The Heart of the Eleven

And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?”   – Matthew 26:21-22

Swimming.  Cross-country running.  Track. Tennis.  Volleyball.  Softball.  These are the team activities the members of my family have participated in over the years.  We are not natural athletes, most of us.  We have to work really hard if we want to do more than cheer from the sidelines.  And most of the time, to be honest, the majority of our kids haven’t been interested in working that hard.  But we still strongly encourage them to join a sport. Why?  Because, when coached well, (or at least when kept in proper perspective by us as parents) it teaches them that there is more to life than “me.”  It teaches them that when the team wins, they win, even if  they did poorly, or didn’t play.  And when the team suffers, they suffer, even if it was their best performance.

This is an important lesson for each of us.  And it’s one we don’t just learn once, but one we must continue to challenge ourselves to remember in each of the “teams” we join later in life.  The “team” of co-workers at work, the “team” of our fellow parishioners, the “team” of our family, the “team” of our fellow citizens, the “team” of humanity (the world).

But it’s easy to get side-tracked.  It’s easy to get so focused on building our retirement portfolios that we forget to carve out a portion of it to help our fellow citizens.  It’s easy to get so focused on building a name for ourselves in our business that we forget to raise others up when they’ve done well, too.  It’s easy to get so focused on what we want, that we forget to give thanks for all we’ve been given.

We see this again and again in the lives of the twelve disciples…James and John ask to be the two chosen to sit on either side of Jesus in his glory. (Mark 10:35-37).  Peter  may have been trying to gain favor over the disciples with Jesus when he proclaims, “Master, then not only my feet, but my head and hands as well!”  (John 13:1-6)

We come by it honestly to think of ourselves, it seems.

However, by the grace of God, we can discipline ourselves to grow beyond that.  To be able to put others first, or to cheer others on, even when we ourselves aren’t doing so well.  This, it seems to me, was the mature self-discipline that eleven of the twelve disciples show us today.  For when Jesus foretells that one of the twelve will betray him, they all grow “deeply distressed.”  Why?  Because if Jesus is going to be betrayed, then they are already hurting for him!  Asking “Surely, it isn’t I?” doesn’t seem to be a question with hidden motives of self-interest, because as of yet,  there is no foretelling of what fate will befall the betrayer, there is only mention that Jesus will be hurt by a betrayal.  And for the eleven, when one hurts, they all hurt.

We get to see what self-interest looks like, however, when Jesus goes on to say that as for  his betrayer it would be “better for that man if he had never been born.”  In saying this, he cleverly draws out his betrayer by mentioning the  single subject of the most import to him:  himself.  And it is only then we see Judas alone ask, “Surely, it is not I?”

Now, please understand I’m not saying team sports are the answer to self-sacrifice.  There are certainly lots of stories about how, when coached poorly, or when parents are unrealistic about their kids’ abilities, requiring their kids to be a part of team sports can create a self-focused, self-absorbed individual, or cause more damage to their self-esteem than good.  I’m saying that it’s important to use whatever opportunities we have in this life to help our kids (and remind ourselves) that God desires us to have hearts like those of the eleven.  Hearts that empathize and sympathize and break for others when they suffer.  Hearts that celebrate others’ joys even in the midst of our own sorrows.  Hearts that “lay down their life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

This is the heart of Jesus, and the heart of his disciples.

Reflect:  What are the “teams” in my life right now?  What is one way I can help raise others up on each of these “teams” rather than focus on my own successes or failures?  How can I encourage others to have a “Jesus heart” into the teams and groups I’m involved in?

Pray:  Lord, we thank you for opportunity to remember there is so much more to the world then our own sufferings, our own failures and successes, and our own interests.  Please help me see those around me who could use some encouragement today, and help me to provide the encouragement they need.  Thank you for always being the source of encouragement for us.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Near Occasion of Sin

After [Judas] took the morsel, Satan entered him.  -John 13:27

There is a beautiful (free!) video series about the Holy Spirit and all his works hosted by Fr. Dave Pivonka called, “The Wild Goose is Loose.”  In one of the segments, Fr. Dave is standing just outside the St. Louis Arch and explains how while the Arch is a symbolic gateway to the West;  for Christians, the sacraments are like a gateway for the grace of God to enter our souls and bless our lives.  It’s a beautiful thought and a powerful image of the desire for God to enter into our lives and carry out his work through us.  As one priest recently said, “God only needs us to open the doors of our hearts–even just a small crack– and he will squeeze his way in!”

