just a moment, in that stable with Mary, and recognize the absolutely unbelievable truth that is about to take place.

Our God, is about to come to us as a helpless newborn baby, and because of this baby in a wooden manger, because of this baby on the wood of that cross, we have been given a gift that no store can give, that no last minute detail can fulfill: eternal happiness, life after death, an ocean of mercy, undeserved grace, peace and joy, unspeakable love, forgiveness of sins, hope beyond measure.  And good grief, who doesn't want that?

I am sitting here with coffee wondering if those two husbands at TJ Max ever found what they were searching for.  And how about you this Christmas Eve?  What have you yet to find?

Let us point each other in the right direction today.






Saturday, December 19, 2015

for those who want to lose their cross

I had a terrible thought the other day. You will think I am awful, but it was just a fleeting thought, and I share it with you in case you too have had terrible thoughts.  This was my thought:  I thought of my well dressed, business woman, Manhattan apartment living friend, who chose to marry, but to not bear children.  And the reason I thought of her was because presently, I was...I am...experiencing some painful difficulties with my youngest, and in an attempt to escape this burden of his, this cross of my own, I imagined, for just a second, what it must be like to have no children. And for a second, just a second, I imagined who I could have been, if I had chosen to not have children at all.  How many crosses would have been lifted if I were not mother.

And then, as clear as day, I saw that by removing this cross, I had just removed anything that matters to me at all here on this earth. 

It is tempting to think that if God would just remove this cross, all of my troubles will be gone.
It is tempting to imagine a life without burdens.
It is tempting to curse our God and yell at Him for not hearing our prayers, for not lightening our load, for giving us the heavier cross than the one we see our neighbor skipping through life with.
It is tempting to think that we are smarter than God.

My daughter asked if I was feeling better after a virus had struck me, and when I replied, "not really", she said, "I prayed to God to make you better, and he didn't answer my prayer."
I had a dear friend text me, "what do you do when God doesn't answer your prayer? Go to plan b?"
And me?  Well I pray daily begging the Holy Spirit to come upon my small boy and to give him in abundance self control, a good day, a day with no troubles, only to have him slump off of the bus with his head hung low...and immediately, my head hangs low with him, and together, we both wonder, why did God not answer this prayer?

And then I remember Saint Monica.
She prayed the same prayer for forty years.
And then I remember Elizabeth and Zechariah. (Luke 1:5-25)
They prayed the same prayer for nearly their entire lifetime.
And when the angel of the Lord finally came before Zechariah, the very first thing he said to him was what?  "Do not be afraid. Your prayer has been heard."

Our daily prayers are being heard.
And they will be answered.
It is not our job to know when they will be answered.
It is simply our job to trust they are being heard, and to never, ever, stop praying and begging God to listen and answer.
It is God's job to answer them, as He sees fit, in His own time, by His will alone.
Why?
Because He has our plan, He writes our story, and He knows what He is doing.
Really, he does.
This is His world, these are His children, we are His daughter's and sons.
Everything belongs to Him.
We own nothing.
He holds the manual to our life, and so long as we wake to a new day with air in our lungs, we are to drop to our knees, thank Him for everything, and trust in His plan.

I know...we look at tragedy, we look at natural disasters, we look at terminal illness, we look at injustice, we look at broken relationships and troubled families, we look at poverty, and we shout out into the nothingness we feel, "Where are you God?? Is THIS your will? Because if it is, your will stinks.  And by stinks, I mean sucks.  You are not a good God.  You do not care about us.  You must not be real."

What we forget, and what I often forget, is that God is not only so very real, but because He created everything, because there would be nothing without Him, HE KNOWS BETTER THAN I.
And yes, that means He also knows better than you.
He works all things for good. (Romans 8:28)
And my cross, my burden, my illness, my poverty, will not be in vain.
It will all serve a greater purpose.
He will use every single bit of it.
He will take all of the pain and sorrow, and He will work it into His divine plan.
I am a part of His story, and God gave me the role that suits me best.
He gave me a role that only can I play; an important role that this world deeply needs.
There are no small roles in God's play.
No role is more important than the other.
I may not want my role, from time to time.
I may, some days, despise my role.
Or get bored of my role.
Or cry in pain from my role.
I may look around and see someone who clearly, God gave the better part...the leading role...the one I should have gotten!
but that...that thinking? It is such a trap.
First of all, it shows my complete lack of trust in God and his creation.
Because by returning my cross and exchanging it for another, I have just said that God made a mistake in creating me this way.  And God, as we know, makes no mistakes.
And second of all, by looking at others, I have just fallen into the trap of comparison.
It is a trap, because everyone walking this planet, my dear friends, is doing it with a cross heavy on their shoulders.
Do not be fooled by their skipping.  By their smile. By their bank account. By their fancy clothes or big house or perfect Christmas card of their perfect family on that perfect summer vacation you just got in the mail that really pisses you off.
They, too, carry a cross, that God carved and created just for them; a cross big, and painful and heavy.
They just didn't put it in their Christmas photo.

I sat with my small boy yesterday before school.
He was feeling sad-like he can not do anything right.
Recess,  his favorite, was taken away for the wrong thing he did.
And with a heart that was aching for him, I told him this.
"God did not make you wrong, and nothing you do or experience is a mistake. You are a perfect creation, and God has huge plans for you.  We will get through this, and all of these things that feel really hard right now, and make you sad? These are exactly the things that God will use to make you great!  These are exactly the things that YOU may be able to use to help someone else some day.  Maybe you will be a teacher when you are a man, and you will have a student just like you.  To that kid? You will be a hero. You will know exactly how to help him.  So do not be afraid, and trust in God's plan for you, okay? Just wait and see...I promise you...and remember, that God works all things for good."
And as my boy hugged me tight, I wondered where those words came from-the words that not only did my boy need to hear, but that I needed to hear as well.  And it was in that moment that I noticed the angel of the Lord standing right there in that room with us, just as he was with Zechariah, feeding me the lines, letting us know that we have nothing to fear, reminding us that our God is good, and that He does hear our prayer.

It is tempting, isn't it, to try to ignore our sufferings, or to imagine a life without suffering, or to curse God for our sufferings. But it is only in the acceptance of our sufferings that God's love and plan for each of us is revealed. He does work all things for good...but we must love Him, and trust Him, and live out the purpose He has called us to live.  We must accept our role, live it to the fullest, and be grateful for it, in all circumstances.  We must remember that He too suffered, for love of us.

Do not be afraid.  God hears your prayer. And in those moments you are convinced that a good God would never allow the kind of suffering you are feeling right now, ask that He would increase your faith.  Pray that He would open your eyes to see the purpose of your suffering, and ask Him to help you to use your suffering to grow closer to Him, to bring others closer to Him, and to teach you how to suffer well. And then turn your gaze to Gods only son, Jesus Christ, beaten and bruised, broken and hanging, lifeless on the cross, and do not feel sorrow at this sight, but rather rejoice and know that the greatest things in life are born out of pain; the most beautiful gifts are born out of sacrifice.  Know that our God, your God, is good and kind, merciful and almighty, and He sees you, He hears you, and He loves you.

Then pick up your beautiful cross, and follow Him.

Monday, December 14, 2015

the gift of the day before

One school bus down.
Two more to go.
The last, will be the hardest.

And then....when all of the kids are in school...then what?

