Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Confessions and Mending and the No Filter Life

I sit in the small room on the side of the chapel whispering out all my faults and failings and broken things. It is not at all like I thought it would be. The first opportunity to go to confession in English in half a year. I was anxious to wash away the ugliness inside me. To lay it before God and have Him say "forgiven". I thought it would all tumble out easily, my soul eager to push it all out into the light and watch it fade in Christ's love.

Instead, it is slow. My mouth makes words but they seem a shallow imitation of what lies within. I know my eyes are pleading to be really understood, beyond the halting sighs that say more than what I am managing to make mouth speak.

He looks back at me, the bearded friar priest in the patched and faded frock and says, "When are you planning to make a retreat? I think you need some silence and some space to wrestle some things out with God. Maybe even do a little yelling."

I wonder how it is so obvious, how my vague list of ways my tongue has slipped, ways frustration has made me a person neither I nor Jesus like very much, could lead him right to the heart of the deep things I can not seem to say: the long-lying pains and griefs I have held dormant this year, trying to so hard to serve well and to love well and to live well that there has been no time to risk the hard work of falling apart and being put back together again. The work of mending.

I look at his patched up habit, years of a life of prayer and penance and a vision hard fought for. Years of patched up tears and pricks and rips. I tell myself this is a man who knows a thing or two about being mended. 

I confess the biggest mess of all inside me. "I have not done it. I have rejected intimacy with God because I am a competency addict." I am the one who holds it together at all costs. I am the one who can keep her emotions in check for the sake of getting the job done. I am the one who kindly thanks God for His arms wide open in healing embrace and turns away, pointing out the person who needs Him way more than I do.

I am a sinner who thinks it might just be easier to keep things casual with God, to stay in the kitchen and do the dishes and brew resentment and let someone else sit at His feet and be loved and know mercy.

Easier to trip constantly on the torn hem of my soul than stop to stitch it back up. Easier to let my skin prickle with the cold that enters through the rips and tears of my heart than to patch them up with new mercies.

Suddenly I am saying this thing I didn't know I needed to say: "Sometimes I feel like my relationship with God is that marriage that everyone else knows is falling apart while the wife walks around pretending it is perfect." I don't know whether the laugh that follows is because I don't want him to think I am being too dramatic, or because I am terrified by what I have just said.

He gazes long and steady, ignores both my laugh and my discomfort, and asks if I know how serious that is, what I have just said. Asks what my plan is to be honest with myself and with God. Tells me it is time.

Time to take care of myself. Not the grab a friend for coffee and pedicure variety of taking care of myself. More like make life take a hard stop while I meet Him in the wilderness and let Him stare at me at long until He finally says, "So? What's going in there, love?"

And then I answer Him honestly.

And I feel like I have been in a dark room and suddenly stepped into the sun. It feels good and warm but it hurts my eyes and I am squinting in the glare.

And then I am bowing my head and accepting forgiveness for the things I said that were not really the thing at all and trying to breathe through to the other side of the fact that he is right and He is waiting and I won't get off of this one easily.

There are no tears this night, nothing breaks open inside me and brings quick, easy relief the way I wish it would. There is just a quiet, resigned awareness. I have work to do.

The work of laying aside the work to lay myself bare before the Lover of my Soul. Not busy work but eternal work. 

I step out from the small room knowing deep inside that the time has come. I have been willingly walking in the shadows of the cross but afraid to stand in the light of the resurrection. I have made myself busy doing because being is more than I can bear.

I have longed to be KNOWN but only through my own preset filters. It is time to embrace the no filter life of grace. The place where I don't try to tidy up before His arrival, correct the shades and shadows of my soul, make it polished and pretty and publishable.

The months lay ahead of me and I am crafting a plan to find the prescribed space to wrestle and heal. But I know I cannot wait for that moment, that here, now, it is time to begin.

I kneel slowly before Him and sigh long. Then slide to the floor to sit at His feet. I look at myself through the lens of my mind and refuse to try to make the scene prettier.

This is my no filter life and I am going to live it.

mending bag phase 1 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 artethgray, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Glance Is Not Enough

The Grove - Grief
The ladies of Velvet Ashes are talking grief this week. Join us?

So grief. If you have read here at all, you're probably pretty aware that grief is a topic near, if not dear, to my heart. It tends to creep its way into my reflecting, my writing, my experiences. It makes me vulnerable and I often feel a little embarrassed that it plays such a huge part in my story. 

