Sunday, July 26, 2015

How God Found Me Lost in Thought

Let's start this segment with a few true confessions.

1) If we hadn't been meeting up with a friend who had come in from out of state, we would have likely split Masses today. It has been that kind of week. 

2) I hate throwing kid parties. For the most part, one of us is chasing kids and the other one is prepping food. If there were a way to not have kid parties and get away with it in our family, you can bet your sweet potato pie we would! Sadly, that is not an option for us. Le sigh. That's not to say we don't want to celebrate kid moments, or that we don't appreciate the friends and family who come to celebrate. It's just than three hours can fly by and we realize we haven't actually had any fun. Seems like a waste of a party to me. 

So there we are.

As if the kids knew we were down for the count, the newly minted threenager received a glowing F- for Mass from me. Ok, ok, I'll be generous. F+. The girl in comparison did remarkably well. I shall give her an A-, and only a minus because she has a predisposition to laughing when her brother does things that he shouldn't. You can imagine the boost this gives the threenager. I am raising a host of class clowns. Sorry, future teachers.

Even in the midst of weariness and circus tricks, as my mind meanders during the Deacon's homily, God has a way of sneaking up on me. Even as I keep an ear out for the boy and the dad who have had to step out due to theatrics, God is whispering to me. Even when the girl is inching closer and closer to crawl onto my lap, where she barely fits these days, God is tapping me on the shoulder.

Today, God found me lost in thought and wanted to remind me that He is a God of abundance. Where I always fear not having enough, not giving enough, not being enough, God tells me to stop seeing scarcity. He reminds me, through his faithfulness to Elisha, through His feeding of the thousands, that He is in the business of providing in a way that exceeds our expectations.

God reminds me that He takes what is small in us, given to Him in faithfulness, and makes it overflow in His grace. He can take all our gifts and make them flourish in His way and in His time. There is enough grace, enough blessing, enough love to go around. There is certainly enough work to be done. 

God uses all of us and all our gifts, no matter what another is doing, or how well or beautifully. He takes our baskets and our gifts, even (and especially) if they are filled with scraps. He asks us to give him all we have, even our torn and broken pieces. It is through that offering that God uses us, in all our smallness, to make Him present in the world. 

What seems broken in you that you can offer up to God this week? Place your broken pieces in the hands of our loving God of abundance and see what miracles come to be.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Loving Lavishly: How to Re-brand the Church of No

"Post-modern people are much more intrigued by our hope than our doctrine. Until our existential hope, our serenity, our wholeness, our love, our sanctity is visible, they won't listen to our propositions." ~ Sherry Weddell, Catherine of Siena Institute
I found this to be wholly true while working in young adult ministry. Whilst sitting in a coffee shop intentionally loitering, I once had a half hour conversation with a young woman I "loitered into" who said she had left the church because she never found Christ there. It is shocking to think that people can step into a Catholic Church and not find Jesus. What she found were people who were obsessed with getting out of Mass on time, rude to one another, unconcerned with their neighbors, and complaining about church altogether. 

Her question to me was direct. "Where is the joy?" If we believe the gospel message to be true, where is our joy? Where is our hope and enthusiasm? Where is our love for one another? Where is our thirst for more of Christ? Those were great questions for me to consider both as a minister and as a disciple. If we are not setting ourselves apart from the rest of the world in an attractive way (and by this I mean not just arguing about sexual morality), what draws and woos the nonbeliever toward the heart of Christ?

When I think of the faith I hope to pass on to my children, it doesn't involve a list of dos and don'ts. What I wish for them is a deep and abiding friendship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I hope that they take with them a intimate understanding of how beloved they are, how much their God loves them in and through anything, no matter how dark or dirty - that their Father in heaven waits for them always with arms outstretched ready to dust them off and pick them up when they turn to Him. Anywhere. Anytime. Forever. I hope that this understanding leads them to heed His word and commands, because they are made in love for their good.

Another friend once lamented that he wished that when people heard the word Catholic, they thought of compassion, mercy, and love instead of rules. I found that to be such an insightful and sad statement about my family. After all, we are a family in Christ. It cannot be denied that our family is known more for its rules and restrictions than the love we show the world. We have become the Church of No. It is heartbreaking, especially given that the Church is the largest provider of social and charitable services throughout the world. 

There are usually two responses when I bring this up. One is a disposition to put the blame on the seeker. "Christ is most fully in OUR church. They are just ignorant." Another is to blame the church. "Well if the Church would get with the times, this wouldn't be an issue. The Church needs to get over itself." Both leave gaping holes and fail to address the issue, in my humble opinion. Where do I think the problem lies? I think it lies with me. For that matter, I may also think it lies with you. Sorry. You're not off the hook. 

I don't love lavishly enough. We don't give abundantly enough. My God is a lavish Lover. He waits to pour out His mercy, His love, His joy, His hope into the hearts of every person on this earth. I'm too wrapped up in myself to help make that happen. I see limitations. I get embroiled in the struggles of daily life. I put up walls to protect myself and hold back. I make judgments on who I have time for and who I do not.