Everybody will spend today the best way that they know how.
For me and my family, we will live out today as any other God given, blessed to have, ordinary day.
We will pack lunches, and get on buses, and go to school, and make dinner.
I will go to Mass, I will run my Bible study meeting, I will walk the dog, I will take the time to pray.
I will go with my children to religious education, I will watch my son play basketball.
I will bake.
We will all gather back under one roof tonight.
We will snuggle on the couch.
We will most likely eat ice cream.
We will probably fall asleep on the couch.
We will live.
At least, this is my plan.
But in the back of my mind, I am very well aware...I am on God's watch.
Only He knows what my day will really look like.
And I give it to Him.
Sometimes willingly, sometimes with hesitation, but none the less, I open my hands, and I offer them to Him.

I accept all, Jesus.
Please Lord, have mercy on me.

Truthfully, the harder day for me was yesterday.
The day before.
December 13.
The day we went about life as so normal, as so un-extraordinary, as just another day.
The calm before the storm.
The Holy Thursday of Sandy Hook.
This "day before"...it is painful to reflect on, and yet... it is a gift.

Because this is what those 20 beautiful children and 6 awesome teachers have done for us-
the have gifted us with the day before-
they have given us reason to hope-
they are a constant reminder (not just a 12/14 reminder, but a daily reminder) that we are nothing but dust, and we do not know the hour we will be taken home-
these Saints of ours?
they keep us looking up.

Three years ago, I did not consider my actions today, and what it would mean for tomorrow.
Three years ago, I did not live my life on earth so that I could get to heaven, but I lived it on earth so that I could have the best of things, here on earth.

20 children and 6 teachers taught me that what matters here on earth doesn't matter at all in heaven.

Lord, have mercy on me for living so much of my life with eyes so blind.
Thank you for yesterday, and today, and what ever your plan for me is.
Keep my eyes open.
Fill my heart with your love and mercy.
Show me how to be mercy to others.
Thank you Jesus.

Sure, it is a hard date to look at.
It is impossible, having lived that morning three years ago, to not allow your mind to re-live it today.
To not zip up coats, and put snacks in bags, and wave to the bus driver, without remembering; without wondering what is in store for this day, will there even be a tomorrow? My children are bigger now, hair longer, missing front teeth have grown in, voices a little deeper.  And yet this morning, I will look at them, and see babies. I see the babies that for some reason, were spared; the babies I still get to hold.

Lord  have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

You know, it is all in God's hands.
Always has been.
And always will be.
We do not know.
But we have right now...the day before tomorrow...
and we have 26 lights burning so very bright above us-

26 fireworks of color and sparkles, butterflies and horses, music and dance, animals and paint brushes and baseballs, beaches and sea shells, shades of pink and purple, the brightest lights you could ever imagine...and they are dancing through the sky, shedding light all around us, swinging on stars and running over the moon, painting the sky and shining upon us, begging us to grab just one small spark...one tiny spark...and to light up the world.

Let us light up this world.
Let us not live in fear but in hope.

we are never in the dark-
we have no choice but to look up.


Friday, December 11, 2015

what are you worth?

It's a hard thing for me to wrap my head around and truly believe; that the only One I should care about pleasing, is my heavenly Father.

I was driving the other morning, and into my mind popped Jodie Nagai.  Jodie was my best friend in elementary and middle school.  Jodie was a beautiful Japanese girl,  she was a talented musician, intelligent, great artist, and was known for her amazing origami and calligraphy.  We had similar interests, and when she moved to Canada in the 9th grade, my heart was broken.  I really loved Jodie.  But not always.

The day Jodie walked into my 5th grade class to deliver a note to the teacher, in her tight sweater, and blue pants, hair flowing and her skin like porcelain, and I overheard the popular boy behind me say, "Jodie in the light blue pants", was the day I decided, "I am not pretty enough."  The day our teacher asked Jodie to make the star for the top of the Christmas tree, instead of me, was the day I decided that "I am not talented enough."  And if I can ever so sadly and humbly admit, that this right here just about describes my life long struggle and desire, my absolute need, to feel pretty and talented.

I grew up in a home full of comparison.
It was my family's favorite past time to stand outside of restaurant windows and make fun of the people eating.
Seriously.  We did this.
If I wasn't competing in gymnastics for first place, or competing for the leading role in the school play, I was competing for the boys attention, the teachers look of approval, a glance or word from somebody that safely assured me, you matter.
And dare I say, not only was I in search for hearing you matter, but I kind of was wanting confirmation that I mattered most.

In my young adult musical theatre days, I was often compared to my friend Jenny, who also, loved to sing and act.  Jenny's mom got her an agent, and head shots.  Jenny had the confidence of a super star.  Jenny wore that ridiculous braided bandanna across her forehead like Brook Shields, and I swear, I thought she was the most glamorous 8th grader I  had ever seen.  She wore guess jeans and Chinese slippers, got good grades, and was always dating an upper class star athlete. My mother, in what I know was only an attempt to build me up, would often get angry when Jenny would beat me out in a role, or outshine me in a production.  "She has no talent! You are unbelievable!" she would assure me.
But I never did hear the assurance.
I only heard the disapproval.
The disappointment.
The truth that once again, I was not good enough.
Jenny mattered more.
I was not worth as much.
As I have matured, I would like to say I outgrew this.  But I didn't.  I haven't.  It is still very much a part of me, and what keeps the confessional at my Parish busy.

In college my best friend and I were called "the brown girls", because we both had brown hair, were short, and had similar personalities.  Everyone thought we were twins. The catch? My friend was the cuter, smarter, twin.  And for a girl who has come to believe that her worth is measured in her appearance and talents, this was not good.  Feeling inadequate and ineffective, I chose to make myself as small as I possibly could.  Maybe I could not be the prettiest and the smartest, but I was determined to be the skinniest.

And that was the thing, and so often, still is. This label. This way of defining ourselves.  Unless I could be known to the world as something, I simply felt unknown.  And it didn't even matter anymore what I was known for and to whom I was known.  I just wanted to be seen.

Just yesterday morning, I checked my Instagram Account.
Instagram does this awesome thing now where they show you a fabulous grid of "popular posts."  You know, it is social media's not so subtle way or reminding you that many people share photos just like you, only their photos (aka everyday lives) are just more interesting than yours.  It is like the cool cafeteria table of pictures that you, eating at the geek table, gets to spy on.
(this is where I insert the song "be careful little eyes what you see")
Like Eve in the garden who sees the apple, every single one of these small snippets of strangers lives look so appealing...I just can not resist hitting on one picture, just for a a glimpse, just for a taste.
And one particular picture looked familiar...the face...and so what would be wrong about looking? What harm could there be in taking one small bite?
And so I did.
Now if I may give you one note of back history, but just prior to checking Instagram, I was woken up by a text from People's Bank alerting me that my bank account was below minimum.  So truly, looking at Instagram was just as helpful as maybe pouring myself a shot of tequila,  binging on the left over apple pie in the spare fridge, eating the last gingerbread cookie, and then weighing myself, just for kicks.
And so I clicked on the image, and up popped that dear friend of mine from school.  Jenny. And it was not a picture, it was a video. A video of her and Oprah.  Jenny founded an incredibly successful and celebrity based exercise studio that has taken the world by storm.  She wears couture, bought a Manhattan apartment, and frequents the Broadway theatre, when not traveling the world bringing her fitness sensation to everyone.  (Thank you Instagram for allowing me to peek in on her private life and learn and see things that without technology I would never have known) I immediately picked up the phone and called her, congratulating her for her success, and then I spent an hour in Adoration, just so grateful for her friendship and her beautiful ability to offer every man and woman, with the financial means, the opportunity to have a super fit body.

