Come As You Are

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I’ve been trying to write this post about the Drummer Boy and folks who don’t go to church because they think they aren’t good enough.

It wasn’t working. I was trying too hard to say the right words.

So here are the true words instead.

My favorite Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy”. I like it because it’s a song for the outcasts. The message is “Forget what they say, come as you are, all are welcome, all are loved.”

In today’s church bureaucracy, twisted up around rules and platforms, the come as you are message sometimes gets squashed. It’s easy to believe, from the outside, that only the right people go to church.

Of course, this is a lie. I’m regularly inside a church, which should be enough to convince you that “perfect” and “church” are not hand-holding friends. My church is full of sinners. I know this because we make a confession of sins every single week. And get this: even the priest says it. Boom.

Still, folks hesitate at the doors. They stay behind while others head out for midnight Mass, joking behind their glass of wine about being “retired”.

Or they shake off the invitation to come along with a whispered “I couldn’t because of, you know….” The divorce. The addiction. The lifestyle. The third husband.

Or they are angry at the church for some (probably very good) reason.

I think that most of the time, what’s holding them back is the brick and mortar institution of church. Which can be daunting, judgmental and sometimes—yes, we have to admit it—destructive. Any church that drives people out instead of in is destructive to God’s will.

I get it. I have packed my bags and headed for the door in my faith life more than once.

But then someone always says to me “It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus.”

And this stops me because I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I have to come to Jesus, like that Drummer Boy, with nothing but my weaknesses, imperfections and sins, and find love. Without that soul shelter, I cannot continue to wife, mother, friend, function in this world.

Can I get an Amen from the choir?

Right. So here’s the thing—We have to tell the people in our life who hesitate outside the door that we go to church because we’re human and frail and sometimes we suck. We’re not good because we go. If we’re good, it’s because of the love that we find there.

And if you are one of those people, already dreading the Christmas Eve guilt trip and also secretly wishing you could swallow your pride and just go, remember this: There is nothing, nothing, nothing in your life that would make the Baby turn you away. Just come as you are. Bring what you have. Let the love heal you.

Merry Christmas from our families to yours.

We wish you health, peace and of course many, many graces!

The Moon

Have you ever been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We can go back and do the rituals, the spiritual disciplines, but they are no longer idolatrously followed. We don’t condemn people who don’t do it our way. All techniques, rituals and spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to the moon.

But the moon is the important thing, not the pointing fingers.

~ Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

We are entering the end of Lent and Holy Week is fast approaching. This is a Christian’s most sacred time, when all our pretensions should be stripped away, and we reach for the poor, the humble, the hurting both outside and inside ourselves.

Don’t get distracted by the pointing fingers. Everything we need is inside of us. Just look to the moon.

Because what is the moon?

A bright light shining in the darkness.

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A Real Bible, Just Small ~ Jen

“Mom” Gabriel says one day when he comes home from school, “For my birthday, can I have a Boys Backpack Bible?”

“A what?”

“A Boys Backpack Bible. It’s small so it can fit in my backpack.”

“Is it a kids bible? With pictures?”

“No, it’s a real Bible, just small.” This with an eyeroll.

Pretty much, when your eight year old son asks for a Bible for his birthday, you make that happen. Even if the good folks who make the backpack Bible don’t make a Catholic version.

Don’t worry my Catholic friends, Grandma was in charge of getting the Bible and when she was at the Religious Education Congress last week, she let some publishers know they got out maneuvered by the Protestants in the boys backpack Bible market.

The adults in my family, Catholic and non-dom church alike, could not wait to see what this backpack Bible was all about. When Gabriel opened it last weekend, we snatched it out of his hands and passed it around.

I can report that you need to be eight to read the teeny tiny print required to make the Bible backpack sized.

I can also report that there’s an insert called Grossology, with a list of scripture where gnarly things happen. And before you wonder if that’s appropriate, I found Gabe huddled with the Bible looking up those scripture, book, chapter and line. You know, studying.