Gaudium et Spes, one of the many documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council, instructs us very clearly on this matter. In it, the Council fathers wrote, 
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. GS, 1
How do we then begin to shift public opinion about the Catholic Church? How do we make sure that when people think of the Church they experience Jesus? We take on the joys and sorrows of the world. We go about our Father's business. We lead with love. We reclaim the beatitudes. We approach one another with "Blessed are you. . ." instead of "woe to you. . ." We return to an active participation in the Works of Mercy, both spiritual and corporal. We never let ourselves to be so filled with sorrow that we forget the joy of the resurrection (thank you, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta!).

This is not to say that the Truth is not important. It is simply to say this: If we are so focused on the morality of the church that we forget to proclaim the person of Christ, we ourselves have missed the point. If we forget that we are not here to win people over to "our side" but to lead souls to the heart of Christ, we may accomplish neither. If we are so scandalized by the secular that we fail to engage it, we will never woo anyone to the Lover of every soul. 

How we live and what we say should help a person to come to know that the God of the universe, the Creator of every star in the sky and every drop in the ocean, who is magnanimous, omniscient, and omnipotent, took on human flesh in all its frailty, out of love for us, in the person of Jesus Christ, and offered it back up again in death so He could lead us back to eternal life with the Father.

What does all this mean? While there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, here are a few suggestions based on my experiences and interactions with non-believers and non-Catholics (and having been one!):

1) Live with authentic joy. This doesn't mean a plastic cheeriness in all things. It means that at the end of the day, even in our greatest sorrow, we live with confidence and hope in a victory that has already been won.
2) Tame your tongue. Speak only words that lift up and encourage. Avoid the temptation to be judge, jury, and jailer. Lead people by example to the freedom that lies in following Christ.
3) Lead with love. Help people to fall in love with Jesus. Show them how much the Father loves them in and despite the condition of their lives. Serve them. Pray for and with them. Grieve with them. Suffer with them. See them when they feel invisible. Love them when they feel unlovable. Notice the little things and rejoice with them. Let others know they are not alone.
4) Engage others where they are. Find common ground and language to help them begin to see how God is working in their lives and through their experiences.
5) Seek after Jesus. Deepen your own life in Christ, and live it out loud. Pray before meals. Read the Bible in public. Walk away from gossip. Let your example create curiosity, and invite others to seek Christ with you.
Together, we can re-brand ourselves from a Church of No into what we truly are: a refuge for all of humanity to encounter transformative love in the person of Christ so we can all be reunited with our Creator in the eternal Kingdom. How do you introduce people to the person of Christ?

We've got some work to do. Let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus (all the way TO Jesus)!

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Monday, July 20, 2015

A Mid-Week Getaway & Meeting Father Robert Barron

This is my life this summer . . . or at least the last week. The wheels had barely touched down after jetting back from my weekend getaway to Charleston, and the wheels of our swaggerwagon hit the road for a couple days away. The unpack to repack was a dumping of the suitcase into the laundry and filling it back up with whatever clean I could find. Laundry be damned!

The husband and I had a quick getaway to Grand Rapids without the kids. Father Robert Barron, best knows for his Catholicism series and Word on Fire ministry was speaking at Baker Bookhouse there. Through his own Catholic Bibles Blog, the husband has made a variety of contacts and friends throughout the world. One particular gentleman, Louis, and the Hubs struck up a friendship when Louis was coming into the Church. Coming from a Baptist background, there were more than a few areas of Catholic teaching and theology that he wanted a better understanding of, and the husband was able to walk with him through that journey. It really is a beautiful thing, and Louis has been a generous friend.

It was Louis who organized this event with Fr. Barron and invited us to attend as his guests. There was a short question and answer (akin to an artist meet & greet) before the larger event which we were able to attend for a nominal cost. Fr. Barron impressed me by his easy manner, and proved himself to be a intellectual man to the core. He reiterated over and over how important it was to be able to speak of the faith with intelligence, how much religious education let us down when people assumed things were just too hard to digest and understand for the average person. All that with humor and ease.

Father Barron talked perceptively of a loss in this day and age of the moral argument. He explained how there has been a shift from operating under a philosophy of end, where this life is not all there is and understanding we will not be here forever, to a philosophy of rights, where we are entitled to everything because it is our right. We have lost a deep understanding of our interconnection. We have replaced our ability to debate intellectually and have replaced it with an inclination toward emotive expression. We feel the feels but don't always think the thinks.

There were many other questions and answers given, but admittedly some were over my head since I haven't taken a theology class in several years. I realized, though, how much I miss the intellectual stimulation and theological conversation, though I desperately also need to be able to see its fruition in applied action. I'm not sure what God is doing with that desire, but I place it before Him to see where it leads. 

