Tag Archive - Grace

A Blessing Unsolicited

It is not at all the way I imagined it would be…in those moments…when I dreamed for my daughter…recklessly…without bounds.  It is not the way I dreamed it for myself.  I always envisioned myself as an obnoxious grandmother…of the sort who would relate, in excruciating detail, each moment of the pregnancy, birth and childhood….to my long-suffering friends, as well as to blog readers, mere acquaintances, seat mates on planes, unfortunate cashiers….   Instead, we have eased into it…with fragility, and uncertainty…timidly feeling our way…one…step…at a time.

My daughter is having a baby.  She is eighteen.  She is not married.

I grieve for her.  I grieve for the fact that sadness and regret have wrapped their murky tendrils around a moment meant to radiate white-hot with joy.  I grieve because raising children demands so much of you in the best of circumstances.  And now, it will demand more.  And I grieve for her dreams.  Dreams that must be amended…or postponed…indefinitely.

And yet…..

Life is a gift.
ALWAYS.
Unanticipated. Perhaps.
Not asked for.
But Wanted.
Oh, yes!
Most assuredly
WANTED!!

And JOY persists…nudging, warming, and sometimes erupting into glorious raptures.  Because we have made a space for it.  Because we have learned, through follies of our own, that God takes a peculiar pleasure in transforming what seem to be impossible situations into vibrant displays of His glory.

I watch my precious daughter as she becomes particular about caring for her body to protect the baby.  I watch her dream and study.  I see her unfolding…like a blossom…the sweet, fragile beauty that has been clasped so tightly…unfurling.  I see the intensity of her love for this tiny one who she has never met growing her…stretching her.  And I know this will continue to call something out in her…will help her to find things in herself…she does not even know exist…yet.

I am not naive.  I know this will demand more of her than either of us can imagine.  But I keep asking myself my friend Gail’s favorite question, “What does this make possible?”  And, I confess, I find the possibilities exhilarating.

Friends and family members have exceeded our wildest imagination in the extravagance of their grace and love.  It has been good to see the people of God walk in their roles as lovers and redeemers.  It is another lesson in the power of community and in the futility of living alone.

So, we embrace our unsolicited blessing.  We see it for the marvelous gift it is.  We dream, and we giggle, and we indulge cravings, and we buy stuff, and we celebrate.  Be fairly warned; you have not heard the last of this little one.  I have a whole lot of obnoxious to make up for.

Little bit is to be a spring baby, due April 14th.

Meet my new love:

Baby

On Christ Without the Church

A number of years ago, Anne Rice–famous for her Vampire Chronicles series before vampires were all the rage–made the startling announcement that she had returned to the Catholic church, exchanging atheism for a life of faith.  Recently, she again surprised readers and fans, as well as the faith community, with this post to her Facebook fan page:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

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She makes a number of compelling arguments in defense of her decision in a recent interview with Christianity Today.  Though I respect her integrity in following her convictions, and though I identify with a great many of her frustrations, I find I cannot embrace her solution.

There was a time when I thought I could…when I very nearly did.  Several close friends and family members had been trampled upon by arrogant, thoughtless church leaders leaving them wounded and weary.  I had personally known deep disappointment in a community into which I had poured myself for years.  I began to see the Church as an impediment; something standing between Christ and me.

It has been a painful lesson, but I have come to understand that God uses “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” people in our lives for our salvation, just as He uses us for theirs.  They help that which is hidden in us bubble to the surface.  It’s not always pretty.  But, the Church provides a “safe” place for us to bump up against one another.  “Like iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)

I also find myself challenged, inspired, and nourished by the lovely folks in my local parish.  We feed one another.  We care for those who are hurting.  We rally around those in crisis.  We are family.

If I reject Christianity, with it’s contentious, judgmental, angry, abusive members, I also reject the thousands of believers who rush into disaster situations serving, feeding, clothing, building houses.  I reject organizations like Compassion International and World Vision who sustain and empower, one child, one family at a time.  I reject teenagers who work extra jobs so they can go love on kids in Africa.  I reject families who labor tirelessly to help orphans find their forever homes.

