Much Will Be Required

I read the following scripture passage yesterday, one that I’ve probably read or heard a bajillion times. It’s the story of Peter and John curing a crippled man and I can’t get it out of my head. It goes as follows:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer. And a man crippled from birth was carried and placed a the gate of the temple called “the Beautiful Gate” every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “look at us.” He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the one who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10 NAB

As I read and reread this passage, I’m struck by the crippled man being healed and the idea that, even though he experienced a miraculous healing and his life was obviously immensely improved, much would now be required of him. Being healed took away the impediments holding him back, but I wonder if this new development also took away a certain level of comfort. I can’t presume to know what the crippled man was thinking or feeling as his life began to unfold in such a new and dramatic way, but when I put myself in the situation I’m left with a lot of fear, if I’m honest.

This healing meant that he would no longer have to beg for alms at the temple. But now he’d have to find work, reintegrate himself into society, essentially come to terms with an entirely new identity. Let me be clear: these things are not bad. Working, contributing to a community, embracing an identity based on Christ, these are all deeply good and holy things. Yet I can’t help but imagine how difficult it would be to navigate these life changes after the miracle. When I put myself in the place of the crippled beggar, of course I am delighted to be healed, yet so wary of everything that is sure to come after.

As I dig deeper into the feelings that this story draws up in me, I’m forced to ask myself, where am I crippled? Where am I in need of healing? Where do I cling to my pain or my crutches, or the mat that I’ve laid on so long that it conforms to my body?

Am I hesitant to claim healing because of what it will require of me, of what I will be asked to give up? Am I letting my fear of the unknown drag me every day to the Beautiful Gate of the internet, the pantry, the world to beg for acceptance that won’t sustain me?

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

Luke 12:48 NAB

Have I become so comfortable in my infirmities, so dependent up on what I know now, that I’m unwilling to trade in my paralysis for the opportunity to run and jump and praise? I wonder.

I think part of my fear is rooted in the idea that maybe I won’t be strong enough to rise to the challenges of adapting to life after healing. That I’m not strong enough to fully give up the things I cling to: the likes, the sugar, the idea that I’m in control and if I do the right things, I’ll be whole.

It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to step out in faith even when I know that the One beckoning me forward is only concerned with my ultimate good. And the truth is, I will never be “enough.” I will never be equipped to do battle with my addictions, dependencies, worldly alliances, or to reconcile my humanity with my call to holiness, at least not on my own. And that’s the point, right?

The crippled man doesn’t get a happily ever after tied up with a bow. He is arrested, along with Peter and John, and put to trial before the Sanhedrin where Peter boldly proclaims the truth of Christ. However, it is on his account that they are all released, as the community knew him and his story well: “…they released them, finding no way to punish them, on account of the people who were all praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been done was over forty years old.” (Acts 4:21 NAB)

Being healed, knowing Christ, being transformed in Him is not a one time event. The crippled man wasn’t healed and then allowed to walk off into the sunset. Much was given him and much was required. The path to holiness is one that we have to keep choosing over and over and over again, knowing full well that more will be asked of us than we think we can give. We aren’t called to a happily ever after, but rather to work out our salvation with fear and trembling even and especially in moments of doubt and fear, trusting that He who tells us to get up and walk will be guiding us on every step of the way.

If you’re like me and can identify with this struggle and the difficulty to trade the battle for control for an alliance with the Holy Spirit, I guess I just want you to know that this is all normal. You’re not alone and, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, I do have faith despite my doubt. I realize my struggle is not due to any failing on the part of God, but due to my fallen nature and my humanity. And that’s okay. God blesses the struggle. There is holiness in admitting that we don’t have it all together and still struggling on toward Him. We don’t always have to get it right and I truly believe that any forward movement toward holiness is honored by Christ, whether that’s a full on run, a stumble, or a crawl. Jesus meets us where we are, as we are, no matter what.

If you’ve never prayed the following prayer, I highly suggest it. I usually follow it up with, “Lord, help my unbelief.”

LITANY OF TRUST

From the belief that I have to earn Your love
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that I am unlovable Deliver me, Jesus.
From the false security
that I have what it takes
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that trusting You
will leave me more destitute

Deliver me, Jesus.
From all suspicion of
Your words and promises

Deliver me, Jesus.
From the rebellion against
childlike dependency on You

Deliver me, Jesus.
From refusals and reluctances
in accepting Your will

Deliver me, Jesus.
From anxiety about the future
Deliver me, Jesus.
From resentment or excessive preoccupation with the past
Deliver me, Jesus.
From restless self-seeking
in the present moment

Deliver me, Jesus.
From disbelief in Your love and presence Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being asked
to give more than I have

Deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my life
has no meaning or worth

Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of what love demands Deliver me, Jesus.
From discouragement

Deliver me, Jesus.