This is not where the conversation ended, however. So generous is Louis, that he invited us along to a small dinner with Father Barron. We all piled in his car and headed over to Noto's for some Italian fare. On the ride over, I was able to ask a burning question of Father Barron that I didn't want to take up time to ask during the Q & A: Cubs or White Sox? (He's a Cubs man.) This actually led to a conversation about the Tigers (that I listened in on because . . . sports), which revealed that Father Barron had lived in the metro Detroit area for a portion of his childhood. 

I had mentioned to a friend that I was envisioning the wreckage of the future as this time approached. In my head I saw a tongue-tied, flustered me spitting food out at the magnanimous Father Barron. I am happy to report that did not happen. In fact, because the conversation took a more personal turn and provided a little more connection to him as a person and not as a famous priest, I was far more at ease. 

Dinner came and went, and with it discussion of hot topics like gay marriage and less hot topics like the revitalization of Detroit. One moment I appreciated most during dinner went unnoticed by everyone else, I think. I happened to make a quip, as they presented us with dessert options that we were too full to order, that I'd just Instagram it and call it good. I'm pretty sure I heard a stifled laugh come from his direction. He may be the only one who got it. 

Micaela commented on Facebook that I mentioned talking with Fr. Barron as if it is was no big deal. I had to think of it as such or you know - wreckage of the future. On the ride back to the event, I might have demonstrated just how much I wasn't thinking about the fact that Fr. Barron is kind of a big deal. As a final question, I asked him which of the places he has visited during his filming and travels he enjoyed most. One of his answers was India, and he happened to make a comment about not loving Calcutta. On instinct, as though we had been friends for decades, I blurted out, "Hey! Those are my people you're talking about! Watch it!" and then promptly froze in embarrassment. Praise God he has a sense of humor and also doesn't take himself too seriously. It led to a laugh and a discussion about India, my family, and the jolting reality of Calcutta's poverty (ohhhh, the smells!). 

So you see, Micaela - there was no way a tongue-tied introvert like me could have realized what a big deal it might be to be able to have that opportunity to talk with Father Barron (whose talk was wonderful as well). I would have sat there nauseous with my heart pounding out of my chest. Instead, we got to talk about baseball, about the shards of Christianity and redemption that exist all throughout our culture and the world, the need to reclaim our intellectual tradition, and a love for my people that no stink can overcome. 

Thank you to Louis for your generous invitation. You are so good to us, and we cannot thank you enough! Thank you, Father Barron, for putting us at ease. May God bless the important work you are doing.

Until next time, remember - everyone is a big deal to God! Let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Friday, July 17, 2015

{SQT} In Case You Missed It (I Might Have Too)

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, so it is possible that you and I have missed a bit of the life that has flown by. Yes, even me! Here's a quick recap, InstaLife story style, because . . . children be crazy.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop & look around once in a while you could miss it." Name that movie!

Fr. Sal has been assigned to our parish as associate pastor, and we finally got to see him at the beginning of July! I have known Fr. Sal for many-a-moon - from the time he was in discernment and maybe a little before. We are so excited to have a friend as a pastor, and unbeknownst to him, have many plans for Fr. Sal. Shhh. Don't tell.

The husband's grandma turned 96 around the Fourth of July, so we all got together for some cake and food and all that jazz. This is her with five of her many great-grandchildren. I cannot imagine all the things she has seen and experienced. Maybe this will be the year we convince her to tell all her stories so we can record them for the generations to come.

What happens when you are getting ready to go out of town for multiple trips? Oh, not much other than your car starting to billow smoke as you drive to work. There I was, approaching the stop sign to cross a major road on my way to work, and my super sniffer started to detect something smoky. I figured it was a car with a rotten exhaust until I looked up to see wafts of white smoke steaming out from under the hood. Luckily I was at the stop sign, so I jumped out of the car and called for help. I'll spare you all the panicked details, but the short story is that a hose was busted and we needed to visit a car doctor. A somewhat quick tow and few smackaroos later (though luckily the van is still under its extended warranty), she was good as new. Well, until I drove her to work to see more smoke coming from under the hood. It turns out that was normal after the work that had been done and it was just a momentary thing. Phew! I will say that every time I smell something a little off, the pulse does start to race a little.

So I have a picture to go with this, but I will spare you. Let's just say the night before I was leaving on the first leg of vacation (Edel) the boy emptied the contents of his stomach on our floor. I wasn't the only one who had such "mishaps" leading up to the gathering. Clearly the devil was getting scared. He should have been. Kelly was about to tell us to punch satan in the face! I'll leave you with a beautiful photo of Kelly instead of the "other image." 

After a smokin' car and a puking boy, I was finally off to the Edel Gathering. I've already written a recap of my experience there so I won't wax on about the three days here. It was a beautiful time of bringing to life friendships that had developed behind the screens, coming to know better who God has created me to be, and making some connections that seem to point toward what God is asking of me in the time to come. 