Yes, that was sarcasm. I told you...I keep the Priests in the confessional very busy.

I am 45 years old, with grey hair coming in, and I am not much different in the way that I think.  Am I jealous of Jenny? Absolutely.  But maybe not why you think.  Would her bank account be nice to have? No question.  Would I love her closet of clothes? Sure, I bet that would be fun, considering I wear the same three shirts, and even double them up as sleepwear, from time to time. But I am jealous of Jenny because she took her God given talents and used them to create something so successful; something that the world can see.  Something that Oprah promotes as worthy of recognition.  And let's face it.  In the secular world of idol worshiping and feeling good and doing what makes you happy and the love of stuff, Oprah is god.

But Praise be to the real one true God, I am somewhat aware.  And that is it right there...did you hear it? Praise be to GOD.  Not to me. Not to you. Not to Jodie Nagai or the other brown girl, or Jenny with the stupid braided bandanna wrapped around her head, or Oprah.  But Praise be to God. For any good in me, is from Him.  Any good thing that I accomplish, is by way of Him.  I will only be as beautiful as I am in abiding in Him. I will only be as effective as when I allow Him to work through me.  I am only successful when I am doing His will.  And if no one compliments me?  If I win no prize?  If I am not singled out or praised by the world?  Then what?

It is a hard thing.
At least for me, I admit.
To not be recognized for good work.
To not be congratulated for a job well done.
To not be noticed.
To not be praised.
To not have Oprah invite me out onto the stage to say, "The way you taught that fifth grade class about Joseph, and his brothers, and forgiveness? That was amazing!"
It is just so hard to try to make a difference, a good honest difference, and feel like what you do just doesn't matter.
But it is also not true.

For any good we do is seen by the One who we should be doing it all for, in the first place.
And if I am looking for any other recognition, well, maybe I need to head back to the confessional, and remember why I do what I have chosen to do in the first place.  And who am I to judge Jenny? For all I know she wakes up early to pray and give thanks to God for all of her good fortune.  Truly, her life is none of my business.  What matters is that whatever task I am given, whatever job I take on, whatever circumstance I find myself in, I remember to keep Christ front and center.  Because I really do love Him.  It is just that darn ego and need to be praised that continue to get in the way of my love.
And so this is what I need to focus on, especially these last weeks of Advent.
That all that I do, the big and the small, the seen and the unseen, I do it not for the world, but for the One who created the world.
It is not for the money.
It is not for the clothes.
It is not for the spotlight.
It is not even for me.
It is for HIM.
Every step, every breath every moment.
It is for Him.
And to Him, I am worth everything.
Even his very life.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

what are we cleaning for?

The week before we hosted Thanksgiving my husband decided to tackle and clean out our basement.  Because that is where we were going to be eating our formal family turkey dinner.
Not really.

The day of my daughter's fourth birthday party my husband decided to tackle and clean out the coat closet.   Because that is where we would be serving the pizza and cake.
Not really.

It makes zero sense to me.
This idea of cleaning out a space that people are not even going to see.  A space that nobody is going to spend time in.  A space, that given the occasion we are preparing for, is really of no value.

Now, the basement looks amazing, and I am so glad he took charge of it.
And that hall closet did need some weeding out.
I am grateful for his work, it just seems to come at the most unusual, unnecessary, and stressful times.

But we do this during the holidays, don't we?
We know we should be cleaning out something...
we just forget what it is of value that truly desires our attention.
We might even forget what we are cleaning for.

We light the second Advent candle today, and by we I mean everyone else because we have yet to buy the candles.  The wreath is out.  Just no candles.  I am also staring at two large pumpkins from Halloween in the living room.  Maybe I can paint them purple and light them?  But I digress.  Here we are, candles or no candles, preparing the way for Jesus.  He is coming no matter what. And so we are preparing the best we can.

But are we?

This beautiful time of year is a struggle for me. A real struggle.  Make way, prepare a space, clean up and clean out, leave room, make straight the path...but don't forget to also go shopping, hang the lights, bake the cookies, wrap the gifts, send the cards, make the gingerbread houses, clean the house, host the parties, go to the parties, buy the dinner, buy the Christmas clothes, make sure the kids match, take that photo with Santa, go to the tree lighting, sing the carols...and post it all on Instagram.  It all feels a little bit like cleaning the basement or emptying the closet.  Sure, we are making room...sure, we are tackling and cleaning out...sure we are spending buckets of money we do not even have.  And for what?  Or better yet...for whom???

Jesus was born in a stable.
I keep repeating that to myself.
Jesus was born in a stable.
And he came to give.
Not to receive.

The stress of this world and what it makes Christmas out to be is nearly impossible for  me to ignore.
It keeps me up at night.
The lists the kids make.
Gone are the days of dollies and blocks.
Technology has taken over.
They are asking for things that they will not receive.
They are asking for things we can not provide.
I think back to Jesus on the mountain with the hungry crowd and barely any food and the disciples telling him, "We do not have enough bread to feed  them."

I do not have enough bread to feed my family, either.
Not by the worlds standards, at least.
Not by my children's earthly expectations.
But if I can avoid falling into the trap of comparison and what the world considers a wonderful Christmas, and if I remember to give thanks for the little I have, God will supply enough.  He always does.  In fact, he will give me more than I need. Will it be what my children want?  Probably not.  Not now, at least.  And in my perfect world, they will arise on Christmas morn with joy and thanksgiving and not even care about what is under the tree because Jesus Christ their Savior is born and that is gift enough!  And they will wrap their arms around me shouting, "Oh mama! This is is the best Christmas ever!" Then they will scoop up the one small gift they have been given and beg me to run them down to the nearest orphanage so they can give their gift to a child more deserving!

And well, yeah. That will not happen.  Remember the year my oldest asked for a violent video game and got a high quality backpack instead?  Because I do.  It wasn't pretty.

I went to confession yesterday and dumped this all on my sweet little priest from India who grew up with many brothers and sisters, and no electricity and shares that the most joyful times in his childhood was when the family sat outside under the stars together.  What must he think of me?  Of this rich, entitled town I live in? He promises me that the greatest gift a parent can receive is seeing their children understanding what Christmas really means.  And I do not doubt that. But man, that feels like a really tall order.

Jesus was born in a stable.
And he came to give.
Not to receive.
And he isn't coming to see my basement or closets, and he doesn't care if I send cards or not.
He is coming to dwell in my heart.
He is coming to fill up my soul.
And that is what needs cleaning.
That is the space I should tackle and clean out.

This Advent Sunday, as you light your purple candle, and I light my pumpkin, let us pray that we choose to make straight the path that matters.  Let us fill the valleys and lower the mountains and give all that we have, a little or a lot, to the newborn King we are joyfully waiting to receive.  Let us remember what is of true value, and teach our children the same.  Let us kneel beside Mary, our knees in the dirt and the hay, and let us peer into and over the manger, seeing the newborn in all his humility, taking in the miracle of this tiny perfect and poor baby, this King who has come to give, not to receive, the babe that has come to save the world.

Friday, December 4, 2015

two blind men

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life's refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
psalm 27


I admit, I am afraid of the dark.
At night, in bed, I am so afraid.
Hearing sounds, but unable to see them...
my heart pounds fast and I beg for the morning light to come quickly.
Waiting in the dark terrifies me.
I become paralyzed.
My daughter thinks because our house is so old, it is haunted.
I tell her, "don't be silly" and then I look around thinking..."is it?"
Recently, while looking at my profile picture I zoomed in on what looks like an evil face in the window staring down at me.  Really...take a look. It is freaky.
So yeah.
I live in a bit of fear.

