The Mother Becomes a Saint

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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

Holy Grace

 

IMG_20130325_161833Sometimes I get a little nudge that I haven’t talked about Grace in a while. This Sunday it was a BIG nudge.

On Holy Thursday night, the Apostle Peter, who my church recognizes as the first earthly leader of the Church, denied that he knew Jesus three times. As Jesus had foretold at the Last Supper.

I have never blamed Peter. Our first human instinct is to LIVE. Plus, at that point, he didn’t know what was at stake.

This was Peter’s all-In moment. Right? How many times has this happened to us, where we’re kind-of-committed to something in our lives, but at that last moment, we walk—from fear, from uncertainty, from misunderstanding.

Then we know almost immediately that we blew it. That we walked from something hard, but good. And usually, it’s only at this moment of loss that we see the true value of the thing we almost had, if only we had been all-in.

This happens so often in our lives that there are lots of sayings about it: Oh well. That’s the one that got away. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Can’t unring the bell.

In this moment right here—the Peter moment—we can make a lot of choices. We can regret, or hate ourselves for missing out, or become angry, or blame others.

Or.

Here is Sunday’s Gospel reading:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”      (John 21: 15-17)

I swear, the hair stood up on my arms in church. Because that right there is LOVE. And FORGIVENESS. And REDEMPTION. Face to face, one by one, Jesus healed Peter’s denials.

Peter went on to become the first earthly leader of Jesus’ followers and he was so all-in that he died on a cross for his faith.

Holy Grace.

Life is full of it. There is no wound that cannot be healed, no sin that cannot be forgiven, no fear that cannot be overcome and no Peter Moment that cannot become all-in.

 

 

 

Put the “Be Jesus” Back

Lenten reading can be hard on your soul.

It challenges and convicts. It parks your heart in the shadow of the Cross and makes you look up.

I have never been good at looking up. I don’t want to see. I tell myself it is enough to know.

Everything I read tells me that I’m wrong. My suffering has not been enough, although it has taught me so much about life and myself and fear and pain. It’s only the first step.

To truly walk where Jesus did, our suffering has to be used for someone else.

Which means I have to see. I have to look up from the foot of the cross and see.

I don’t want to read the Facebook post from my cousin’s friend who lost her six year old to cancer two years ago. On the second anniversary of her daughter’s death, she’s asking me to stand with her against pediatric cancer. I don’t want to see, because I have a sweet girl who was six two years ago. I don’t want to know that children we know get sick from cancer and die.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to read the story about the woman in my state who tried to kill her newborn and toddler. I have to see that she is vilified in the media and the comments underneath the articles. I have to read until I see what my heart is already telling me, that she was sick, like I was sick. I don’t want to remember how that time felt to me. I don’t want to admit that she is me and I might have been her if we hadn’t made the right call, finally.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to see pictures of drowned toddlers on the beaches in Greece, or news reports of the danger and squalor of refugee camps. I don’t want to know about the migrant camps in my own city. I don’t want to consider that in this day and age, families suffer while others turn them away. I’ll write a check or make a donation, but that’s as much as I feel I can handle. It’s a swamp of hopelessness.

I want to look away and go about my business.

But then I read this, in Richard Rohr’s Hope Against Darkness:

“When we’re not sure what is certain…we’re going to be anxious. We want to get rid of that anxiety as quickly as we can. Yet to be a good leader of anything today—to be a good pastor, a good bishop, or, I’m sure, a good father or mother—you have to be able to contain, to hold patiently a certain degree of anxiety.

(…)That’s probably why the Bible says so often ‘Do not be afraid.’”

This is me. I am not good—terrible, actually—at holding anxiety.  I do want to get rid of it as quickly as I can. I work hard to not invite it into my heart in the first place. My leadership skills are horribly limited by my anxieties. So I have convinced myself that I am safer occupying my space, and my space only. I busy myself with controlling the heck out of what I can control: my home, my family, my personal relationship with my church and my God.

Rohr says that “expelling what you can’t embrace gives you an identity, but it’s a negative identity. It’s not life energy, it’s death energy. Formulating what you are against gives you a very quick, clear and clean sense of yourself. Thus, most people fall for it. People more easily define themselves by what they are against, by who they hate, by who else is wrong, instead of by what they believe in and by whom they love.”

I’m convicted. In giving my anxieties primary place in my life—whether managing them, medicating them, avoiding them, expelling them—I have chosen not to see. If I don’t see, how can I help? Walk beside? Love?