I was also privileged to lead a group of women as we prayed in front of the Emmaneul AME church. While I am disappointed that I was so focused on keeping the sun from melting my skin, it was perhaps fortunate because the sheer emotion of all that had happened there would have rendered me incapable of leading prayer. This was an authentic example of how #RealLoveWins, y'all. Grace and mercy conquer hate and violence. 

After that amazing getaway, I woke up to reality when I came home. Glamorous, no? One morning with the kids and then off to work, then home for dinner, then the kids went to Nonna's. The next morning we were off to Grand Rapids. Lunch with someone from high school, a visit to the Ford Presidential Museum (which was free because it was his birthday), an event with Fr. Barron where we got to have dinner with him, and then back home again. Whirl to the wind! 

An actual slab of the Berlin Wall displayed at the museum.
To be able to see and touch this was an inexplicable moment for
this girl who in her German class in high school watched with
everyone else as history unfolded. With Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev,
take down that wall," to the winds of change brought by perestroika
and glastnost, this was kind of an intense moment, however brief.

We end this crazy ride through the last couple of weeks with my mom's surgery. Thank you for all those who have been praying for her. She went in for a reverse shoulder replacement, and the surgery was uneventful. She is recovering now, and we pray that it will be quick and easy. It is also bringing to light a lot of buried issues between us, so prayers for me through this time would be much appreciated as well. Mostly that I can stop being a petulant child and give her the care she needs. Less of me, Lord, less of me. It's gonna be a tough battle, y'all. What does your adult relationship with your mom look like? Any tips? 

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Gift of a New Perspective

My mom went in for shoulder surgery today. 

She admitted she was scared, more so than ever before. I remember my own fears about my laparoscopic procedure just a couple months ago, so miraculously, I was able to muster up some empathy for her rather than mock her in true bratty, childish fashion.

She is almost 80 years old. She has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in her life. She has been filthy rich and dirt poor. She has felt the sting of infertility and the unbridled joy of a miraculous answer to prayer. She was an older first-time mom at the age of 37, and a young widow at the age of 58. She has lived with a house full of extended family, and in a house where she was her only companion. 

She has been brave, traveling across the world with her husband + two suitcases and moving to Oregon on her own to escape the Texas heat. Now she is spent. She frightens easily and has slowed down considerably. Her hearing is questionable, and often she lives in the memories of her mind. 

And I have been a brat. 

You see, the years following my father's death toughened me. I had to move on, and do it quickly. We moved from Iowa to Texas (where I would pursue my graduate degree) so she could escape the constant reminder of him, and because she had family in Houston. I had the cushion of constant activity to keep me focused away from what lurked below: grief.

After graduate school, I moved to Michigan to begin work, and the woman who grew up in Calcutta moved to Oregon to escape the Texas heat. Between the miles, the infrequent visits, the busy life I was diving into head first, I built myself a safe little silo to live in. She was part of it, but I had barricaded my heart. 

Because I ran my life at a frantic pace, her slowing down became an annoyance. I kept having to repeat myself. At times, more recently, there are things I have told her that she doesn't remember. While I am running to capture every little second of my day and squeeze the life out of it, because at this pace boy are those little seconds precious, she has the luxury (and the burden) of being a woman of leisure. I am never home. She never leaves the home. 

I grieve the superwoman mother I knew as a child. The one with the boisterous laugh and quick temper who would have supper on the table and clothes sewn up at the drop of a hat. The woman who was the neighborhood's mom, because she stayed home and everyone was always welcome for the most part. I grieve the woman who became my friend and confidante in my college years. The one who would stay up late with me and listen to my escapades and soften the blow for my father when there were stories that might make his hair fall out. 

In the years following my father's death, her fire has smoldered. There are embers there, but too often they live in the past. My life has become my own, and I have too often lost patience with her, forgetting about all the sacrifices she made for me, and the behavior she has tolerated because I, too, have become a strong, independent woman with a belly of fire (sometimes).

As I brought my mom to the hospital today, I could feel the same impatience and annoyance begin to rise. This time, I rebuked it. I don't want to be that daughter. Sadly, I'm not sure I know how to be different, but I am willing to try and take baby steps. As she walked behind me, because her knees are shot and her gait is slower than I can walk, I again felt the annoyance creeping. "Mom, do you want a wheelchair?" escaped my lips more than once. Each time, she insisted she could walk. Slowly, but she could do it. (That fire is still there, however cooled.)

We got registered for pre-surgery, and when they took her back to prep, I walked to get some coffee. I threw our bags on my shoulder and scurried along the hallway we had just crawled along to get to the waiting area. Then it hit me. How it must drive her mad to have to move so slowly now when she used to run around with me. How being crippled by fear and grief must be devastating when she used to be so daring and full of life. How humiliating it must be for her to have to repeatedly ask for compassion from a daughter who just wants her to snap out of it and go back to who she was.

She is not that woman anymore. Life has changed her. I have to make peace with it, and learn to encourage without expectation. I have to learn to communicate with her in a way that honors her, but acknowledges me as well. We two fiery ladies have to learn to fight with each other again, and not just close ourselves off. Hey - the fight keeps you young, right?

