Unattached

You let me go and I could feel myself falling from your hand,

fluttering and floating in the wind.

Your grasp was full of freedom when I slipped out

and let the currents direct my path.

You were unattached.

 

 

But I’m not sure that you were free.

Detached and separated, segmented

when I met you next-

Your eyes wouldn’t show anything of you.

You hid yourself from me,

 

and I wondered if you had become detached from

a part of yourself too.

 

Now I see hands that have forgotten how to hold

and a heart that can’t let love out

and live out

what’s held dear inside of you.

 

My friend, I’m sorry if letting go of me

robbed you of the chance to know how to love

freely.

Sometimes we need a good shove from behind in life.

I have to admit, I don’t always have the best reaction when someone pushes me into something that I don’t think I’m ready for.  Usually my gut reaction is anger.  At least that’s what I’ve been discovering lately.  Already anxious because I don’t feel confident in my abilities or purpose, and already giving myself a hard time for not being where I want to be, I push back (at least in my emotions) when someone else puts more pressure on me.  As someone who gives %100 consistently because I don’t like missing the mark or expectations, it irks me when someone says that isn’t enough.

But we all need a good shove.

And a lesson in humility.  Something tells me Jesus took it a lot better when his mom pushed him into his ministry and the start of his vocation at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-12).  He knew it wasn’t quite the time for his main purpose to be revealed to the world, but Mary (probably via the Holy Spirit) knew that it was the right time for people to see another side of him than just a carpenter from Nazareth.  So she stepped in and gave him an unlooked for opportunity for action.  And it was from that miracle that his disciples first believed in him and his glory was first revealed.  But what if he had shrunk back from that moment?

How often do we sit back in the comfort of waiting for the right time or waiting until we’re just a little bit better at something before we jump in to using our strengths and weaknesses?

Here’s what I’m learning right now:  God calls us when we’re not ready.  Because the point is not being ready.  The point is that what God is calling us to is what will grow us into who we’re meant to be.  You don’t need to be ready for or even feel competent in what God is calling you to do.  You just have to trust Him enough to say yes.

And have the wisdom to see that He knows what He’s doing with you.  Our fear and doubt and anxiety can’t see further than the moment that we’re in.  But God sees the heart and the soul that has tremendous capabilities for growth.  And sometimes He will shove us into the moments that will catalyze our lives.

Fall in Love

Fall in Love

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

– See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/fall-in-love#sthash.Ispnai4W.dpuf

Not to take away from the importance of loving God [first], but I think it’s worth saying that falling in love with another person and staying in love, changes your life dramatically as well.

This lower case “l” falling in love in marriages and long-term relationships decides how you live your life –where you go and how you spend your time.  In all its heartaches and joys and unexpected moments, it changes you and how you love the world.  Falling in love and staying in love, a life-long endeavor, molds you into a new person.

I guess this is my letter to all those who are not married but who are called nonetheless, who are afraid or think that they do not need this irreversible relationship in their lives.

Falling in love and staying in love is for your good.  It is not about being loved, but rather your love for someone else changing you in an absolute and final way.

I don’t think we think about that enough –how will me loving someone else change my heart for the better? — regardless of how the relationship turns out or how this other person receives this love.  How will this act of being other-centered and constantly shaping my life around this other person change me?

Don’t be afraid to be changed.  Don’t be afraid to fall in love and stay in love.

Bravery

Do you have what it takes?

That’s a question that I think most guys ask themselves, or feel like the world is asking them, at least once in their life.  It’s often synonymous with, “Am I enough?”

I won’t go too much into why I think those are different questions, “Am I enough?” being based in one’s inherent personhood, “Do I have what it takes?” pertaining more to one’s ability to adapt to circumstances, because the focus of this entry is not on these questions, though I will talk about them for a bit longer.

Because, I’m going to be honest here, I ask this question about guys that I’m interested in to try and figure out if it’s worth my time to become invested in a relationship with them.  And when I say I ask this question, I mean I try and discern myself if they have the qualities that I’m looking for, if they have what it takes to be in a meaningful, growing relationship.

Top on that list is bravery, which can sometimes be pretty similar to strength.  I want to know that when it comes down to it, this guy will do the hard thing that’s needed of him, whether that be speaking a truth that no one (especially me) wants to hear, risking rejection and certain failure, or committing an act that requires a lot of humility or vulnerability.

Am I asking too much?  I don’t think so.  I think there are guys out there who have let God mold them into men who know how to be brave even when their hearts quake.  I’m not looking for a super hero here.  I’m talking about every day bravery, because most of us will never have to jump in front of train to save someone’s life or go to a certain death to protect another.  I’m talking about the bravery it takes to let someone see the inside of your heart or to ask for forgiveness.