I confess, it is considerably more palatable to relate to a Savior who never snaps at you, who doesn’t wag on over dinner, who is not self righteous or needy.  But Christ made it rather clear that we have a responsibility to one another.  And, in his last recorded prayer, that tender lament in John 17, His fervent desire is that we be one.  It is impossible to become one with another while living in isolation.

So I’m in.   For the long haul. Do I wish we more accurately reflected Christ in EVERY action? Most assuredly!  But I hope I will always be humble enough to learn from those around me.  They have so much to teach me.

I close with words of another literary figure who had his own issues with the church.  An observation from C.S. Lewis:

If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.

I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.


*All bolds in the post are mine, used for emphasis, including those in both quotes.

Forgiveness

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Candles flicker.  Lights are dim.  The fragrance of incense hangs in the air.  And my priest bows…TO ME.  “Forgive me, a sinner.”  The humble dignity of this moment is too much for me.

The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred.  Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness: the return to unity, solidarity, love.”
~Alexander Schmemann

A father kneels before his young daughter, standing next to me.  “Forgive me, a sinner.”   “God forgives you, and I forgive you.”  They embrace.  I realize I have forgotten to breathe.

Across the room, I see one sister stand before the other.  I can’t hear the words, but I know what they are saying.  I don’t know the stories each of them carries of the other…the hurts, large and small, known and unknown.  But the radiance in their faces as they hold one another, and as smiles turn to sweet laughter, say that the slate is clean…that all is as it should be.

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  ~Jesus  (Matthew 6)

My dear friend stands before me.  I think of all the ways I have failed her…all the ways I wish I had been a better friend.  “Forgive me a sinner.”  It feels so small…so simple.  Her eyes tell me all was forgiven before I even asked.

My Tuesday morning Bible study ladies…  As I approach each of them, I think of the prayers, the laughter, the tears, and the truth we have shared.  I am honored to bow before them.  They are my heroes.  “Forgive me…”

This evening’s Vespers ushered us into the Orthodox Lenten season.  It happened before our eyes.  The priests and deacons changed their outer garments to purple, and precious little girls put purple cloths under the icons.  The tones of the hymns became somber.  We were reminded that just as Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, we are exiles.  We are far from Home.

But we are journeying.  Together.  Toward the Kingdom.  Toward Home.  We begin…clean.  Tonight, in one of the most moving services I have ever been part of, each person in the church bowed before every other person, one by one, and said, “Forgive me, a sinner.”

Who could know all the stories that lay under those words?  The hurt feelings, suspicions, misunderstandings…  But tonight, we humbled ourselves and proclaimed, one to another, I am sorry for my sinfulness.  I am sorry that I hurt you.  Please, forgive me.

It was astonishingly beautiful.  I couldn’t stop weeping.  I thought of how my heart grieves when my children hurt one another, and how sweet it is to see them reconciled.  I imagined God looking down upon so many of his children tonight as they were reconciled.  His heart must be glad.

“I pray for them…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  ~Jesus  (John 17)

We closed the evening singing a Paschal hymn. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”  We sang it in hushed voices, knowing there is yet a long, treacherous journey ahead of us.  But the words fill us with hope.

I want to travel unencumbered by unsettled business.  I am asking myself, “Where are the other relationships in my life where I need to ask forgiveness?  And who have I not forgiven?”  Forgiveness is a gift I can choose to give, even to someone who has not asked for it.

How about you?  Is there a name that has already popped into your head?  Someone with whom you need to have a difficult conversation?  Today.

Forgive me.

Sometimes I Wish I Weren’t Me

I am not thoughtless enough to complain about my circumstances.  I know my blessings far exceed my merit.  But the person inside…the one nobody sees…  Sometimes, I hate her.