That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me
Jesus, I trust in You.


That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings and transforms me Jesus, I trust in You.

That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You Jesus, I trust in You.
That You are with me in my suffering Jesus, I trust in You.

That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next Jesus, I trust in You.


That You will not leave me orphan, that You are present in Your Church Jesus, I trust in You.

That Your plan is better than anything else
Jesus, I trust in You.


That You always hear me and in Your goodness always respond to me Jesus, I trust in You.

That You give me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others Jesus, I trust in You.


That You give me all the strength I need for what is asked Jesus, I trust in You.

That my life is a gift Jesus, I trust in You.

That You will teach me to trust You

SISTERS OF LIFE
Annunciation Motherhouse 38 Montebello Road Suffern, NY 10901 845.357.3547
sistersoflife.org
Written by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, SV

Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. they attacked me on my day of distress, but the Lord was my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me.

Psalm 18: 17-20
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing is my all time favorite hymn. I sung it to all of my babies and still sing it when they (or I) need a little extra comforting. The entire song is just so good, but my particular favorite phrase is in the second verse: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Many sermons have been preached on the meaning of the word “Ebenezer” so I won’t try to do it justice here, but it comes from 1 Samuel chapter 7. The Israelites are about to do battle against the Philistines, things were looking bad and the Israelites beg Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, to save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8) and so Samuel offers prayer and sacrifice to the Lord. In turn, God “thunders loudly” which throws the Philistines into confusion, allowing the Israelites to have the upper hand and win the day. And then here comes the Ebenezer:

Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah; he named it Ebenezer, explaining, “As far as this place the Lord has been our help.”

1 Samuel 7:12

I love that this tiny little snippet of scripture finds its way into my favorite song, because it’s so remarkable, right? Samuel takes the time to build a monument to God, a physical reminder that in that specific place, God showed His faithfulness to the Israelites. He did not leave them abandoned. He heard them and He rescued them. Moving forward, they could look back at that place, see the huge rock that Samuel placed there, even touch it with their hands and remember that particular instance of God’s presence and grace.

If you look for them, these Ebenezers are all over scripture. There are many monuments built to glorify God and the Psalms particularly serve as reminders. Skimming through, we can hear the voices saying, “Remember when God was faithful to us? Remember when he showed up? Remember that specific time He answered our prayers?”

I often tell my doula clients (and friends, and kids, and myself, and anyone who will listen) that in times of trouble, anxiety, or worry, it is imperative that we remember what’s true. Part of that is remembering who we are. It is imperative that we, like the Israelites, have a strong sense of identity. It is so important that we really own and take on the knowledge that we are the chosen children of God, beloved before all creation, created in His image, out of love, for love. The other part of remembering truth is that we must remember who He is. We need to revisit our own Ebenezers.

When I take the time to look back, to recount God’s work in my life, like the Israelites, it is clear that I have been rescued over and over and over again. God has constantly met me in my loneliness and my uncertainty and given me sure footing. He has redeemed countless desperate situations and dismal mistakes, and revealed Himself to me in undeniable ways. He has been present, a comforter and faithful guide. He has met me in my sorrow, my misunderstanding, my frustration, and my fear. He has steadily loved me for my entire life, slowly revealing Himself to me in a myriad of quiet little ways, gently leading my heart to His.

I know without doubt, that God will redeem our present suffering, that He is working it all for the good of the world and the glory of His name. In this moment, we are like Martha and Mary, wrecked because our brother is dying and wondering why the Lord isn’t moving in the ways we expect Him to move. But I truly believe that, just like Martha and Mary, we will see God’s glory in much bigger ways than we could ever imagine. Tombs will be emptied, we will be pulled out of our graves; new life is coming.

If we take the time to revisit our own Ebenezers we’ll find hope to keep moving forward on to the next battle, hope to sustain us in the war to come. Soon this present suffering will become for us a new Ebenezer, a place where we will erect an even bigger monument, continuing to point heavenward, saying, “Remember that time? Remember God’s grace?”

Truth and Trust

Well, the good news is I think I hit my stride with the whole home school thing. The bad news is I still have my new chin hair. I tried real hard to find my tweezers, desperately ransacked the bathroom cabinets where they’re *supposed* to be before I remembered that I had to throw the tweezers away the other day because a kid was using them to fish for turds in the toilet. Not lying. Wish I was, but I’m not.