The two blind men (not to be confused with the three blind mice-totally different message) in today's Gospel ( Matthew 9:27-31) are not paralyzed by their darkness.  In fact, they are moved by it.
How so?
They follow Jesus.
They can not see him, yet they know He is there.
And after they shout out for help, aware of their need, they take it a step further.
They approach him.
And then?  Then, Jesus asks them something.
Jesus...God...who knows everything...who has no real need to ask a question because He already knows the answer...He asks them...

"Do you believe that I can do this?"

You know, I have many friends, fallen away Catholics, who are searching so hard for something to make sense of their messy life, their emptiness, this dark world.  They see other things of this world that sound like a good idea...I can raise my kids in kindness...maybe try Buddha...yoga perhaps will help.  And yet, when I run into them, weeks, months, years later...they are still searching.  And after this latest tragedy in the news, they will tell you, "See? There is no God!" Or they will tell me, "stop praying and do something! Praying is not enough! He clearly does not answer prayers! We need to take action!"

And I agree.
We do need to do something.
But doing something does not mean we eliminate prayer.
Praying is doing.
Praying is what leads us to action.
Prayer is where we discover what it is we are supposed to do.
And maybe that something is a big action...maybe it means fighting for a cause or running for office.
Or maybe, it just means using two extra fabric softener sheets in the dryer so your kids laundry feels doubly soft and good.  Or maybe it means putting off housework to sit with your youngest and go over geography.
Whatever it is you do, so long as it is done with great love, you are making a profound difference.

I think the people who want us to stop praying simply do not understand what praying is.

Praying is not simply asking for what you want and then sitting back and waiting for it to magically happen.
Praying is worshipping.
And worshipping means following.
(You know what it means to follow...just look at your IG account or your facebook page)
"As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him..."
And following means recognizing our weakness and crying out to him...
"Son of David, have pity on us!"
And crying out means approaching him
"the blind men approached him"
And approaching him means resisting the temptation to talk non stop about what we want Him to do for us, and to sit still and listen to what He has to say...
"Do you believe I can do this?"

And this is it.
This is what is so important.
This question he asks the blind men.
This question he asks us everyday, but because we are too busy following Taylor Swift, or Fox News, or that guy from Highs School who you dated and really loved but he dumped you and married a woman uglier than you and you just get a real kick out of seeing his pictures because it makes you feel better about your own life...I digress...Jesus asks...

"DO YOU BELIEVE I CAN DO THIS?"

Because if we have not followed, and we have not cried out, and we have not acknowledged our need for him, and we have not approached him...then no...how can we possibly believe?

Once the blind men say, "Yes, Lord", did you catch what Jesus does?
Jesus touches them.
He touches them.
And it is by his touch alone that they are healed.

I need to remember these two blind men when it is dark and I am afraid.
I need to remember that although I can not see Jesus, He is ever so near.
And I need to continue following him, always crying out, always aware of my need for Him.
Because only then will my blindness allow me the courage to approach Him, to put my trust in Him, to be quiet enough to hear Him, to be touched by him.

And then like the blind men, my eyes will be opened.

I know that prayer can feel empty sometimes.
Useless.
A waste of time.
I know how discouraging it can be when you pray for years for something, and still, you do not get the answer you would like. (Like how I prayed my bills would go away only to get three certified letters from the IRS and my bank account emptied by them just weeks before Christmas. Yeah, so no Christmas card from my family to the IRS this year!)
But I also know that God has the big picture, I do not.
I know that He created the sun and the stars and the moon and every single good thing in my life, like my family and the animals and chips and salsa and a really good cheap margarita.  And slippers. Well, actually, Costco made my slippers.  I just really love my slippers.
Trust me.
I know how scary the dark is.
I have been in it.
But I also know how awesome the light is.
Even with eyes closed, you can see the light!
Even the three blind mice were moved...see how they run!

And so I choose to follow Christ. In my slippers. From Costco.
And I will continue to pray.
I will love those who love me back and will continue to try to love those who do not love me. (I know! Could you imagine there are people who do not love me? What's wrong with them?)
I will take my small flickering light and bring it with me everywhere I go.
Stop and Shop...the gas station...all those glamorous places I frequent in town!
I will hang out with the two blind men, and I will, at all times, be aware of what a hot mess and needy little critter I am.
I will shout out to my God, I will beg for His mercy, I will ask him to take pity on me.
I will approach Him every single day, and I will say "Yes, Lord."

I believe that God can do this.
I really, really do.


"Let it be done for you according to your faith."




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

faith in the miracle


Today’s Gospel: Matthew 15:29-37
Jesus constantly surrounded himself with the kind of people I go out of my way to avoid: the sick, contagious, strange, possessed, those out of their mind. It never fails that every time he tries to escape for some alone time a crowd follows him. And they do not just follow him, but they seek him out, they find him, they drop themselves at his feet, they wait for the miracle.
The Gospel of the multiplication of the fishes and loaves is my absolute favorite. I have always been drawn to the idea of how no offering is too small for God; how small seeds, tiny acts of kindness, can grow and spread and make huge differences. The way that God can multiply anything we bring to him is amazing! In fact, every morning, I begin my prayer by asking God to multiply the hours in my day!
But today, this Gospel speaks of something different to me. Today, I am not as focused on the multiplication of the bread and fish as I am on the scene of that crowd; they are quite an interesting group. They are the blind and the mute, the deaf and the ill; they are the lost and insane, and I am guessing that if I saw such a crowd chasing after me, or even waiting across the street at the bus stop, I would do my very best to get away, not make eye contact, cross to the other side, lose them fast. But not Jesus. He draws them near. And when I think about it, this crowd, I have to wonder…what moves them? What is it that they have that stirs up such determination to track Jesus down, to reach out to touch his cloak, to literally drop themselves at his feet? What do they know about Jesus that has them being carried on stretchers, lowered through roofs, climbing up mountains, jumping in boats, dropping their nets, climbing up trees, going without food for three days? What is the force that has them desiring to be near him, knowing for certain, that he is the one, the only one, who can save them?
My guess? Faith. Faith is what drives them, and faith is what heals them. Faith is what assures them that when they drop everything and follow Jesus, they will be fed until they are filled. Faith assures them that every hunger, physical and emotional, will be satisfied. And how beautiful and simple is this example for each of us? We should all be as sick as this crowd. We should all be so trapped in our illness, so desperate for a cure, so incredibly hungry, that we have no choice but to run after Jesus, bring him our afflictions, lay them down at his feet, and wait for the miracle.

Ponder:

What part of you needs healing, and is your faith strong enough to run after Jesus and lay it down at his feet? Do you have faith in the miracle?

Pray:

Jesus, thank you for being the food that fills and sustains me. I pray that my faith stays strong and never wavers, and that it is you that I seek when I am hungry and in need of healing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

the day I showed Jesus the door

My older son had friends over the other night, and one of the mom's dropping off asked if she could use our bathroom.  I had just put on a pot of coffee, and was in the middle of making dinner.  She came out of the bathroom, and started to talk.  I do not know her well.  We do not run around in the same circle.  But it was clear, she needed to talk.  And so I let her talk.  And the whole time she talked I thought, "I should offer her a cup of coffee".

But that would have been inconvenient.
And slightly uncomfortable.
I mean...I was making dinner.
And I really didn't know her.
And who knows how long she would stay if I made such a gesture?