At the end of the day, she needs to hear and feel, just as much as I do, that we are not alone. That she is fearfully and wonderfully made. That her life has worth and meaning even if there are no mouths to feed, kids to raise, or husband to walk with her. That she has life left in her, and I want and need to be part of that. 

Yes, all this from walking to get a cup of coffee.

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus . . . especially those at home!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Edel Recap: Take Two {Finding Jean Valjean}

Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire. 
St. Catherine of Siena

I have always loved this quote from St. Catherine of Siena, so when I found it in my Edel Swag Bag after receiving a St. Catherine of Siena medal as my event pass, I may have swooned . . . and become curious as a monkey named George. There are no coincidences, so my mind started spinning to uncover the significance.

As we prepared for the opening of the Saturday sessions, I sat at a table by myself. I was disappointed with myself for not being more outgoing the night before and having ducked out of the cocktail party to go to bed. Now I was hoping to muster up all the extrovert juices in my body to up my game. It is possible that I was also still recovering from the two blocks + back walk to the church that morning under a sun that was trying to melt the skin off my body. Too dramatic? I digress.

All this to say that as I stared at the words on this beautiful print, the only thought that whispered through the cavern of my mind was, "Who has God made me to be?" Or in the words of Jean Valjean, who am I? These were also the thoughts that gave me the most anxiety as I was preparing to come to Edel. I might have sent this message to Cate and Heather the night before:

You see, I am the girl who has struggled with fitting in her whole life. I was the last one picked, the one not invited, the butt of the joke, the nerd dreaming of the day she would finally be cool. I was the girl who desperately wanted to belong, but never quite felt like she did. I suspect that at moments later in life, I did not even recognize when and where I did belong. 

I have always been able to pick out pieces of others that I would like to resemble. "Oh, if only I had her wit," or "She is so graceful and elegant. If only I could be half as put together," or "She has such a beautiful heart. If only I were able to love so purely," or "I love her style! If only I could lose some weight so cute things would fit me." See the pattern? If only. . . 

Back to where I was sitting at the table. My fears had been a little realized the night before at the cocktail party where I was tired and tongue tied, and for the love of all that is holy don't you know I had forgotten to factor in the tiny detail that my feet swell during travel when I picked out my crazy shoes. Even a glass of wine wasn't helping this complete brain fuzz amid tight shoes. I had no ability to manufacture conversation with people who I had admired from the safety of my screen. Christy, Haley, Hallie, Jen, Mary, Sarah, and the list goes on and on. So I froze and retreated. Thank GOD for Cate, who with her sweet, sweet soul made sure I was doing okay, and Wendy, who with her big heart and bigger personality made me laugh and loosen up. I mustered up a little more courage after the shoes came off and the blood started flowing to my brain again, but even still, I felt a little defeated by my own insecurities. This was supposed to be fun, and I was doing a terrible job at it. 

Floating back into the moment, and staring at that print alone at the table, this horrifying thought entered my mind. What if I never knew who God made me to be? My thoughts were interrupted as Heather and Wendy came to sit down, thankfully. 

As if they were reading my mind, speaker after speaker lobbed grenades at my heart. First direct hit goes to Hallie:

I suspect I am not the only one whose heart was pierced and set free by these words. Wasn't that what I had been doing until Wendy and Heather interrupted me? I am the queen of not only replaying scenes in my head, but projecting new scenes into the future. At that moment those scenes may have involved me melting into a puddle of embarrassment or fading into a corner invisible to the world. How often do I walk into a situation completely unnerved because I am imagining the worst that could happen? Now being armed with this, no more, I say, no more. Ok, not as often, I say, not as often.

Where Hallie set me free to admit how often I build up wildly imaginative (and devastating) futures for myself, Rachel came along to open the floodgates. Quite seriously, Rachel, if I hadn't been sitting in full view of the podium and surrounded by people I didn't really know well, the vision of the future that involved a puddle (but from tears) would have been my fate. I was choking back the sobs that wanted to burst out of my soul. 

Boom. Boom. Boom. Like a firework, baby, like a firework, these words. Lighting my soul. Releasing my deepest fears to the light. Yes, Psalm 139 is my comfort verse for when I am feeling insignificant and unimportant, but sometimes you just need to hear it again from a woman in pearls who has been there too, and then overhears a potentially embarrassing conversation in the food line later and laughs along with you all. Crisis averted. Phew!

We are not alone. This was repeated by speaker after speaker. We are not alone. We are all important and significant in the eyes of God, even in our smallness . . . especially in our smallness. I know I was not alone in appreciating how easy it was to approach all the speakers and organizers. This is truly a unique hallmark of Edel, I believe, and kudos to Jennifer and Hallie for setting that tone. There were no big names, only other women and mothers, because to God we are all big names, even if some of us seem like crazy fan-girls. 

