Wednesday, April 29, 2015

fly on

The great thing about doing ministry work? You realize that there is not a soul on earth (not even the tall skinny soul with long blond hair, a brand new car, and a latte in her hand) that doesn't carry around a whole lot of stuff; garbage, filth, pain, loneliness, fear, hatred, misery, despair, worry, anxiety, brokenness. You know. Stuff.  You come to learn the honest truth that all that we see is not so honest after all.  We recognize, with new wide eyes, bright and clear,  free of scales, that trouble exists for all, just as God promised, and that Instagram is a mere snapshot of the kind of life we pretend we live out.  You learn that no amount of money can solve what  matters most, and that your own poverty, thirst and hunger were never set backs, but rather, blessings in disguise.  It is refreshing to know this.  Ministry work, the kind I have been doing; being side by side with other women, reaching out and bringing in, has been a wonderful gift and opportunity that I feel most unworthy of.  The not so great thing about ministry work?  It is ministry work.

And no. I am still not worthy.  In fact, I often wonder if my involvement in trying to do all that I do all for the glory of God, has made be a bigger sinner, more self centered, and just an awful person, in general.  You see, when we begin to see with wide eyes...when the scales fall off and our vision becomes clear, we get a better picture of not just others, but also, ourselves.  You know the horror you feel when you go to take a picture of a beautiful flower, to find that your phone camera is set facing you????   Scary, right?  You see wrinkles, and lines and chin hair you never knew you had!  That is ministry work.  You see the horror of who you really are.

My teenage daughter is dealing with a huge disappointment.  It is the end of her world, because her world, remember, is a mere 14 years spinning.  And her disappointment has become my own.  And let me be honest.  I am angry.  I get that Gods plan is not our own.  I get that Gods ways are not our ways. But just once, I really wish he could throw us a bone.  Maybe just once he could say, "Yeah, ya know...this thing you really isn't what is best for you.  In fact, if you could just hang on for a bit, I promise, what I have got planned is gonna blow what you think you want right out of the water! The water I walked on! But fine.  I will give it to you. Here ya go."

But He loves us too much to do that.

Getting it, and trusting it, are feeling like two very different things to me right now.
Trusting it, and accepting it, feel nearly impossible.
And when we are asked to "hang on for a bit?" who knows what that bit might mean? A week? Two months? Five years? Eternity??  We wait for nothing today.  Patience is hard to come by.  What God is asking of my kid is not easy.  What He asks of me on behalf of my kid is almost unbearable.

I just want her happy.
The end.
I worry to a degree that I know I should not worry.
And yeah, I know all about the birds in the sky that He cares for, and the wild flowers that do not work or spin...I KNOW ALL OF THIS.
I even GET it.
And after this rant drenched in self pity, I will even be as bold as to say YES, Jesus, I DO trust in you.

I do trust.
I just don't trust that my kid trusts.
And that is the crack that allows doubt to creep in.
That is the small, almost invisible fracture that the devil waits for.
I have been begging the angels that guard my children; pleading with their Saints, praying to no end.
Please God, don't let their hearts break big enough to allow satan in.

And so I have been sitting here, and sitting there, and wondering all the while, "Why do I even bother with ministry work? If getting closer to Jesus...if bringing others closer to Jesus, simply makes me a bigger target for the devil...then why bother???"

Because I feel that way.
I do.
Like a target.
Because I feel like the devil who once really enjoyed hanging out in my head and in my home, is really pissed off right about now.
Because he knows it is Jesus that I love.
He knows that he doesn't compare. And that he never, ever will.
And so he finds these little annoyances...these troubles...these disappointments...and he works like crazy to make sure they stick on the front of my head, and are carved into my heart.

