Naaman

disfigured

and consumed by the thought

of what others will see,

I almost miss the truth

of what you offer,

a way to shed this disease

wrapping my soul,

and uncover again

the smooth skin,

the trustful innocence,

of a child.

so simple,

what you ask of me,

who you call me to be.

and shouldn’t it be easy

to be your truest self?

Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?

Back then, at the beginning of things,
we were all just too wide eyed with amazement
to really grasp what he was trying to teach us.

Now I would tell a younger me
that just because he was with you
did not mean that he would not deliberately
take your boat into seas
where a storm waited out of sight

And where I would have fled before
or looked for a way to calm the waves,
today a wiser me is content
to let him steer this ship
into the squall,
knowing that with him I will not perish.

On Poverty, Living in Unexpected Places, and the Christmas Story

Maybe it’s because I just moved to a new city where I don’t know a lot of people and don’t yet have a job, but this Advent and Christmas season Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt and experiences with poverty have struck a chord with me.

Here Mary is given the greatest honor of being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, and Joseph, to be her husband and the human father to Jesus. Both were appointed these important roles by God out of all the people He created and would create. Well, I should say, both were asked to play these roles by God and both chose to say yes.

But what were they thinking when they said yes? Certainly not that they would continue to live lowly and humble lives not too terribly different from the people around them, at least on the outside. Sometimes I like to think the life of faith is one similar to the Weasley’s car or Triwizard Tournament camping tent in the Harry Potter books –that though it appears normal on the outside, the inside is so much bigger than you could imagine, but you would never know it just from a glance.

But Mary and Joseph still had to live on faith and hope, trusting God with each step in their lives. I’m sure Mary did not envision spending the last few days and weeks of her pregnancy traveling on a donkey, only to be turned away from any comfortable lodgings and forced to give birth in a cave/stable when she first thought of having the Savior of the world.

And I’m sure that Joseph did not envision fleeing to Egypt and having to provide for his small family in a place where he knew few if any people, cut off from his culture and family (one in the same then) when he agreed to serve as a human father to the Son of God.

Was this the right way of things when it seemed so difficult? Shouldn’t it be easier (and more comfortable) to follow God’s plan? This was for the King of kings after all. Shouldn’t things be richly provided for if God was behind it all?

But I think God’s ways of leading this holy family shows the example to us of how He moves in our lives too.
Sometimes it seems like doors of opportunity, safety, or comfort are being shut in my face on purpose. What did God mean by closing these doors to Mary and Joseph as they entered Bethlehem? I think it was partly to show us that even these pivotal and blessed people were led to and through poverty and uncertainty as part of the way to His coming kingdom, as part of the way to becoming holy.

They, too, were traveling in the dark, making things up as they went, and being directed by God when they would choose the wrong way.

I have had to rely on the kindness of strangers and friends as I find my place in this new city and it is humbling. But then, it is also making me surer that this is God’s way.

Sometimes the right way is not smooth and easy, but nonetheless serves to make you holier, that is, closer to God and His ways, more enlightened in understanding, and able to serve as a vehicle of grace to others (in the present and millennia in the future).

On Being Single and on the Cusp of My Thirties

I should be freaking out right now, right? Worried that all the good guys are being taken and my time to have kids shrinking. My life getting smaller and smaller as all the opportunities I had when I was younger start to slowly disappear. I am being left behind while all of my close friends fall in love and get married and have kids, and I am left wandering the beach of singleness alone.

Well, I think all that’s really a lie. My life is not getting smaller. It’s not like there’s only so much love to go around and once I’ve past my twenties suddenly the opportunity for love and marriage and kids will dry up.  Those are just unwarranted fears.

Yes, it is a little harder as I lose close friends who were also single, and as I still long for someone to share life with in all its ups and downs and ordinary days –to have this closeness with someone that you love. It is lonely in that way.

But I think it is a lie that just because I don’t have any relationship plans on the horizon and can’t foresee this sort of thing, that it will never happen.

It’s a lie to believe that I am alone or unloved.

The other day a friend of mine was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t go on the high quality vacations that she so loves and had been planning for because she is now pregnant, and having a baby changes everything. Vacations are different with kids. Finances are different with kids.

It let me see the unexpected loss of following God’s will, of dreams and plans you didn’t expect to lose and weren’t asked to give up suddenly no longer a possibility.

