Uncomfortable Truths

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Here’s a little uncomfortable truth about me: even though I don’t play dress up anymore, I still want to be a princess. Not necessarily a poofy gown and glass slippers kind of a princess – that sounds like way too much work. No, I just want to be the kind of princess who has people to take care of everything she doesn’t want to deal with, unlimited financial resources, and a home with every latest convenience. Also, I’d like to be the kind of princess who doesn’t have to struggle to make herself heard in the world, because she was influential at birth. In fact, if I’m really honest, up until the day that my husband became a U.S. citizen and renounced all of his titles, I secretly imagined that my in-laws were really royalty pretending to be commoners. I figured that they could possibly have done this so to ensure that I really love their son and not his status as a prince.  In fairness to myself, I only dwelled on this fantasy when I  had a really bad day (think horrible morning sickness mixed with defiant yet clingy preschooler), but the desire was there.

Now that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has forced me to face the reality that I am not, and never will be, royalty, when I find myself having an “I can’t believe this is my life! Where is my fairytale?” kind of moment, I hear this tiny voice in my head saying, “Okay, you aren’t married to the long-lost prince of the Czech Republic, but you are the daughter of the King, which makes you a princess.” The problem is that “daughter of the King” princesses often don’t live very princessy lives. As I recently heard someone say, just look at the life that God gave His son’s mother and you will see that having servants and luxuries are usually not part of the “daughter of the King” deal. In fact, the woman who was “highly favored” (Luke 1:28) by God didn’t have maids, cooks or a nanny waiting in the shadows to meet her every need. As far as we know, she had the responsibility of changing her sons diaper cloths and washing them, too. Presumably, she woke in the middle of the night to nurse her wailing son and I can’t imagine that Joseph could have been much help on that front since they lived in the pre-breast pump era. In addition to all of this, Mary probably got to do all of the other daily tasks that common women did in ancient Isreal. Maybe she carried water from a distant well. She probably had to cook all of the family’s food over not very convenient fires or in primative ovens. Perhaps she even had to make her family’s clothes. Of course, Mary’s unprincessly life would become even more difficult when her Son was rejected by the people of His town and later brutally crucified. Mary’s life was very real, it was relatable, but it was by no means a fairytale!

And then there’s His Son. It would make sense for Jesus to get to live the life of a prince, but no! God had him enter the world at a time that was inconvenient for His parents – He was the long-awaited Messiah but not their long-awaited baby. As an infant, He was a refugee who fled from a king who wanted Him dead. He was rejected by many, lived the life of a wanderer, and even faced a mob that wanted to stone Him. Sure, He had some good friends, but all of them abandoned Him in His time of greatest suffering and one of them handed Him over to be killed. He was wrongfully accused, brutally beaten, mocked, and crucified. Then, He was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb.

The lives of God’s princes and princesses tell me something about God: the things that He deems important about our lives are different from the things that the world thinks are important. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us since Matthew 6:19-20 says, ” Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where theives break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal.” The uncomfortable truth is that God cares about our lives and He cares about our pain, but, ultimately, He cares most about the salvation of His creation and He is willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to bring it about. As a result, He is much more focused on building our love for Him, our love for those around us, our patience, our gratitude, our faithfulness, our trust, and the countless other ways He wants to shape our souls than He is about showering us with earthly comforts.

That might mean that, in order for Cinderella to grow the servant heart that she was made to have, He asks her to spend the rest of her life sweeping ashes and she will never sit on a throne; however, if she lives her simple life well, the Creator of the universe will be pleased and the world will be a better place. It could mean that there is some working man outside of the Beast’s castle that He wants Belle to fall in love with instead of the Beast and, as a result, she will never be the mistress of a castle; however, if she learns to be grateful for the things she does have in her life, she will discover true happiness and satisfaction. Or it might mean that Prince Eric never falls for Ariel and that she has to live a life that is very different from the one she had dreamed of; however, she will eventually find that God loves and cherishes her far more than a voice obsessed prince ever could. Whatever the case may be, God is intimately aware of the details of His princesses’ lives. Often, those lives aren’t very princessy, but He is in the business of using them for amazing good and embracing His plans can bringing us more abiding joy than our worldly dreams of “happily ever after” could.

So on those days when the vacuum backfires and spits dust all over your newly cleaned kitchen, or those nights when you never get past “barely asleep” before being woken by a sick child, or during those times when the one horror that you couldn’t bear to imagine actually happens, remember that you are still the deeply beloved child of the King and His plans for your life are exactly right.

