Friends, I know our days are so inconsistent right now. It seems that if we find a rhythm, the next day it changes. Ugh! Or maybe there is some consistency we are feeling, like anxiety, sadness, worry. What are we to do?
God invited me this week to make a list of what is consistent in my life right now. What will be the same tomorrow when I wake up?
1. God is Love.
2. The love of my family.
3. Chocolate pb cups are the yummiest.
4. The sun rising and setting.
5. The comfort of a cup of tea.
I wrote down my list and have it posted on the window above my kitchen sink so I can be reminded over and over what is going to be the same tomorrow.
What’s on your list?
Today the world’s problems got too big for my heart to handle. Up until this point I’ve been able to keep a “safe” distance to not get overwhelmed with all that is transpiring outside my house. But then I saw a post from a friend down in Guatemala. Last fall God invited me to take a trip with him to meet my brothers and sisters living in Guatemala who are considered among the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. It seems that this pandemic will threaten to push the rich and the poor further from one another.
While in Guatemala I visited the garbage dump in Guatemala City that thousands call home and even more call their place of work. Their government has decided in the wake of the coronavirus to shut the dump, and I understand for good reason, but this also means 30,000 people, who already barely eke out a day’s wages for their family to live on are now without work. Let that sink in, 30,000 people. Walking through the cities of this beautiful country I met more folks, mostly women and children, who earn their life wages selling on the street corners. With everyone in quarantine right now their ability to work has dried up too. I know in my own community and country the unemployment rate is climbing to frightening rates but what happens when unemployment meets those that are already vulnerable impoverished people like my friends in Guatemala?
Upon reading this news my heart started to race. What can I do to help? How can I fix something this big? As my anxiety flared up I retreated to my sacred spot, where God and I go to talk together. I cried with him and pleaded what can I do? I’m a helper and an idealist by nature, my desire is to fix what is broken around me but this often means I can get a savior complex, quick. As I looked at the magnitude of the world’s problems feeling guilty that I couldn’t do more God scooped me up and whispered in my ear, “I got this.”
I am thankful that my heart is learning more and more to listen to his gentle voice that tells me I’m already enough. The guilt and anxiety that was starting to crush me made me blind to how I am helping and loving right now in my own home and community in the ways that I can. Fear would desire us to see our efforts as small and therefore meaningless but God says each act of love is huge and impacts his kingdom. Having a dance party with my kids to alleviate their stress is huge. Painting little rocks to place around our neighborhood for our neighbors to find is huge. Being intentional about staying in touch with family and friends to listen and stay connected is huge. Picturing my friends in Guatemala in my heart so I can pray for them, lament with them and share their story is huge. Writing every time I feel an invitation from the Lord to share what’s on my heart with all of you is huge. He showed me that the list goes on and on. The plight of 30,000 people felt too big for me and guess what, it was, but I don’t take on that plight, God does because he’s big enough. I will love here and now how I can and how I am called to.
When Jesus’ disciples were about to face a situation that was going to be too big for them Jesus gave them these words. May they resonate in your heart when fear, anxiety, and guilt try to crush out his gentle voice to you.
“I’ve said these things to you so that you can have peace in me. You’ll have trouble in the world. But cheer up! I have defeated the world!” ~John 16:33
I discovered The Prayer of St. Francis about a year ago. It has begun to reorient my heart as I pray it each day. The words have been especially pertinent as of lately. Perhaps it will guide you today too.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Home has been near and dear to my heart for over ten years now when I made a shift in job title and became a Stay at Home Mom. My primary place of work became my primary place of living and so the idea of home took on new meaning in my life. I began to view home as more than a place to eat and sleep and to see a bigger view of what was going on in my four walls. As I learned at the feet of “Mama Sally” Clarkson and others, God invited me not just to care for my children but to live out the cultural mandate and cultivate creation through my home.
Home is what forms us, nurtures us and inspires us, into who we are and who we will become.
The art on the walls of my home, whether created by little hands or those of a seasoned artist, is no longer merely placeholders on a blank wall but cultivate beauty, evoking feelings and thought to inspire. The furniture that fills a room is selected in a way that honors who made it and how it was made to welcome all that sit upon it to find rest after a long day or spurn the imagination of a child to become a boat or a fort of epic tales. The morning routines we form as a family in our home aren’t just about getting out of the door on time, but preparing us and strengthening us for what we will be invited into. And the list goes on and on as each object, each tradition, weaves into the fabric of our being.
For me, this picture of home has been lived out in a very small way, for me and my family, but after traveling thousands of miles south to the country of Guatemala and being invited into so many countless homes there I saw the universality of this theme of home come alive. Homes exist all over the world because the human race has multiplied and filled the world. So though I entered homes of different sizes and shapes and locations, each was filled with the same themes of Belonging, Love, Beauty, Joy, Lament, Comfort, Celebration, Inspiration and on and on.