So, the next time you see me I’ll probably look like I’m auditioning for Duck Dynasty, but I’mma go with it and embrace the new normal. (It has yet to be determined if my husband will want to embrace this new normal. However, he is a wise, intelligent man, so I think he’ll take what he can get chin hairs not excluded.)

As I settle into this new schedule, new facial hair and all, it’s been amazing to me to look back and see how God has been preparing me for this time. I’m part of a ministry team that leads a women’s retreat every year at our church. This year’s speaker, Amber VanVickle, spoke about suffering and trust. She told us about how she did a challenge once in which she didn’t ask God for anything for an entire month. And the second she said it, my stomach dropped. I instantly knew I had to, needed to try it, and I thought, “Well… shit. I’m going to have to do that.” (Sometimes my response to the Lord tugging at my heart is less than stellar, y’all.)

So that’s what I did for Advent this year. I did not ask the Lord for anything in prayer. There were no requests, no supplication, no demands, nothing. Just me and Jesus and lots of time…because incidentally this was around the same time that I thought I was signing up to do a holy hour in the Adoration and somehow got signed up for a holy two hours. This was also before I had come to terms with the idea that silence before the Lord is an integral part of prayer. I had the blessing of hearing Meg Hunter Kilmer speak at my parish and when asked about how to pray, Meg said, “Silence. You need to sit in silence with God for at least 15 minutes a day.” My response, again, was, “Well, shit.”

Clearly Jesus had work to do on my heart.

What followed was an intense, challenging, beautiful time of me being frustrated with my own distraction and struggling to maintain focus while also trying not to fall asleep in Adoration. And at the same time, I was fighting every urge to ask, ask, ask in prayer.

Important side note: obviously, God wants us to ask things of him. Very specifically in scripture he tells us to knock, seek, ask. But so many times in our asking, we’re not surrendering. In our requesting, we’re actually trying to control or manipulate the situation. At least for me, my prayer life had become more about what I thought was the best solution to the problem and less about fiat and Thy will be done. Letting go of asking meant letting go of control.

When you take away the ability to ask and request, you’re left with only the ability to state and to profess. So my prayer life quickly became statements of trust and truth rather than begging to have my desires fulfilled. My journal entries during this time became less lists of demands and morphed into litanies of truth and surrender:

Jesus, you know my heart. You know my weaknesses and my failings. You know my addictions and sins. Lord, you know the depths of my hurt and all of the spots, the deep places I need healing. Jesus, I know that you are faithful, that you are before all time, and transcend all knowledge and understanding. You are unchangeably good. I believe you are pursuing me, healing me, drawing me out of the walls I’ve put up.

God, I believe you are faithful and you have a plan for me. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that no prayer is ever wasted, no moment unproductive if spent with you. I trust that your will would be done and that you are holding me securely in your hands. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that I will meet you in faithful silence every when it is hard for me. You are real, you are moving, transforming, dwelling, and guiding. You are love. Jesus, I trust in you.

Dec. 1, 2019

God, I don’t know what our future holds, sometimes I’m tempted to listen to fear and the idea that we haven’t suffered any real tragedy so it’s coming, that our future is somehow shadowed and shaky. But I’m reminded of your truth, that even in hardship and worry and storm and draught, you are present. You never change. Your love is constant and so is your mercy. So, whatever the future holds, I know you are holding us. Whatever the tides may bring, I will say yes to the call, your call to me within them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that whatever you’re calling me to, you will equip me and provide for me within that call. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that your ways are not our ways and that is good. Jesus, I trust in you. Trust that you are guiding, protecting, leading, and shepherding all of us. Even when you seem distant, you are there. Even when I’m confused, threatened, and afraid you are there. Jesus, I trust in you. Whatever the next days, the next year bring, I know I am covered in your mercy.

Dec. 15, 2019

I find myself compelled to return to these entries because once again I’m in need of peace. When my heart is troubled, when I’m grasping too much, attempting to control too much the answer, at least for me, is to trust. Trust and truth can do much in the face of fear and anxiety.

The truth is that God has not changed. He is real, He is moving, He is intimately in love with us, and He can redeem all things. All things.

The truth is that sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to really see how Christ pursues our hearts, how he wants to sneak in past our messy, disordered affections and addictions to show us what real satisfaction can be. There is truth and peace resting in his Sacred Heart and he longs for us to make our way there.