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There’s also a list of Good Guys and a list of bizarre happenings.

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I think this is brilliant. Christians believe the Bible is a dynamic, inspired book but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Especially for kids. But here’s this approach—to meet the boys where they are and show them there is something for them in there.

Yes, there’s a girls version, but I haven’t seen it. We could get into the whole gender specific argument but this Christian mom is going to shake it. My eight year old is reading his bible, people. ‘Nough said.

The company who makes this bible is called Zondervan and they have a ton of different and accessible bibles for kids and young adults.

I did some preliminary research and couldn’t find a complete bible in a smaller, light size for Catholic kids. There are lots of kid’s versions here, but they don’t appear to be scripture. I am sure there is something out there that would do and I just didn’t find it.

And even if there’s not, Grandma made sure some people know that needs to change.

Dear Teresa ~ Jen

Happy 21st birthday, sweet girl.

I could get all misty eyed about the four year old you, screaming out my name when I walked into church every Sunday; or the seven year old you, in my mom’s apron, standing over the sink cleaning the silver a few days before Thanksgiving; or the eleven year old you walking down the aisle at my wedding.

But here you are, standing in the doorway of your childhood, so this is it. Time to leave those things behind. The rubber meets the road, and not just for you. For all of us who participated in your growing up, now we see if we did it “right”. If we gave you all the love and tools and advice that you need to move on to the next part.

You can’t go back. What’s done—great, good, bad, ugly—is done. We can’t any of us do it over.  Some adults your age get stuck in the place of what might have been. Those folks, they never grow up. They stay angry little children inside, always throwing tantrums and blaming others for what goes wrong in their lives.

Their moms never taught them “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit”. But yours did. And we did. So if you think you are missing parts and pieces—and maybe you are—it’s not an excuse. You’re resourceful. If you need something, find it. If a space is empty, fill it. Don’t walk around hollow in your heart and your spirit and blame that on someone else.

You’re an adult now. You make your own way. Which is good news and bad news.

You make your own choices.

You face their consequences on your own.

So before you cross that threshold from childhood to adulthood, let me offer some last gifts of wisdom.

Life is much easier if you are patient, kind and truthful. Society doesn’t seem to value these traits, but society is wrong. It’s only a dog eat dog world if you agree to be a dog. You are a child of God.  And no one earns points in life for being a jerk.

Speak up for what is right. Stand up for those who are weaker. Always give a part of your time, talent or treasure to someone who needs it more. These things keep us connected and humble.

Remember that God is inside you and everyone else, too. Always be nice to God.

If the people in your life are not nice to the God in you, move on. Give them space and pray for their healing. There is too much love out there to spend time with those who won’t or can’t give it.

I hope you travel around this country. I hope you travel around other countries. I hope you spend most of your twenties getting your wiggle out, physically, culturally, spiritually, before you settle down for marriage and motherhood. 

I hope you form your own Committee and go on Sunday Benders with them. A smart person knows they don’t make it through life alone.

Grow your life with Jesus, too. You’ll need Him.

In England, when young adults come of age, it’s tradition to give them a key. It hearkens back to the time when it was an accomplishment to reach this age, and as a mark of maturity and responsibility, 21 year olds were given the key to the home.

Shea and I like the symbolism of this gift. You hold the key to your life in your hand and in your heart. You can make your life what you want, no matter the trials and tribulations that come along. You have a lot of support. You can ask for help.

But you can never be a child again. St. Paul reminds us “When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11).

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It’s time. Step out into the light and wide open space of the rest of your life. You’re ready.

We love you!

Shea, Jen, Gabe, Kate, Annie, Sugar and Lizzie

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Christians and Gun Control ~ Jen

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“My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding ‘political’ and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues… a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your soul in jeopardy.” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.

Amen, Bishop. Amen.

So you’ll have something to say soon about the lawmakers who vote against common sense gun control measures? The lawmakers who voted against background checks the other day?

