We Begin Again
A dear friend sent me a note in a Christmas card and I can’t get it out of my head.
May Christmas be extra special as we celebrate our nomad Savior who was always beginning again.
Maybe it’s just my little corner of the internet, but it seems like many of us are struggling. We’re weary, wounded, numbed, and needing. We’ve been through a hell of a lot in the last couple of years and the shreds of hope many have clung to have revealed themselves to be just that: shreds, not solutions.
Progress these days might feel like one step forward, two steps back. Many of us are lonely, lying in the leftovers of relationships that didn’t ride out challenges the way we expected them to. Or maybe we’re finding ourselves in new beginnings, drowning in imposter syndrome and wondering if everything we’ve done is a big mistake. If we’re a big mistake.
Christmas brings birth. It’s not the birth of the New Year with sequins and confetti and sparkling promises. It’s the birth of sacrifice. It’s the blood, the doubt, the sweaty brow, the smells of humanity and straw. Birth is not shiny and perfect. There are fluids and animal-like noises, effort, and pain. There is an immaculate form drawn open, widening to the point of breaking, through which newness enters, the fragile newness of a slippery baby sent here just to die.
The birth offered by Christmas is raw and ridiculous. After all, who ever heard of a king being born in a barn, much less God Himself? It’s so absurd that the Creator would want us so badly, desire us so deeply that He’d take the form of a wrinkly baby with a face (most likely) like that of Winston Churchill. And yet He did.
This refugee King, working with His hands, humbly knocked the world on its ear and continues to this day.
Guys, I know things seem dark. I know that we’re all exhausted from the arguing and the anxiety. We’re worried for our countries, for our families, for our freedoms, for our faiths. We feel so deeply and struggle to understand our neighbors and to even want to love them.
But I keep coming back to the Christmas card. We celebrate a nomad Savior who was always beginning again.
If, this Christmas, you feel homeless, so was He.
If you feel misunderstood by the people who are supposed to love you most, so was He.
If you’re navigating a road that requires bone deep sacrifice, so was He.
If you’re wandering in the desert, wrestling temptation, so was He.
If you are unsettled by the way things are and the systems of power, so was He.
If you are misjudged and misrepresented, so was He.
Our nomad Savior, the wandering healer who found belonging nowhere miraculously belongs to us all.
And so we begin again.
Our circumstances may be less than ideal this Christmas. Our world is broken now just as it was at the very moment of Our Lady’s final push which thrust Divinity into our wounded world. We cannot fix our situations. We cannot wish our worries away or secure an easier path for ourselves or our families.
But we can begin again.
Every misstep, every sin, every failing is an opportunity to return to him. Every sharp word or resentful sigh is an invitation to cradle the Baby to our chests, to breathe Him in and let the soft Newborn held against our broken hearts teach us how to submit ourselves to the Father.
We begin again and again and again as many times as it takes to get us to holiness, daily chipping away at the things that rebel against Him.
We begin again and take comfort in a nomad Savior who knows all about new beginnings.
We begin again taking comfort that we already know the ending.
Well, everyone on the internet is talking about it. Everone’s plan for educating their children this school year is taking up quite a bit of bandwidth these days.
And as with everything 2020, this shiz is super polarizing.
Like, if you are considering homeschooling, you must obviously be anti-public school, and anti-teacher, and you probably don’t even appreciate what schools do for everyone, and guess what, now you have to fight Ms. Frizzle in a cage match because you’re such a horrible human.
Also, if you’re sending your kids back to school, I don’t even know how you sleep at night knowing that you’re offering your children up as actual sacrificial guinea pigs in the science experiment of life and you clearly don’t love them, you monster.
I am happy to say that, as for me and my house, we have come to a decision.
And because everything is so polarizing and high stress, I almost feel like we’re required to make an official announcement like LeBron did when he decided to take his talents to South Beach. Like, this is so high stakes clearly a serious announcement on tv is the way to go.
Do y’all remember when this happened?? It was maybe the single most awkward television interview I’ve ever seen. There was so much build up and it was so anticlimactic and disappointing for everyone in Cleveland and just indescribably cringy all the way around. Shudder.
So, obv I want to duplicate that in my own life.
Unfortunately for all of you lovely people, I could neither secure a television deal nor a Boys and Girls Club of America from which to film said tv special, so the ‘ol blawg will have to do.
I am pleased to announce that the Delagrange family will be taking our talents to……..the basement. And maybe the kitchen table. The backyard is also a possibility, weather permitting.
Yep. We’re going to homeschool for this school year and guess, what? Our reasons for making this decision really don’t matter. I mean, I’m happy to share our reasoning with anyone who genuinely cares, but y’all, it really does not matter.