Today, we read what I see as another “gateway” in John’s account of the betrayal of Judas.  The gateway of sin. In this passage John tells us that Jesus announces to the twelve that one of them will betray him.  After John asks him which of them it will be, Jesus says, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  Then Jesus dips the bread and hands it to Judas.  I love John’s account of this incident, because it’s more like my experiences with sin in my own life.  The way I see it here Judas has two choices–either take the bread, or DON’T take the bread.  Now, clearly I have the benefit of 2000+ years of history to help me know the ramifications that come from taking the bread. So this is why I can’t help but think, “Oh, Judas, why would you take the bread?” Still, he does.  Even though Jesus has just said that the one who he hands it to will betray him, Judas takes the bread.  And it is only after he does this, John tells us, that Satan enters into Judas.

I’d like to think I don’t know what’s going on here.  I’d like to pretend that I would NEVER take the bread under those circumstances and that I would fall at the feet of Jesus begging his forgiveness.  But, like I said, I have the benefit of history on my side, and so I know better.

But do I?  Allow me a simple, but very real, true story.  We have a local bakery here that is amazing.  It bakes the yummiest, most sweet and delicious desserts and pastries you’ve likely ever encountered.  It’s won prizes for it’s heavenly-tasting foods and when you walk into the store it has plates and plates and plates of generously sized samples sitting out for you to try, all free of charge.  You can just go in and sample your day away if you’d like.  They have Danish Kringles in flavors you’ve only dreamed about, breads and flavored butters, and some days even whole slices of angel food cake…to eat as a SAMPLE!  It’s amazing. But only if you like sweets.  And I don’t just like sweets.  I {head-over-heels, heart-eyed-emoji, over-the-moon} LOVE these sweets!  I always tell people I could never tell you what I don’t like at our local bakery, I can only tell you what I like least.  There is no bad pastry in the place!

But.

It is not a place I can even drive near when I’m trying to cut out carbs and sugar.  Or my car will go in and park, my legs will walk me in and  I will  sample the day away.  And before I know it my sweet tooth will be craving all the days it’s missed of sweets and then some.  Because at my local bakery, when I take even one piece, I cannot control how many more I will take.  

And this is where I can relate to Judas.

And I see that just as the sacraments are a beautiful gateway to God’s grace, my poor choices are sometimes a gateway into actions and ramifications that quickly go beyond my control.  God is not the only one looking to squeeze his way into the cracked-open doors of my life.  Satan is waiting, too.

And for some of us this sounds perfectly normal.  But for many, Satan seems so unreal.  Much of the world has done a great job of making “the devil” sound like a fantasy creature.  Someone who can be dismissed–along with the “boogie man” and the “monster under your bed” –after we reach a certain age of reason,   And it’s easy to see why.   Because how is he depicted so often?  With his red horns, a spiked tail and a pitchfork?!  Of course that’s silly and childish!  But that’s not who he is!  Of course not. The devil is no more that, than God is an old man on a cloud with a beard and a lightning bolt smiting people down.  These are symbols of two very real, spiritual beings that, while both invisible, are both more powerful than us.  And while we can stand confident in knowing that God is more powerful than the devil, we must realize that we are not!

So what can we do?

Well, of course we can pray for the strength to close the door on our bad choices and sin.  But we also  need to avoid the behaviors and things that put cracks in the foundation of our faith and build barriers that block that endless flow of God’s grace in our lives.  We sometimes call these things the “near occasion of sin.”   While the bakery is not in and of itself a sinful place, in terms of healthy eating,  for me, it is a “near occasions of sin.”  Because it is an entry-way into a slippery slope of poor food choices that can unravel days and even weeks of hard work.  It’s best to be avoided–or at least severely limited–in my life.  Because when I frequent the bakery I can begin to lose sight of my healthy goals,  and I can even fall into a kind of despair about never being able to eat healthy again.

And once I open the door to despair, like Judas, I find myself disappearing into darkness. A darkness that I cannot overcome on my own.

But we don’t all have to suffer the fate of Judas.  We can follow Peter.  Peter who also betrays our Lord (not once, but three times!),but never gives up hope.  Peter grasps that he is not all-knowing and that he can be forgiven when he has made bad choices.  Even bad choices that harm those he loves very deeply.

There is always forgiveness.  There is always God’s mercy.

Today, identify and avoid one “near occasion of sin” in your life, and let your heart be flooded with the power of God’s grace.

Reflect:  “Do you reject Satan and all his works?  And all his empty promises?”  These are the opening questions to a Renewal of Baptismal Promises recited during the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.  Spend time thinking about your answers to this today as well as why the Church asks this.  While we don’t need to give the devil a lot of our thoughts and time, it is helpful from time to time to remind ourselves there is a force more powerful than us that is working contrary to God in our lives, and look for those “cracked-open doors” that we may need to shut in order to see God more clearly.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for your endless gift of grace!  Wash me in your mercy and forgiveness, so that I may be free to see clearly the places where my actions are contrary to your will.  Help me to avoid even the near occasion of sin in my life so that I may walk more closely with you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is Your Moses?