And I am starting to wonder if I am missing it? The point. I am trying so hard to abide in Christ, so hard to lead others to Him, and yet when He stands in the middle of my kitchen thirsting, I do not offer him a drink. Why? Because it is inconvenient. Because it is uncomfortable. Because if I invite him in, who knows how long he will stay?

Because I was so caught up in myself, and making dinner, and doing what I wanted to do, I did not recognize Jesus.  Instead, I showed him the door.  I offered him nothing. 

I want to encounter Christ on my own terms.  In my own time.  And it just does not work that way.  And when I recognize this about me, it frustrates me.  I get discouraged.  And I start to wonder what am I even doing?  All of this ministry work?  All of this praying?  All of this volunteering?  For what?
Is any of this even working?  And what does that even mean...working?

I went to Adoration today and am always amazed at how many people show up to worship God, face to face.  And there on the cold hard ground was an elderly man.  He prayed on his knees for nearly an hour.  His hands were raised to the heavens.  His gaze was fixed on Christ.  His position did not look convenient or comfortable. And it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

When faith gets too comfortable, we need to change positions.
When I start to wonder why I do what I do, I need to remember it is not about the why I do, but the who I do it for.
And when strangers come knocking, we must do more than invite them in for a quick bathroom stop and then show them the door.
We need to ask them to stay.
We need to offer them a cup of coffee.
Because this...this is being the hands and feet of Christ.  Running a bible study or teaching religious ed? That comes easy to me!  But showing hospitality? Giving comfort to a stranger?  Well, that pulls me right out of my boat and rips the nets right out of my hands.  That feels like losing everything.  And that is where I want to be.

I pray I am given another chance, and I pray even harder that I do not miss it when it comes.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

she waited

The tree farm was only 20 minutes away, and still, he asked.
"Are we almost there???"

Her brother would be out in 25 minutes, but still she pleaded.
"Can you please take me home and come back for him?"

They rise up at dawn and immediately head to a button to push...a TV a game pad an ipod.
Eyes barely open.
They rush into the day.

And yet, she waited.
She was told, "Do Not Be Afraid."
She was to become the Mother of God.
With barely a warning.
With no directions.
With no time frame.
With nothing to distract her while she waited.
With His will only.
She waited.

I have become increasingly aware of what an impatient world we are.
We do not like to wait for anything.
We are inconvenienced by waiting.
We like to be busy.
We like to complain about being busy.
We really have trouble waiting for we fear what we are not doing while we wait.
Waiting often feels like nothing is happening.
And yet ironically, constantly doing really seems to get us nowhere.


She waited.
She didn't busy herself.
She pondered.
She prayed.
And look at the fruit of her patience.

From the outside, she looked like she was doing nothing.
From the outside, she looked ordinary.
And I think we have trouble with that, for ourselves.
We need to look extraordinary.
We need to show people what we are doing.
We need to post every move we make.

Waiting, a holy expectancy, is not the same as putting off, however.
The bills I stuffed in the drawer?
Those I have been putting off.
That hard conversation?
That I am putting off.
The something tugging on my heart asking me to sit in silence and be with Him?
That I am putting off.

And for what?
I think I can say that putting things off only add to the daily anxiety.

But holy waiting?
Sitting in silence and just being?
This always bring peace.

I have been putting off Adoration this weekend as to get there, I must use a busy intersection that no doubt, will be delayed by Christmas sale seekers.
I do not want to wait.
And the more I ponder Mary, and her waiting to bring Christ into this world, the more I think that perhaps waiting to come face to face with Christ is not such a bad thing after all.
Perhaps, there is great purpose to that waiting and delay?

Tonight at the 5:30 Mass we will light the first Advent candle.
The light that pierces through the darkness of each of us is coming.
But we have to wait.
And He is worth the wait.
Don't you think?

I pray this Advent that we are each filled with the desire to wait, and the hope of our Savior to come.
I pray we sit peacefully in the nothingness that waiting can often feel like.
Because something IS happening.
Ready or not.
Here He comes.



Mary, teach us how to wait.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

where is my reward?

My husband took our youngest out for a dinner of 40 cent buffalo wings.
"Why did Luke get to go out for wings?" was the question a very full and happy 9 year old boy was greeted with as soon as he walked through the door.
"It was my reward!" he proudly exclaimed.

And you can imagine what happened next.
One by one, each sibling wanted to know two things.
The first?
Why did HE get a reward?
And two?
Where is MY reward?

I snapped back at the crowd in my kitchen.
"Every body is rewarded, it all evens out....just be happy for each other!"

But driving to my Bible Study this morning, I had to admit, I didn't believe that.
Here on earth, things don't always even out.
Here in my self centered earthly world, not everyone is rewarded.
Here in this mess of a planet, I have to shamefully say, I am not always happy for others.
Sometimes, with the soil below my feet and the sky up above, I see your reward.
And I covet it.
Because the ugly truth?
I believe I deserve it more than you.
I, like my children, want to know..."where is my reward?"



With coffee in my mug, and a warm dog on my lap, I opened to my evening prayer.

Blessed are the poor in the Spirit...
Blessed are the meek....
Blessed are the merciful...
Blessed are the peacemakers...

Rejoice and be glad.
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Thanks for the reminder, God.




Monday, November 16, 2015

blind on the roadside

Luke 18:35-43

The blind man, begging by the roadside, as Jesus walks by.
You know this one, don't you?
It gets me every time.

He calls out into the nothingness he sees, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!"
And despite being told to shut up, he shouts again.
He kept calling out all the more.

Because this is what sitting in the darkness does to you.

When you can no longer rely on yourself, what else is left, but to beg for help?

This is why getting to know Jesus is so important.
This is why I have made it a point to do my best to lead others to Christ.
Because we are all blind, at one point or another.
And when the lights go out, and you are left on the roadside begging, as far as I can see, you have two choices.
You can sit in the dark and do nothing-which is terrifying and lonely.
OR
You can shout out to Jesus and tell him exactly what you want Him to do for you.

But this takes faith.

The blind man?
He had faith.
Faith that saved him.
He did not see Jesus.
But he knew he was there.
And here we all are, with perfect vision, sitting in our darkness, wondering where Jesus is in all of this mess;
Lacking our faith.

I know people do not like to talk about the dark.
And we will swallow pills and empty bottles and run for miles, just to avoid going there.
But sometimes the dark is necessary.
Sometimes we need to lose all control so that we can hand it all over to Jesus.


And maybe that is you, right now.
Maybe you are sitting in the dark.
If so, call out to Jesus.
Because I promise you, it is when you are overcome by your darkness, that He is closest to you.


Sitting blind on the roadside begging is not what we hope for, but it is where we encounter our hope.
No matter what the crowds say, keep calling out all the more.


Monday, November 9, 2015

the crying room

I was at mass surrounded by five other friends; all of us moms, with kids in school, able to sit in peace.  Mid way through, a woman walked in, and stood at the back.  She was wrangling two very small children, while balancing a very large diaper bag on her already burdened shoulder.  As a once younger mama who would attempt daily mass with an active young one, I understood her.  You do not put yourself in that situation unless you need to be there.

And her children ran up and down the aisle.
They walked out of the church.
They dangerously played with opening and closing doors.
They did not let their mama sit.
She ran. She followed. She protected.

I wondered if she looked at us; older moms, hair brushed, outfits coordinated, tiny purses, no small kids to chase, light loads.  Because I used to do that.  I used to see them...the moms who looked so free.  The moms who were so put together.  The moms who could sit and enjoy and be fed.  And I wondered... would that ever be me?