You are not required to agree with me and I’m not required to agree with you. Our families are different, our needs are different, our hearts are different, and I guarantee we’re both doing our best. And that is enough. We do not need to agree with each other to love on and support one another.
Lemme say that a little louder for the people in the back: We do not need to agree with each other to love on and support one another.
I got this text from a friend the other day, and I 100% stand by my response. Mainly because she told me I’m smart, but also because I think I’m right and I’m not afraid to toot my own horn.
I hope y’all have a friend to text vent to…this is one of our less spicy text threads, I can assure you, and it is so delightful to spew my vitriol to a pal who won’t judge. So clearly my friend and I get a little heated when we’re texting. She does not hate everyone (all the time) and I don’t think everyone is dumb (all the time). But I think our strong feelings pretty accurately depict where we’re both at right now.
It is beyond frustrating to feel like every single decision is the wrong one. It is irritating and annoying to feel like every move we make regarding our family decisions are fodder for the judgement of others. It is exhausting to be constantly worrying, worrying, worrying about making the right choice only to open up to someone and have them poo-poo it like it’s the dumbest thing they ever heard.
I deeply believe that most people share opinions and advice because they’re seeking validation of their own choices. I see this with my doula clients all the time. People tell expectant mamas they absolutely must get an epidural or should absolutely never get one because they want someone to affirm that their own decision was the right one.
Guess what, that’s bull slaw.
Guys, there is space for all of the decisions.
I mean, if your plan is to lock your kid in the attic with a tablet and some Lunchables, I’m probably going to say maybe rethink that one. But otherwise, you need to do what’s best for your family. Your family. Not your neighbor’s family, not your cousin’s family, not your old maid aunt’s imaginary kids and family. Yours. That’s it.
And here’s another strong opinion to shake things up: If someone makes a decision that’s the opposite of yours, it does not mean your decision is wrong. It just means it was wrong for that other person. And newsflash, you can still be kind to someone who is making a choice that isn’t right for you. You can. I’ve tried and it works.
Guys, every single parent in the United States is feeling some sort of way right now. We are collectively stressed, worried, tired, and terrified we’re going to ruin our kids. It’s like a regular day of parenting only with the added perk of a global pandemic. We are all doing our best. My best is probably not the same as your best, and that’s okay. It matters much less how many people agree with my decision to homeschool than how many people feel seen, loved, valued, and supported.
I have friends who are planning to educate their kids in all sorts of different ways this year. I actually know one other person who is homeschooling for the same reasons I am and every single one of my best friends is doing something else. I’m pretty sure my very best friends all disagree with me on some Covid fundamentals, and we’re still friends.
It is pure foolishness to expect other families to make the same choices as mine. We’re all working with a supremely shitty situation and shaming, judging, and vomiting opinions at everyone will not help one single bit…
…which is why I’m done spouting my opinions all over the internet. Y’all, go be a good human. Do what’s best for your kids and give others the space to do what’s best for theirs. We’re all going to be just fine as long as we remember to treat each other with dignity and love. No matter what shape our kids’ education takes this school year, let’s let it be rooted in love, okay?
In light of current events, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve often felt frightened, anxious, ashamed, convicted, angry, resentful, and confused. I’ve had a hard time making sense of things and have prayed for cunning eyes and the grace to see Truth amidst the many voices and headlines that seem to assault me every time I glance at my phone…which is basically every spare second of my time because I’m an addict. Working on it.
In response to that, I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading Scripture. Every day I try to start my morning by reading the day’s readings and devotions I subscribe to. I’ve been opening up my bible to read the scriptures in deeper context and to take time to really meditate on them instead of just reading them on my phone. It has been a life-giving practice.
I rarely have a hard time finding a way to connect with the day’s readings, but today the readings just gutted me. It was like they were written specifically for this very moment in history.
My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground at the brokenness of the daughter of my people, as children and infants collapse in the streets of the town.
They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out in their mothers’ arms.
To what can I compare you – to what can I liken you – O daughter Jerusalem? What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is vast as the sea; who could heal you?
Your prophets provided you visions of whitewashed illusion; they did not lay bare your guilt, in order to restore your fortunes; they saw for you only oracles of empty deceit.Lamentations 2:11-14 NAB
Gracious, if that isn’t relevant. I’ve never really spent much time in Lamentations, because honestly it’s not very pleasant. I’m definitely guilty of seeking out scriptures of hope and promise and avoiding the uncomfortable ones. The introduction to Lamentations in my bible says, “…the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it.” I feel the same way about the news every dang day. “But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same“ (emphasis mine).
I think that’s where we are, friends. Or at least that’s where I am. I feel assaulted by the pain, horror, injustice, and evil in my country and overwhelmed by the fact that it comes from all sides. But I’m learning that I have to lean into the uncomfortable parts of life in order to grow. I have to examine my own heart, to identify my personal responsibility, look my sin in the face, and make it right. I’m heading to confession today.
I don’t understand the world. I don’t have all the answers and I have failed so many times. I feel pinned and inadequate, ill-equipped to grapple with the things going on in my country and paralyzed by the fear that whatever it is I do, it will never be “right” or “good enough.”
But here’s what I do know. Racism is a horror, an unequivocal sin, and a blight on our culture.
I also know that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance.
I know that we are all sinners and we are all deserving of mercy. Everyone.
I know that nothing will heal us but God, and that we’re not all called to fight injustice the same ways. But just as with the book of Lamentations, I am called to look sorrow and pain in the face and to listen. Everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t easy for me to understand or agree with. The only way forward for me is to push into the pain and to pray.
Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.
Rise up! Wail in the night, at the start of every watch; pour out your heart like water before the Lord: lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who collapse from hunger at the corner of every street.Lamentations 2:18-19
Right now my heart feels like the Centurion in today’s gospel (Matthew 8:5-17): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I know that I am unable to heal anything on my own, unable to affect change without first being healed myself, without being radically transformed by Christ.
Healing is the central theme of the gospel and healing is what our world so desperately needs. Today in Matthew, Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many more:
When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:
‘He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.’Matthew 8:16-17
He’s here to heal us, friends. We’re never going to conquer evil or injustice or pandemics without looking into our hearts with humility and honesty, taking responsibility for our place in the world, and opening ourselves to the healing light of Christ.
We have to boldly seek truth, realizing that political leaders and organizers of movements may not be completely rooted in gospel truth, regardless of whichever cause they serve. We have to develop open hearts and cunning eyes, constantly checking in with Jesus. He must be the only one we serve, not politics, parties, or movements. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we take no action but rather that we carefully discern which organizations and individuals we support rather than being swept away by every social media post we see that has an eloquent quote (something I am guilty of). We have to do our research before we align ourselves with anything or anyone.
Healing starts with recognizing the belovedness and inherent dignity in each and every person, even those who seem the most evil and ugly to us. We are called to serve justice with mercy and reconciliation. We are required to take responsibility for our actions, even if that means admitting we were wrong. We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, leaning into the discomfort and hiding ourselves in the wounds of Jesus.
Here is the prayer of my heart:
Lord Jesus, you know our hearts, where they are aching, consumed by anxiety, gripped with fear, where they are hurt, wounded, and hardened. You know all the places we store up little hopes. You know our wants and needs and all the false gods we turn to. Give us the grace to turn to you today. Lord, bolster us where we feel weak, weary, and worried.
Jesus, heal our hearts. Bind up those things in us that rebel against you. Purify us and give us hearts of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.
Father, give us eyes to see you at work in our lives, hearts that break over what breaks yours. Give us ears to hear you speaking directly to us and the humility and obedience to serve you.
Reveal yourself to us, Lord, in every person we meet. Remove our blinders that we might see belovedness all around us.
Jesus, this world is broken. We are broken. Draw us to you and comfort us at your breast. Help us to recognize you offering yourself to us and give us the grace and fortitude to offer ourselves back to you.
Y’all, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable here, but I put on real pants today, pants with buttons and a zipper, and they fit. In the spirit of that level of success and productivity, I thought I’d take the time to write down my updated list of house rules.
Previously, I’d say that our house rules were pretty normal. My demands are usually fairly minimal, stuff like “don’t jump on the couch,” “muddy shoes belong on the mat,” “don’t bring slugs indoors,” that sort of thing. But, as with most things these days, I’ve come to realize that our house rules need a little bit of a revamp.
Below you’ll see the letter I’ve written to the darling cherubim I like to call my children. Please feel free let me know if you’ve got any ideas for additions or revisions.
Dear Offspring: As I’m sure you know, times they are a-changing. Therefore, I have updated our house rules. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is long overdue, as I have heard your repeated protests and observed your continual opposition. Today, you’ll be pleased to know that I have heard you and your demands are reflected in policy changes below. Please review the proposed legislation, which follows. Thank you for your continued support in keeping our home a haven of rest, serenity, and joy for many years to come.
- Do what you want with the couch. Go ahead and jump, climb, slide, destroy, and ruin that thing…I’ve accepted the fact that its demise is near.
- Just put the shoes anywhere. I’m tired of hearing myself speak pointless reminders into the empty, echoing void.