The truth is that when I let my dog out early this morning, the birds were still singing. Up before dawn, perched in a dying tree in my back yard, they were singing their hearts out to herald the coming day. They’re still singing and I think there’s a lot to trust in just in that.

St. Joseph

Photo by @seb on Pexels.com

Today is the feast of St. Joseph and I can’t think of a better example for our current situation. Before last year, I dismissed St. Joseph as someone who was rather boring. I mean, he’s important, but I never found him particularly exciting…until he started stalking me.

A year ago, St. Joseph kept showing up everywhere in my life. He turned up in books, in conversation, in emailed devotionals, and internet ads. I ended up getting to know him better and I’ve developed a deep devotion to this quiet, humble, holy man. I completed this consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph right before Christmas and it rocked my understanding of this incredible saint.

The thing I want to touch on today regarding St. Joseph is the idea that humble submission to God’s will is radically transformative.

I found St. Joseph to be boring partially because he never says anything in scripture. But that’s the point. Joseph doesn’t say anything because he is listening. God reveals himself to Joseph through Mary and through dreams. Joseph listens and obeys.

That’s obviously overly simplified. Digging deeper, we can understand that St. Joseph was handed a situation that he never predicted. Mary’s surprise pregnancy was never his radar. It was inconvenient, hard to understand, and difficult to accept. But instead of railing against the situation, instead of fighting, turning to bitterness or resentment, or even just opting out, St. Joseph put himself at the service of the problem. He made the conscious decision to partner with God, to willingly take on the role of protector for the Virgin Mary with all that in entailed, and in doing so his life was radically transformed.

I think it’s important for us to notice that St. Joseph took time to listen to God. It’s so easy to want quick resolutions, to want to hurry up the confusion and rush to a conclusion. But if we slow down and lean into the discomfort, we open ourselves up to hear God speak to our hearts.

Once he discerned God’s will, St. Joseph was all in. He took Mary into his home and embraced a situation that others wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. At the potential cost of his reputation, risking being completely misunderstood and mocked by his contemporaries, Joseph chose God’s will for his life and never turned back.

This partnering with the problem allowed St. Joseph to become co-creator with God and Mary. It allowed him to receive the Son of God into the world in a way that no one in human history can duplicate all because he listened, because he approached his discomfort and confusion with humility and trust of the Father.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, in places or events that are uncomfortable or difficult to understand, may we approach them in the spirit of St. Joseph. May we take time to listen, to slow down, to understand that even when things don’t unfold the way we want them to, it is usually because the Lord has a grander plan for our lives. God’s plan is certain to push us and draw us out of our narrow minded view of things. God’s plan isn’t necessarily safe in the way we’d describe safety in human terms (after all, Joseph fled a murdering king and lived the life of refugee in order to protect the Christ Child), but God’s plan is good.

A good plan from a good God is one that draws us into further holiness, into deeper communion with Him. Jesus promised us suffering, it can’t be denied. But how we live out that suffering is up to us. Will we partner with God in our suffering and allow the discomfort and difficulty to transform our lives? Or will we let the suffering harden us and lead us into submission to fear and anger?

The choice is ours to make.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us!

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.

You Matter

Guys, I’m struggling a lot lately and I know a lot of other people who are, too. It just seems like so many of us can’t catch a break. We don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard. A myriad of big and little hurts has piled up and we can’t catch our breath for the weight of life pressing down on us. This is hard.

 

But here is what I know to be true: We matter. You matter.

 

flowers stock photo

 

Pope Benedict XVI said,

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

 

You are necessary, friend. You are valuable. You were thought up and planned out and you are important.

 

I’m going to take some time today to meditate on that truth, the truth that I’m necessary and I’m loved. I’m going to dig deep and breath deep and do my damnedest to feel it deep in my core that I am a remarkable creation, deeply loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and pursued by the Holy Spirit. And you are, too.

 

You are so incredible. I hope you know that.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo via https://www.pexels.com/photo/flowers-flower-pink-17666/

Holy Week! And a Passion Play Set for Kids!

I hope your Holy Week is going well! Easter is my favorite holiday forever of all time. Add to that the fact that the kids are old enough to really start grasping the story and I’m just really excited to share it with them.

 

I did a little Pinterest hunting (you can follow me here if you’d like) and found some really great Holy Week activities to do with little ones. We’re going to attempt a foot washing mini-service with some of our best friends on Thursday, we’ll do hot cross buns on Friday, and watch Prince of Egypt on Netflix a few times this week.