And the great irony? It will never be me.  And it was not any of us sitting there that morning at mass.
We may no longer carry visible bags that weigh us down, but trust me, we carry them.
Because a small running child grows up into a big running child.
As moms, we really never stop chasing, running after, steering them from danger.
We may get to sit, and we may appear to be alone, but that child?  The one we used to swaddle, and nurse, and rock to sleep?  That child is still right there.  And we carry them still.  We carry their growing pains, their frustrations, their anxieties.  We worry if they are drinking, doing drugs, hanging with the wrong crowd. We mourn their lukewarm faith, their lack of empathy, their self centeredness. We fear this is not just a stage.
We fear they may run, and we never catch up.

This morning I saw her again. The young mom.
Her name?
Mary.
And I sat with her in the crying room, because I mean, hey, I spent nearly the entire weekend crying myself, so why not? Seemed fitting.
And I told her.
I told her not to compare herself with other moms.
I told her that if I could go back, I would not look to the future in hopes of an easier time.
I told her that every mom she sees feels like her.
Tired.
Running.
Protecting.
I told her how beautiful all of it is, no matter how hard it can hurt.
I told her I understood.

Her toddler put rosary bead after rosary bead around his neck, while she shared how hard the days can be. Then she looked at me with a smile and said, "You do so much, you have such faith, and you are always so together...I would never think you would have any doubts or hard days."

You know, we need to do this.
We need to be honest.
We need to be real.
We need to share our hearts.
Really share them. The entire heart.  Not the cleaned up acceptable version, but the real deal.  The filth and the shame and the honest truth.
We need to stop comparing.

And we all need to take a moment, and sit with Mary in the crying room.




Saturday, November 7, 2015

small deaths

Small deaths.



When you say to someone they must lose their life in order to save it, they look at you like you are crazy.  And yes.  I speak from personal experience.

We don't like to think about it.  We don't want to accept it.  But it is the absolute truth.  We hang onto things and to people and to tasks and to titles and to God knows what else, just to feel secure.  We do not want to lose anything, because so often, letting go, means loss of control.  We desire to put it all in His hands, but we really don't, do we?




I have been walking through my yard a lot lately.
Being that this is our first year in our farm house, every new day, every changing season, is like a new birth.  Christmas day.  A total and complete gift that I can say, in all honesty, I never fail to remember this is all His grace, and thank you is glued to my lips.  I do not deserve this home, this yard, this beauty.  And not because it is a thing that I love, but rather, it is because Gods presence in this space has never been more clear to me.  And the irony in the idea that each day here is a new birth, is that in just the same way, it is also a new death. 


The trees here are slowly letting go.

Letting go of leaves of once green.
Letting go of leaves now orange and yellow-a vibrancy and color scheme that only God could paint.
They are giving up what they have held onto for so long, allowing them to drop to the ground, and taking on an entirely new appearance; branches bare, out in the open, completely exposed.  You can see our house from the street now.  There are no more bushes and ferns to hide it.  It is amazing, really.  The yard and the house have taken on an entirely new appearance!  There has been obvious death, and evident change, and it is glorious.  My husband has a date today without about 500,000 leaves, because it is important to clean up, and sweep up what is no more, and to embrace the reality that a death has occurred, and a new season is upon us.  And while it is hard work and takes manual labor, there is such grace in all of it, isn't there?  Ridding our yard of what clutters, to make room for new growth-it is a lesson not to be ignored.


My own life seems to echo this pattern.  In ministry, in my family, in just my being, I am feeling the pain of needing to let go of my own ways, the pain of accepting the change God is asking of me, the pain of emptying my hands of what I so desperately believe I should be in control of, the pain of dying to myself.  My heart, like the yard, feels cluttered.  Things need to be cleared out, things need to die.  And I am resisting the temptation to allow these small deaths to cause me sadness, or self pity.  Because when I do that, my focus is on me, not Him, my desire is for me, not His Kingdom.

When I start to over think things, and when the work I do to serve my God turns into doubt and confusion, it is time I take a step back.  This is such a dangerous spot to be in-feeling confused and doubtful- because I know that confusion and doubt to not come from God; they come from the devil.  If I am to cheerfully go where ever I am called, what could there possibly be to doubt?  If my eyes are focused on God alone, as my lips proclaim, than all that other stuff that clutters my heart wouldn't stand a chance, would it?  When service to my King becomes about how it makes me feel, and not how am I bringing others closer to Him, there is a big problem.


Father Tadeusz, a polish priest and professor of theology in Warsaw, wrote about how we can not serve God and mammon.  Because truly, that is what happens when we refuse to let go and allow God to take the wheel; we serve two masters, divide our hearts. This is what he beautifully wrote, and what God needed me to hear this morning:

"An obvious sign of attachments is also your sadness in situations when God takes something away from you.  He will, therefore, take that by which you are enslaved-hence everything that is your  greatest enemy, that which causes your heart not to be free for him.  It is when you start to accept this and do it cheerfully that you will become more and more free."

What beautiful truth.  What a beautiful, yet painful reality.  Whatever it is I hold onto-things, people, emotions, are they freeing my heart, or just feeding my pride?  Do they fall out of my hands, allowing me to be bare and vulnerable, open to His love, or am I tight fisted, and stubborn, only willing to serve Him in those ways that allow me to still feel in control?


The trees have the right idea.
Bloom where planted, let go when asked, die to self, accept the seasons, and continue to grow.
And do it cheerfully.
Because a cheerful heart is what fills us up, over flows, and spills out to those around us.
This is how we are to serve.
This is the beauty that is born out of each small death.


Friday, October 30, 2015

then grace steps in

Sometimes you don't see the grace in your day until it has already passed.  And other times, your eyes are so wide open that grace smacks you in the face and you almost have to laugh at how real God is.

After I was stuck with a small thorn in my side, and contemplating marinating in a mix of self pity and guilt, grace stepped in.  A baby that was handed to me, and slept on my chest for 40 minutes.  The unexpected voices that sang Amazing Grace at morning mass.  The coffee date with a friend who craves the knowledge and wisdom of faith as much as I do.  The half hour call with my kids therapist who put me ease, assured me everything was OK, and made my life feel less in crisis than it usually does.  And then Carol.

Unplanned, I stepped into the church for one last prayer before heading home.  Carol was there.  "Oh, I didn't recognize you", she said.  Carol is in her 80's, and she was looking frail.  "You lost weight" I told her, as my arms wrapped around her tiny shoulders.  "I had breast cancer" she flat out told me.  Which means that that time at Panera when I was picking up dinner and ran into her and complained about how hard my move into the new home was...she had breast cancer.
"Oh no" was all I could get out of my selfish mouth.

She asked about my Bible Study, and we briefly talked about life, and before we parted she asked, "Would you say a prayer for my husband?  He is in hospice at home now.  I have a care taker there."
I told her of course, and asked for his name, but all I could think was, "good grief, does it ever get easy?"  

And with her sweet, soft face, and snow white hair, she smiled, and as if reading my mind she said, "You know, I remember when my father was in his 70's and I asked him, 'Dad, is it easy now??'  And after dead silence, he finally answered.  He said, 'Carol?  It is all hard.'"

Then with a twinkle in her eye, she shook her head smiling and said, "but we keep on trucking."

