Loaves and Love

img_20161130_150022

We paid off the new church.

We got a new pastor.

The newly paid off church almost burned up in a wildfire.

The new pastor had to be threatened to put down the garden hose and leave the church in the face of the wildfire.

For your personal edification, I asked my dad (He Who Used To Work For A Bishop) if there was any official protocol for evacuating a church in the event of a wildfire.

“Take Jesus and go.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Father Freddy is from Columbia and he has his English in such a way that he knows the words, but he sometimes says them in the order of the Spanish in his head. This is not the way we speak them. It is so much better.

Today the reading was about the loaves and the fishes, which is propitious because next week is VBS and it’s all about encountering Jesus and one of the focus stories is loaves and fishes. So when Father got up to preach, I snuggled down into the pew to listen.

It was beautiful. He talked about how the little boy in the scripture brought what he had, which was not much. He gave it willingly though and Jesus took it, blessed him and made it BIG. Five thousand people big—well, scripture says men, so if they had wives and kids with them, it was even bigger than that.

Jesus fed them all til they were full.

Father said if we could just be like that little boy, and bring our love to Jesus, he will make it big. Even if we don’t know how our little love could be enough. Jesus knows.

I was super on board with this. Yes. YES. Father is using metaphor. The loaves and fishes are a metaphor for the love we have for others. And if we bring that love to Jesus, he will bless us and make it BIG. Awesome. I am SO using that at VBS.

And then, a little voice inside my head wondered if maybe Father should have explained the metaphor better because you know, not everyone is a used-to-be English teacher.

I started thinking how I would make that connection for the kids at VBS, maybe a giant math equation with a loaf and a fish and an equal sign to a heart…

And then it hit me. He’s not saying love. The whole time, he’s not saying love.

He’s saying LOAF.

The English teaching in me went down screaming, because she doesn’t like to be wrong. The rest of me laughed all the way to Communion.

I mean, it still works. Bring your loaf, which by your very willingness to bring it, shows your love. Jesus will multiply it and use it to feed others. But for reals—the story has stood the test of time. It doesn’t need improvement.

Just better listening skills.

Welcome, Father Freddy. I promise to try harder.

 

 

 

 

God Calling

I forgot to tell you a story about Vacation Bible School.

The theme was hearing God’s call in our lives. One of the first things I knew I wanted to do was have a phone call from God every morning to kick us off.

Joyce, our director of ministries, thought this was awesome sauce. Not because of the edgy, cool connection between technology and God’s message, but because she had just bought a foam cutter for the parish. To this day, which is all the days between when I told her I needed a giant foam phone until today, I have no idea what a foam cutter is. But Joyce used it to make me a giant iPhone.

I wrote a script. I asked Don to be God. We put a chair in the closet and gave him a microphone. Kelsey, our youth minister, made the phone ring. I just had to hit accept and say “Hello?” Five minutes before I did it the first time, I panicked and thought “This was the lamest idea EVER!”

I underestimated the five year olds, who have the most tremendous capacity to suspend disbelief in all of human nature.

When God said good morning, they yelled back at him “Good morning God!” And even though it was in the script for God to tell them “I love you”, one of the girls screamed it out first. “I LOVE YOU!!!!” Some of you evangelical Christians may not be surprised by this. But we’re Catholics. We took ourselves very seriously for 2000 years. Since Vatican II, we’re still learning to be ok when our spiritual emotions overflow.

The daily phone call from God became a thing. One little girl wrapped herself around my leg on day 3 and whispered “Do you think God will call us today?” On day 4, at the end of God’s call, I forgot to walk over and smack the “Reject” on the big foam and paper phone. Riley, an almost 1st grader who doesn’t miss a trick, shouted at me from 3 feet away “Miss Jen, you didn’t hang up the call! You are WASTING GOD’S DATA!!!”

And on the last morning, this:

Waiting on God to call.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jesus said “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus didn’t mean that we should be treated like children, although too many churches have interpreted it this way. He wanted us to believe like children, with a bone deep certainty that God is there and He is love.  He wants us to have that same selfish focus for Him that allows kindergartners to think God has nothing better to do on a Friday morning than call 70 kids at a VBS in Southern Oregon.