I think I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t ask this question of measuring up.  Not that I think some people aren’t good enough for me; I don’t think of myself as being better or held above others.  But I want to know that a guy has the inner makeup to handle a serious relationship and eventually a lifetime of commitment.  I want to figure out if this guy is ready for walking the same path with me.

And I’m not asking for anything I don’t expect from myself either.  I know how hard it is to be brave.  A talk I heard this past Thursday night reminded me of a time when God challenged me to do the hard thing, to risk being incredibly vulnerable when I knew with almost certainty that to do so would be to meet with a (very polite and kindly meant) rejection and maybe not full-on heart break but a very rough bruising.  But I don’t regret it.  It had to be done.  And it was terrifying and messy (at least for me).  But I know now that I can do it.

And I want to know that this guy (whoever he is) will be able to take the same risk.

Some people have a top ten list of what they’re looking for or three non-negotiables that they won’t budge on.  For me, it’s knowing that he has the inner strength to do the hard thing.

Losing Eye Contact

The other day I was cleaning out my purse, taking out old credit cards and IDs, when I stumbled across a long-forgotten picture of my mother.  The summer between my junior and senior years of high school my mom and I made a road trip down to Florida to look at a few schools I was considering applying to for college.  At the time I was planning on majoring in marine biology.  When we were near Orlando we stopped by Sea World for a day and then made a trip to the beach in Pensacola.  My mom is not exactly a beach-goer.  Honestly, I don’t think she’s even owned a swim suit since the time all of us kids were small and learning how to swim.  I can’t remember ever seeing her in one.   She most likely brought a book to read that day while I tried out the waves.

As a high schooler, I was still in the stage of being embarrassed by everything that my mom said and did.  I’m pretty sure my sixteen year-old self was more than a little self-conscious that the bruise-colored purple shorts and multicolored striped shirt that my mother wore that made her skin look even more pale and pasty than it already was made us obvious out-of-towners to all the wonderfully tan natives.

When we got to Sea World we had our pictures taken for some type of park pass.  I don’t know what happened to mine, but for some reason I held on to my mom’s card and have passed it from purse to purse over the years.  It’s not even that great of a picture.  She’s smiling that fake, forced, half-polite smile that people do when they have to get their picture taken, and she’s not looking directly into the camera, or maybe she blinked, because her eyes are looking down.

A lot of things have changed since that picture was taken.  For one, my mom lost most of her vision from a benign tumor that has since been removed.  Some days all she sees is a white fog, and others, dark images moving through a world like a film negative.  And two, I’m no longer embarrassed by my mother but instead am quite fiercely protective of her.

A while back one of my friends, very well-meaning but slightly ill-timed, tried to tell a joke with the tag line that it was like watching a blind person eat spaghetti.  In normal circumstances it might have been funny to think of someone trying unsuccessfully to eat such a messy and uncontrollable food, but at the time my mom was still struggling to learn how to eat food that she couldn’t see and she was very self-conscious about eating in front of other people, much less in public where she could make a spectacle of herself.  So instead of laughing I just made a flat comment of agreement and quickly changed the subject, too angry at thought that that comment, if overheard by mom, would have really hurt her and dangerously lowered her then almost non-existent self-esteem as she battled with finding self-worth when it seemed like she couldn’t do anything for herself.  Losing your sight is a very humbling experience in many ways.  It was a tough time for both my mom and the people around her who had to watch her come to terms with and adapt herself to her circumstances.

I’m not sure what it is about this picture of her that draws out this sense that she is dearer to me now that she was then.  Maybe it’s because she’s not smiling happily back into the camera, full of life.  I don’t personally have many pictures of my mom.  In fact, I’m not sure that I have ever taken a picture of her, just her, myself.  I wish I had before she lost her sight.

In pictures since she became blind sometimes her face is aimed in the right direction, though tilted down and with eyes closed, but more often than not she’s either pretending to be looking at my dad who is right next to her, or ‘staring’ vaguely off to a distant point beyond the photographer’s shoulder.

There’s something about staring at a photo of someone that’s looking straight into the camera lens.  When you miss someone it’s not uncommon to take out a picture of her.  The best pictures are the ones in which they’re staring right back at you.  It’s the closest thing we have to actually looking into their eyes in person.

I can no longer connect with my mom through eye contact.  It’s something you don’t think about until it’s gone.  But it makes a difference in conversations.  When someone doesn’t meet your eyes, it’s a little harder to stay engaged, a little more difficult to judge what they’re thinking or feeling.  It takes a little bit more energy to connect through tone and words rather than expression and body language.  I can’t let her know that I’m listening just by looking at her.  And sadly, as result, I look at her less.  I can’t really describe it except to say that it’s like there’s a very thin veil between me and her because we can’t look into each other’s eyes as we talk to each other even though we’re right in front of each other.