It’s a part of growing up I think, or at least something that everyone goes through at some point in their lives. The realization (and fierce disappointment) that life will not go as you thought it would, but it’s beyond your control. That you can’t do with your life what you wanted to. I think it’s something that all of us have to grapple with (and sometimes never stop grappling with).

I think at these points you can choose to surrender and say, “God, I am heartbroken that I can’t do this with my life. But if I can’t do this, let me do something that is for Your heart, that will use me in ways I didn’t expect, that will use all of me.”

I did not expect to be still single at 29 or to have so few romantic experiences in my lifetime up to this point. I gave up going to a school in London and making writing or publishing a career because I knew that God was calling me in a deeper way to motherhood, to that being the focus of my time and talent. I have known the disappointment of losing dreams, of being emptied of desires you had not realized were so strong, in order to live a life more deeply in tune with God.

But I can say, that I have found myself capable of so much more than I ever thought, of horizons brighter and farther than I would ever see on my own (without God giving me eyes to see), of life with new meaning.

My life is certainly not sad or lonely. I know with certainty that married life is in my future, thought I have no tangible evidence to prove to you that this is true, no outward sign to show it. I only have God’s words to me. But it is this that I am choosing to listen to, to believe this truth about my life and not what the world surmises about it.

To me being single and on the cusp of my thirties is a point when I have reached a maturity in my faith to know and trust that the work God has done on my heart and in my life is just beginning to bear fruit; it is a point in which I can see the strength God has given me to walk this road particular to my life, a road that goes beyond marriage and kids to my life and role in eternity, and to trust that there will be strength enough for the rest of the journey.

What to do when an Evil Royal Vizier is after you.

We used to have a computer game of Prince and Persia growing up, my brothers and sisters and I.  Figuring out how to get through the different levels and eventually winning level 12 by defeating the evil Royal Vizier (probably named Jaffar, but my memory’s a little fuzzy on this point.  We’ll go with Jaffar.) was a group effort.  Even my dad was enlisted to fight the sumo wrestler-sized bad guy on level 8, especially when we only had 15 minutes left before bed and we just had to beat this level!

But level 12… Level 12 took not only expert arrow-key pressing skills, but also the ingenuity to find secret invisible panels to escape from the Evil Jaffar (whom you only thought you had defeated, but was only playing dead and waiting for you to leave the screen before getting up and making a surprise attack on you two screens later!)

But the funny thing was (spoiler alert) you only found the secret invisible panels (these were floor panels that you could walk on) if you tried to run off the edge of the level (meaning the floor level, not the stage of the game).  You were more than three stories up at this point and the jump off this level was a definite crash landing that ended your life.  You could turn around and wait for Jaffar to run on the screen and fight him, but no matter how much life you had stored up in those little bottles of life at the bottom of the screen, he always stabbed you enough or edged you off the floor level backwards so that you’d fall to your death.

No, to activate the secret panels, you had to keep running from the Evil Vizier, without looking back.  You had to choose your own death.  But in doing that, suddenly when you stepped off into nothingness, expecting to fall and become a messy Prince of Persia Pancake, floor panels appeared underneath your feet.  But you had to keep running.  If you backtracked, the whole thing fell apart.  And of course, each panel didn’t appear until your foot stepped out onto thin air.  So you didn’t know how long these secret panels would keep saving you.

Three or four screens later, the panels connected you to a ledge and to the Final Showdown with Jaffar (who is still running after you), where you could finally jab the fatal blow and save the princess! … and her cat.

Well, faith is just like that.  No, not the cat.

So, you will probably not find yourself running from Evil Viziers in crazy turbans anytime during this life, but there will come a time when you feel like there is no way out of where you are, and some impending doom, whether despair or something tangible, is bearing down on you.  When that happens, faith is the unlooked for, secret invisible panels, that will lift your feet to new life.

One piece of over-quoted scripture (that I’m going to quote here) is “Faith is the realization of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  I think we’ve heard that so many times that we stop hearing what it means.

Reworded, it reads something like:  “Faith makes real what we hope for; it is the proof and confirmation of what we cannot see.”

In a society where mottos like “just have faith” are as trite as “just do it,” we lose sight of what faith really is, what it can really do when strengthened.  Intangible things like faith and hope seem wishy-washy, not something solid that you can rely on.  They are sentiments in a sappy Hallmark card.

But they weren’t for our biblical ancestors like Abraham (and Sarah!), Joseph, Moses, David, Judith, and hey, even That Guy who died on the cross for us.  No, faith was their very lifeblood.   (OK, so it’s like secret panels and little bottles of life energy at the bottom of the screen.  Whatever.  It’s like a lot of things.)

What I’m trying to get at is that “having faith” is not just believing in a creed of things, not just professing that you believe in God and that God loves you.  It is having eyesight that perceives the invisible (the spiritual) as easily as we see the physical reality of things.

It is saying, I need to leave this place of death, despair, fear, loneliness, etc..  I am not trapped.  Maybe I don’t know where I’m going from here or how I will get there, but God has meant me for life and he will take me there, even though it might mean I have to step out onto empty air to get away from this place.

If the Prince of Persia had had any practice in relying on faith rather than his own skill in getting to the next level, he’d have been able to see those invisible panels as clearly as the physically tangible ones.  They’d already be there waiting for him when he came to that screen.  (Faith makes real what we hope for.  Think of all those gospel stories when Jesus says a person’s faith allowed Him to heal her or him.)

When our faith is first growing, our spiritual eyes are not very good yet, and we have to fight with our baser instincts to be able to let them go and walk blindly.  But a well fed faith that is mature and strong produces clear eyesight.  By this faith we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is leading us by sure pathways, and taking the rickety and unstable, or even barely-there, route is easier.  (I won’t say easy, because I don’t think even any of the great saints would say trusting God is easy.  But it’s easier when your faith is a confirmation of God’s promises and not a tentative step that tests rather than shifts your weight forward.)

Not there yet?  (How can faith be a confirmation of God’s promises, you may be asking?)  Don’t worry.  If you keep asking for this faith, God will give it to you little by little (until suddenly what you have is a lot).  God wants us to be able to see in the dark.  

That thing that we’re hoping, that thing that faith makes real, is who God is calling us to be.  He wants us to be these awesomely glorified super humans (not the fallen humanity we are now, but the risen humanity that Jesus became).

When that whole Transfiguration thing went down (Mark 9:2-10), Jesus was giving a glimpse to his disciples of what risen, glorified humans would be like.  Yeah the disciples had seen people raised from the dead (i.e. Lazarus and the centurion’s daughter), but they had never seen what someone who had been raised to life eternal would look like.  With the transfiguration Jesus was giving them something to hope for.  The Messiah would save the nation by taking sin away from humanity so that they could become the kind of [super] humans they were before.

When we act in faith, trusting God despite the fact that we think we might be ruining our lives (by society’s standards) by doing what He’s asking us to do, with each faithful action we are changed into that awesomely glorified super human that He had in mind for us when we were still kicking around in our mother’s womb (and even before that… before time even started).  Faith (when we employ it in our actions by saying yes to God and following His will) is proof that God is changing us, sanctifying us, saving us, keeping his promises/covenants (these are all synonymous here).

Without faith, can we allow God to follow through on His promises?  (Not that we can limit God.  God does have the ability to make us do His will.  He could save us by making us obey him like little marionettes… like we control the Prince of Persia with our computer strokes…woah.  Ok, this simile is getting way too complicated for even me now.  –But God limits Himself and lets us reject Him if we want.)

If we don’t have faith then we don’t find and see the secret supports of grace.  We don’t change into who God has promised he will make us.  We are stuck on the screen, basically just a sitting duck for evil to take down.

And I don’t know about you, but I would take being an awesomely glorified super human over being just an average Joe any day.

So take my hand and we’ll run from this place.  Only don’t look back.

We’ll leap off the edge of expected, looking like idiots to everyone around us –ourselves included, walk  on water, move mountains, and fall in love in a quite absolute, final way. …And beat level 12.

 

Be surprised by joy.

And even though these clouds have passed over,

leaving behind parched and dusty soil,

patches of brown or wheat

in place of verdant green,

I flower still.

 

In these years of drought

You keep me alive,

surprising me with beauty and strength,

wild blossoms that will not wither.

For my roots reach to waters deep.

 

And if not for hope

that thickens stalk and leaf,

this heat would stifle my breath and seep

who I am out of me.

 

Yet I have found reason

to lift neck and hands high,

petals open

to raindrops and dust clouds alike,

a little flower exultant in praise,

confident in the promise of life.

 

For where can faith burst forth

except in dryness and desolation,

or life brim full,

if not in a void of earth.

Does it make any difference?

I’ve never been one keyed-up about fasting.  It’s probably my least favorite part of Lent.  One of those things I try to plan my day around to reduce its impact.  I think one time in college when my friend mentioned that she had been fasting over a certain prayer intention, I wrinkled my nose a little and in my head thought, “Why would you want to do that??  You barely have enough energy to do everything in your crazy busy schedule.  Why not just simply ask God about it; why all the unnecessary grieving and self-inflicted pain?”  — What would self-inflicted suffering do to make anyone’s life better much less move God to answer a prayer –as if you could hold yourself or your good health hostage over God until He stopped you, saying, “No, no!  Don’t hurt yourself over that!  Here let me solve your problem!”

This was my thought processes about voluntary fasting and self-denial.  I thought of them as saying to oneself, “Maybe if I pray really hard, it will make a difference and God will know that this is really important to me and so grant my prayer.”  Like maybe if I wished hard enough, the genie would grant my request.  But I know God doesn’t work like that, that if you only want something bad enough, He’ll give it to you, whatever it is.  So I scoffed at the ‘overly pious’ and went on my way.

But lately a lot of my conceptions about devout Catholic practices, like novenas of the divine chaplet of mercy and saying the liturgy of the hours, have been changing.  And I found myself last week embarking upon the adventure of fasting and novena-ing for the March for Life.  (Never say never to God –it’s really just a challenge to prove you wrong –and oh how you’ll get the divine ‘I told you so.’)  I’m not involved with any pro-life groups this year and didn’t go on the March itself, but wanted to do something.  So I offered up my prayers and hungry stomach in the hopes of changing just one heart or mind to love life and not destroy it, whatever form was under duress, young or old, healthy or handicapped.

But a few days into it, the snickerdoodles that I’d baked but hadn’t found a way to work in with one of my meals yet looked pretty good during the middle of the day, and my old arguments that me-not-eating was not going to affect anyone else’s life sounded pretty smart.  And then I was hit with all the Facebook statuses deploring those blindly believing Christians who were marching and shouting and spouting off trite sayings, trying to deny women their rights or warring against Congress for something that made abortions safer and more easy to swallow anyway so you might as well just go home and do something useful instead.  And frustration almost got the better of me.  (Sometimes nothing is more defeating than not being able to make yourself understood.)

And I thought, “What am I doing this for?  My fasting and praying aren’t going to change any laws just like marching on Capitol Hill for 39 years hasn’t repealed any laws.  No one knows I’m doing this and even if they did, it wouldn’t change anyone’s mind or heart.  This is stupid.”

The other day my mom was telling me how my dad had started fasting to pray for the intention of my mom regaining her sight.  (Most of you know this back story but for those who don’t:  In August 2008 my mom failed the peripheral vision test to renew her driver’s license and within a matter of months lost the rest of her vision due to a benign tumor that was pressing down on her pituitary gland.  In June 2010 she had surgery to have the tumor removed, but some optic nerves were damaged.  She’s regained some of her vision –her clearest sight has been when she could make out the outlines of faces and even the mustache on my dad’s face.  But her days typically alternate between white fogs of nothingness and photo negative darkness where movement and outlines are just perceptible.)

Understandably, her life has change a lot since losing her vision.  No longer working two jobs and running around like a mad woman trying to be the perfect mom to six kids (even after the majority of them have moved out of the nest), she instead spends her days doing tasks around the house that she can, praying, visiting with friends and family, watching (er… listening to) tv, and trying not to fall sleep in the couch or her sitting chair.  She’s living in a much more slower-paced routine, and a doctor’s check-up prompted the concern that she needed to be exercising more.

So she said to my dad, ‘Forget the fasting!  Help me get more exercise!’  So he did.  Every day they walk together outside or in the mall.