As a matter of fact, I wasn't going to write this week. I was going to slide an old post on grief in to the link up and join the conversation and declare myself grieving but all good. Which I mostly am right now.

But that's the thing about grief. I've said it a million times. Grief is a fickle, unpredictable friend. She rips you open to make a space for herself in your soul without asking your permission. She shouts so loud at times the rest of your life goes mute. Sometimes she prefers to play hide and seek, lurking in the dark corners and keeping you on edge for the moment she jumps out and startles you. Sometimes she just thumps a constant beat in your heart that irritates you until anger rises and spills out. And it often seems grief spends her days scraping you from the inside out with sand paper. Leaving you raw and sensitive to touch and feeling way too vulnerable for your own comfort.

We live grief in stages, that is well-documented. But I don't think we talk often enough about the difference between acute grief, the expected grief that follows an obvious loss, and chronic grief, the grief that builds up over a lifetime of losses, both great and small. The grief that is the lasting pain after a tragedy, the grief that is the cumulative pain of our brokenness, failed expectations, silent hurts and hard good-byes.

I feel like I have lived dogged by grief for a very long time now, her always at my heels, jumping and nipping at me. I have had great losses. The most profound being the tragic death of my son. But there have also been four miscarriages, the loss of my father, of my mother-in-law, and my older brother. Countless aunts and uncles who were big players in my story.

There have been job losses and financial failures and a life that has often not looked like the one I dreamed I'd live. There have been lots of hard goodbyes and friendships strained and wrong things said.

And they all add up to a burden of chronic grief that would easily threaten to turn from a dog at my heels to a wolf that would devour me if I let it. But I cannot let it. Because I believe the pain of the cross and the darkness of death are only gateways to the triumph of the resurrection and the crown of glory. And I must bear them until they are dissolved into eternity. An eternity where pain and death and sadness are lost in glory and every tear is wiped away.

But the question I am asking myself today is do I live like I believe that? 

I read a blog post totally unrelated to grief today, but the point at the end will not let me go. The blogger (I followed at tweet I cannot seem to backtrack, sadly) asked at the end of his post, "Are we only glancing at heaven while we live with our eyes on this world?"

And I can't stop asking it of myself. Because, friends, in this life of grief, whatever yours may be, there is one thing of which I am sure. A glance is not enough.

We will never bear this burden well, never find grace and tender mercy in the ache of grief, never find our footing and get back up when the cross drags us down with it, if we are only glancing at eternity when the skies darken with gloom or when we have a question to ask.

We have to live with eyes on eternity eternally. We have to adore God to find Easter in the clang of the nails. Adore. Is it even possible to glance at someone adoringly? No. Adoration is about absorption. We are wrapped up in someone when we adore. We are taken. We gaze, not glance.

We have to keep our gaze on eternity and long for heaven if we are to make it out of the grief of this world with grace still on our side and headed to something better. And even on my pretty good, I'm mostly all right day, I do so long to be headed for something better.

We are committed to spending an hour a day gazing on God's presence in the Blessed Sacrament in silent adoration. I admit I have faltered in being convinced this is a necessary commitment. Often regarding it as a worthwhile discipline, which it definitely is, but stopping short of giving myself over to it as necessary.

But as I turned this question around today, I felt a certainty rise within me. A glance is not enough. It is necessary to gaze upon the Lord, with our eyes fixed on heaven. We will not escape the scrape of grief in this life. But we can live through it, redeeming it with grace, growing through the pain. We can find the sacred space between here and heaven in the embrace.

But to do so, we must keep our eyes fixed on eternity. A glance is not enough.

Shoreditch street art from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Berit WatkinFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Help Them Do a Little Good This Summer

It’s summer time and the living is easy. Well. if you’re a mom that is probably not exactly true. But at the very least, the slower routines of summer can offer us time to really invest in our kids and be intentional about the way we spend our time with them.
One glance at Pinterest and you would see that the pressure for a mom to create summer fun is heating up. It seems the world is demanding a certain level of summer perfection from us moms. And insisting that it is what our kids most need to be happy.
Can I ask you to take a deep breath for just a minute while I gently let you off the hook? 
Read the rest over at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

3 Things the World Cup Has Taught Me About Raising Boys

So, I'm going to admit that I am kind of a fair weather soccer fan. Or at least I used to be. We have always been a football (not futbol) family. I am an avid (sometimes rabid) watcher of NCAA and NFL football. My boys played football. I was a crazy football mom. But, that, friends, was life in 'Murica.