Have I literally scared the “Be Jesus” out of myself?

There’s a reason this is in front of me now. I have no idea what it might be, but I’ll hold on patiently and wait for it. And while I do, I’ll work at replacing my fear with my faith.

Look up and see.

Hold the anxiety.

Be not afraid.

Put the “Be Jesus” back where it belongs.

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This popped up on Toby Mac’s Facebook feed as I was typing this post. Thanks to Mr. Hybels and Mr. Mac for the reminder!

 

Welcome the Stranger

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I stopped and started this 12 times, trying to find the right words, until I gave up. My words are not called.

We need the words of Jesus.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. ‘Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”  (Matthew 25)

Those poor people, the mothers and fathers and babies and grandparents fleeing from the very evil that struck Paris?

We have to shelter them. Here or there, no matter. Somewhere. Because those people are Christ walking in the world and if we turn our backs we fail our Christ.

This is our prayer: Open. Soften. Lighten.

The Pieces of My Heart

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Yesterday our pastor, Father Mike, came to talk to the adult formation class. He was supposed to have a list of questions to answer, but he left it at home. So instead, he asked “Does anyone have anything they want to ask?”

One of the dads said “Sure” and opened up the can of gay marriage.

At which point, most people screwed themselves down into their seats. I know I did. When religious folk start talking about gay marriage, I listen fearfully, waiting for them to say the thing that means I have to get up and walk out, the thing that breaks tiny pieces off my heart.

Those pieces have names, children I have known and taught. Most of their faces blend down into one specific child, bullied into cutting precisely spaced lines up both his arms.

Three of those pieces belong to good friends, married almost as long as Shea and me, and their sweet son, who they had to fight to get baptized in a Catholic church. They are good moms, with a strong devotion to Mary, like most Catholic moms. They try to go to Mass every week, but sometimes the tension is too much.

Two pieces belong to distant cousins, together for almost fifteen years.

And two to the couple who have lived next door to my parents for over twenty.

Four to the family down the street, with their sweet and wonderful daughters.

One to a dear friend who is a fierce defender of our faith and also gay and drinks far too much to reconcile those two truths in his life.

So when people of God rail angrily against the dangers and threats of gay marriage, I want to hold these pieces of my heart up and say “But what about them? They are beloved children of God too. And we are hurting them in God’s name. We are turning them away. How can this be right?”

But it wasn’t like that yesterday. No fire and brimstone. No black and white. And best of all, no anger.

Father Mike explained the church’s position clearly, and the biblical basis for definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. He delineated between legal marriage and sacramental marriage. He revisited the church’s position on the sanctity of life and the way we are called to treat all people with love and kindness.

But then he said the thing that I have been waiting for a priest to say. I don’t remember his exact words but here’s the gist:

“This is a tough issue. And we have to struggle with it. It’s not enough to simply say one thing or the other. We have to engage it and pray over it and look to the Word of God.

Because we have these people in our lives who are good and we love them. So we have to understand that it’s messy.”

It’s messy.

Shea and I stand apart from our church on homosexuality. We struggled with it. We prayed. We saw the people that God walked through our lives and we know that love does not come from evil. We contemplated leaving the church. We walked out of Mass when priests preached hellfire and brimstone and sanctioned bullying. We wrote letters to the bishop to complain.

We decided to stay.

We decided to choose love.

Love for our friends and family and their relationships. We witness and support their commitments, and share the struggles of marriage and parenting.

Love for anyone searching for who they are. I always tried to be a safe and soft place for my students to land when they were wrestling with life. Now we try to be safe and soft as a family.

Love for the goodness of the church, for our faith and traditions.

Love for the humility of Pope Francis and Father Mike who remind us that it’s messy.

I asked Father Mike yesterday if my friends would be welcome to sit in his church, as a family. To raise their son as a Catholic.

And he said yes. Because of the sanctity of life. Because we shouldn’t keep anyone from a relationship with God. Because Jesus called us to love.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I think Father Mike has the right idea.

 

Mother of mothers

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Mary.

It gets less complicated as I get older. Motherhood has made her more real to me. After Dana’s post about the spoons, I wondered if Mary ever ran out of spoons.

A two year old is a two year old is a two year old, right? Plus there’s the business of the missing teenage years.

Part of what I struggled with for so long was my church’s characterization of her as small, meek and sugar coated.

Because I’m not.

I resented the Renaissance depictions of her that hang in churches and museums all over the world, beautiful in form and face even as she grieves at the foot of the Cross.