I think what moves me about this picture, is that because I know it was taken when she could still see, I’m somehow waiting for her to look up into my eyes.

But then, there is always a thin veil between us and the past, and you can never really look directly into it.  It’s only in the present that you can connect with the ones you love.

How I Look at Myself Differently After Losing Weight

The contours of my face have changed.  Where before there were rounded edges and softened corners, now underlying bone structures surface and nuances of muscle and movement create new character and definition.

It’s strange to watch something so familiar to you change, to be surprised by your own face.  I’ve had to compose a different self-portrait, now that I can more clearly see the framework of who I am.

For me, losing weight has only been part of the journey of discovering who I want to be, or rather, who God is calling me to be.  For a lot of people, losing weight is the means of making themselves into someone different, moving from someone they don’t like to someone that they think is more loveable –to themselves and others.

I never set out, in fact, to make myself happier by changing the shape of my body.  I already knew that I had value and worth and importance no matter what I looked like or weighed, or who was or was not attracted to me.  I already knew that I was loved for who I was, though that was a relatively new thing for me even then.  I had lived many years before that in insecurity and disbelief that I was loveable, or even likeable.  But at this point in the game, I had reached the point that I was secure in the knowledge that I liked who I was –the things that made me me.

So why did I do it?

Well, it started out with God wanting to teach me about hope and perseverance.  I woke up one day and knew that it was time to start running.  –I’d been walking to get some form of daily exercise, but had no plans or desire to change that to running in the least.  But, that morning, there was something with authority inside me saying that today was the day, and that it was time to start learning firsthand what hope really meant and why perseverance was so essential.

Sometimes God takes you completely by surprise.

So I started running –more walking than running in the beginning, until I could build up enough stamina to run a mile without stopping, and I started looking for truth instead of believing every negative thought that crossed my mind until I could start believing with growing confidence that there was something to be hopeful about solely because God was working in my life.  And I haven’t stopped since.

The crazy thing is, once I discovered that I could do it, I realized that I actually enjoyed running.  Time for being alone and exploring outside and letting my thoughts turn over along with the music in my ears?  Sounds perfect.  And the funny thing is, once you start believing in God’s goodness and the hope He has for you, the easier it is to see the truths about yourself and simultaneously unmask the fears and doubts that prevent you from living.

But just like every other area of my life, I like a challenge.  So I started running farther, exploring new, more difficult routes.  The neighborhood behind my old apartment complex in St. Louis was all hills.  It took convincing myself every morning that it was a good idea to finish strong by tackling the steepest one.  And now I’m training for a half marathon.  Each weekend is pushing through one more mile by grit alone.  But that’s training –stretching yourself to go a little farther than you think you can, building up strength and muscle and endurance, and mental stamina.

Now, looking in the mirror, I see someone so much stronger.  The potential had always been there before, but it had never been drawn out.  It took God’s wisdom to say ‘now is the time to work on these things in you.’

Running, and a few other things in life, have built me up into a person that can hope in a future that is still too far off to see, believe that every hurt or broken piece is being used by God to change me into someone greater than I was before, trust that God is for me and working things for good even when I can’t see it, and know that I have a place and a purpose that is being revealed with every step I take closer to God.  –That is strength to me: to hope, believe, trust, and know God.

Losing weight has just been a byproduct.  And I think, when done right, more people than not discover that the real quest in losing weight is not, in fact, shedding pounds, but uncovering who they have been all along but couldn’t find underneath all the doubt and fear and shame.

And I think, if it’s not losing weight, than it’s something else that God uses to draw us out from our lesser selves and show us the strength and beauty we’ve had buried so deep that we’ve forgotten how to believe that we could be those things.

I don’t have a goal weight or a certain size that I’m working towards.  I’m not working towards anything but becoming stronger.  I will always have stretch marks.  But to me they are not ugly or unseemly, they are marks of how I have changed, how far I have come from the person that I used to be.  I don’t want to lose them.  I don’t need to look perfect, whatever that is.  I would rather have peace and security that I am enough, that how I love and who I am is of more worth than how I fill out a dress or how flat my stomach is.  I know that I am so much more than how I look.

It took a while to get used to seeing a different shape in the mirror, to realize that I looked markedly different than before, to have a different self-image (not better or worse, just different).  It took a while to view myself differently –for my brain to comprehend that people look at me differently, that people who didn’t know me before I lost weight have a different impression of me than those who did.  But then, too, I am a markedly different person on the inside than I used to be, and people will get a different impression of me regardless of what I look like.