Costa Rica has been turning us. Slowly. Until now. I do believe what started out as a bit half-hearted has been fully converted by this World Cup and Costa Rica's historic performance. And the ensuing mania in our right-now country which we have enjoyed immensely.

But as I have been watching these matches (see that, using proper lingo and all) closely, I have learned a thing or two. Or three. They have nothing to do with soccer. They are lessons from the men on the field. And they are showing me a thing or two about how to raise little men.

Here are three take-aways on raising boys I have learned from the watching the first round of World Cup play:

From the players: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing with excellence. Appearance is a key aspect of excellence. You guys, these men are not playing a game out there. They are sacrificing life and limb in the pursuit of excellence. They have form. They have technique. They have heart. They have training. They have teamwork. All things any mom of boys would easily list as key aspects of character that must be formed in boys for them to become men of honor and know success. But they have other things too, these men of excellence. They have hair. And tattoos. And neon cleats. And these things are important. Apparently. whether you choose to sport long Latin curls, mounds of blonde dread locks, or a shiny bald noggin has something to do with the way you are perceived by team mates, coaches, and opponents. Apparently too, the brightness of shoes affects ow hard and how accurate you can kick the ball. Or at least how hard you think you can kick the ball. For a long time, my house was filled boys who saw underwear and cowboy boots as high fashion. Who liked to run each other's buzz cuts for fun. Suddenly, these boy-men are very concerned about brands of shoes and hair gel and who is going to cut their hair and whether that person is capable of making their bangs flip just right. They each have a favored color scheme and style. I forget whose is whose. I can't keep up with brands of gel and the preferred scent of Axe body spray. And I was kind of blowing them off with a "what does it all matter, you're boys" attitude. Until World Cup. Now I know it matters. Very much. I am not quite sure what it is these boy-men will pursue excellence at, but I know it will matter that they appear to already be excellent at it. To them and to the people around them. We might not be rushing out to buy neon cleats just yet, but I will be a bit more cheerful about restocking the hair gel and Axe supply now.

From the coaches: Just because you have to wear a suit to work, it doesn't mean you can't be passionate about what you do. You guys, soccer coaches wear suits. On the field. During the game. And they jump and scream and sometimes spit in them. Their ties stick to their sweaty necks and threaten to strangle them. They squat and I fear for what we might all end up seeing with a little deeper bend. But they do their jobs. And they do them with passion. We tend to treat men's careers sometimes like the thing they must do to keep their families from starving to death. The thing that they really hate and so morosely and tragically to keep the light bill paid. The suits they don heroically while they sacrifice their souls for the greater good. This is not my hope for my sons. I want them to be able to support a family, sure. But I also want them to find a means to do it that, while it might require sacrifice (as all good things do), they can love, be passionate about, and be comfortable with. I want their suits to be a sign of pride in the role they play, not a prison sentence. They might not become soccer coaches, but they can certainly get excited enough about whatever it is they are doing that they sweat a little, their cheeks flush and their ties get a little befuddled. As a matter of fact, I think it might be time to practice a little tie tying style around these parts.

From the referees: Boys fight a lot. It doesn't always require your intervention. Boys are competitive. They want to win. At everything. They express themselves physically. They push. They shove. They grab shirts. They break the rules of the game and, sometimes, the rules of common human decency. Sometimes, they can shock with their ability to forget all you have ever taught them about decency. Sometimes, they bite. Often, the counter attack to these ferocious advances is dramatic and involves much flailing, rolling on the ground and fake tears. Sometimes, they try to divert your attention from your wrong by waving their arms wildly while they look askance at you waiting for you to do something. You are not required to intervene. If you stare back stoically, or better yet, just keep running and going about your business, 8 times out of 10, they will miraculously rise from their injuries unscathed and get back in the game. Also, consistency is optional. When you choose to enter the fray and enforce the rules is completely up to you. And everyone respects that. Even if they get in your face and try to tell you otherwise. Also, if you have sons, get yourself some little yellow cards. They apparently have magical powers that stop fighting boys in their tracks. And I think from this point forward in this house, we shall resolve penalties by lining up the offenders and allowing the injured to kick a ball straight at them as hard as possible. Maybe we will need those neon cleats after all.