But I think it’s important to add that he felt led to fasting for my mom.  I myself have struggled with praying for my mom.  I have gone back and forth on asking for her to regain her sight, to be healed fully, or just asking that she grow in ways God is calling her to grow and become who He’s calling her to be, regardless of her vision status.  It’s not that I don’t think God could heal her fully, it’s God’s purposes in the loss of her sight that I’m not sure on.  And if I do ask for her returned eyesight, how long do I give it before I throw in the towel and chalk it up as not going to happen in this life?  5 years? 10?  Till she goes Home?  Is there even a right way to pray about this?

Is there a right way to pray about anything that tugs on the deepest concerns in your heart?

I’m not sure.  But I am sure that I admire my dad for fasting for my mom.  I’d want my husband fighting like that for me too.  He didn’t know if it would do any good, but he did it anyway.  He showed the depths of his love and care for her by doing whatever he could to help her.  I am truly grateful for this circumstance in our lives that has revealed the strength of my parents’ faith, and the resulting strength of their marriage.

Some people have expressed the concern that my mom could be doing more for herself so she is not so limited in her capabilities –seeing-eye dogs or something to get her more mobile and out of the house and doing things again.  For most of her life my mom thrived in being independent and now her life seems to be ever shrinking.  But not in her eyes.

In her eyes she finally has a chance to slow down and enjoy life –enjoy time with friends (a rare occurrence in her past life), enjoy doing simple tasks like washing the dishes and folding the laundry without rushing through them to get to the next hundred things on her to-do list, enjoy spending more time with my dad going to morning mass together and exercising at lunch.  But mostly she enjoys the increased time for prayer.

“Does a cloistered nun live a shrinking life?” she asked.

When I was discerning, I’ll be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized God was not calling me to be a cloistered nun.  I’m an introvert, and I love being by myself, but I don’t know if I could handle such an enclosed world.  But then again, talking with those women, they didn’t seem like prisoners behind bars.  Their lives seemed peaceful, purposeful, and joyful.  The majority of people they prayed and worked for they would never meet or get to know, yet that didn’t stop them from living their lives for others.

And I don’t think being mostly blind and homebound keeps my mom from living her life for others either.  She told me that she is happier now that she has ever been in her whole life.

And I get it.  Different parts of life call us to use different gifts and grow in different ways.  For the past six or seven months I have been struggling to figure out where God is leading me, where I’m supposed to go and what I’m supposed to do in this next part of my life.  I got hung up on the question God posed of where He was calling me to serve.  I was geared up and ready to go anywhere that let me out of St. Louis.  I was ready to prove my independence and spread my wings and make it as an adult!  I wanted a challenge!  I wanted adventure!

It took a while to realize God wasn’t calling me anywhere or to do anything, but to grow in certain ways and to love Him in a new way.  Imagine the deflation that my challenge wouldn’t be to navigate a new city or build up a new system of support, but to trust God that my perseverance in these matters of faith would pay off, and that my adventure wouldn’t be to see new sights and travail unknown pathways, but to follow after God when all I can see is a step in front of me and it feels like sheer rock face on one side and a steep gorge on the other.

And everything is uncertain.  I constantly question if anything I’m doing will make a difference.   Like job searching and resume building.  It is so hard to work on perfecting a cover letter for a job you know a hundred other people are applying for that have better skill sets and experiences than you.  And it is so hard to keep networking when nothing you try seems to pan out.  And you go back and forth about settling for a temporary or lesser job when you want a job that uses more of you, but you don’t even know what that job you are looking for is.

I certainly have fallen prey to perfectionism many times in my life and believed the theory that it’s not worth trying unless you know you won’t fail.  So this has been a difficult lesson in trying when I know that there’s a strong likelihood that I won’t get the results I am looking for.  It’s certainly been faith building to push along through the sludge and muck of tough questions without answers especially when there’s no solid ground in sight.  Picture being given the task of getting up a steep incline that is all mud and leaves and pocked with hidden holes and very little trees or branches, so that you sometimes find yourself scraping and crawling with only your own grit to keep you moving up when you slip and slide out of control.  But God is crawling there with you.

It’s a trust in the process of life.  It’s a trust that this is worth something.  Like fasting.  (Hah!  And you thought I was getting horribly off-topic.)  Sometimes the point of fasting is not to see a result in someone else’s life, to know that your sacrifice made a difference, but to go through the process of suffering with intention.  Maybe you won’t know the difference you make in any tangible way, but you yourself will have changed for having done it.  And sometimes, that makes all the difference.