The Lord told Moses, “Quick!  Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.”  Exodus 32:7 (NLT)

“You need to talk to your son.”

“Ask your daughter what she did today.”

Over the years remarks like these were occasionally the first words I’d have for my husband after his long day at work and my equally long day of housework and mothering.  I doubt my husband was energized be these words, but sometimes, no matter how loud or often I’d say certain things to our kids, they just needed to hear it from someone else.  Someone who loved them as much as I did, but who would have a different approach to whatever the situation was, and therefore a different ear to listen to their plight as well.

Today’s Old Testament reading can be troubling unless read through the lens of what is true about God eons ago, today and forever:  God is Love.  God loves us.  God can ONLY love us.  He is not capable of anything less.

However, this is also true:  sometimes love hurts.

In today’s Old Testament passage we read how the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, have once again fallen into behaviors of idol worship and have lost faith and trust in God.  God, seeing this, tells Moses to go down and talk to them.  Now, there’s lots more there, too, about God telling Moses to leave him alone with the people and allow his “wrath to consume” them and Moses begging God to “repent of this evil against your people.”  Though this may be frightening, the exchange can be beautiful if we keep two things in mind:  God is Love and love hurts.

Our sins–that is any choices we make that turn us away from God–hurt him.    The people of Israel made choices that hurt God.  And though the emotions and attitude of God are written in a way that personifies him, in the Old Testament God is not a “person” in the sense that we understand the word. But God is often personified, (that is, described in human terms to make the mystery of God more understandable to us), and he is personal, meaning he desires a personal relationship with each one of us, just as he desired to have with the people of Israel so long ago.    This is why, like the people of Israel, when we choose to turn away from a relationship with God, it is personal to him, and it hurts him.  (And though we may not realize it at the time, it hurts us, too.)

But God never gives up on us!

Instead, through the proper lens, we can see that God uses someone to intercede for him.  And in today’s reading that someone is Moses.  Though God is perfectly capable of doing whatever he wants in that moment, he chooses Moses to return to the people and plead with them to change their ways and put their trust back in God.

I can’t help but smile at the words the ancient writer of Exodus (whom many scholars believe to be Moses himself) used for God’s command to Moses in calling the people of Israel “your people,”  when in previous chapters he’d called them “my people.”   Because it assures me that just as I  (usually when it was something I was less than thrilled about or hurt by) have occasionally called my own children “your son/daughter” to my husband,  I can say with absolute certainty that I did not love my children any less at those times.  And we can be assured that when we’ve turned away from God he doesn’t love us any less either.  In fact,  we can take comfort in knowing that he loves us so much he will send a “Moses” into our lives in an effort to bring us back to him. We need only keep our eyes and hearts open to look for them, and turn back to God when they appear to us. Because, just as love hurts when it’s been broken, love that is restored heals.

God is Love.

God loves you.

If you cannot see or feel God’s love for  you, ask him to send you a Moses!

Reflect:  Who are the people in my life that help me see God more clearly?  That help me think God cares about me?  That have encouraged me to seek out God?   If you can’t think of anyone, then ask for God to send you someone to help you see his love more clearly.  Whether  you have been blessed with one “Moses” or many in your life, give thanks to God for each of them today. Just as the people needed Moses, Moses needed the prayers of the people, too.

Pray:  Lord, thank you for the people you have placed in my life that have tried to lead me closer to you!  I may not always appreciate their words and actions, and I may sometimes be reluctant to make the changes I need to in order to restore my relationship with you, but I thank you for never giving up on me! And I ask you to help me keep my eyes and heart open for the next Moses you send. Amen.

 

Ocean Swimming

…but there was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river that could not be crossed except by swimming.                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 47:5

One of the first songs that guided and consoled me when I began the timid steps of following Jesus, was Matt Maher’s “Come to the Water.”  I sang/prayed it for days   pondering its message and taking comfort in its words and melody.  Then, after several days of this, I remember walking into our basement storage room and before I even turned on the light I could smell it: the damp, dank smell that comes with a pool of lifeless water.  I anxiously threw on the light and was relieved to see, not the flooded storage room I feared, but simply a large puddle due to a drain pipe that had accidentally been kicked away from the drain.  Whew!  Simple clean-up and a simple fix. Having restored my heart to its natural rhythm, I thought of the song and remember turning my eyes to heaven and saying, “Thank you, Lord, but this was not the water I’ve been praying for!”  And then I laughed out loud.  And I started to realize that maybe God has a sense of humor, too.