 

I managed to put together a Passion play set for the kids the other day and they’ve really liked it. (Former children’s librarian talking here…giving kids tools to tell stories is so good for early literacy. Narrative skills help with vocabulary development, drawing conclusions, and story comprehension, so story play sets of any kind are great to have around!)

 

Anyway, I thought I’d share the links I found to be helpful and the pictures of our play set in case anybody else wanted to make one!

 

I got most of my inspiration from these two blog posts:

When You Rise – preschool activities for Holy Week

When You Rise – Passion story telling set

Because I’m both classy and Catholic I thought it was only fitting to make the tomb of our Savior out of an old Dos Equis box. Other than that, I used paper and had the kids color the scene with markers to finish out the tomb.

IMAG0931
You can sort of also see that the tomb has a trap door to make the Resurrection possible. The kids LOVED showing their daddy that the tomb was empty!

 

For Golgotha, I used an old flower pot turned upside down and some sticks and fake moss from Maggie’s Fairy Princess birthday party the other day. I chose the flower pot because it looked like a hill, but also because it has a drain hole that Jesus’ cross could easily fit into. Eventually I’m hoping we’ll be able to act out all of the stations of the cross, so it was important that Jesus would be able to “carry” his cross. I had some old kabob skewers lying around, so I used rubber bands and the skewers to make the crosses.

IMAG0930

 

 

I found an old peg doll that makes the perfect Jesus. I sewed him a little outfit, used some fabric scraps for burial cloths and we were good!

 

IMAG0932

 

So, there you go! Anybody else have good links or ideas for Holy Week with kids? I’m always interested in hearing what other families do to celebrate. 🙂

Happy Almost-Easter!

Mary Susan

Liturgical Living – St. Patrick’s Day!

While we try to celebrate at least one liturgical feast every month, I must confess that we kind of fell off the wagon after the Christmas season.

 

But, St. Patrick’s day is coming! We come from some green blood on both sides of our family, so I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s day. I love it even more now that I’m Catholic. There’s such rich heritage that comes from St. Patrick, so I’m excited to jump in and celebrate his feast right this year. (I will refrain from harping about mainstream St. Pat’s celebrating except to say, ugh.)

 

Here’s a link to my St. Patrick’s Day board on PinterestI’ve gathered a few good ideas there, but I think I’m going to focus on keeping it simple. The feast of St. Patrick falls close to the day we’re celebrating Mag’s birthday this year, so I’ll be doing some serious party prep and I don’t want to overwhelm myself.

 

I also want to focus a lot on the story of St. Patrick, his ministry, and the culture of Ireland. So, in the days leading up to St. Pat’s, we’ll be learning the Prayer of St. Patrick…

Prayer of St. Patrick

Christ be with me.

Christ within me.

Christ behind me.

Christ before me.

Christ beside me.

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me.

Christ above me.

Christ in quiet and in danger.

Christ in hearts of all who love me.

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

The kids have already memorized a few prayers, so this is a great and fairly simple one to add to our arsenal.

 

We’ll also be hunting down some books on St. Patrick. I’m thinking specifically the Tomie DePaola book, but we’ll see what the library has.

 

I’m also planning to do this Trinity Shamrock craft.

 

As far as Irish culture goes, we stumbled upon Song of the Sea, a fantastic and gorgeous movie that is based on many old and lesser known Irish legends. It specifically deals with selkies, which are some of my all-time favorite creatures, so I was bound to be in love. (Growing up, we actually had a Great Pyrenees puppy that we named Selkie because she looked so much like a baby seal. Best dog ever.) The movie is directed by Tomm Moore who also made The Secret of Kellswhich I also loved. I thought Song of the Sea was just as lovely as Kells and a lot less scary for my kids. I did have to do a lot of explaining, but they loved it so much that we watched it again immediately after we finished it the first time. There are so many good lessons to take away from this film…it deals deeply with sibling relationships, the value of both positive and negative emotions, the power of bravery and love. I could go on and on and I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about this movie for weeks to come.

Common Sense Media has a good list of other Irish movies that might get you in the St. Patrick’s day spirit.

 

Other than that, I think I’ll be playing the Celtic station on Pandora and probably watching Riverdance. Sorry, not sorry, I have always loved the cheesy charm of Michael Flatley.

Lord of the dance, indeed!

 

 

What are your plans to celebrate St. Patrick? Let me know in the comments…especially if you’ve got a good recipe for Irish soda bread! I try a new one every year and haven’t settled on a winner.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan