Perhaps a little bit more…

Hi, I hope you enjoy this glimpse into one of our past Christmas seasons before we entered the Roman Catholic Church. We were trying very hard to find Christ in the midst of all the chaotic holiday fanfare. This was the year we decided to not give any presents at all. It was a difficult penance for us; so difficult that we haven’t repeated it since. It has been a journey from this place to back again as we have rediscovered the joy of Christmas for ourselves.  This year still has a very special place in my heart. The Lord taught us such a beautiful lesson. I have reposted this today at the request of a friend.

It started several Christmases ago. A gradual letting go of normal Christmas activities. First, the tree which we replaced with a menorah. This past Christmas the presents went. That was the hardest part. The presents to each other. Not the shopping, I didn’t miss that at all; but the giving to each other. There was a very real manifestation of guilt on Christmas Eve. It was hard to push through that moment of social bondage and expectations to pursue the higher end of celebrating Christ. Tears spilled down my face as I thought about how I had nothing to give tomorrow. Nothing to give on the celebrated day of Christ’s birth.

Standing beside Emma’s crib I watched the tears fall in the mirror above her bed where she lay sleeping. I choked out a prayer in between the tears. Why does this effect me so? The idea that I can bring nothing. And I realized it was so spiritual to be empty handed. Empty handed beside the crib, a representation of His first earthly throne. Jerry came in at that moment and caught me. I unloaded as he put his arm around me; it was hard for him too, he said. Hard not to give gifts to the children. His admission made it easier to bear. We hugged and rested for a minute as he dried my inner hurt with his words. SO, here we were, the night before Christmas and all through the house…no presents for anyone, not even the mouse…

…and morning came and we had breakfast together, Biscuits and gravy, of course! And there were no expectations except to have fun. No disappointed faces that there were no presents. No bad gifts to take back, nothing to small, nothing that was broken, and no batteries to worry about. No ingratitude over an unliked present. But still I felt guilt over not having something for the children. We spent the day worshiping God, and playing games, and having Christmas goodies and feasts. We shared it together as a family. And then from the other room while I was in the kitchen I overhead a mind boggling admission. Petra said it and her words brought tears to my eyes. “Christian, I think THIS had been the Best CHRISTmas ever.” And my heart leaped inside me. Maybe in the same way that infant John leaped in his mother’s womb when Mary greeted Elizabeth with her news. We had spent the day exalting Christ and enjoying the gifts he gave us. Our blessings…Petra, Christian, Jericho, Elias, Malachi, and Emma. And it dawned on me that we were giving. We were giving our time, love, affection, smiles, and joy as we spent time together sharing the word of God, singing, and playing. It was a real moment in time. I could hear the words from one of my favorite Christmas stories echoing in the back of my mind~

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

 O King of all the nations,

the only joy of every human heart;

O Keystone of the mighty arch of man:

Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Hold on, I’m Coming

The time of Advent symbolizes the long journey of man marked by sin,  sorrow, contrition, and repentance. It is the reason for the coming arrival of our Messiah, our rescuer. For many, this year, it seems there will be no joy to the world. Sorrow threatens to overcome and the silent night broken by the sound of weeping. When the words, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel!” pour from broken hearts we begin to truly realize why Jesus came. Sorrow, faults, and shame cause us to despair. However, it is through these “happy” faults our hope for forgiveness and restoration become tangible and the need for a Savior woefully understood. Instead of despairing we can shift perspectives and celebrate that our happy faults have gained for us so great a Redeemer!

How kind was God when he looked on us in our misery and sent salvation into the world through His Son. Our present condition is the reason for the coming arrival of our Messiah, our rescuer. May the anticipation and celebration of His coming now and in the future bring you peace and bring you rest. Take heart all you who mourn and wait in exile, Christmas can, after all, belong to those who grieve.

May the circumstances and events of life continue to drive us to deeply appreciate and cherish the birth of Jesus Christ,  our source of hope. Cast all your burdens upon Him and He will give you rest.

 

May He wrap you in His arms & bring you

courage, peace, & joy as God reminds us…

“Hold on, I’m coming”

 

Living icons

Life is too short right now to write well but let me spell it out bullet point style something I’ve come to understand in the past month. (Putting it here because I need to document it.) You may be spiritually WAY ahead of me so be patient with me as I’m still connecting the dots.
  1. An icon by definition is a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something. We often find icons in churches, whether it be a representation of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a wooden cross, American & Christian flags, or even a Bible on a pedestal. This lead to me thinking and contemplating about the word image because many things (like paintings of Jesus, or George Washington crossing the Delaware are also considered an images)
  2. So then I realized, and the thesaurus agreed, that the words icon and image are synonymous.
  3. The word image made me think of Genesis 1 – when God made an image of himself in mankind. “In His image he made them, male and female.” Simply put… WE are the image of God – His living icon.
  4. Which brought to mind the commandments, specifically seen in Exodus 20 (which you can click here for the link to) Basically, God said, don’t try to make an image of me and worship it. Why not make an image of Him for worship? Well, because He already had… Remember Genesis 1 >> And while I am certainly not advocating for self worship or worship of others as God there is something to be revealed here.
  5. Interestingly enough… God told us also not to take His name in vain which made me also think of another time when Jesus said not to call another man, “Raca” (fool) or you would be in danger of the fires of hell. Could this be because we are the image of God? Which leads to my next point…
  6. Therefore, the two greatest commands – which is a summary of ALL the law – boil down to “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. If we show God our loves for Him it means we keep his commandments and keeping his commandments require that we love our neighbor as well as we love ourselves. After all…
  7. Christ told us that whatever we do to the least of these my brethren – you have done it unto me, the God-Man. 

A mother’s insight into the heart of God: toddlers and cooking…

My toddler begged me to eat breakfast from the moment he awoke this morning. I had already planned to make sausage links and grits. As I stood at the stove he cried unhappy tears because he wanted to eat RIGHT now. Trying to talk sense into him to be patient because I was cooking and he was soon to be fed didn’t help. Smiling down at his distressed state I picked him up and put him on the counter which improved his attitude tremendously.

And there was this silent whisper… “How many times have you cried impatiently while “I cooked?”

 

We dare not ask to see…

There is nothing like watching a loved one die to suddenly make every thing you ever disagreed on petty and pointless. What seemed so important now just mocks you as you stare at the ceiling in the dark. Months afterward you sit in the silence of the aftermath; your eyes adjusting to an entirely new perspective.

Every thing you ever held against any one, their faults, commissions, or omissions of behavior become more and more a man of straw –  like labor pain after a babies birth – it no longer matters. In their weakness you see clearly because suddenly it is so clear at how helpless we truly are. How we would have changed things if we would have only had the power.  How we misunderstood one another. Realizing that our anger is only an effort to manipulate disliked behavior of another person instead of seeking to give it to God. I sit conflicted, confused and disappointed at my vast waste of  misdirected passions. Wondering why I was unable to see it all before. Wishing that I, too, could change past behavior in the clarity of suffering.

Words… they matter so little and so much.  They fall short, they make me weary and sad. Often, they are only full of a lack of love and understanding. We debate, argue, and turn our back but to what end? At the end of the day we will look in the mirror and see ourselves for what we truly are;  many things we held so tightly in our hand will only be straw. We’re sinners who can’t love. Faultfinders with a multitude of faults. Pointing fingers, rejection, perceived hurts… a desire for justice… for vengeance. Anger and love wrestle… the flesh… the blood…  forgiveness versus justice.

We think we know so much looking through these dark glasses; we think we see… Does God really care about loveless and empty arguments? Will my entrance to heaven be obtained by passing a 20 page exam on theology? Or will I have met the criteria to love God and my neighbor as myself? Will my love cover a multitude of faults or will I follow the path of the pharisees?  Do we dare to love and do we dare to actually see before it is too late…

Remembering St. Teresa of Kolkata

Image result for st. teresa of kolkata

There are some people you never forget. They move through your life and leave an impression that lasts for years because of their gentle understanding and kindness. St. Teresa, to the world, will always be that example of service. Her legacy, however, impacted me in a much different and humbling way. You see, I’ve never met her, but several years after she died the church revealed that she suffered through “dark nights.” In my unforgiving and terrible example I took to my blog at the time to explain exactly why she wasn’t a Christian in light of such statements. I was passionate, sure I was on God’s side in the things I wrote. Satisfied, I posted it for all the world to read.

When I walked away from my computer in the mid-afternoon to begin the rest of my tasks I was very smug in having defended the faith. I helped the children with their school, folded laundry, and put it away. During dinner preparation I began to realize I wasn’t feeling so well. My skin was clammy and my head was burning up. Miserable, I lay down after dinner burning up with a fever that had no other symptoms. The rest of the household lay down for the night and I settled in to sleep off the fever.

Morning, however, dawned with no relief of my symptoms. This sickness seemed to be such a weird and sudden fluke. I turned to the Lord to ask for relief from this burning fever. The response that I got, however, was completely unexpected. In the still and small quiet of my sick room the Lord’s voice sternly jolted through my heart, “Who are you to condemn my servant?!” Admittedly, I was confused at first, but laying there a little longer I slowly recalled my blog post the day before. Could the Lord be referring to that?! Surely, not!

That nagging thought wouldn’t leave me alone.  Conviction came in wave upon wave crashing in my soul. The more I thought about how I had condemned a person I had never even known or sought to understand scared even myself. Repentant, I deleted my blog post and asked God for His forgiveness of my lack of mercy and charity. My heart reflection in that mirror was so ugly that day that even I shrank back repulsed after His exposure. What happened next even furthered my amazement…

…in the next 15 minutes my health was completely restored…

…and I’m not exaggerating. The restoration was pronounced, quick, and complete. Astonishment was my natural reaction. I marvel at God’s ways all these years later, and the way he dealt with me and how God called a Catholic person, “His servant.” Today, on the Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta, it seemed appropriate to share our story. I like to think St. Teresa and I are smiling at each other while we worship the Lord together.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will… We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.

(…and if you just sang those words, you might be Catholic…) 

The time of singing has come…

Once there was a girl who was given a gift by the King. He placed the gift deep within her heart; a singular talent that she loved from the moment she first used it. Singing brought to her life the thrill of creating beauty in honor of the King. Fearlessly and without inhibition of any kind, she could project her voice to the top of the sky and into the deepest caves where it would echo back to her and the King. The joy they shared was profound.

True love can never be untried however and the time of testing came for her as she joined the quickening of community. Like a lion she roared in with a merry song about the joy of the King and His creation. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that her songs annoyed people, even people who claimed to love the King. She experimented, trying different ways to sing that might better suit those around her. The changes, however, were never good enough.

Seeking to please the community the song of her heart changed and with it the harmony. She found a stage where the praises of the community filled her with a fleeting satisfaction. She grasped at the affections of those around her. For the first time she noticed how often she messed things up. Her imperfections began to become her focus. Different members of the community offered their critiques and techniques. It was overwhelming. She grieved the loss of simpler days before the quickening.

Soon sorrow flooded her music and the community grumbled and turned away. Her longing for connection consumed her. No longer could she stand her own songs. Silently, one day, she shut the door of her heart. The singing ceased as sadness and rejection consumed her. She longed for the King but she could no longer even picture what he looked like. She retreated to the outskirts of the community where no one of any reputation would be. There she took her gift and buried it with the hopes that her sorrow would end.

Walking away from that place she very intentionally made earning the love of the community her goal. It may be that people will accept me now she thought. As she reentered, the noise of a thousand voices pulled her from all directions. Everyone was arguing and telling her how to do this or that; who she should listen to and shouldn’t; and last ,who had it wrong and right. The world began to spin, the noise literally making her ill she sat down in a doorway in the middle of  town. There she buried her head in her lap, covered her ears with her hands, and sighed.

She tried to call to mind the King; she wondered why he had sent her here. His voice she couldn’t recall nor his countenance bring to her memory. Imagining he was displeased with her for discarding his gift caused her sorrow greater still. Although she had used the gift imperfectly it had, after all, brought joy. She puzzled, “If I can’t accept myself with all my flaws how is it that the King can? Maybe he never did and it was all just something I made up.” At this thought, she despaired and cried herself to sleep with bitter remorse.

Something disturbed her mournful uneasy sleep on the doorstep. It was the sound of music near by. A strange but pleasant mood hung in the air around her. Moon hanging low in the sky, stars sparkling around it; she was drawn to the sound by the fountain in the center of town.  There at the fountain in the center of town stood the King’s Mother bathed by the light of the moon. Instantly, she recognized her by the gentle features of her face and her beautiful robe. Her arms reached out towards the girl beckoning her to come.  The girl ran and fell into her mother’s arms and wept. Wordlessly, the Queen Mother placed a beautiful necklace around the neck of the girl, gave her a gentle kiss on top the forehead, and was gone.

Bright morning sun filtered through the trees the next morning waking the girl from her slumber. She stirred and stretched and suddenly appeared startled. Her thoughts turned to the previous night, “What a beautiful dream!” she mused. The Queen Mother was so gentle and kind. Remembering, she felt refreshed and dithery; also thirsty. Walking to the fountain she leaned over to get a drink but something quietly splashed and rippled the water underneath her face. Looking, she uttered a small cry of astonishment. Around her neck was a necklace, THE necklace! She quickly grabbed it with her hand and took it off. Marveling at the exquisite beauty she realized that she hadn’t been dreaming after all. All the world seemed to be standing at a hush for this one small moment.

Pondering the event in her heart,  bliss surrounded her like the rays of the sun on a pleasantly warm autumn day. Instead of wearing her necklace; she carried it in her hand so she could contemplate the mystery.   Gazing upon it she began to recall the King’s kind and gentle ways. She recalled the day He had called her to his court and given her a token of his love. It looked like a dancing ball of flame in his hand. He told her it was his gift to her and he placed it in her heart. Startled from her reverie by her own thoughts, “The GIFT!” she blurted out in the stillness. “My gift, my gift! Where is it?”

She jumped up from where she was sitting; ready to run in the direction she had buried her gift but she couldn’t remember for certain. Perplexed she walked the outskirts of the community. The search was long and in moments of discouragement she would reach up to touch the necklace given to her by her Mother. Feeling refreshed she would continue. Many months passed before she found the place where it lay, still smoldering in the wet wooden box she buried it in. Carefully, she blew on  it until it danced once again in her hand.  Putting the gift of song back in her heart she wept for joy. She began to practice her singing; it was going to take a lot of work, just as before. This time, however,  she knew that the song she was singing wasn’t for anyone else but her Father, the King. Her gift was for His glory and their happiness together. Remaining a part of the quickening of community she realized that her heart didn’t belong to them but to Him. If she would only lift up her song for Him then all the rest  would be added unto her.

The flowers appear on the earth,

the time of singing has come…

~Song of Solomon 2:12a

 

Et Quietum Locus: Winter 

Until yesterday I’ve never really thought about life having seasons. Sure, I might refer to a “season” of life yet I had never reflected on this allegory. What would spring, summer, fall, and winter  look like as my life moved through them? Winter days, with their short duration and cold, soggy patterns drive you into the house curled up with hot tea and a good book. Birds flee south and the trees stand like skeletons in a grey sky.

Winter has never been my favorite season. Autumn has always been the best. The days are fresh and pleasant. The north breeze descends and the aches and pains from the high pressure summer disappear. I’ve always been convinced that an autumn breeze could cleanse the soul. The trees and I heave a sigh and the leaves fall in torrents as the gusts pour through. Although it began with such fanfare the freshness of the season ends abruptly.

Overnight the birds have scattered and the songs have ended. The trees are bare. The north winds have arrived and with it the chill that makes your bones ache. The icy cold has arrived and laid the place bare, stagnant, and unbearably quiet.

Here in winter the greatest tragedies of your life have unfolded. Friends distance themselves, a loved one dies, you withdraw, and the reflection you see in the silvery cold puddle on the ground reveals to you a person that you don’t like or understand.  The puddle ripples as the tears splash down. There isn’t much that can be said; who could bear the grief of the words you have to say? Who can understand the back story of your life and understand the why of who you are? Who will accept you like this… broken.  The wounds are deep and the flow is hard to staunch and no one can stop it but HIM.

What possible benefit could winter be? A time of rest… The painful reshaping, a retreat from the noise that drowns out His voice. A time when the hours you rest are supposed to be longer than the hours you work. It’s a black and white look at your soul. It is a time when you realize that “ideals” and busy-ness were never the point of life. That  better “a little” with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. “A little…” The basics. God. Family. It is enough. You slowly open your hand and offer up the things clutched so tightly in your hand.

Heaving a sigh, you go to the stove and put on the kettle of water… it’s the little things. The whistle of the pot, the warmth of the drink, and the open bible on the table. He comes into this quiet place and he whispers words of healing and wonder. The grief transforms. Here, knee deep in winter, I have been surprised by joy. Inner peace has descended like freshly fallen snow. Inside His grace I’m content wrapped up in this blanket of the solitude of His presence. This frozen moment of sweet, sorrowful, quiet worship. This. quiet. place.

Dei quietam locus

The final answer to my question on the head covering…

The very first time I read 1 Corinthians 11  about a woman covering her head during church I was only 13. It astounded me,  I went directly to our Church of God pastor and asked him if this meant we were supposed to wear a covering when we prayed. Catching him in the lobby –  quite off his guard –  he vaguely babbled a few words and said we could talk about that later. Obviously, later never came and the subject slipped into the quiet recesses of my teenage mind.

In my late 20’s I met some Mennonite women who wore a head covering at all times, some even to bed. Once again, I cracked open my bible to 1 Corinthians 11. As a protestant “bible believing” Christian I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to cover if I should cover because I wanted to obey God’s word as closely as possible. In the next few years I read every article I found regarding the covering. It was so frustrating that there were so many opinions… “yes, no, maybe, sometimes, only at this time…” I experimented with wearing it everyday.  It was not only impractical but it became a joyless burden. It didn’t make sense to me why this piece of cloth could possibly be important in my relationship to the Lord. I swept the entire issue under the rug because it made me mad that I simply didn’t know how to understand it.

About a year ago all of that changed for me. After years of  wrestling the claims of the Catholic church I literally woke up Catholic one morning. Almost immediately the question of head covering came right to the surface. It dawned on me the nagging question on head coverings would have a clear answer! I searched for the official code of Canon law on the matter and for the first time basked in the knowledge that this was THE answer. There is NO requirement to wear a covering. The relief I felt at being able to actually KNOW the answer because of church authority was such a burden lifted from my shoulders. 

However, I also felt a joyful desire to cover my head as a “sigh” of my devotion as I realized, embraced, and felt the very real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Here in the Mass I was standing with the great cloud of witnesses and holy angels! It gave me understanding of why Paul would write what he did in Corinthians.  I decided to wear a chapel veil because Christ himself is there; something so beautiful that I had never experienced before as a protestant.

The beauty of the decision of the Church is that as women we are now freed from “forced” piety. We have been enabled to freely respond from our heart to Christ. We do not have to argue about whether we should or should not cover; as if we can see a women’s piety by whether she covers or not. We are free to cover as a sign of reverence yet we don’t have to skip Mass because we forgot our veil and fear correction. We don’t have to fight the two year old to keep our head veiled during service and distract everyone with the battle. (Believe me, there are enough battles to fight with a two year old during church without adding trying to keep a mantilla on your head to the shuffle.)

The real takeaway here is that we can look to the Church for the answer to our questions on scripture and come away with the right answer and this is the freedom that comes when we rest in the authority of the church! 

The value of repetitious prayer when your heart is too broken to pray…

The desperation began almost three years ago. Life was nothing more than an angry struggle in many of the situations I found myself and tears were constantly flowing (some good, lots bad). The worst was the dross coming to the surface in my own heart. In the middle of the night I would wake up with so much anger and hurt. My mind would hurl one thousand responses towards it. The cycle perpetuated and my inward reflections revealed once again how far I actually was from being like the one whom my soul adored, Jesus. As a lifelong Christian I was drowning in sorrow at the recognition of my own lack of spiritual fruit. It felt like I hit an insurmountable wall.

The wall, the stone – I recognized it –  and I certainly had fallen on Him and was broken to pieces…

But Jesus looked directly at them and said, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” Luke 20:17-18

I found myself leaving the pharisee’s side and retreating to a distance as a tax collector. Standing before the wall I could barely lift my eyes heavenward…”Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It was all I could pray for far longer than a year (and still pray). It was all I could say when I woke up in the middle of the night tortured by the turmoil. I repeated it over and over and over until the words, like a dove cooing in the nest, began to settle in my soul. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”

My prayer life was taking flight, I began reciting the Lord’s prayer from my heart too. My own words seemed so futile and empty. In the middle of the Lord’s prayer I could barely choke through forgiving the trespasses of others. My prayer life had now grown to a cycle of  three prayers: The Jesus Prayer, the Lord’s prayer and the prayer of overcoming unbelief. (Jesus, I believe! Help my unbelief.)  These formed a perfect circle in my soul. I could go to Him now at any time and pour out my own heart through these prayers and come away refreshed by His grace.

These prayers, in these years, have been my life support, they have been echoed through the ages by other Christians. The Lord has heard my cry to teach me how to pray by giving me the prayers of the church.  I’m living them and breathing them over and over again like the persistent widow. They are healing, strengthening, teaching, and directing me through Christ our Lord who has given us every good gift…even the gift of repetitious prayer.