If I was expecting an answer to my Jean Valjean cry this weekend, I'm not certain. Either way, it came to me as I sat and gazed upon the Lover of my soul, the One who knew His reason for creating me. Hallie and Rachel had broken open my heart. As much as I wanted to cry, I think my body was still recovering from having been melted outside. My mind wandered back to the post I wrote about my name. Rakhi. This has been a source of embarrassment and awkwardness all my life. From being thought a man, to all the references to boxing one can muster up, it has not always given me a confidence in who I am. Yet, in so many ways, names define us, and I realized, my name defines me. Whether it is a gift of love as I thought most of my life, or a bond of protection born out of love, in it lies my purpose. I am made to love. 

Thank you to Jennifer and Hallie for all your love, tears, joy, and sweat in pulling this weekend together . . . for seeing a need and making a space to fill it. Thank you to all those women who made me feel like I belong. To all those friends who live on the other side of my screen that I have been able to hug in the flesh and blood, I love you. Truly. You are my sisters.

Thank you for helping me to uncover who I am, who God has made me to be.

Now, let's get out there and set this world on fire!

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Edel Recap: Take One {Punching Satan In the Face}

It was a whirlwind weekend, dear readers. The whole Edel Gathering experience seems like it took place over at least a week, but in reality it was just a brief 36 hours. A day and a half of laughing, loving, crying, enduring the heat with the reality that there would not be a shower in the near future, many long-awaited hugs and "selfies," and a few drinks here and there. Maybe.

As an introvert (yes, I really am no matter how crazy I can act!), I know that the fruits from this weekend won't really begin to fully hit me with their best shot until I'm able to revisit all those wonderful moments. I give you below what I call Take One of my reflections from this weekend. Knowing how my mind works, you can fully expect that as the experience unfolds over the next several days and weeks, there will be more. But first up, a look at punching satan in the face. Thank you Kelly Mantoan for that image. My life (and my family's) is forever changed.

I was on my final flight with a tiny shrapnel of battery life left on my phone and this came across my Twitter and Instagram feed:
“Extremists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book.” - @malalafund
I knew right then what I needed to write about first, because satan is an extremist when it comes to trying to lure us away from the love of God. Enter the Edel Gathering. Ladies, it's clear that satan be running scared given all the hiccups and hijinks we all experienced leading to and during our time together.

Satan has shown us what frightens him this weekend. A hotel full of life-giving, soul searching, faithful women of God coming together to build community, however sweat-drenched and showerless they may be. In this community we find the Aaron and Hur to our Moses, the ones who will hold us up when the battle makes us tired. We find our Veronica, who wipes us clean when we have fallen and the tears have stained our faces. We find that soft, gentle breeze whispering the truth of God as we peek out of our caverns (or bathrooms) where we have barricaded ourselves amid life's storms. We find our people. Our tribe. Our family. Ourselves.

We find Him who our soul loves, and Who loves our whole being to death and back to life again.

Gazing at the Lover of my soul as He gazes upon me.
God is calling us through this experience of sisterhood with a smattering of women, of His daughters, to go back to our homes and build sacred space for the sisters in our backyards. He is calling us to be the face of joy, but to open our arms to shelter our sisters' sorrows. He is calling us to share our weirdness with the world (within measure of course) so all our sisters know they belong.

Why? Because God knows darkness fears a woman of light.

Satan fears us because he knows God has made us to build cathedrals and to nurture temples where His Holy Spirit resides. Satan knows that when we come together and shed ourselves of false piety and the facade of propriety and begin to build places where it is safe to air out our wounds and bring our shame to the light, we will no longer live in that wounded shame but be stronger in Christ. Satan knows when women come together in unity and solidarity that we give each other the strength to take our spirit, our gifts, our life-giving love back to our families and build them up to fight another day.

Sister in Christ joined together in prayer outside the AME Emmanuel Church
where nine people were senselessly murdered. Mercy and grace won. Praise God!
What does all this mean in the context of our own lives, though? As tempting as it may be because we are conditioned by our structured environments, I don't think it means we go home and create more women's groups and fellowships. It just isn't enough.

One of the fruits of Edel in my own heart has been a desire to love my people better. I want serve my people better. I want the idea of loving better not to be just an abstract thought of what we need to do as disciples in a broken world, but rather a desire that is grafted into my DNA that spurs me to action despite my own brokenness and selfishness. Who are my people? They are God's people, so . . . all people.

Maybe, just maybe, this desire is about keeping our eyes open to notice those around us who seem weary and worse for the wear. Maybe it is reaching out in those moments just to let them know they are not alone, that whatever they are facing, God is with them, and we can be too. Maybe, it is being humble enough to admit when that person is us and being willing to raise the white flag of surrender and shoot up an SOS to our tribe. Maybe it is sitting outside an empty ballroom and making that a safe space to let down our walls and just be, so we can laugh and cry and say things we shouldn't, and the one thing we should: me too, sister, me too.