That’s what I see when I look in the mirror.  The different curves and indentations in my cheekbones are nothing compared to the strength of spirit I see behind my eyes.  So if you catch me staring at my reflection, it’s because I’m marveling at what God has done with me.

.

.

.

“Your love and mercy build and shape us
Break and then recreate us now
Lord have mercy”  -Gungor “We Will Run”

After the Ascension

What did Mary think
after she saw her Son born up
triumphant,
her life’s love and work
lifted up and crowned by God,
and she, still here,
heart full and wondering
what new thing God could possibly
have in mind for her.

A second annunciation
at the foot of the cross,
a new purpose left to ponder
and life to be lived.

But the same yes
to a Will unknown,
the same readiness
to be formed and filled,
ever attentive
to the hand of her Lord.

Who is the Lamb and Who is the Knife?

Sure we’ve taken turns picking our character in the story of the prodigal son, but what about the father and son story in today’s first reading? (Here’s a link to this Second Sunday of Lent’s readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030115.cfm)

I’m sure you’ve heard the homily that points out the significance and prefiguring of Isaac as Christ –the Father sacrificing his only Son to confirm a covenant. But you know, we don’t know too much about Isaac other than this story. We learn in the next few chapters in Genesis how a wife was found for him (Rebekah), and we see the story of his sons, Jacob and Esau, play out, but other than the fact that we know he related more to (or favored more) his son Esau over Jacob and that the Lord blessed him and made his work and possessions very profitable, we never see any “character development” as it were, in Isaac in the bible. He’s mainly a connector between Abraham and Jacob.

And yet he plays such an important role to our faith. It is because Abraham loves him and trusts God enough to sacrifice him, incredibly dear as he is, that God finds Abraham faithful enough to enact His promises. If there is no Isaac, there is no fulfillment of the promise.

It is a strange thing to be the one sacrificed, given away, by someone else so that they can be more faithful to God. I think that’s about as much as I can relate to Isaac. What can you do except calmly lay down your life and let them give you away?

But even though Isaac isn’t given much time in the limelight in the pages of scripture, we still hear the accolade in later generations of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He’s still held up as one of the men with whom God made a covenant with His chosen people. There is nothing that Isaac does, or could ever do, to be deserving of being the one through whom God fulfills His promises.

I wonder if Isaac had any anxieties himself about being the one through whom God would carry out his plan. Did he have any struggles that his life wasn’t something amazing and noteworthy, that he wasn’t having an abundance of children either when he was supposed to be the fulfillment of this promise? And why did God let Rebekah in on the plan of letting Jacob inherit the blessing and birthright over Esau and not Isaac?

And then there is Abraham. It is probably all too easy to identify with Abraham, who is called into lots of sticky situations with no idea of where God is leading him or proof that God will fulfill His promises other than faith. A life of continual trials and tests and waiting on the Lord sounds a lot like mine if you ask me.

But something about this story struck me differently this time around. Before, I think, I would have been a little exasperated with God and questioned, “Haven’t you tested him enough? You’ve already given him Isaac, whom he waited so long for to begin with, why threaten to take him away now? That seems like an awfully mean trick…. And p.s., it’s a good thing Sarah didn’t find out about this until after the fact, if at all. Just sayin.’ It’s one thing for a father to give up his son, but it’s another thing for a mother to let go of her child.”

But this time, reading the whole passage through, Gen 22:1-18, and not skipping the parts that the lectionary leaves out, it was easier to see the story as a marker of Abraham’s faith journey and development as a person. Before he and Isaac reach the mountain, Isaac asks him about the sheep for the sacrifice, wondering where they are. Abraham responds, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust” (v8).

After the angel intervenes (spoiler alert) and instructs Abraham to sacrifice a wild ram nearby instead of Isaac, Abraham names the site “Yahweh-yireh,” meaning “the Lord will see,” or “the Lord will see to it,” referring to his earlier comments to Isaac that Lord would see to it that a proper sacrifice was provided.

To me these details show just how far Abraham has come on his faith journey. Even though he couldn’t see how God would still provide a nation of descendants through Isaac if Abraham killed him, he still knew and trusted God enough to obey his commands without questioning or hesitating. He is confident in his decision to do something that looks a lot like shooting himself in the foot (or heart) and trust that God will still make things right.

But Abraham was called to be the father of nations, to be the father of our faith. Who he was, not just what he did, was extremely important. If he is our preeminent father and leader of the faith, why would God not model him after Himself and call him to the same kind of faith and love and hope that God IS?