I realized the importance of welcoming others into my home to learn who I am and traveling to others homes to learn who they are, whether it be my neighbor down the street or my neighbor in another part of the world. To enter someone’s home is learn who they are since it is the place that has shaped them. In it, I learn my neighbor, though their home is unique to them and mine to me, is not so very different at the foundation. I appreciate them for who they are and the story their life tells and I see how our homes together more fully depict God’s kingdom here on earth.
May home take on a deeper meaning in all our lives. Our home will shape us, whether we see it or not so may we be purposeful and thoughtful in the way we approach it. May we be intentional about getting to know other people’s homes so we can get to know them better. Look for the universal themes and foundations that shape each of us and open wide the arms of your home to receive all.
A shift has slowly been taking place in my perspective of life. When I was younger, I was proud and naive and relied much on my own self-righteousness. Of course, this youthful way of life shrouded my ability to see my own pride especially because there was no outright malicious intent in my actions I believed, but they were selfish none the less. I thought and acted in a way meant to glorify God and of course, his grace was always to love me and bless what little I offered him of myself, but I’m thankful that he didn’t leave me in this state.
The ego breaks down at some point and we are all faced with a mirror, will I continue to keep living this way or will I put my hope into something else, a life promised to each of us, but we realize will not come about on our own efforts. Jesus’ words that if we try to save our own life we will lose it, but if we choose to lose our life, for his sake, we will live, begins to take on a whole new meaning, and slowly, slowly, the ego drowns in the fount of baptism and we begin to emerge into the true life.
Before my ego fell I remember reading Ann Voskamp’s words of a life of gratitude, the Eucharistic life and thinking if I just start keeping a daily journal of gratitude then I will transform. It helped for a time of course but my efforts lost their steam. Now, I take in the Eucharist every time it’s offered to me, drinking and eating it up. I’m learning the fullness and richness of a Eucharistic life now, not because I did something but because I’m making space and communion with the Eucharist itself, and he, in turn, is transforming me so that my actions are becoming his actions. What a different way to approach this life.
Before my ego fell, my heart ached with the word “present”, to be present in the current moment of my life and to be present to the Presence. Again I read words of great saints who lived this life I puzzled to learn their secrets but not much was revealed or changed so that longing for presence sat inside of me for years. You see before I was preoccupied by what was next, whether a small mundane task or the grander plans of life. I said it was so I wouldn’t squander a moment or the gifts and talents given to me but ego once again shrouded the real reasons. Really, I sought my own fame and the glory the accolades I would receive to feed my inner god. Then the shroud fell and I was forced to confess my own sinful nature to myself. It doesn’t seem like much but the more and more I sit in this humble state of confession, repeating the Our Father over and over, I make room for the Presence in my life and he shifts my perspective onto the present. The funny thing, I didn’t try to do this on my own, nor was I aware of it. God graciously pointed it out to me through my dear Spiritual Director.
I look back now and am so grateful for the perspective of time. Before I thought if I could just read a book or intently study the Scripture or put into place new habits and disciplines I would bring about my transformation. These things did produce beautiful fruit in my life but still, that veil existed and I was blind that my own pursuits which mostly came from my self-will which would only take transformation so far. This is the state of our youthful, dare I say, adolescent mind state, which puts ego in the center and allows the Pharisaical mindset to dominate.
I encourage you if you’re tired of doing things your way, thinking they are God’s way and you’re coming up short, don’t be afraid to face the mirror and try something new, something different. Many will walk away from the mirror and try a little harder or try something different but I promise it will all lead back to the same roadblock. To truly live, do as Jesus instructed and lose your life. Sit with God and ask him how. Sitting in silence and solitude is the start and it is the end of a life well-lived in love.
It’s been a month of sad news, almost daily it seems. The unexpected death of a dear, sweet man, who came back from the pit of death once before only to be led there once again, far too soon. A young woman who’s womb will no longer be able to bear life as she and her family wait with bated breath hoping her one child will live. A mother and father who wait vigilant at their young son’s bedside, a little boy younger than mine, who is battling for his life. The solemn words, “stage 4” that punch you in the gut when they are uttered and wondering what the journey will be ahead. A young woman’s life, who on the outside is articulate, strong, hospitable and full of love, but who’s heart on the inside is weighed down with grief and despair that is too hard to carry on anymore. And for me, saying goodbye to yet another dear friend, and all this news stirring up the grief I have borne myself over these last years.
How is it with my soul? I feel sorrow and I mourn. The pain and brokenness of this life felt acutely on the surface. And I cry out as the Psalmist did, why O Lord, why?