Because in 2008 and again in 2012, I sat in church and listened to my priests and deacons preach against pro-choice and pro-gay rights candidates. I listened to them condemn by name elected Catholic Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi, because of their beliefs.

One priest, echoing Bishops across the country, told us that if we voted for any candidate who supported abortion rights, we were sinners who “cannot call ourselves Catholics”.

As a Catholic Democrat, who acknowledges the spiritual leadership of the Church, I was concerned. Shea and I searched our souls and beliefs to make sure our reasons for voting Democrat were supportable by church teachings.

And you know what? They are supported, by the words of our very own bishops, who have said “Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort, always seeking first to resolve disputes by peaceful means. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God.” (A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States)

Take this statement and apply it to the Republican platform, which would deny assistance to mothers who opt to have their babies, instead of abort;  build a wall between the US and Mexico and arm it to keep desperate immigrants out of this great nation of immigrants;  raise taxes on the poor and hardworking to protect the wealth of the rich; support big business and free trade, despite the damage it does to our economy and workers abroad, and despite Pope Benedict’s call to hold corporations accountable for their business decisions; and support the death penalty, which is murder.

Voting Republican might also put a soul in danger.

My point is that it’s not easy to be a Christian voter. It just isn’t. This nation has an imperfect political system, and neither platform really meets the standards of a Christian voter.

But sometimes, issues are easy. And gun control is a moral slam dunk.

Look back at what the Bishops said. If we are pro-life from birth to death, then gun control is a Christian moral value. If we seek first to resolves disputes peacefully, and if we revere all human beings as children of God, then gun control is a Christian moral value.

If we believe in the New Covenant made by Jesus on that cross and that God calls us to love and that we demonstrate that love by treating others the way we want to be treated, then gun control is a Christian moral value.

There is no moral high ground to support assault weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens. The entire purpose of assault weapons is to kill as many people in as short a time as possible. In the hands of non-military folk, this purpose is “intrinsically evil” and therefore morally nonsupportable.

There is no moral high ground to stand against a simple thing like back ground checks. To argue that background checks infringe on personal rights and privacy is disingenuous in a society where so much of our personal lives are online by our own choice.  And anyone who has something to hide from a gun-related background check is probably a threat to society. Protecting them is morally nonsupportable.

As our spiritual leaders remind us so often, this is a nation founded on Christian beliefs. If we are one nation under God, and call ourselves servants of God, then we must do as the Bishops require and “protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort”.

So where’s the pulpit outrage and thunder on this issue?

My priests and deacons have been silent. My bishop has been silent. This despite public support for President Obama’s proposal from the Vatican. And the fact that so many of those sweet babies in Newton were buried out of their local Catholic church.

In fact, the entire American Christian church has been largely silent.

How can this be?

Mary Meets Jesus~ Jen

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It’s Holy Week. So I’m going to be repentant and reflective one more time. And then, with the Easter season, we will embrace the warmth and light and love of Spring.

When I first saw The Passion, it was on DVD. There was no way I was facing that thing down on a large screen. I knew it would hurt me, and it did. Not when they flog Jesus. Not when they nail Him to the Cross.

When Mary meets Jesus.

She’s following her Son, but not where He can see her. She’s hiding. She knows she has to witness her Son’s pain. But she’s terrified.

She leans against a wall, agonized. He’s coming, she can hear the crowd, and if she doesn’t turn now, He won’t see her. Then He falls. And in her memories, she sees Him fall as a baby. As she did when He was young, she runs to Him and says “I am here”.

Watch it here.

Jesus’ suffering was immense, and purchased my salvation. He is my Lord and Savior.

But I relate to the women of the Passion: suffering Mary, brave Veronica, and the weeping women of Jerusalem. Now that I have children, Mary’s story is personal.  She was obedient, but God asked so much of her and her faith never waivered.

How did she survive it?

My journey this Lent has been to let go—of the paralyzing fear that feeds my need to control and steals my joy.

And Mary’s story, the loss of a child, is the thing I fear the most. The Worst Thing.