So work with me here...because I really have no idea where any of this is going, and honestly, it may go absolutely no where, in which case, I will apologize for that in advance.
But...if God has the plan....if we are to trust...I mean, really trust...and if it is true that His plan will knock the socks off of our own...then maybe...these annoyances, this sadness, this valley he has thrown me into, along with my kid, is to help me?  To help us? Perhaps an easy, care free, get everything you want when you want it kind of life would be dreadful?  I know my 14 year old would disagree.  I think instant gratification would feel really good right about now.
But then that is why God gave her to me. To remind her.  Instant gratification feels great, until it is gone...and then you spend the rest of your life paying for that really stupid thing you did because you believed it would make you happy. In an instant.

Today is the feast day of Saint Catherine of Sienna.  In the Magnificat she writes,

"I want you to open the eye of your reason and you will see that knowledge of ourselves makes us humble.  We come to such knowledge precisely through all the darkness and all the devil's annoyances.  And we grow in zeal and in love for God because we see that without God there is no defending ourselves."

I read this to my daughter.
I read this to my friends.
I continue to read this to myself.

God chose me to be a mother. And God chose me to be in ministry work.  And I do what HE asks me to do because plain and simple, I love him. I would even die for him.  And well, seeing my kid unhappy and having to just accept things the way that they are? It kind of feels like dying.  But what a relief to know that in all of this darkness, we believe there is a bigger light.  And so I will go where he takes me and I will follow his voice, because whatever it is I desire for my kids here on earth, can you imagine what it is God desires for us in heaven???  And so I will keep my eyes open, I will hold tight to my kid, I will trust in my God, and together, we will fly on.

"Let's never avoid or run away from difficulty, but follow our leader, Christ Jesus.  I'll say no more.  Fly on the wings of deep humility and blazing charity!  Keep living in God's holy and tender love."
- Saint Catherine of Sienna

Sunday, April 26, 2015

why he breaks me, and why I am grateful for it

Back when I was dating my husband, totally in love and willing to go anywhere to meet up with him, he gave me the address of a NYC bar he would be hanging out at.  I pushed my way into the noisy crowd; the room was filled, no empty stools or chairs, and I could not for the life of me see the one I came in search of; the one I longed to be near.  But... I could hear his voice.  I knew his voice.  I loved his voice.  And so I followed it, until finally, I found his face.

My 8 year old son sang in his school spring school concert this week.  Over thirty children stood on those risers, belting out song after song; a beautiful mess of little voices, sweet and loud, and although they sang in unison, I could hear my son's voice. His voice, the voice I know, I could pick out, despite all of the other tiny voices around him.  I love my son.  I know my son's voice.

And so I have always loved the parable of the lost sheep.  I have always loved the idea that I am that lamb, and that no matter how far off I roam, how lost I get (and trust  me, I do get lost), the good shepherd will find me, place me on his shoulders, and carry me safely back to my flock.  This idea that despite my ugliness, the good shepherd loves me-this idea that no matter how off track I get, the good shepherd loves me enough, that he can hear me calling out to him, no matter how many miles I have chosen to put between us-this idea that there will always be strong shoulders to carry is just something, a hope I suppose, I have always held onto.

What I recently learned, and never knew, was the reason why the shepherd puts me on his shoulders. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd would break the legs of the lamb.  Then, he would have to carry the lamb on his shoulders, until the lamb was strong enough to walk again on his own.  And he did this, not as punishment to keep the lamb from running off again, but rather, to keep the lamb close to him, so that the lamb could learn the sound of the shepherds voice.  Like my newborn babies, vulnerable and trusting, who I swaddled to my breast, who could not stand on their own, who needed me to keep them safe, the good shepherd does the same with me: he breaks me down, detaches me from all, and draws me close to Him.  He speaks, and because I am close, I listen.  He breaks me, because he loves me; because I belong to him. I learn his voice.