I sat with Psalm 139 today. It’s words familiar and safe, a warm blanket to wrap around a tired soul. God’s answer to my why, today and every day, look up dear child, look up and know that I AM. When the days seem dark, they are light to me. When you do not know, I have already written it. When you don’t even know yourself, I formed you when you were nothing, knitting every detail together into a wonderful work, a person of beauty. I AM.
Lately, I’ve been embracing the word mystery. To embrace mystery means to let go of control. To embrace mystery means to sink deeper into Love. To embrace mystery means to plant myself more strongly onto the foundation of Hope. To embrace mystery is to trust.
“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them–they are more than the sand;
I come to the end–I am still with you.”
At bedtime tonight:
“Mommy, I lied three times today.”
“Why do you think you did that sweetie?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mommy, do you think I should talk to God and ask him to forgive me?”
“Yea buddy, I think you should.”
At the end of his prayer, I got the awesome privilege of reminding him again that God is just and forgiving and full of unending love.
I’m a perfectionist by nature, so admitting when I make a mistake when I sin can be really, really hard. Over the last year, it’s something God and I have been working on together. It’s hard to confess and say, yea, I messed up that one, I’m sorry. But giving myself permission to confess, to ask forgiveness from another, from myself, from God gives me a release from the guilt and shame that pervaded my heart before. When we accept forgiveness, really open our hearts and receive, then we can move on in life and not be chained down by the inner critic that berates us.
My religious background is not of the Catholic background so I might be butchering this one but sometimes I think they have this whole confession thing right. Having the freedom to go to another human being and say I screwed up without any judgment and then to be reminded by them that God loves me before I screwed up, while I was screwing up and after I screwed up must be a balm to your soul. The more I put into practice first forgiving myself and then receiving it from another I let go of the guilt and make room for the love. And that love, well it only multiples from there.
At this next step in my journey with God I am learning more and more about his love, a love that was always there but I was unable to see and experience. A love that remembers that I am dust, that I am created in love and that I will always be loved beyond measure, not because of what I do (or didn’t do), but because of whose I am. By learning that there is freedom in confession I am opening my life to new possibilities and to grow into the kind of person that can more fully love God and love my neighbor as myself. When I’m not harping on myself over all the mistakes I make, I’m less critical of others mistakes, quick to forgive myself and quick to forgive them. Perhaps this is one way that helps us to have the eyes of compassion that Jesus was always so quick to bestow.
May we be quicker to say I sinned.
Thank you for your love.
Last week we celebrated Mother’s Day here in the US. Typically a day spent lavishing mom with accolades, thanksgiving, and gifts to praise her for the wonderful hard work she puts in day and day out living out her role as mom. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those accolades, especially as someone who thrives on encouragement in life in order to keep fighting the good fight, but more often than not, especially on Mother’s Day I find myself typically pondering the gift motherhood has brought into my own life.
So many gifts, where to begin? I suppose at the beginning, at conception. I began to learn then that motherhood would be an opportunity for me to learn more about myself, provide this emotional and spiritual connection to parts of me that were once closed off. During my first pregnancy, I found myself fearful at times and not able to fully live into the joy and excitement that the anticipation of a new life could bring. This fear was new to me and one day I took the courage to sit with it in the presence of God. I asked that scared side of me to come out so I could know it better and I was startled at the wash of emotion that came over me. For the first time in my life it was revealed to me my need to control life and to put in the effort on my part to control the outcome that came my way. God gently showed me that life is in his hands, this baby’s life and my life and would I trust him, fully trust? If this baby’s life were to end that day, the next or 100 years from now, he would still be God and his love would not waiver so I could stand each day on that hope.
God continued (and continues) to reveal his steadfast nature to me through motherhood. When I held my newborn child for the first time and that overwhelming love welled up from somewhere inside I was overcome. And somehow, magically it happens each and every time God gifts us with another child. As I snuggle and nurse and breathe in the beauty that is my child I realized that this is only a tiny fraction of the love that God feels for me, his child. The words I speak over my children to describe God’s love to them, “God loves you because you are his. Not because of what you do, but because you are precious to him, always,” begin to sink deeper into my own heart because of my reflection of love that I have for my own children. God loves me because I am his precious child and I am his.
As the years of motherhood stretch on God continues to reveal more of my sin nature to me through these little mirrors of self that are walking around with me every day. My kids will develop a pattern of saying something that I just don’t like, where did they get that from? Oh, me. I never realized what an angry person I can become when I feel out of control of a situation, but enter in a child who loves to push the boundaries and that anger just rises to the top to rear it’s ugly head over and over again. We want more for our kids, to send them off into the world to give away kindness and hope and love and I know those patterns must start in our home so once again I must sit with God to coax out into the light all those default, sinful ways, the thorns that have been for years choking out seed that God wants to flourish in my heart. God can only heal that which is in the light.
It’s important along the way of this parenting journey to read books about child behavior and how-to’s, but I have found that the greatest parenting tool is in surrendering my heart to God, letting his light heal these parts me that through parenting have been revealed to me and transform me little by little into the unique expression of the likeness of him I meant to become. As I am transformed into that person then I can give it away, live it as an example to my kids. When my boundary pusher pushes, instead of offering him yelling and anger in response, I can give him a gentle answer, which always turns away wrath, and a hug of understanding. Instead of telling my kids to obey because I said so, I can look to them as individuals, offer them patience and study the unique way to nurture each of them, to cultivate the soil of their hearts so their future might bring fewer thorns and more fertile ground for the word of God to yield crops, 10, 20, 100 fold what is planted over the years in their heart.
Motherhood has given me a long-term view of life. It’s not just about who they are now, it’s about who they will become and same is true for me. So I find the fruit of patience and mostly grace being my default these days. I’m only into this motherhood thing for eight years now and I know I have a lot more to glean from it, but I’m thankful for the trajectory I’ve started on, thankful that I have my kids with me along the way, as we all learn about forgiveness and grace and love together. I love those little people, because they are his, and they are a beautiful gift in my life.
Do you ever feel prompted by God to do something and yet you hesitate before you act? I’ll get these thoughts that pop into my head that seem so crazy to myself that I can only imagine that they’ve come from a prompting of the Spirit. Usually, my immediate response is no way am I going to do that. It would be out of the ordinary and awkward. How would the other person feel?
But then I start thinking, well was that of God? And if it was shouldn’t I respond immediately in obedience no matter how it makes me feel and how I think the other person will feel? Obedience to God should be immediate and is a sign of our love for him (John 14:23). Maybe it’s a sign too of my transformation into the person I should be not the person I already am who’s first thought is one of selfishness.
I remember one time when I acted on one of these promptings. I was driving my son to preschool and we had had a big snow a couple of days before. Snow was piled up high everywhere, especially the sidewalks that were public domain and had not been attended to yet. There were a few families in my son’s class that lived in the apartment buildings down the street. They had immigrated here from India and the wives did not drive, so every school day they loaded their kids in strollers and walked the mile or so down a busy street to get their children there.
On this day with all the snow, I drove by and saw one mom struggling to get her, her daughter and their stroller down the road. Because the snow had not been completely cleared she was going to have to walk on the busy street in portions. As I drove on it was clear that her journey was going to be no easier up ahead. Immediately a thought popped into my head, you pick them up.
Well, then the excuses started. “I only have a small car and no extra car seat.” Easy, drop off your son and then go back for them. They’ll still be there struggling away. “Hmm, well, is that culturally ok, what will this woman from India, who barely knows English think of my gesture and will this all just be too awkward for her?” Don’t answer for someone else, just offer and let her decide.
My excuses ran out and I realized that I needed to just act. God didn’t care what the other person’s response was, he cared what my response was, and it needed to be one of obedience. After I dropped my son off I told myself that if I saw them still along the road, I would stop. It didn’t take long down the road to see them, this time on the opposite side of the road still trying slowly to make their way.
Well I pulled over, it was easier now since they had crossed the road, and I got out of my car. “Could I offer you a ride the rest of the way to school? Your daughter could sit in my son’s car seat who I already dropped off and we could put your stroller in the trunk?” Her immediate response, “Oh yes, thank you so much!”
After we loaded back into the car she said that if the sidewalk didn’t clear up soon she was going to just turn around and go home, she didn’t know what else to do. So much gratefulness and relief poured out from her. Later, on my return to the school for pick up, I was devising a plan on how to get her and her daughter home and my family as well. When I arrived she said how grateful she was and that she had already called a taxi to pick them up and take them home.
That day I couldn’t believe how much my actions made such a difference, not just for them, but for me as well. I had finally listened to some hair brain request in my head and didn’t talk myself out of it. I really felt overjoyed at first, excitement bursting out of me after I had dropped them off. And then I was humbled. How many times had I robbed myself of this joy by not acting immediately? What was God trying to do in me and through me that I was preventing and blocking?
I’m still met with these prompts to take action from time to time. I wish I could say that I’m quick to always act but I’m not. The excuses still flow out first and most of the time they are speaking louder than the voice that says go and do, don’t be afraid. I keep the story of the woman and her daughter that wouldn’t have gone to school that day if I hadn’t acted in my heart though and sometimes that memory is louder than the excuses. I remember the difference it made in their life that day, and who knows how many days after that, and I think about the difference I could make at this moment too if I only let God use me, instead of shrinking back. What joy and gratefulness could be felt by all?