I found a story a few months ago, when Glennon from Momastery posted it on her Facebook page. I think that reading this story was the first step on my Lenten path. I believe that examples of Mary walk among us. And I believe this is how we survive the Worst Thing:

Nelba Marquez-Greene’s daughter, Ana, died at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14.

On January 14, Ana’s parents gave an interview to Good Morning America. You can see it here. It’s rough. Nelba’s pain is fresh, her face is worn.

Afterwards, through a mountain of love and support, some folks also called her motivations into question.

Nelba responded on Facebook:

I wept when I read some of the comments after our interviews. Most were beautiful. Some suggested we were actors. Oh how I wish that to be so. It was purely by God’s grace we had the strength to stand yesterday and everyday since December 14th. One comment read, “So fake. These people are actors. What 6 year old loves God”? Well I’m here to let you know that our six year old loved God! So DOES my eight year old. So do I. So does my husband…For me, love is not about what others choose to feel or act or say. It’s about what I choose to feel or act or say. I choose love. 

Then she said this:

Evil visited Newtown. Now it’s our choice to respond. We choose good. We choose life. We choose hope. We choose that even though we’re sad and we weren’t perfect parents we got one thing right- we invested in eternal things.

Eternal things. An Ultimate Plan. A Life after Death.

Jesus died on that cross to save us. It was horrible and painful and bloody. But it was also Glorious and Loving and Amazing. God’s love wins.

That’s what Mary knew. That’s how she survived the Worst Thing. That’s what Nelba knows. That’s how she’s surviving the Worst Thing.

On Sunday morning, we celebrate the victory. No more fear. God’s love wins.

https://www.facebook.com/RememberingAna

Joy wins ~ Jen

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Joy: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying

The last few years, anxiety has become a constant in my life. The doctors speculate that this is partly due to the stressors in my life, the synthetic thyroid hormones I take to replace my missing thyroid, and my fine family history of anxiety and OCD.

I am better now. The kind of better that helps you see how bad it really was and for how long.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown nails my anxiety on the head. She calls it foreboding joy. Every time something wonderful happens, or a moment of deep satisfaction or gratitude, it is followed by a sense of dread. What will happen to balance this? When will the other shoe drop?

I lived in fear and didn’t realize it. I felt joy, but then the forebodings crept in and my fear made me feel out of control. I got angry and demanded order. Once everything was in its place, I felt some sense of control again.

On birthdays. Anniversaries. Vacations. Holidays. As you can imagine, this was very fun for my family.

I’m tired of fear winning out. The constant tension between enjoying my life, and being scared to lose it. Trying to control everything so we are predictable, quiet, safe.  This cannot be my best life.

A month ago I asked myself a question: Can I choose joy? Is it that simple?

I made myself get inside my fears. I have never done that, because of my superstition that if we say things out loud, we call them to our lives. Now I realize that if I let them lurk in the corners, they are always threatening me.

Then I had to face down what I really believe about how God loves me. I have issues with Christians who camp out in the Old Testament, as if Jesus never made a new covenant through his life and death. But I did that, too. Fearing the vengeful God of the Hebrews, the God of Job. I can’t just say that I accept God’s love for me. I have to do it.  And I have to know that God loves Shea and my three babies even more than I do.

And I have to live Here. Shea and I like to dream—five years from now, ten years from now. But I always take it a step further and start planning. Planning for ten years from now. And the planning causes me anxiety, because there are so many variables and I can’t plan for all of them. Then I worry about things that have not happened, and probably won’t.

This steals my joy. I do it to myself.

So enough. Enough planning, enough anxiety, enough fear.

I think we can make this choice. I think we can say that fear doesn’t win. Even if the last few years have been hard. Even if there is sickness, or failure, or betrayal. The fear costs us too much. It costs us sleep and health and relationships. It costs us opportunity. It costs us love. What are we doing?

I say, let’s be brave. Let’s choose joy. Let’s choose to be joyful Here.

I don’t think it’s easy, but I know we can do it. We can choose joy. And when we do, joy wins.