I wondered, if she is the ultimate example of womanhood and obedience, in all her delicate beauty and grace, then what are the rest of us?

Then I became a mom and I knew the truth.

She was a lot like the rest of us.

She labored and gave birth.

She felt mama fear, as we all do. Probably more, after meeting Simeon in the temple and then being forced to flee in front of the slaughter of the innocents.

She felt mama anger, too. The bible tells us that she searched wildly for her son for three days when he was lost. And when she found him in the temple, she spoke up to him, in front of the men surrounding him.

The strongest word I could find to describe her tone is “questioning”.

Yeah, I bet. She probably wanted to question him all the way home and into his room until he was 30.

Which would explain the missing years. Huh.

She was Immaculately Conceived, gave birth to the Son of God and lived a sinless life (hey, I said she was a lot like us, not just like us), which makes her the Mother of mothers. She walked our path and then some. She gets it.

That’s what matters—not how she is depicted in a painting from 700 years ago.

When I descended into the darkness after Annie was born, and my counselor told me that meditation would quiet the loud and ugly voices in my head, I turned to the rosary.

For Catholics, the rosary is meditation. It’s also closely connected to Mary, and I needed the Mother of mothers badly at that time in my life. On the nights when the fears were chasing me, I let the beads slip through my fingers,  begging Mary to pray with me for peace in my heart and thoughts, to add her voice to mine and ask God for healing.

I never made it all the way through before falling asleep. But when I awoke in the morning, my rosary curled up in bed with me, I felt peace and knew that Mary was with me in my struggle.

My friend Steffani is the one who brought me closer to this understanding of Mary. She’s a homeschooling mom with eight kids, and her family is a great big joyful bundle of noise and love. In the midst of this, she is a very calm and wise woman. I used to think this was because she’d seen it all. But then I realized it’s because she gives it all to God. And she asks the Mother of mothers on a daily basis to pray for her and her family.

So I started praying the rosary beyond bedtime, looking for support and wisdom. I do feel that those moments of quiet reflection bring me closer to God, help me clear out the distractions and listen for the answers to questions and prayers.

A few weeks ago, my 36 year old rosary broke. I knew right away what I wanted to do. I had a rosary handmade for my godson Owen, out of his birthstone, for his First Communion last year. I got it from ClaresGift (Agnus Dei Creations) on Etsy.

I went back to the same shop and asked Ellyn if she could make me a mother’s rosary out of my birthstone and the birthstones of my kids. But of course. It arrived on Saturday:

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I love it.

I love what it represents, a powerful way to pray for my babies.

I love that it connects me to the Mother of mothers, who is ever ready to pray for me and with me in support and love.

I love that it brings me closer to God, and creates a quiet space where I can ask, honor and listen.

It’s another way to remember I am never alone.

I’ll bet Ellyn can make any kind of custom rosary—mother’s, grandmother’s, dad’s, godmother’s, First Communion, Confirmation, Wedding, Quincineara, etc. Or she has a standard collection of Catholic and Anglican rosaries at https://www.etsy.com/shop/claresgift.

 

Surrender to the Hope

IMG_20130325_161833A few weeks ago, a friend told me that the death of her child happened for a reason.

When I asked her what she meant, she told me that she believed God was teaching her a lesson by taking her child. That she had done something in the past that had “earned” this pain.

Like what, I wanted to know.

I don’t know she told me. That’s what I have to figure out.

I let those words sit there at the moment because I was trying to be a witness to the larger story of her grief.

But you better believe I went back to them later.

Yes, Christians say it all the time: These things happen for a reason. Too often, in our hurt and grief, in our effort to understand, we think this means that our suffering is a result of something we have already done.

We can hurt ourselves and others trying to find the reason, trying to place the blame.

We can damage our relationship with God if we see Him as a petty and cruel Father who punishes us, withholding love and forgiveness.

I do believe that things happen for a reason, but the reason is not behind us. It’s in front of us, and it’s a gift from God to help us heal. When people say that good came from some horrible suffering, this is what they mean. If we stay open and trusting through the hardest times, we will see God’s plan.

Even if we’re angry and questioning and closed down for a while, it doesn’t matter. There will always be a lifeline. That’s who God is, the Greatest Lifeline in the History of Ever. He doesn’t make bad things happen, but he does help us turn bad things to good.

It’s a mistake to look back and surrender to the suffering. As hard as it is, we have to look forward and surrender to the hope.

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity,

to give you a future and a hope.  

                           Jeremiah 29:11