See God through the eyes of a child.

 

 

 

How To Get Ready For Lent–From My Sunday School Class

img_20161130_150022

Dear Ms. Jen’s people,

We want to tell you how to get ready for Lent.

So first, read Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18. It’s the Ash Wednesday reading in the Catholic church. It may confuse you because it’s all “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” on a day when we walk around with ASHES ON OUR FOREHEADS, but Ms. Jen says those ashes tell the world we are sinners, not do-gooders. So it’s actually not hypocritical. And the point is that when we do good things, we do them to honor God and NOT to honor ourselves. If you give up chocolate but go around telling people you gave up chocolate, they cancel each other out.

And Lent is not just about giving something up. You can also take something on. That sounds good but we didn’t know what it meant. Ms. Jen says you can stop doing something or start doing something. Angel said “Like stop eating vegetables and start playing XBOX 1 all day long?”

Ms. Jen said no. Angel was bummed.

If you don’t know what to give up or take on, you could think about these three lines from the prayer at the end of our chapter:

Help us to work with you to bring justice, love and peace to everyone.

This could be giving up mean words, fighting with a brother or sister, talking too much at school. It could also taking on hugging someone every day, giving a compliment to someone every day or leaving an anonymous note on your teacher’s desk (you should type it because teachers are really good at figuring out handwriting and they might thank you and then everyone would think you were teacher’s pet).

Free us from being careless and lazy.

This could be making your bed, folding your laundry, setting the table, clearing the table, doing the dishes, walking the dog, cleaning your room, feeding the dog, cleaning the toilets and so on.

(Really, we only came up with the first three and then Ms. Jen and Ms. Elena, her helper who is also Joseph’s mom, took the markers away from us and kept making the list longer)

Keep us from being blind to goodness.

This could be things like giving up regular music and listening to Christian music, or not playing that one violent video game. Maybe turning off the news or Facebook. This one was weird for us because why is it hard to see goodness? Ms. Jen said it’s more of a grown-up problem.

After you pick something, you should think of someone in your life who made a sacrifice for you. Then you could write them a letter thanking them and telling them what your sacrifice for Lent will be. This is a nice gesture, and it will also help you stick to your thing, whatever it is, because you said it to another person.

(At first we didn’t want to do this, but then Ms. Jen was all “Jesus DIED on a CROSS for you, can’t you write a letter?” It was kind of like, Oh. Yeah.)

So that’s it. Good luck!

Ms. Jen’s 4th grade Sunday School

PS: You get Sunday’s off!

PPS: From Lenten sacrifice, not church.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thank you to Angel, Ashleigh, Carolina, Joseph, Margaret and Blaine for such a great class on Sunday and for inspiring this post. You guys crack me up! And the future of the Church is safe in your smart, logical, artistic and kind hands.

In Defense of Confession

IMG_20141219_174618

(You guys, my dad just fell off his chair)

So yes, reconciliation is a sacrament in the Catholic Church.

But I don’t go.

It has something to do with the confessions of my youth, which sounded like a grocery list and then Father Fiefel would rattle off the absolution, sometimes slipping into his native Polish and once even falling asleep during a classmate’s confession. He was 100 if he was a day, God bless him, but it was hard for me to believe that this was important.

Then, right when I was ready to be an adult in my church, our beloved parish priest, the one who was accessible and understanding and kind, turned out to be a pedophile.

And the impressive monsignor who came to our parish as a representative of the archbishop, and promised us all that this was the first they had heard of it, turned out to be a liar.

As did the archbishop.

My ability to believe that these men were somehow ordained by Jesus to forgive my sins was squashed.

The last few years though, I’ve felt the pull. We’ve been shepherded by an amazing line up of priests, in California and Oregon, and they have restored my faith in the priesthood. Plus, I’m in charge of not just encouraging my own kids to go to confession, but a whole Sunday school class of fourth graders. Which I have done faithfully, while praying that no one says “When’s the last time you went?”

This is not Proper Role Modeling for Young Catholic Children. I looked it up.

Then there’s the matter of John 20:21-23: The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

It’s that last part that got me. I don’t want to show up to the afterlife retaining anything.

So I went.

If I had wanted to rattle off a list of sins with my head down and my hands folded, I could have. Cultural Catholic Confession (or CCC, which could also stand for “check, check, check”) is in my DNA.

But I decided to come at things differently. So I started like this:

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been ONE MILLION YEARS since my last confession.”

“Oh boy”, he laughed. “This could take a while.”

It did. And that’s ok.

Afterwards I felt humbled, which is an emotion that lives right next door to grateful on a street I need to visit more often. I also felt centered and clean and determined to do better.

I did not feel ashamed or judged or like I was keeping Father from his afternoon nap, which is how I remember feeling when I was a kid.

All of this to say—It’s Advent, one of the times of year when we are encouraged to experience this sacrament. Most Catholic churches will be holding Penance services at some point in these weeks before Christmas. You should go. I should go. We all should go. It’s kind of like washing our hands before we hold a new baby. We should clean our souls before the Son of God is born unto us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mother Becomes a Saint

mother-teresa

When I sit at Mass and listen to the scripture readings, I try to quiet my mind and be led.

But things pop up anyway. Like Sunday, I got stuck on Paul’s letter to Philemon. Onesimus?? Who’s that guy???

But then we got to the Gospel and I was swept into the concept of “pick up your cross and follow me”.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Sunday marked the canonization of St. Teresa. The woman knew a thing or two about leaving everything she had behind to follow God’s call on her life.

In her obedience, she faced down suffering so profound that it could not be conquered—not by her work, awards, recognition, celebration or even her sainthood. She served it anyway, in confusion, depression and spiritual darkness. I wonder if that was her cross, having to accept that God had not called her to save the starving baby, the mother with leprosy, the child bride laboring to bring forth a child, but only to witness and love.

Maybe it was to carry the criticism of those who wanted her to do more, to change the very fabric of human nature and condition.

Or maybe it was that she believed God called her to this service and then abandoned her there.

But here’s the thought that humbled my soul on Sunday. What if it was all three?

My God in Heaven…How did she do it?

Could I?

Teresa is named after Mother Teresa. She wrote a beautiful reflection for her company, MySaintMyHero. You can find it here

Love, Friendship, Faith

Kate is making her First Communion with four of her good friends. So the moms hired a photographer and on Sunday we dressed them up, took them to a pretty farm and took pictures.

Officially, to mark the importance of the occasion.

But in the far-reaching, planner’s part of my heart, it’s so we have these pictures to show at rehearsal dinners when they are all bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. We do live in a small valley. You never know.

IMG_45681

These three met at our house to get their hair done. By the moms, none of whom qualify as “hair people”. It required wine…

We hired the magnificent and magical Tonya Poitevint, who did our family pictures last Fall. She was amazing, like a mother hen with five snow white chicks following her around. She has such a way of coaxing beautiful smiles.

IMG_4589

We shot at Orchard Home Bed and Breakfast , which has breath-taking grounds and the afternoon light was just…just.

IMG_4574

In the middle of the shoot, it came to me what we were really doing.

We were guiding our girls to the next place. We were doing it together and they were doing it together and Tonya became part of our together. It was this amazing, prayerful feminine energy and it was powerful.

These five beautiful girls, with their arms around each other, laughing in God’s sunshine.

FullSizeRender (2)

And the mothers, who have brought them this far in keeping with the promises we made when they were baptized, but really before that, when they were whispers of hope in our hearts.

As our mothers before us. And before them. And back and back and back.

All of this to say: You are a beloved child of God, and of mine. And it is your province as a woman to wear these things as symbols of who you are and celebrate what is holy and sacred.

This is what it means to be a woman and a mother in our church.

Love, friendship, faith.

received_10209367666649631 (1)

Tonya Poitevint Photography!