I am sick to death of my lack of originality.  I battle the same demons over and over.  I am plagued repeatedly by insecurities that don’t even bother with camouflage.  They tell me the same ridiculous story and I buy it every time.  And just when I think I am gaining ground…that I have learned to recognize the lies and the deceit for what they are…they strut right back into my life and own me.  And I am sent reeling from the surprise of it.  Like some pathetic dog that crawls back to an abusive master, tale wagging, thinking that somehow this time it will be different, only to be kicked in the face.  Again.

I want to be strong.  I don’t want it to matter what people think of me.  It matters.  I don’t want to need to feel significant.  I need it.  I don’t want to have expectations of those closest to me.  I have them.  What is wrong with me?

I am tired. And sometimes I don’t want to fight any more. I don’t want to submit.  I don’t want to obey.  I don’t want to expose myself to the attacks of an enemy whose cunning is too much for me.  I want to be someone so impotent and inconsequential that he won’t care what becomes of me.  I just want to be done. Would it matter?  If I just withdraw from the game, who would care, really?  What would be different?

I wonder.

What kind of arrogance is it to think anyone wants to know about the crap inside my heart?  My friend, Anne, tells me that when we share our stories, no matter how dark and difficult they may be, we give others permission to speak.  We help them understand they are not alone.

To the best of my ability, I have used the pages of this blog to share beauty.  Words, images, and stories that speak of transcendence and the otherworldly.  But there is a dark side to the world beyond.  And that is where I find myself at present.  It’s not the first time.  Not nearly. But it is the first time I have been sure I had to write about it.

I’m not sure why.

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love…
…Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Psalm 51: 1,12

Sacred Threshold

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sacred the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies.

threshold any place or point of entering or beginning…

 

I probably should not write this at all.  I know I will not say it well.  For every breath I help you breathe with me, there will be a thousand others unbreathed. And yet, words brought me here.  I wonder how many of those who shared their words with me thought they did not say it well?  For every fragrance, every whisper of wonder, of holiness, on a page or across a table…how many others were left locked up in their hearts?  So I write.  I treat of that which defies explanation.  I invite you to peer with me inside a mystery…

Sometimes life takes the most unexpected turns. A couple of years ago I came to a place of crisis with God.  I felt I had pursued Him all my life, and that He had eluded me.  And I was angry.  Perhaps I had approached Him badly, in error, but it was not for lack of trying.  Funny how sometimes the very road we try to take to God is the one that perpetually leads us away from Him. I felt compelled to prove myself to God, as though I must earn His love.  I would have told you I did not believe this was true.  But I lived my life every day as though it were.

I came to a place of devastation when it became clear to me that I was incapable of being good enough…when I could truly see the blackness inside me.  I was in deep despair.  I felt that if I were to surrender my endless, futile attempts to find worth in myself that I would simply cease to exist.  It felt like death!

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.


“When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God.”
~Richard Rohr God began to woo me.  I know He has done it all my life, but much of the time I was too busy doing things ‘for Him’ to take notice.  He met me on runs and in early, quiet hours when everyone was still asleep.  He met me in novels, in poetry, and in His Word.  I saw Him in His creation and in great works of art.  He spoke His healing words to me through friends.  You know who you are.  There will never be enough words to say to you how important you have been to me.  I love you more than I can say.

Then came the most unexpected gift of all. Up until about three years ago, I had never known anyone personally who was Orthodox.  My only encounter with Orthodoxy was purely historical.  But all of a sudden, I was ambushed.  Blessed Ambush!  A friend, then several aquaintances, then a circle of beautiful, wise women, and finally a family.  Books, podcasts, music…I couldn’t get enough.  And worship! That was the most compelling of all.  Orthodox believe that in the Divine Liturgy we literally enter the Kingdom of God.  I believe it.  I believed it the very first time.  There is a blessed otherness…such a profound sense of holiness.  Sometimes I can hardly breathe for the weight of it.

Today, on Saint Nicholas Day, I crossed a threshold.  Today I became part of the Orthodox Church.  Mike and I have walked most of this last year with the congregation at St. Ignatius.  We have fasted together, celebrated together, struggled and learned together, and entered the Presence together.  My soul has been nourished in ways I could never have imagined.  And I am learning to live in God…to revel in His Presence…to come to Him honestly with all the best AND worst things about me, and to experience His joy in me.

God knew my heart so much better than I did.  He knew how to help me find Him. My friend, Monte, tells me that when a lifeguard goes to help someone in distress, he will not engage the swimmer until he stops struggling, otherwise the distressed swimmer can drown them both.  But once the swimmer has exhausted himself, then he can be saved.  Once I was thoroughly exhausted, God helped me find the means whereby I could finally know Him.

Yesterday, I made my first confession in preparation for today. I began with a written prayer, then shared those things with the priest that weighed most heavily on my heart and those that present persistent challenge.  It was a solemn and weighty experience.  He spoke words to me that Christ would have spoken had he been there.  After this, I knelt and Father Stephen placed his stole over my head. He told me that just as the stole covered my head, Christ’s blood had covered my sins.  Hot tears flowed down my face as his words planted themselves deeply within me and forgiveness became a palpable reality.

This morning, after affirming that we accept and submit to the essential tenets of the Orthodox faith, we were anointed with Holy Chrism (oil).  As Father Stephen made crosses with the oil on our foreheads, eyes, nose, ears, chest, hands and feet, he said “the seal of the Holy Spirit” and the whole congregation cried out “SEAL!!” I felt like my chest was a great ball of fire.  I could not stop the tears.  That God would be so kind to bring me to this place where I could breathe Him and wear Him when I had been so ready to walk away from Him is too much for me. Receiving the Body and Blood for the first time with my dear sisters and brothers was a completely transcendent experience.  Heart pounding, knees trembling, filled with wonder.  May it ever be so.

At lunch today my dear friend, Gail, said to my fellow celebrants, Giorgio and Mike, and to me that today we only lifted the lid to the treasure box.  She assured us that there are enough treasures inside to last us a lifetime.  I believe her.

“You do not resolve the God question in your head…it is resolved in you when you agree to bear the mystery of God.” ~Rohr

Photographs in the post courtesy of our friend Joel Smith.  At the top of the post, Mike and I with Father Stephen.  Above, with Mike and Gail Hyatt, dear friends who have been such an important part of our journey and today stood with us as our sponsors/godparents.  Also, Keith Coley and Giorgio Kemp.  Beautiful irony: Giorgio was in my third grade choir.  His mother Rhonda was my homeschooling mentor.  We have danced in and out of one another’s lives for years.  What a blessed gift to be Chrismated on the same day.  Many years, dear friend!

A Dream Strayed Into Daylight

Sparkling water trips over stones

Whispering breeze rustles leaves

Heart whisper

Soul breath

Transparent eyes

A dream strayed into daylight


Delicate petals

Sweet scent

A Rose

Exquisite intoxication

Lavender delirium

Columbine spell

A dream strayed into daylight


Extravagant brilliance of sunset

Spectacular resplendence of fall

Delicious agony

Orgasm of pain

A dream strayed into daylight


Breathless silence

Blanket of snow

Icy flakes on bare skin

Violent exhilaration

Thunderstorm, rain

A dream strayed into daylight


Raspberries

Fragrant exotic delight

Cabernet

Mysterious and warm

Chocolate

Decadent, bitter and dark

A dream strayed into daylight


Elegant threshold

Ecstatic response

Transcendence

Abandon

Bliss

Pieces of Heaven

Diverted to Earth

A dream strayed into daylight

~SM~


*I owe a great debt to C.S. Lewis for the title line.  While reading Til We Have Faces, the phrase “a dream strayed into daylight” lodged itself in my mind.  It actually has a negative connotation in the book.  But for me, it was magic. It made me think of all those experiences, all those moments when, perhaps only for the space of a breath, I have touched the otherworldly.  Lewis called it “joy”.  This poem has rolled round in my head, in bits and pieces, ever since.  I have been blessed with a great many transcendent moments.  The words and phrases above commemorate some of them.

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