It is only after Abraham has become this person that God bestows these promises irrevocably. It is only after this experience that Abraham is ready to be a father of nations.

I know we don’t typically use this passage to examine ourselves, but I think it’s still a good marker of where we are in our own journey.

So who are you in this story?

“What profit is there for one to gain himself but lose or forfeit the whole world?”

Have you ever flipped this saying on its head? It sounds a little different when you do, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to gain, or find, themselves. Anyone who has will tell you that whatever it took to gain themselves was worth it, that this gift of finding and realizing who they are, and owning who they are, is priceless.

And yet at the beginning of Lent, we here the original wording in the day after Ash Wednesday’s readings:
“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” –Luke 9:25

It puts the focus , though negatively, on gaining the world.

In this season of fasting and penance, it seems we lose a lot. We forego many things in order to be able to see more clearly what it is that we do really need, the places that need fixing, the opportunities for (mostly uncomfortable) growth.

And I think many of us find that we have lost ourselves, or at least little bits of ourselves, since the last time that we really took the time to be intentional about our relationship with God, to draw closer to Him.

So maybe during this Lenten season, we should put our focus on gaining back these little bits of ourselves that we’ve lost to the world.

But to turn towards God, we have to turn away from the world. To listen to God, we have to stop listening to every other voice around us. To hold onto God, we have to let go of what we’ve been pursuing for ourselves.

It’s another type of fasting. Fasting from the world to gain ourselves.

So, No Apologies (Find Your Passion)

“Find your passion and make it happen.” -Kelsey Robb, Toastmasters Speech

A lot of the time it seems like our passion is tied to our work. But over the past couple of years I’ve been turning over in my head the idea that maybe my passion lies outside of work, and even outside of my leisure activities. I think I’m finding more and more that my passion lies in how I live my life. This sounds so simple, but I’m finding that my passion is to follow God, unreservedly.

I recently read an autobiographical work by one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, in which she talked about a good decade of her life in which she went through rejection after rejection as an author. She found it very difficult to claim her identity as a writer in front of others, and herself, when she had yet to be published and wondered if she had the right to pursue such a career when she could be providing more substantially for her family.

She had to give herself permission to be a writer. She had to let go of the self she thought everyone else wanted her to be and just be true to herself. And I think we all do at some point. We all need to let go of all the expectations of others and just be true to who we know ourselves to be.

For me, it’s been letting go of the mainstream idea that you are not living up to your potential if you are not pursuing a dream related to work or leisure. I had to wrestle with the question: Can I be all that I was meant to be without excelling (or without trying to excel) in a profession or hobby/interest?

Increasingly I’ve recognized that God is calling me to live simply, to be content with not excelling in a profession but living humbly, the equivalent of the “little way” for the lay man not hidden away in an order of professed religious. –to find my greatness not in what I do but in who I am and how I follow God. As such, I’ve been letting professional endeavors take a back seat to my spiritual journey. My job, whatever that is at the current moment, is a just a job and, while it may use and improve talents that I have, it should primarily enable me to focus on God and what He is doing in my life. Same goes for my extracurriculars.

I know some family and friends might want me to take jobs more substantial or professional, or life paths more certain and stable, only because they want to see me established and on a path that would give me success in whatever it is I choose to do. But, that’s just not me.

In the paradoxical complexity that is me, I value responsibility and excellence in myself and others. I hold myself to a high standard of doing things to the best of my abilities. And yet, here I am, choosing a way that goes in the opposite direction of proving to myself and everyone around me that I am capable, that I could do anything that I put my mind to, at least in the job arena.

You see, I’m finding that my passion is not proving to everyone that I can do amazing things given the talents that I possess. My passion is not saving the world, or humanity from itself, through works of service outside the workplace. It is simply to follow God and find out who He is calling me to be, to live quietly and in a disposition of always listening to God. — We all have different gifts from God. And I feel like one of mine is listening to other people. I love seeing another person through their words and helping that person to see themselves too. But I think that same gift also makes me more predisposed to listen to God.

Yes, I know that you can have other passions outside of this first one and that usually these other passions stem from it. But right now, I am focusing my energy on this first one and letting the other, lesser desires flow naturally from it. This is making me freer to discover who God is. Though I know I will never be called to be a hermit or part of a religious order neatly tucked away from the world, I still want to live a life that leaves the world behind in pursuit of God. I think I would rather like to excel at that.

It’s taken a long time to figure myself out (or at least begin to figure myself out). But the more I understand about myself, the easier it is to make decisions that do not deny who I am and who I am called to be. The easier it is to find my passion and make it happen.

So, no apologies. This is who I am and what I’m about.