- All future arguments will be settled by trampoline cage match. Just sort it out amongst yourselves. You know where the bandaids are.
- If you could just kind of attempt to clean your teeth, we can call it good. Just try. Do it for me and the people living in the tri-state area who can smell your stench.
- If you are tempted to tattle on someone, please refer to #3.
- Just use the screens. I don’t have it in me to police screen time anymore. Give my regards to Mario and the Koopas. Good luck with your turnips and I hope you catch a red snapper who’s looking pretty dapper. I’m out.
- If you can keep living insects out of the bathroom, that’d be cool, but I understand the deep desire to bring the outside in. Let’s just avoid the ones with stingers, shall we?
- Go on ahead and just scatter those LEGOs like party confetti. I’ve become accustomed to navigating the house as though I’m traversing minefield and I rather enjoy the challenge of charting a new potentially pain-free path through the living room every morning. If I ever find one, I’ll let you know!
- Feel free to partake in wrestlin’, wrasslin’, wranglin’, tanglin’, tumblin’, bumblin’, or any other form of fisticuffs while you’re upstairs. I accept the fact that your fighting will eventually bring the ceiling fan in the kitchen down upon me. ‘Tis inevitable.
- You’ve got open access to the nail polish, the stove, and the lawn mower. Again, you know where the bandaids are.
- Essentially, kids, the house is yours. I formally surrender to the fact that I am a mere observer of the real-life Lord of the Flies reenactment that my life has become and I shall sharpen my pike as a sign of unity with your new form of government…
- HOWEVER, No child shall eat, breathe, or make any manner of mouth noises anywhere near my person. If there is a youngster in the tri-state area who is partaking of foodstuffs and I can audibly hear the consumption of said food, I will flip my actual lid. I can handle all of the other annoyances for they are minor in comparison. But if I hear another child noisily masticate a graham cracker right in my ear, I am out. Totally not kidding, Imma check myself into a hotel and y’all are on your own. Good luck, you know where the bandaids are.
- And while we’re at it, if the rare occurrence happens in which I am granted the opportunity to sit and eat my own meal, y’all better not touch my body. Me sitting down to eat is not the signal for you to climb into my lap, hang on my arm, or violently lay your entire body across my back. It is not the time, younglings. Not. The. Time.
- In conclusion, my food is the same as your food. Actually, it’s probably just a collection of cast off scraps that I’ve pillaged and gathered from your plates. Contrary to popular belief, my meals are comprised mainly of the food you refuse to eat. Do you remember that food you loved yesterday that I foolishly assumed you’d eat again today? Anyone recall that old favorite from days of yore that you can’t bear to eat ever again? It doesn’t magically become different food when I scrape it from your pitiful plate of refusal onto a different plate which is then placed in front of me. When my plate is full of these outcast foods, it’s still the same food, so please don’t try to steal it from me. It is still the cheese I sliced incorrectly or the third helping of meat you demanded and then realized you couldn’t eat. It’s not miraculously more delicious than when you had a chance to eat it, so just let me eat it in peace. It’s all I’ve got and I just want to eat undisturbed.
Your devoted mother
At the time of publication, I literally used the phrase, “Don’t put that sheep in your pants,” so I suppose that’s getting added to the list.
Rest and Rise
I recently reached the point in the ‘ole pandemic in which I was crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I mean…if you’re not crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, are you even coronavirus-ing?? The tl:dr version is that I hit a wall.
The long version is that it was the first day of our weekend. My husband had worked yet another 60+ hour work week, and while I am eternally, eternally grateful that he’s still got a job, his working so much means I’m home alone with the kids. Again, I am so grateful but it’s hard. (Yet another of life’s strange truths: you can be indescribably thankful for something and also be completely over it.)
I started the day tender, emotional, and testy. I eventually set out to do my once a week apocalyptic Wal-Mart run, which was awful because Wal-Mart and also extra awful because pandemic. Ugh. The register was possessed and either wouldn’t scan things or inexplicably scanned things that weren’t even near it. Not kidding, a package of graham crackers was ghost scanned like ten times, so the poor cashier had to void that out and then move on to peppers that wouldn’t scan at all. The whole experience was trying, made extra frustrating by the fact that I got home and realized I had left two bags at the store.
I took it really well. (Please see: lying liar who lies.)
After I finished teaching the kids new curse words (let’s be honest, reviewing the word’s we’ve been working on for the last few weeks), I set in to fight with my husband who was being nice to me. He foolishly offered to help me, perhaps forgetting that I am a native Texan born and bred and also the clone of my mother and don’t nobody try to help me when I need it thankyouverymuch. It was one of those moments when I knew I was completely in the wrong and I needed to shut up and be humble enough to accept help, but I just couldn’t get my dumb self to do it. Lawd.
So I found myself crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, texting a dear friend who replied, “I feel like that so often. Cry it out is my theory. Don’t block the feeling because this f*$%&@! sucks.” And ain’t that just the perfect truth? So I cried at Wal-Mart and went in to get my stuff and kept on moving forward, which is just kinda where we’re all at these days. (As an aside, can I just say that masks work real well to hide the fact that you’ve been crying in the parking lot, a perk I wasn’t expecting when this whole mask thing began. So there’s a little silver lining.)
I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. Trying to piece together why I’m wound so tight, finding it so hard to cope some days. Even my (completely patient and not stubborn like me) mother told me yesterday that she, a retired person, feels inordinately stressed, rushed, and busy. She’s been making masks for folks, perfecting her pattern and sending them off to friends and family who need them, but other than that her daily life hasn’t changed all that much. She lives in a rural area in Texas that sort of forces her to isolate just due to geography. Mom and I agreed that, regardless of our life situation, there’s a pervading sense of urgency to everything we’re doing these days that seeps into our consciousness. The fact that we’re always at home doesn’t affect this pressure at all. We’re collectively operating under a sustained high level of stress, like some sort of twisted carpe diem that urges us to hustle and do “enough” while we’re effectively forced to tread water. What a time to be alive.
Separated from the Sacraments, unable to do my weekly holy hour in Adoration, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more prickly. I’ve allowed myself to settle into the mindset that I have to do things myself, my wellbeing is dependent upon my actions, I’ve got to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and it is through my own power that I will forge on ahead into the new normal, as they say.
I realize that this is clearly not due to separation on God’s part, for He is nothing if not constant. This change in attitude is due to my own weakness and sin. I’ve allowed my grief to build up walls in my heart. We’ve lost so much and I think it’s normal for our defense mechanisms to spring up. Perhaps you’re finding that, like me, you’ve become critical, prickly, and judgmental when you desperately desire to be gentle, open, loving, and free.
While this response is normal, it’s never satisfying, at least for me. The walls I put up on my heart always end up being constricting and the “control” I create is stifling and suffocating, certainly not freeing like I intend. I find that my version of “in control” often ends up looking more like paranoia and a vice grip on the steering wheel rather than the confidence and peace I’m really searching for.
The truth is, of course, that nothing I manufacture for myself will ever satisfy. The deeper truth is in the resurrection, the truth that every death I experience is a new beginning and Jesus is deeply present in both. Right now we’re in an ongoing new beginning that seems to stretch on in an eternity of unknowns. We have laid so much down, been required to offer up, sacrifice, let go, and take away. It hurts, this death of our previous lives. It hurts deeply. But after death there is always resurrection. Christ is present in it all consistently redeeming it with His endless mercy and grace. In a reflection over at Blessed is She, Kelsey Dassance says, “Let us rest and rise in His invitation to grace. Let’s live for eternal life.”
Rest and rise. I love that.
Guys, we can rest in grief. We can let ourselves be sad and cry in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We can take a moment and feel the weariness and acknowledge the fear. But we are an Easter people, are we not? We get to live the truth of the resurrection every single day. It is only in claiming that truth that we can make peace with where we’re at.
Claim the truth of the resurrection every moment of every day. That which has been killed, the places we’re laid low, the dead ends, the broken backs, the space where we’re just done…that’s where He is. Christ is right there waiting to hold space with us, be near us in our woundedness and redeem it all. Each ending, however large or inconsequential it may seem, is an opportunity to receive Him. The key, I think, is in laying down our will and taking up His. Christ specifically said,
“…I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”John 6:37-40
Guys, whether we’re grouchy, afraid, crying at the Wal-Mart, or lashing out when others offer us help, now is the time to rest and to rise. Now is the time to live the truth of the resurrection over and over and over again, as many times a day as we need. Jesus is constantly working, constantly moving, always redeeming and raising us up in every single dead space we experience. But we have to claim it. We have to open our prickly, grouchy, fear filled hearts, rest in Him and rise in His truth.
And as a caveat, let me remind you that we’re not required to rise and seize the day and come out of all this like perfectly transformed butterflies with new business ideas, angelic children, and the recipe for world peace. Shit, we don’t even have to have mastered foamy coffee or sourdough. We’re simply called to rest and rise in Christ. And when we rise, let us rise in the deep truth of our identity: that we were created from love and created to love. Let that be our transformation, to love others and ourselves through the gentle, redeeming eyes of a Savior who’s been there.
Rest and rise today, my friends. You are indescribably precious and loved.
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
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.