We do all this within our vocations and to strengthen our vocations, not hiding from our womanhood, but embracing the beauty and variety within it. We shatter that notion that there is one way for holiness to look as a woman because satan wants to trap us there to trick us into thinking we are not enough. He wants to cajole us into desiring another life instead of surrendering in thanksgiving to the one we have so we can set the world on fire. The only fire he wants is the fires of hell. What I am convinced of this through this weekend is that when you get a group of faithful, honest women together, you can unleash the fire of the Holy Spirit and with that fire we can light the world out of darkness into the bright, burning light of the love of God.

We may not have started the fire, Billy Joel, but we know Him who did and we can keep it going until the whole world is ablaze!

Let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus! 

Short PostScript:

{Husbands - please do not feel excluded. You hold our hands, dry our tears, face our anger with steadfast love, dream our dreams, and fight alongside us. And yet, there are some parts of us that for all the tea in India, just mystify you. Admit it - there are times when we make zero sense. This is where the sisterhood comes in for you. Just send them in and breathe easy, dear man. Breathe easy.}

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

5 Tools to Free Yourself From Worthless Guilt

Image from Wikipedia Commons
You've all felt it, haven't you? That sinking deep feeling in your gut. That ache that gnaws around the edges of your heart. That thought that keeps fluttering about your mind in the wee hours of the night when it should be silent and at rest. Guilt. 

Guilt for various sundry items like not being present enough with the children, not being loving enough to your husband, not working hard enough to keep the house clean, the laundry finished, meals home-cooked, on and on and on. 

Guilt for yelling when you should have kept your calm. Guilt for not wanting to make a thousand cupcakes for that event at school. Guilt for wanting more for yourself and not giving enough of yourself. Guilt for not being the fun mom you want to be. Guilt for not praying enough. Guilt for not being a fiery disciple of Christ. Guilt for just not being good enough or measuring up to that image of what you thought you'd be as a wife and mother and woman of God. 

As much as you would like to, you just can't take Elsa's advice and let it go (though maybe secretly you wish she would let it go because you can't hear that song one more time!). I've been there too. I am there too. I fight those demons every day. Those voices that want me to keep measuring, keep striving, keep reaching without taking stock of the reality of the current day.

The truth is while we are all works in progress, the current self probably isn't as rotten as we sometimes imagine ourselves to be. We're not all sunshine and roses, but we're not all manure piles and flies, either. It's taken me a long time to realize that when those debilitating whispers come in the dark, it isn't the voice of truth. Here are five ways I have learned to distinguish the difference between the whispers of lies and the voice of truth pushing me to grow into the woman God desires me to be. 

The voice of Truth leads to conviction. The whispers of the liar lead to condemnation.

The voice of Truth will motivate us. The whispers of the liar will paralyze us.

The voice of Truth will always affirm that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and move us to realize greater depths of that. The whispers of the liar will challenge that and tell us we are worthless.

The voice of Truth will lead us to compare ourselves only to the Cross. The whispers of the liar will lead us into the cross-hairs of comparison with the rest of the world. 

The voice of Truth will lead us to look in the mirror and reflect His beauty. The whispers of the liar will have us forever looking out a window toward the distorted belief that everyone else has it together. 

God has already told us enormous truths about ourselves:
You are created in the image and likeness of God.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27
You are wonderfully made.
It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. Psalm 139:13-14
You are a child of God.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 
You are victorious with God through Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate you from the love of God.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Knowing these truths about ourselves can help us to dig ourselves out from the pit of self-condemnation. Don't get me wrong - I think sometimes a healthy dose of good guilt that leads to transformation is a good thing. We all need to be honest with ourselves about where we are in our journey to look more like Jesus. I know I've got miles to go before I sleep! I have to be able to go, though, and worthless guilt has no other purpose that to keep us stuck in deep manure. 

Knowing these truths and claiming them also helps us to free others from their pit. If we know these things to be true about ourselves, we can be quicker to realize them about one another and let each other off the hook for trivial things. Claiming the truth of who we are not only frees us to grow into our fearful, wonderful, victorious selves, but it prompts us to help other claim the victory and freedom that is there for them in Christ Jesus as well.

Grab that shovel today and get to work!

Photo by eprater on Flickr

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus...and into the likeness of God!

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Become an Ambassador Of Love

I went to confession yesterday. Apparently, I was not the only one who felt a need for a little soul scrubbing. In fact, the room was packed and there was a line down the hall. It was so full that the solo priest hearing confessions may have asked us to say our Act of Contrition before entering. I won't go into how I feel about that.

My desire to lay all my garbage at the foot of the cross to be lifted up in mercy initially had nothing to do with the events that had transpired at the end of the week. However, as I prayed about what I was truly seeking freedom from through the sacrament, I realized something. While it may not have been the cause for me to feel ill at ease with the health of my soul, it was certainly contributing to my unease. The "it" my friends was not the actual decision by the Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriage. At this stage of our culture, I already assumed that to be a foregone conclusion. The "it" that had me so bothered internally had to do with our own reactions to this development. 

So many of those whom I look to for direction and inspiration in faith and morals seemed to have lost their center. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. There was fear. There was resignation. There was excessive melodrama. There was a whole lot of spiraling forward into a bleak future. 

Don't get me wrong. I understand. I do. Our understanding of the world was shaken...or was it? Don't we as Christians still believe the same thing? Isn't our witness needed as much today as it was yesterday? Is all our wailing and toddler-sized tantrum throwing giving witness to our firm faith and confidence that Jesus has already overcome the world? I'd answer that with a GIANT no.

How do we move forward in faith? This question was nagging on my heart as I sat waiting to make my confession. What is it Christ is calling ME to do...or not do? I want to write and speak volumes because I don't want to remain silent. Yet, is that what God is calling me to do? Would all my speaking and writing bring one heart closer to Him? What about all those friends and family I love who are rejoicing with the change of the law in the land? How would my words help them know my love and God's love amid my conviction that as humans we cannot simply legislate natural law away?

You know what I discovered? I have NO idea. That's what. I don't know what the right thing to say is that both affirms the dignity of my LGBT friends and family and acknowledges the pain and suffering they have endured while also sharing what I believe to be God's design for love, life, and humanity. I don't. I just don't. I just got on my knees and threw up my hands and prayed. 

Make me an instrument of your peace, of your love, of your truth. 

May those who see me know You...know Your love, know Your mercy, know Your goodness. 

Why? I am an ambassador of Christ. I am NOT Christ. My job is to bring people to Him, and I will not do that through lectures and tantrums. I will not do that by turning away from those I disagree with or getting into a battle of Facebook statuses and profile pictures. The only way I can be an ambassador of Christ is to be a stranger in a strange land willing to open my heart and walk alongside the people He sends my way, friend and stranger alike.

I got home to read a few more Facebook updates, and this time, I was encouraged - so very encouraged. The first was from the Archdiocese of Denver and their response. 

We here at the Denver Catholic figure that we have two options for how to respond going foward:
Go on the defensive. We've clearly lost the culture war, but we can try to convince the public that our view is the correct one.
Realize that we don't live in a Christian culture, and therefore must engage it as missionaries.
Option one is equivalent to declaring ourselves victims. Option two is to accept the challenge of living as authentic followers of Jesus Christ in a world that has largely forgotten Him.
Jesus Christ is real. We Christians have experienced the sweetness of a personal relationship with Him. Our mission is not to punish or coerce those who have not experienced this—instead, we must invite them into relationship. What better way to do this than to show the joy of living the Catholic faith?

The other was from Fr. Newman of St. Mary's parish in Greenville, South Carolina:
Christians must let go of nostalgia for our faded Christian civilization in order to build it again. If we can see the collapse of cultural Christianity as a great evangelical opportunity, then with joy and love we can proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen to the millions of people who now have only debonair nihilism to help them understand the purpose and meaning of their lives.

This was my answer to prayer. This made me feel less guilty about not being infuriated. (Yeah, I felt guilty about not losing it because maybe it meant that I wasn't devoted enough to the law of God.) This gave me...HOPE. And here the Spirit soars. Hope. Joy. Love - authentic love. As we move forward from this monumental day (and it is monumental in our cultural understanding of the nature of man, woman, and humanity), this is the answer. 

Share the joy and hope of Christ. 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Love and serve your neighbor in humility.
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:42-45

Remember that we are not victims, and fear of the future is not from God.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

We are missionaries and ambassadors of the Most High. Claim it in love, and remember that love comes with a cross.
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them...So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 20

Always remember that our actions speak far louder than our words.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17

A friend shared this quote today, and it summed up the future for me perfectly.
"Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give." - Cory Booker

The fact is that everything has changed, and nothing has changed all at once. No matter the hurricane around us, we stand firm in He who even the seas obey. No matter the prevailing sentiments of the day, we stand firm in our understanding of who we are designed to be by He who made us. No matter what is thrown at us, we must remain constant in our love for our neighbor. Jesus thirsts for them as He thirsts for us. Let us love first so that we can lead others to Christ. It is Jesus that changes hearts, not us, after all. Let's be sure we are letting Him direct ours and conform it to His. 

Want to know a secret? This is my prayer at every confession and before receiving the Eucharist. Take my heart, Lord, and conform it to Yours. It belongs to You. Lead me and transform me, all I have is Yours. Help me to see everyone as You do. Help me to thirst for them as You do, and to meet all with Love, as You do.

Another secret? I fail miserably, but He dusts me off so I can try again. I've got a feeling there will be a lot of scraped knees as we move forward in this new reality. We will stumble. We will fall. We will give into our temptations to preach and lecture and debate and fear. I know I will. The beautiful thing is that we are not alone in this, so we can remind one another to get up and walk in love and peace and joy instead. 

Go. Preach the Gospel. Serve your neighbor. Let our love be sincere and let us overcome hatred with goodness. Love 'em like Jesus - to the cross and back again...

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