Carol left and I walked up to the altar, got down on my knees, and stayed at the feet of Jesus. Through tears I asked Him, "Why IS it so hard?" and before I could get an answer I opened my eyes and focused in on His hands. The nails. The wounds.  And like a bolt of lightning I realized-of course it is all hard. Look at you.  Nailed to the cross. MY nails in your hands. You are up there for me.  For my hard stuff. What better way to get close to you than to to do the hard stuff with you.

I don't pretend to ever think that any good thought I have is ever my own.  Nor do I pretend that the baby on my chest, the dear friend and coffee, the lyrics "amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me", the encouraging words over the phone, or running into Carol, were all things that happened by me.  Because of me.  It is HIM.  It is His grace.  And His grace swirls around me, around you, around all of us.  It is in the baby's breath, and in the 80 year old eyes, it is in the hard stuff he gifts me with, assuring I stay planted at His feet, the strength that keeps me trucking on and on.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

if you are broken

This is what I am thinking about.

When you break your iPhone, you take it to the apple store.
When your car breaks, you take it to the dealership.
If your camera breaks, you send it back to the manufacturer.
Why?
Because whoever made it, knows it best.
Whoever put it together, knows exactly how to fix it.

If you are broken, troubled, burdened, weary, sick, angry, lost, or lonely....stop searching for your help in false idols, and go to the One who made you, who knows you best.
He put you together.
He holds the pieces.
He knows exactly how to fix you.

It just makes sense.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

He sends a large fish

As we drove into our driveway, my teenage daughter eyed the two deflated balloons, still hanging from a party two weeks ago, tied desperately to the hanging sign post, looking like a couple of breasts that just nursed their 9th child.  "I am going to take those balloons down.  I refuse to be that house with the deflated balloons", she told me.

I, too, refused to be lots of things, back in the day.

Last night I was woken up by a strange sound of running water.  I shot up out of bed.  Clearly the roof was about to cave in from the rain and I was seconds away from being crushed to death.  Only it wasn't raining.  So obviously, an intruder had broken in, and he was showering before stabbing me to death. A shadow emerged at the bottom of the steps, and I recognized the form immediately. It was my son. He climbed up the stairs, half asleep, sat on my bed, looking tired and confused.  I peeked down the stairs to confirm that there was no intruder freshening up in my bathroom before striking, but rather, my son had gotten out of his bed and peed on his carpet.  He peed a lot. I threw a towel on top of the soaked spot, and went back to bed.  I probably should have cleaned it up.

This morning I set my yellow highlighter down next to my Bible on the coffee table, and came back to find the highlighter gone....but my dogs fur neon yellow.  I suppose I should have looked for the marker, and washed the dog.

Should have...used to do...suppose I should...thought I would never.
I could go on and on about all of the things I said I would never do or be.
I could write a book about all of the things I have let slide and let go.
I could fill a room with all of the times I didn't obey God.
And not that failing to take down balloons, or jumping up to clean a carpet or dog is disobeying God.  But it is a slippery slope, isn't  it?  Small acts of laziness lend themselves to disobedience, and have the ability to grow into bigger habits of neglect.  Huge sins don't happen over night. They are born small. It is our laziness to correct them that continually feeds them.  And it has been my experience that if you do not wish for something to grow big, don't feed it.

And so I have been thinking about Jonah a lot lately. Not the Jonah from that boy band, but Jonah the guy in the Old Testament, in the belly of the whale.  Jonah didn't listen to God.  Jonah refused to be who God asked him to be.  And because of his lack of obedience, things got ugly for the guy, and Jonah ends up getting thrown into a raging sea, surely to drown. "But the Lord sent a large fish" and put him in the belly of a whale for three days.  And that might sound drastic, and well, kind of gross, not to mention really impossible.  But that is the story and God is the author, and so we go with it.  Three days.  Inside of a whale.   And there, in the darkness, what did Jonah do?
"From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord, his God.  Then the Lord commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore." 

That list, those books, that room I could fill with all of my regrets?  Maybe they were needed.  Maybe I needed to become that woman, that house, that person I swore I would never be, to be the woman, wife and mom I am today, and still have yet to grow into.  Maybe I still need those moments to be exactly what it is I do not want to be, in order to become who God has created me to be.  I am not hoping I continue on a road of disobedience or laziness.  But I do hope in the truth that God is pretty much an expert at taking my mess and pulling something beautiful and unexpected out of it.  I know this, because I have witnessed it for myself.

The deflated balloons, by the way, are still hanging.
The pee soaked carpet has yet to be cleaned.
As I write, my neon dog is snuggled up close to my side.
The laziness to get up and do something about any of this, I believe, has been fed by the fact that my husband traveled for the last two weeks, I have been sick, kids have had fevers, and well, I am exhausted.
And exhaustion can be scary.
Exhausted is how the devil likes me.
I am more sensitive, low on patience, and incredibly self-critical and absorbed, when I am exhausted.
In truth, the last two days have been rough on me.  Because my focus has been inward, and not on what is above, I have felt disappointed, alone, unattractive, and taken for granted.  My selfishness and lack of eternal perspective has me feeling as if I have been thrown overboard, into the raging sea; a sea of what I could have been, who I used to be, how I have failed, and what I will never become.  Surely, I am destined to drown.

But then He sends a large fish.

And when I quiet my heart, and close my eyes, I see this anchor of hope.
No matter how strong the waves, or how deep the sea, I have this anchor of hope.
Even when I feel I have drifted from where He wants me to be, He has me secure.
Even when I refuse His guidance, and insist on my own way, he keeps me tethered.
Even when I feel like I am drowning, he reaches out, draws me near, and gently reminds me to step out of myself, and into His arms.

It is here, in the darkness, He invites me into prayer.
Here, in the belly of the fish.




Friday, October 2, 2015

why Jesus calls over a child


Today’s Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10  

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels
Transitioning back to school has been tough this year. There have been lots of notes sent home from the teacher, many phone conversations, and lots and lots of tears (and most of them mine!)
Waiting for the bus the other morning, my eight-year-old son, the one suffering through these hard days of back-to-school, suggested he could say his own prayer. I said sure, and asked him, “What do you want to thank God for today?” He said, “My life.” Then I asked, “What is one thing you would like to ask God to help you with today?” and he said, “Paying attention.” Then I asked, “Is there one person in particular you would like to ask God to protect? Someone you want to say extra prayers for?”
Now, I will be completely honest. I was hoping he would say “my mom.” I was sure he was going to pick me. I felt deserving of the extra prayer. But he didn’t. Do you know what he prayed for?
“I pray for everyone who needs more help than me.”
This is the reason when asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus calls over a child.

Ponder:

In what ways do you need to turn and become like a child?

Pray:

Jesus, thank you for my life, help me to pay attention, and I pray for everyone who needs more help than me. Amen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

the angels

And now the house is quiet, as I sent them off, one by one, backpacks and lunches, onto big yellow buses and down the street, away from me, away from this home, out of my arms.

And they are safe.

Dangling from my little ones bag is a charm of Saint Michael.
On that unimaginable morning, when evil came to destroy, and hearts were shattered, I blessed my son before he innocently skipped away.  "I pray that God sends all of His angels to protect you today."
That was my send off.
That is why, when I learned of the nightmare, I dropped to my knees believing that he was gone.

It was weeks after the tragedy that he looked up at me-my goodness, he was just six-and he asked me, "Mom, is it because you asked the angels to protect me that I did not die?"
And how do you even answer this?
Could it be that because I called to the angels for help that day, that my son was spared, and 26 other lives were not?