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We Are A Resurrection People!

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Ten years ago, my friend and I got to spend Holy Week in Seville, Spain. Each day, we walked into the city to watch the procession of the pasos, which are giant sculptures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’s passion. Musical bands played somber music and groups of barefoot penitents accompanied the pasos as they made their way through the city streets. As the days passed from Wednesday, to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, the excitement and sorrow surrounding the processions seemed to climax. By Good Friday evening, it was difficult to get around the city because each of the main streets was blocked off to make room for one of the processions. On the Saturday after Easter, things were quieter. There were a few more processions, but like the disciples on the day after the crucifixion, the whole city seemed to be waiting and anxiously anticipating Easter and the Resurrection paso.

On Easter morning in 2007, we jumped out of our beds and ran into the city. It was warm and sunny, so I was out of breath by the time we reached the city center; however, I was full of expectation! If the commemoration of Christ’s passion had been so powerful then, surely, the celebration of His victory over sin and death would be absolutely amazing! As we turned onto the street where the procession was suposed to take place we were surprised to find the road almost deserted. Eventually, we found a local resident who told us that the Resurrection paso had been canceled. Now, it is possible that this person did not know what he was talking about and that the procession actually happened at some other place or time in the city; however, for us, the Resurrection paso was “canceled.” As we stood in the street full of disappointment, we could not help but feel that all of the excitement of Holy Week had led only to a great, empty void. After all, why would we ever celebrate Christ’s suffering and death if not for the unbelievable victory of Easter morning? If it were not for the Resurrection, all of our penitence, all of our religious actions, all of our praise would be hollow, meaningless, futile.

In our own lives, we often cancel the Resurrection paso, don’t we? We get so wrapped up in our sins and sorrows that they become the central focus of our lives and even our faith. We repent and confess our sins but continue to allow our feelings of guilt to keep us at a distance from God. We talk a good talk about how selfish, or impatient, or jealous we are but we don’t let go of those identities in the face of Christ’s  salvation. When we grieve, we hold onto our grief by doing things like refusing to reintroduce color into our wardrobes, failing to give the deceased’s room a new purpose, even choosing not to lose the baby weight that reminds us of our lost children! When we have been mentally hurt by cruelty, we become acutely aware of our woundedness and held in bondage by our feelings of victimization. In other words, we live our lives in a way that proclaims why Christ had to die but doesn’t make room for the Resurrection.

Yet, with the dawn of  Easter morning, we are called to lay down our sins and sorrows, to proclaim that they no longer hold any power over us, and to trust in Christ’s amazing victory! We are called to remember that, through God’s great mercy, the sorrow of that first Holy Week ended in joy and victory! On that first Easter morning, Jesus’s grave was empty, but the promises of His Passion were anything but empty! His people would never again be irreconcilably separated from Him. Death would no longer wield any power. His love had paid the cost of all of our sins. Each of the chains that bound His created ones was smashed. As my four year old proclaimed, “When the tomb was empty, God had done everything He meant to do!” Hallelujah!!!

So, no matter what our lives may hold, no matter how high the cost of our discipleship, no matter what we have done or failed to do, no matter who we have lost here on earth, let us never forget that “We are a resurrection people,” (St. Augustine of Hippo) and we live in the power of our resurrected Savior. Let the unshakable joy of our lives be our Resurrection paso that proclaims Christ’s victory to all as we declare with our lips: He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Mother’s Sorrow

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“How long was she conscious?” I asked as the tears filled my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks.

“Are you asking did your baby suffer?” responded my perceptive obstetrician.

I thought of all the questions pounding on my heart: Was the last emotion she knew the panic of suffocation? As her body became bruised and beaten by frantic attempts at CPR, was she aware of it? Did she feel tubes pierce her sides, punching between bones and flesh? Did she wonder where I was and why I was not there to hold her? Did she ask why she was alone, why she was forsaken?

As I nodded my head, my obstetrician gently said, “No, I do not believe that she suffered.” Relief flooded through me.