I have had my legs broken. I have lived those moments when there was no way I could walk on my own; when I had no choice but to rest on His shoulders and listen to His voice.  And how amazing it is, and  by amazing I truly mean stupid,  that it never seems to fail that once I get my own legs back, I run off again!  I leave the flock, thinking "I've got this!  I can do this on my own!"  And how dangerous this is.  Because remember, not only do we have a good shepherd looking out for us, but we also have that wolf.  The wolf that is always searching for that lost lamb.  The wolf that catches and scatters.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that you are safe outside of the fold.  That wolf?  I have seen him.  He runs through my marriage, he paces outside of my children's bedroom doors, he waits for me by my bedside, he paces back and forth through my home.  That wolf is searching for you, he is searching for your spouse, he is searching for everyone you love.  And he never tires of trying to catch you.

Terrified?  You should be. Because it terrifies me.  But when I feel the fear of the wolf is stronger than my trust in God, I get down on my knees, and become small at the foot of the cross, and I pray to become that lost lamb.  I rejoice in any troubling circumstance, and I pray in gratitude for whatever it is in my life that is crippling me.  Because if this life has taught me anything, it is that I am so much better off when the comforts of this world have been taken from me; when I feel poor and empty, vulnerable and scared; because it is then that hope swoops in, breaks my legs, and lovingly puts me on his shoulders.  And I can rest there in peace, because I know his voice, and he knows mine; he is carrying me back to safety.

I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me

today's Gospel
John 10:11-18

Thursday, April 23, 2015

the desert route

And so I read a lot, and I listen to a lot; spiritual things to boost up a mood, or fill up sad space-just stuff to keep me centered, to push me through whatever dry spell I am being pulled into and to encourage me to always seek His face.  And then, what almost always happens, is I will be in a conversation with a friend, and they will say that very thing that I just read of or heard, and I will go to reference it...only, I  can not for the life of me remember where it was I took in those words, or what it was that sang in my ears.  Truly, my memory is shot.  It is amazing I remember my own name.  And I am beginning to wonder if I am trying to take in too much.

But I remember this.
Father Mike Schmitz said in this homily that we should sit in Mass with a journal and write down that one word or phrase that jumps out to us.  ONE word.  ONE phrase.  And that when we go to Mass, we should really pay attention to the readings and Gospels AS IF God has something very specific to say to us.  To you.  To me.  No zoning out. No distractions.  But REALLY listen for what it is God wants you, me, us, to know, right now. Because He does. He does have something to say today. I believe that.

And so I dragged myself out of bed, lit my early morning candle and squinted at my Magnifcat- because I swear, as I get older, the type gets smaller and smaller...and I read the words and I read them super carefully, AS IF they were for me alone...and there it was....the words meant for me to hear...

"the desert route."

I circled it.

I read it again.

I felt a stirring in my heart.

I knew this route.

Acts of the Apostles 8:26

The Angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, which, by the way, how terrifying is that?....and he instructs  him to get up, head south on the road, and basically tells him, to take the desert route.  Not the fun route.  Not the route with the rest stop, or gift shop.  Not the route with that really cute new organic smoothie place.  But rather, the desert route.

A little further on, after joining up with an Ethiopian Eunuch, as he was inspired to do by the Spirit (again, sort of scary) he discovers him reading Isaiah the prophet, and he asks him,

  "Do you understand what you are reading?"

Pen back out.

Entire phrase circled.

He is talking to me.

The truth?  I read a lot.  I do.  But do I understand what I am reading?  I mean, really understand?  Do I hear what God is saying to me, or am I too frantic searching for what I want God to be saying to me.  Am I so focused on hearing his audible voice, like Philip does, that I am missing his silent command?
And on a side note, let me just point out how crazy stupid I am to even think I would want to hear the voice of an Angel...I am afraid of everything, and a voice in the middle of the night would absolutely terrify me.  I would probably die of a heart attack on the spot.  And then the Angel would have to leave and go and find a better, more worthy woman to speak to.