"No, honey.  The angels were everywhere that morning.  The school, in fact, was filled with so many angels.  They did protect your friends and teachers, because before they even knew what was happening, those angels scooped them right up, and in a flash, brought them straight into the arms of Jesus."

He thought for a moment. Then his mouth frowned.
"Mom, I'll bet they were crying."
"Who?" I asked. "The children?"
And as he hung his head low, he whispered, "No, mom.  The angels."

I think about this moment a lot.  Every morning, in fact, when I put him on the bus.  Every single morning. And when I look back on that day, I do not see the evil.  I do not wail in the darkness.  I do not dwell on the violence.  I do not give up an ounce of my joy.  Because what I see are a legion of angels-Gods messengers-fighting and protecting-sheltering and guiding.  A flurry of feathers and light, of wings and of grace, casting away evil, rejoicing in heaven, placing the little ones in the safety of His arms.




"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.  The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Anointed.  For the accuser of our brother is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.  They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death.  Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them." 
-Revelation 12:7-12ab

Monday, September 28, 2015

my journey to see the Pope

I am pretty sure I am the only person who was more focused on the soft pretzel in her purse, than in seeing Pope Francis.  But let me explain.

The ticket to Mass with the Pope at Madison Square Garden was an amazing surprise and gift.  Getting sick the day of the Mass was also a surprise, just less amazing, and not so much a gift.  Remember when I was invited to the Academy Awards, and I went with a 104 degree fever?  Well, there was no fever this time, but still.  I am beginning to think that I have some sort of sick ability to make myself ill for those things I am really looking forward to.  At least that is what my husband says.  Not to compare the Pope to the Academy Awards, because there is no comparison.  Pope Francis is the exact opposite of the red carpet, self indulgence, and the desire for prestige and power.  The Pope is humble and meek, and he looks like my father, which makes him all the more adorable to me. And I really, really wanted to catch a glimpse of him.

So did 35,000 other ticketed people.

We assumed we would walk right into the Garden.  That is why, two hours early, we chose to sit in a dark and seedy Gyro shop across from MSG, you know, to kill time, and possibly contract some sort of incurable disease.  We assumed we would walk in, flash a ticket, go through security, than enjoy concessions and confessions, while purchasing all sorts of Pope memorabilia.  We had no idea that the line for ticketed people started at the door at 32nd street, but ended at 27th street and 8th avenue.  And the only way to know that the line wrapped around the block up to 27th street, was by walking down to 24th street, over to 8th, than back up to 27th.

Almost four hours.  We waited.  On line.  In heels. Sick.  For almost four hours.

And it was interesting, really.  Because when you are with total strangers for that amount of time, you see a lot of things.  You hear a lot of things.  And you begin to forget what you are even waiting for.  You are just with these people...this humanity...these New York City folks, who are growing tired, and weary, and dare I say a little bit cranky.  I started to wonder if the Pope was really in town...like maybe, this was just some social experiment.  Maybe he just wanted to see how we treated one another.  Did we love our neighbor?  Were we kind?  Did we reach out to the lost and forgotten? Were we self less? Do we show mercy?  Are we humble?? How small are we?

As we inched our way at a snails pace, closer to the Pope, the heat burning our shoulders, I could not escape the irony.  People pleading for spare tickets, only to be ignored.  The homeless were slumped over on the side walk, sleeping on boxes, dressed in hats and coats despite the summer like day, while we all looked straight ahead,  chewing our gum, popping our mints into hungry mouths, prized silver tickets in hand.  A gentleman offered a spare ticket to a Priest, and as he walked to the end of the line feeling like he had won the lottery you could overhear the crowd, cynical and doubtful, "I will bet that guy's not even a Priest!" A woman used the name of God in vain, as the Sisters of Charity quietly walked by. And another tried to ditch the woman she ran into that she knew from work, exclaiming, "She is crazy."  I was beginning to feel like I was on my own road to Calvary, and wondered if rather than spending money on getting Jennifer Hudson and Harry Connick Jr. to perform at the Pope pre-show, they should have installed the stations of the cross up and down 7th Avenue.

And is it me, or is there something very Hollywood and not right sounding about "Pope pre-show"?

Once through security, we dashed by the Priests hearing confessions because we were starving, which is ironic, considering it is usually a deep starvation that sends me running into confession.  After waiting on another line for food, we journeyed to another floor in hopes of a shorter wait.  I really wanted a soft pretzel.  I had only eaten a bag of cough drops all day, and well, as good as they were, honey and lemon, I was still hungry. So we raced by the gifts...I had hoped for something small to bring home, maybe a magnet, to have blessed by the Pope and to stick on my fridge, because what says, "I saw the Pope" better than a magnet on the side of your fridge?  But the pretzel was all I could think about.  My feet might have been bleeding.

We got the pretzel.  My friend bought two...one for later...we weren't taking any more chances.  And water.  It cost us $28, and was worth every cent.  After crawling over the people in our row to get to our seats, I might have let out a sigh of relief as I got off of my feet, and popped a piece of warm, salty pretzel into my mouth.  I ate that piece of pretzel as if I had been starved of every meal for the last year.  And it was as we were chewing, that my friend looked up and said, "Is that the procession??? Mass is starting?????"

Yes.  I am the woman that was shoving a hot pretzel in her mouth in the presence of Pope Francis during Mass.

The pretzel, sadly, went into my bag, and I tried hard to be in the moment.
That is the Pope.
There he is.
I want my pretzel.
The Holy Father.
Right there.
I am so blessed.
And hungry.
Look at the Pope Laura.
My pretzel is in my bag.

I am not sure how I expected to feel when I saw the Pope, but I know I was not expecting to be wishing I could eat my pretzel.
I thought I would cry.
I thought it would be the holiest moment of  my entire life.
I thought I would be hungering for Christ, not my over priced snack.

Next to me was a two year old who shouted, "I have to poop!"
All around me were cameras...people taking video and pictures through out the entire mass; looking through small lenses when right there below them was all they came to see.
Phones were going off.
People were shouting out to their Papa.
It was a spectacle, and I am sure great love was behind it all, but for me, the sick girl with bleeding feet, a throat on fire, ADHD, and a pretzel in her bag, I found it very hard to concentrate.  It was difficult for me to find that spiritual connection, especially since to me, MSG means the New York Rangers, and spilling warm beer.  I did pause when the Eucharist was placed in the center of my palm.  I did bow my head in prayer, and threw out every intention from every loved one I had in my heart.  I did try to connect.  And when it was all over, I ate my pretzel faster than you can say, "Praise God!"

Now that I am home, with my box of tissues, cup of tea, and quiet, I am better able to see that day for what it was.  For what it was meant to be.  Interestingly enough, I do not think it was about seeing the Pope, but more so about my journey to him.  My feet did not hurt when I was moving toward his holiness, it was in the standing still, the motionless, the stuck in place, when I felt the pain.  But the journey?  The journey was good.  And it is now in the silence of my heart that I see the homeless I walked by.  I see the faces of those strangers that stood by me.  I see that annoying co-worker, her lipstick red, her eyes big and wide.  I see the nuns clutching their large wooden beads, the dog walkers and cyclists.  I see my beautiful and generous friend, who I got to know so much  better as we shared stories over a diet coke, french fries and coffee on our journey back home.  And I see myself, in a crowd of 35,000, waiting to see...wanting to catch a glimpse...making this pilgrimage, yearning to experience emotions large...and walking away from it all, still wanting to journey, knowing I am not finished, and feeling so incredibly blessed and wonderfully small.



"No one can grow without accepting smallness." - Pope Francis