–              –              –

I’ve never felt particularly close to Saint Mary. In fact, of all the Saints, I tend to be most detached from Mary. There are probably several reasons for this. First, as someone who was raised Protestant, I am wary of any honor that borders on idolatry and there is no other Saint whose veneration often teeters so close to the brink of worship. Second, pride has always wormed its way into my life by disguising itself as a tendency to dislike whatever everybody else likes (think insisting on dresses and leggings when everyone else switched to jeans during elementary school and being disgusted by Titanic when every other girl in my middle school class was swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio). Unfortunately for me, if there is one Saint who everyone loves to love, its Mary which means that I instinctively want to avoid her just because everyone else loves her. Third, I believe that the way that Mary is depicted in art makes it challenging for me to identify with her. For example, it is hard to connect with a woman who looks completely clean, put together, unswollen and calm after giving birth (without pain medication) in a place where they kept animals. Suffice it to say, I gave birth in a clean, animal-free environment with about a dozen doctors and nurses standing by and a nicely placed epidural in my back, yet I don’t have a single picture of me looking clean, put together, unswollen or calm after my children were born. Exhausted but not calm.

However, I recently realized that there was a more fundamental reason that I did not connect with Saint Mary: to really identify with Mary I would have to be willing to be drenched with her sorrows and they are sorrows that my humanness wants to avoid at all costs. Nonetheless, this week I overcame this aversion when I discovered the Catholic practice of meditating on Mary’s Seven Sorrows.  As I pondered the last four Sorrows, I felt that I had been introduced to the amazing Mother of Jesus for the first time. Here was a woman who knew my own pain intimately. In fact, her own pain greatly exceeded my own because, unlike my daughter, her Son absolutely suffered.

Good Friday is an ideal time for all Christians to reflect on the last four of St. Mary’s Sorrows in particular, because it was her Son’s death that caused her so much pain. Consequently, I share my own reflections on these sorrows below.

The Fourth Sorrow is when Mary met Jesus carrying His cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha. Even as a mother who has begged God to change His mind and restore life to my lifeless child, I can only begin to imagine the desperation and confusion Mary must have felt as she watched her Son carrying the horrible instrument of His own death on His back. How unbelievably awful it must have been to realize that crowds of people hated her Son enough to kill Him. She must have burned with longing to do something, anything, to help Him. She must have been filled with a desire to tear the crown of thorns from His head, to dress His wounds and to clean the lacerations on His back. She must have begged God for His help and intervention, for the protection of her Child. The Stabat Mater describes the scene thus: “Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender Child, all with bloody scourges rent. Can the human heart refrain, from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?”

The Fifth Sorrow is when Mary watched as Jesus was crucified and died. Her heart must have shattered as they pierced his hands with crude nails, punching between bones and flesh. I could not see my daughter as she died. In fact,I struggling with my own physical responses to surgery, I did not even know that she was dying. However, my husband watched as the doctors tried to save her and, having talked with him, I can only imagine Mary’s agony as she gazed upon her child’s body, so bruised and beaten. How she must have longed to run to Him, to hold Him as he cried out to His father, “Why have you forsaken me?” She must have wished that she could use her physical touch to show Him that He was not forsaken and to comfort Him. What horror did she know as she gazed up at her son’s face, that was contorted by the pain and terror of His last, gasping breath, unable to do anything at all except to bear witness to His sacrifice? What questions did she ask her God who silently allowed her world and the One in whom she placed her faith to be destroyed?

The Sixth Sorrow is when Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross and laid in His mother’s arms. Now, finally, I truly know her heart break for I have shared it with her. I know how anxious she was to wrap her arms around her Son’s broken, bruised body, to bathe His face with her tears, to cover Him with her kisses. I know the way she explored her Child, touched His wounds and tenderly kissed them, trying in vain to make them better. I know how good His weight felt in her arms and how she thought that she would never be able to let go. I know the cruelty of time which slowly marched forward, stealing the warmth, color, and softness from the limbs and the face of her precious Child. And I know the resignation of the moment when she realized that it was time to let go of her Son’s body because the physical changes convinced her that He was no longer there and that it was truly finished.

The Seventh and final Sorrow is when Jesus was buried. There are no words to describe the torment of a parent who is forced to bury their child. Even if Mary was experiencing shock and numbness, she no doubt felt the horror of her loss. While she must have trusted that God would raise her Son as He had promised, as she gazed at the stone rolled across the tomb, she must have also felt the excruciating absence of her Son. Did she, like me, feel that her heart was weeping blood? Did she wish she could catch all of her precious tears in a bottle and save them as tangible reminders of her Son that could sustain her until the day when she met Him again? Did she feel that she was dragging mountains behind her as she turned and walked away from the place where her Child’s body lay? Did she wake during that first night, thinking she heard her Son calling for her or shaking her shoulder, only to discover that she was all alone in the darkness? And how horrible those first moments must have been for her when she woke on Saturday morning and realized anew that her Son was gone and that she had to rise and live another day of torment without her Child!

This Sorrow, this suffocating Mother’s Sorrow, all the result of my sin, of your sin, of the sins of our world.

 

 

 

What Am I Called To Do?

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Last week, I shared about my failure to prayerfully seek God’s plan for my Lenten journey. I realized that, while it is easy to enter into seasons of intense prayer when I am faced with a major decision, I rarely pray for discernment about the daily tasks that God has assigned to me. For example, how often have I asked God how He wants me to feed my child, clean my kitchen, dress for my husband?

When I was trying to choose which college to attend, I spent many days praying for God’s wisdom. One Saturday morning, my father took me on a walk so that we could discuss my thoughts about my future. After listening to me talking anxiously about the pros and cons of my two top choices, he said, “I think maybe God doesn’t care so much about which school you choose – He can work with either one. I think that He is more concerned about what you do wherever you end up going.”

At the time, this idea was simultaneously world-view shattering and a huge relief. Yet, in the years since I have become increasingly aware of the wisdom behind my father’s words. Often, we get hung up on big decisions that we, from our limited human perspective, see as life-altering. Yet God is just as concerned (perhaps even more concerned) with those little decisions we make each day that draw ourselves and others closer to Him. In the same way that we ask God to guide us to the right schools, jobs, spouses, retirement plans, we should be asking Him to guide us through each of the tasks that He assigns to our daily lives.

In light of this, I would like to offer some of the questions that I find helpful in discerning the ways that God wants me to fulfill my various roles. Please know that I am greatly challenged by these questions myself. I offer these questions to you, not because I can honestly answer yes to all (or even any) of them, but because I hope that they will help you to reflect more deeply on the daily tasks that God has assigned to you.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the length of this post! Many of the roles I play will not be applicable to everyone and I encourage you to skip over the roles that you do not play and use only the questions that correspond to the roles that you do. Don’t stop at just answering the questions! Use your answers to guide your prayers for God’s direction in your daily life.

As a child of God, am I: 

  • Ensuring that I have not let anything become more important to me than God?
  • Repenting of my sinfulness and praising God for my salvation?
  • Thanking God for each of the good gifts that He has given to me?
  • Trusting God with all of the scary, painful and difficult parts of my life moment-by-moment?
  • Turning to God in prayer with all of my doubts, questions and anger?
  • Honest with God?
  • Taking time to pray and nurture my spiritual growth through books, retreats, bible studies, etc?
  • Open to changing my plans if God leads me to do something different from what I had expected?
  • Using each of my relationships to share God’s love and story of redemption so that God can be reunited with all of His children?
  • Participating actively in a faith community that proclaims the Gospel in a way that reflects God’s amazing love for all of His created people?
  • Looking for the needs of those around me and making it a priority to meet them?
  • Striving to see the image of God in those around me? Quick to forgive? Slow to anger? Offering love?
  • Participating in activities that bring God glory and focusing on things that are good, rather than allowing negative and ungodly thoughts and activities to take up my time?

As a wife, am I: 

  • Praying for my husband each day and throughout the day?
  • Praying with him regularly?
  • Encouraging my husband in his faith and challenging him to grow spiritually?
  • Making time available to be with and available to my husband?
  • Thankful for the gift that my husband is, for the things that he does for our family, for the amazing ways that I can see God’s craftsmanship in him? Do I let him know this?
  • Gentle when I need to address a problem and willing to accept blame?
  • Quick to forgive?
  • Eager to change the things about myself that breed conflict?
  • Carrying out the tasks that I have agreed to complete around the house as loving gifts to my husband?
  • Making his physical, emotional and spiritual health a priority in our family?
  • Speaking of him with respect when I talk about him with friends, family and our children?
  • Trying to look nice and fulfilling the physical aspects of my marriage vows with excitement and passion?
  • Ensuring that I do not let anything or anyone besides God become more important to me than my husband?

As a mother of a living child, am I: 

  • Praying for my child each day and throughout the day?
  • Praying with her regularly?
  • Helping my child to know and love God?
  • Encouraging and guiding my child on her journey through this world?
  • Nurturing a longing for Heaven in her heart and giving her an eternal perspective?
  • Demonstrating God’s love to her through my own care and enjoyment of her?
  • Keeping her safe physically and mentally?
  • Helping her to use and value the gifts God has given to her?
  • Teaching her to accept the things that God has not made her to excel in with grace?
  • Giving her the academic and social skills to thrive in our society?
  • Modeling how to interact with those around her in a way that reflects God’s love?
  • Providing a clear understanding of right and wrong?
  • Communicating freely and being available to her whenever possible?

As a mother of a child in Heaven, am I: 

  • Thankful for the time that I had with my child?
  • Praying that my child will bring glory to God even through her death?
  • Trusting God for my child’s eternity?
  • Willing to share my pain to help others who are also suffering?
  • Living in the hope of Heaven?
  • Doing everything I can to help my husband, living child and I be reunited with my child someday?
  • Allowing God to teach me, through her death, that life, even when it never breaths outside the womb, is incredibly valuable and was created for Heaven? Open to bearing that life again?

As a daughter, am I: 

  • Praying daily for my parent’s and in-law’s physical, spiritual and mental health?
  • Encouraging them to grow in their faith?
  • Communicating with them regularly and listening to their needs? Trying to meet their needs whenever possible?
  • Expressing my gratitude towards them?
  • Sharing my life with them?
  • Open and honest in my communication with them?
  • Talking respectfully about them in all situations?
  • Doing whatever I can to encourage my living child’s relationship with them?
  • Seeking to learn from them and appreciating their wisdom?
  • Slow to take offense and quick to forgive?

As a sister, am I: 

  • Praying daily for my brother and brothers and sisters in-law?
  • Making communication with them a priority?
  • Opening our home and immediate family to them and welcoming them into our lives?
  • Doing whatever I can to encourage them in their own spiritual walk?
  • Honest with them?
  • Enjoying them and appreciating their many gifts?
  • Accepting their decisions and encouraging their dreams?
  • Willing to meet any needs that arise?

As a granddaughter, am I: 

  • Praying daily for their physical, spiritual and mental health?
  • Prioritizing time with them?
  • Communicating regularly?
  • Sharing my life with them?
  • Honest with them?
  • Encouraging them in their faith?
  • Slow to anger, quick to forgive?
  • Respectful?
  • Gently caring for their physical needs while doing everything I can to maintain their pride and independence?

As a friend and cousin, am I: 

  • Praying regularly for them in general as well as for each of the specific requests they have shared with me?
  • Communicating with them as often as possible?
  • Thinking about their needs and doing what I can to be a blessing in their lives?
  • Being open about my life and faith?
  • Meeting them and encouraging them wherever they may be on their journeys to find Truth?
  • Generous with my time, possessions, energy, money?
  • Assuming their best intentions and quick to forgive?
  • Helping them to raise and care for their children and demonstrating God’s love to their children whenever I interact with them?
  • Available in a crisis?
  • Willing to interrupt my routine to help them with any needs they may have?
  • Forgiving and forgetting?
  • Encouraging them to be the people that they were created to be?
  • Telling them the ways I see God in them and the things I appreciate about them?

As a teacher, am I: 

  • Keeping God and His word at the center of all of my lessons?
  • Instilling a love of learning about God’s creations, the way His world works, and the history of that world?
  • Making sure that I provide a quality education that prepares my child/the children in our Co-op with the skills and knowledge she/they need for the plans God has for them?
  • Encouraging exploration of personal interests, even if I do not share them?
  • Patient and encouraging? Do I speak words of affirmation? Do I work gently with areas that are challenging?
  • Meeting physical, spiritual and emotional needs before expecting learning to take place?
  • Seeing myself as a gardener who tends the flowers God is creating and not as a creator who determines who or what grows?
  • Teaching about the whole world and not just those people and topics that are familiar and comfortable to me?
  • Helping my child develop the skills she needs to address difficult situations and problems rather than avoiding them?
  • Discouraging the need for perfection and encouraging an understanding of effort and process?
  • Willing to let someone else teach my child if God leads me that way?
  • Delighting in the gift of teaching?

As a writer, am I: 

  • Using my words to point others toward God?
  • Genuine, candid and honest in all I write? Living with integrity and striving to allow the lessons I share to take root in my own life?
  • Praying for the people who will read my work and for the wisdom to know what it is that God wants them to read?
  • Refusing the temptation to become discouraged and clinging to the belief that if just one person draws closer to God because of something I have written, then it will all be worth it?
  • Making it a priority to put my best work forward?
  • Taking time to feed myself spiritually before seeking to feed others through my work?
  • Seeking opportunities to share what I write, not because of pride or my need for success, but because I genuinely want others to know the lessons that I share?
  • Willing to express deep, painful, and embarrassing things in order to help others know God in new ways?