But back to the point.  All I know is that for nearly a month now, I have gotten up in the  morning feeling joy-less.  Not sad, not depressed, just sort of...void of joy.  Like, zero excitement for the day ahead.  The gratitude meter is on a serious low.  And I do not know why.  And after prayer and a billion cups of coffee I feel somewhat refreshed...and I use the bathroom a lot...but none the less...I do not wake up grateful, lately. And it has been really bugging me.  And while I have no idea why these phrases struck me, and stuck out, I took out my journal and I took out my pen and I scribbled them down, and they might as well have been written in neon.

Do I understand what I am reading?
No.  Not always.
But do I think these words were said to me, specifically?
Well, yeah. I kind of do.
Will I wake up joyful tomorrow knowing that I can open my Bible anytime I want, and there is God, waiting to jump out and tell me everything I need to know about life and how to get through it?
Most likely not.
But that does not keep me from waking up, lighting that candle, taking out His Word, and setting out on my journey.
Joy or no joy, voice or no voice.
I know He is with me.

This road will not last forever.
It's just my desert route.

Monday, April 20, 2015

just a thought.

If I had a dime for every time I was invited to do a Bible Study at the non denominational church in the next town over, I would have enough money to build my own church.  When I politely decline, offering reasons such as, "I go to Mass at that time", or, "I am Catholic", I am always reassured, with a most sincere and welcoming smile, "but that's okay! Lots of Catholics go!"

Good grief.

So let's just go ahead and file this one under my long list of holy discontent.
And please do not misunderstand.
I love my Protestant brothers and sisters!
I love their enthusiasm!
I love that they memorize Scripture!
I love how much they love Jesus!
I love how they evangelize!
I don't have a problem with their invites.
It is nice to feel wanted.
Heck, I even debated going!
I don't have a problem with non-Catholic Bible Studies.
I admire anyone who desires to grow closer to Christ.
I don't even have a problem with Catholics going to non Catholic Bible Studies.

Okay, well maybe that last one is a lie.

But not a total lie.

Because my guess is that if Catholics really knew their faith...and really knew what they were leaving...well, then...they would never leave at all, would they?

My problem is the lukewarm Catholic; the Catholic that leaves the true presence of Jesus for something brighter and more entertaining, and their fellow Catholics seated in the pews, who don't do as much as pick their heads up far enough to notice them leaving.
Or maybe we do see, but we just don't care.
Or maybe we do see, and so we shake our head and make all sorts of judgements, while they drive off in search of more of something, more of anything.  Judging others is so much easier than loving others. At least for me, it is.

But does that mean we let them go? Does that mean it is okay for us to shrug our shoulders, and let them wander off, because at least they are being fed somewhere? Do we sweetly wave good bye, blow a kiss and yell "have a great time even though you just turned your back on the Eucharist!", and call it a day?

Have you ever met a lukewarm Protestant?
If so, show me.
Really.  I am not kidding.  I want to see.
Because I don't believe you.
And if by chance you do know a lukewarm Protestant, I'll bet I have 100 lukewarm Catholics for your one lukewarm Protestant.

Only once did another Catholic ever invite me to a Catholic Parish ministry. Just once. Okay, that is another lie. Twice. But one woman was slightly creepy.  Okay, that is another lie.  She was super creepy. But that is okay.  Creepy people aren't just in churches. Creepy people are everywhere.  In our grocery stores.  At our bus stops.  In our families.  I am sure there are people who think I am creepy. Or just insane.  Point is, creepy creeps beyond the religious. And truly,  I have no problem with creepy.  But I suppose it has me wondering...where are all the non creepy Catholics?  And why are they not inviting fellow Catholics to join them in doing non creepy Catholic things???

My husband, who spends hours listening to Catholic Apologetics, recently called me upstairs to share what he just listened to.  A listener phoned in with the question, "If you are Catholic, is it okay to participate in a non-Catholic Bible Study?"  The short answer? If you are a Catholic who is completely solid in your faith, and can share the truth with others in this study who are misinformed, then absolutely, yes!  However, if you are not certain, if you can not back up your are treading very dangerous waters.  The advice if that is the case? STAY AWAY.