P.S. If you have not been following my friend Elizabeth's son Michael's coverage of the Cup at USA Today, you are really missing out on half the fun. We will charm you and maybe even make you a bonafide soccer fan.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Letters to Emma (and Her Friends): On Crucifying Missionaries

Oh Sweet Emma,

Just a few short days and you will be back in my mountains with me! You have worked so hard and waited long to get back and I am so, so proud of your whole team. You have claimed the identity of missionary and made it part of your daily lives, not just a once a year adventure. You have formed yourselves and studied and learned and taken charge of the work you will do here in an exemplary way. You are bringing us back our beloved Friars to bolster us and inspire us and bring us joy. Gift, I tell you, Emma, you are gift.

And because you are so and I hold your heart so dear, and you are almost here, I am going to share with you today the very best piece of advice anyone has ever given me about being a good missionary. It was this: " Crucify the imaginary missionary in your head." Stay with me here, I am going to make this make sense.

Emma, in our planning and preparing, and especially in these days as you pack and its becomes real that you are on your way back, I bet you are building big dreams and high hopes. I want you to dream and hope big, sweet girl, because I am utterly certain that our great big God has a great big plan for your time here.

But, you and me, Emma, we have a little issue with dreaming big. When we hope high, we build the foundation on expectations. And our expectations are high. We expect big things of God. We expect big things of others. We expect even bigger things of ourselves.

We are good at vision. I am sure by now you have imagined in great detail the smiling faces of children, the sound of your voice ringing out in a little mountain chapel, the sun shining as you walk dirt roads, misty mountain mornings with your Bible and your journal and a new song rising in your heart.

Of course you have. Which of us girls with the spark inside wouldn't have?

There's only one itty bitty problem with those dreams, Emma. We spark girls, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves with our expectations. We tend to shoulder the responsibility for making them a reality.

And, Emma, don't be discouraged when I say this hard, true thing. It won't be like you imagined, this trip. It will be real, and so, so good. But it won't measure up to your expectations. You won't measure up to your expectations.

It's going to rain when you most wanted the sun to shine. You are going to get here and feel sad, alone, sick, or, worst of all, nothing. Your voice is going to crack and the prayers aren't going to come. People are going to care more about soccer than what you put your heart into planning. Maybe. Or maybe it will be something else all together that sullies your perfect dreams and pretty imaginings for this trip. But something will, dear one. It is the one thing you can count on.

And you are reading right now and I know what you are thinking. "I know that already. I am good. God is in control. It will be what He wants it to be." And you are right.

Because those expectations are just the tip of the iceberg, Em. The thing that happens next is the destructive force that takes down so many good ones. One that has almost steam rolled me right off my little missionary mountain more than once. It is this.

All of sudden, as expectations crash and you adapt and you make way for God to move, there will be a moment when the mission may not be what you dreamed it to be and you will be okay with that. But a worse thing will happen. You will find yourself not being the missionary you dreamed of being. 

You will be irritable and angry when you know you should be peaceful and kind. You will want to be peaceful and kind, and you will not be able to will yourself to do it. You will want out. Away from the very people you most dreamed of enjoying this experience with. The spotlight will shine on you and you will hate how you look in its glare. The pressure you have built up in your hoping and dreaming will boil hot inside you.

And you will be angry. Not at God. Not at everyone else. Not at the world. (Although they all might get caught in the crossfires.) But at yourself. At the missionary you thought you would be who, for some reason, decided not to show up when you most needed her. You will find it hard to accept that the adaptable, sweet, healthy, fun dream Emma stayed at home and this stranger you never met in you dreams came along instead. And she's not a very fun traveling companion.

If you fuel that beast, Emma, pretty soon you will be quite certain you should not be here at all. Quite certain you were completely silly and ignorant to think you ever could have had a missionary calling in the first place. Quite sure that there is no way God could want to use you in your ugliness and your brokenness. And even a little unsure whether He could possibly love a person who does this over and over again no matter how hard she works to shore herself up against it.

And then you will want out. You will be tempted to want to give up, give in and go home. And that would be an awful place to find yourself. Ask me how I know, Emma, ask me how I know.

This is when that odd little piece of advice starts to make sense. Don't try to leave behind the imperfect, broken Emma when you are packing, dear girl. God loves that girl. The real Emma. With all her gifts and glitches and messes and misses and missionary dreams. That's the girl He wants to use.

The other one? The imaginary perfect missionary Emma? Go ahead and leave her behind. As a matter of fact, in order to make sure she doesn't sneak her way in (she's a creeper, that one), go ahead and take that advice I offered at the beginning. Crucify her.

Pin all your hopes and dreams and perfectionist tendencies and expectations and pressures to the cross, Emma. And leave them there. In the suffering, triumphant arms of Jesus. Hand your Savior complex over to the real Savior and come with empty hands, ready to receive.

That, dear one, is the way to be the very best missionary you can be. That is the girl I want to hug hard and tight upon her arrival and spend the week with. So pack her up and get her ready. We are waiting, me and Him.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FMF: Release

It comes creeping, slow and quiet at first. I think I should probably recognize it by now but I usually don't at the outset. It seems a small thing: a little pang, a sudden desire.

Coke becomes a need on a hectic afternoon. Snickers bars seems an all too irresistible reward for the trials and sacrifices of this life I live.

Just small things.

Suddenly, I find myself not able to shut my eyes at night and re-reading social media feeds like they might suddenly bear earth-shattering news. Watching my inbox like a hawk for bold black print. Waiting for just one more little red number.

Just a little more.

Then I am spending an hour filling a virtual shopping cart with pretty things I cannot have and cursing at my closet the next morning. I am cringing at my figure in the mirror and thinking it would all be well if I picked up new earrings or had a little time to myself or splurged on a pedicure.

If I got something more than I already have.

If I just consumed more.

And suddenly a not-so-bad need for the warm embrace of something familiar, something comforting, something soothing has bred and warped into the compulsion to consume, to fill.

And I am begging for release from its grips and cursing the weeds that have grown from the very seeds I planted and watered in my own soul.

Release me, Lord. Release from this hunger. Release me from the need. Release me from the want, from the discontent and the not enough and the do I even matter at all. Release me.

And I have to look at it face on and call it once again what it really is: the ugly straying of my wild and wandering heart.

I struggle free once again from its bonds and tether myself back to Him. The only One in whose embrace I am full, and warm, and comfortable and fully known.

Released and free. In His grasp.

Five Minute Friday
Linking up at this week's FMF party.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let Us Long (and Keep Trying)

You know that person in your church who refuses to stop being a newcomer, no matter how long it has been? The one you've been kind and warm and welcoming to over and over again? The one you've invited to bible study and to coffee and who still feels stiff and distant and like a foreigner and a sojourner in your community? The one you've probably been frustrated with for her refusal to just fit in and feel at home already?

I get her.

I've been going to Mass in Spanish for nearly three years. I understand the readings and the homily now. I can rattle the responses smoothly across my tongue and keep up with everyone else. I know when they kneel and when they stand (it's different).

I am no longer new at this.

I walk into our church and it is familiar. People smile and hug us. They ask how we have been. We know them. They have had us for coffee or shaken our hands in the streets or sold us our tomatoes.

I am not a stranger here.

But I am a foreigner. And it still feels foreign to me. And despite all that I said above, I still struggle to feel part of the community of the Church. I feel lost and lonely in our crowded Church on a Sunday. And I long for the place that feels like home.

I long for friends who know my story, my history. Not only familiar faces in the pews, but the faces of people who KNOW me. I long for the songs I like to sing and the smell of my favorite incense and the way "they" do it.

I long for the Church that felt like home. Even though it was never actually home and hasn't been for a long time. 

And I don't mean that I am not grateful for all the ways people have tried to welcome and include us and make us feel as home. I am. I so am. But I don't. I don't feel at home yet and I don't know when I will. And I need them to be patient with me.

And let me long. For all the things mentioned above and the deeper spiritual context for them all.

And then I need them to keep trying. Because I don't mean to be stuck here and I too hope for the day it "clicks" and I suddenly blend in and feel like I belong. And you never know just which thousandth smile will do the trick.

So, if you are the one trying so hard to make those of us still sitting on the fringes of your Church feel welcome and at home here, can I ask you a huge favor?

Will you let us long for what we miss? Not hurry us into a home we are not ready to claim just yet?

But will you keep trying? And know we appreciate it and we are working on it?

Thank you.

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (Ephesians 2: 19-22 MSG)