And so I think about the women I know; Catholic women, who have gone down the street where the evangelical church serves up hot coffee, an awesome praise and worship band, and smothers you from head to toe with so much fellowship, you can not help but feel loved and home at last.  And I think about the moms I  know whose children go to Protestant youth groups because they are cooler than the ones at their Catholic church, and although they wish their children were involved in their Parish, at least they are learning about Jesus. And then I think about me...the years I sat alone in the pew, looking around for someone who looked like me, avoiding that one super creepy lady, wondering, "if I suddenly stopped coming to Mass, would any of these people notice I was gone?"  And I mean, can you blame these women for leaving? How can you blame parents for sending their children elsewhere?  Why would anyone want to hang out in a place they didn't feel welcome?

But here's the deal.  While we aren't called to blame them, we are called to inform them.  Just as the women who invite me down the street aren't afraid to tell me "all the Catholics are heading that way", we should not be any more afraid to let them know, "well, wow...isn't that a shame?"

And then tell them why.

Look, I get it.  It is no secret that being Catholic today is not too popular, let alone talking about it. But ya know what? Shelly in the 8th grade was super popular, and rumor has it, she sort of slept ya know, maybe popular isn't the goal here. So then, what is the goal?  I don't about heaven???  Eternity with Jesus??? So, what if...assuming your salvation matters to you...we took a real interest in our Catholic faith? What about then, if we all took that interest, and shared it with those around us?   What about, instead of waving goodbye to our Catholic brothers and sisters, we pointed them back to the Eucharist? I know it is risky.  I know it is out of our comfort zone.  I know that it is a whole lot easier to complain about what is wrong with Catholicism, then to actually study Scripture, do some faith investigating, search for true answers.
But the reality is that as Catholics, we are called to do this; we are to love our neighbor so much that we must do this.  It is because we love them, and want to live in heaven with them forever, that to not do this would be a tragedy.

We are called to throw open the church doors, now, more than ever.  This is not so we can let our brothers and sisters back in on their own due time, but rather, we are to throw those doors open so that we can run on out...bringing the good news to the world, reaching our lost brothers and sisters, and with a fierce and burning love, lead them back home.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

meeting me in the middle

I need to make this quick, because it is the only way I will ever jump back into this.

There is a holy discontent within me, and I know no other way to figure it out and tackle it head on, then to write about it.

What I will write is a mystery, if not to you, well certainly to me!  But if there is one thing I have learned from writing, it is that the only way I will ever understand what I am feeling and to put it into action, is to take what is in my heart, shake it hard, pack it down, and throw it onto a blank white screen.

I recently read that the way to find your calling is to find that point where your absolute hunger and happiness meet.  And I don't mean a hunger that is kind of hungry.  I am talking about that hole you feel deep in the wells of a part of your body that you never knew existed; that empty, growling beast that needs to be fed before it feeds on you.  I am also a firm believer that God has created each and everyone of us with a very specific, and unique purpose in this life.  And really, who doesn't want to satisfy their hunger? Who doesn't want to be happy? Who doesn't want to discover their purpose?

I have spent hours on bended knees in the quiet, and sometimes in my own self created noise.  And I am sure that God is with me, because I have seen Him. I have seen Him in the works He has given me to do, the beautiful friends He has placed in my path, the hard lessons he allowed me to go through. And so whatever this is all about, where ever any of this leads me, I have faith and am courageous. God is onto something, and I am willing to follow Him where ever he needs me to go.

And that is a terrifying thing to say, let alone, write.

But fear is not an option. Not any more.

So with a cup full of coffee and a heart full of hope, I am reaching deep into that hunger and grabbing this holy discontent by the feet.  And although it all feels like an un-choreographed dance and a bit of a mess, it is all good.  It is all good because clearly, God loves me and He loves my mess. Why else would He constantly insist on meeting me in the middle of it?