Today’s readings provide us with fantastic images of the kind of water we long for:  the Living Water that is Jesus. Images of water pouring out of the temple and into the Dead Sea in the Old Testament and a pool of healing water for the ill and crippled in the New Testament are the two bookends that point toward the Living Water that is Jesus.

The reading from Ezekiel was especially powerful for me today.  An angel brings Ezekiel to the temple of the Lord and shows him this water that starts spilling out of it as a trickle and ends in a flowing river too deep to cross without swimming. And I’m overwhelmed with images of my own life, and God’s work in me.

I sit with the images awhile and return to a prayer I’d nearly forgotten.  It’s a prayer that maybe feels unnatural to some because it’s less of prayer as we think of it and more of an encounter with Jesus.  In this prayer I picture myself lying in a pool of water that to me looks a lot like a babbling brook or a creek that would run through someone’s back yard.  I’m lying on my back and the water surrounds every part of me including about four inches over my face.  Knowing that the water is a symbol of Jesus, I relax in the water and the water is Him.  I rest in Him.  I float in Him.  He cools me if I’m warm and warms me if I’m cool.  I breathe Him in.  He cleanses me inside and out. He heals my wounded heart. He soothes my raw and sensitive spots.  He restores  my soul.  He replenishes my spirit.  We share no words (though you could), because this encounter–this heart-to-heart, face-to-face, breath-to-breath experience –is so much deeper than words if you let it.

Then after several minutes of this, I open my eyes.

And it’s hard to explain the changes I experience after these encounters because they’re subtle, but very real.  My body feels reenergized, my mind is clearer, my outlook is  brighter and the world appears somehow softer (more fragile, maybe even?)  and I am more aware that I have a purpose in it.  A mission to make changes where I can, when I can, as often as I can, as long as I can.

This is the Living Water that is so deep and so wide, that I realize I can never cross it, except by letting go of everything.  And in Him I find an ocean of everything I need..healing and love and comfort and mercy and grace.

And after reflecting on all of this, , I smile a grateful smile and turn my eyes to heaven, and say the only thing I can think to say… Thank you!  THIS is Water I was praying for.

Reflect:  How do I see Jesus as the Living Water in my life? Am I fighting Him by treading water?  Drowning in Him and afraid to let go? Thirsting for Him but not sure where to turn?  Immersed in Him, but relying on an oxygen tank? Whatever your understanding, spend a few minutes and sit with the thoughts of water and Jesus and see what comes to mind for you.  Ask Jesus to show you what He wants you to know or see. 

Pray:  Lord, thank for being Living Water for us!  Thank you for the times you replenish us and the times we thirst for you.  Help us to remember that your oceans of love and mercy are readily available to each of us, and that just as the ocean meets the beach, you are happy to meet us where we are, whether we are watching from the shore, or swimming in your depths.  You beckon us, but never force us in your love.  Amen.

There’s New Wine in Me Yet

Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.  – John 4:46

I love the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana.  It resonates with me on many levels.  it’s a beautiful exchange between mother and son, where Mary, the Blessed One, looks to the Chosen One, her son and Savior, to help the wedding hosts who have –quite embarrassingly–run out of wine.  So Jesus intervenes, turns water into wine and effectively saves the day.  This is Jesus’ first miraculous act in public ministry, and yet only John records it.  Why?

I’m not sure.  What I do know from experience is that weddings are private events.  They are celebrated with only those closest to us either by blood or by friendship.  It seems reasonable that since John is the “beloved disciple” –and the one to whom Jesus later charges with the care of his Mother at the time of his death– that more than the other disciples, he would have likely also been close to the friends or relatives of Jesus’ mother, (who many scripture scholars speculate this wedding couple to be), and therefore would have been one of the few, or perhaps the only disciple of Jesus, to have witnessed this miracle.

Regardless, I’m particularly grateful for it, because the above quoted line from scripture harkened back to that miracle for me today.  And in this mid-point of Lent, it reminded me that as I feel the weight of the Lenten season upon me now, Jesus is not done with me yet!  Like the turning of water into wine, a transformation has to occur.  And though we can read about the many public miracles of healing Jesus performs during his ministry, like the water into wine, the miraculous transformations he performs in each of us are private, deeply intimate, and personal to us.  They are transformations we need, in order to become the holy people God wants us to be.  And while the outcome is really nothing short of miraculous, the process for us is usually less of an instant “water into wine” transformational event, and more like grapes fermenting into wine through a slow and difficult process.

But the outcome– the “new life” that we become as a result of it– is still nothing short of miraculous.

I’m reminded today that just as Jesus returned to Cana in today’s reading, he is eager to return to you and I in this Lenten season and do more transformational work.  The question is, are we willing to let him?  Just as she did in Cana, we can certainly ask for our Blessed Mother to intercede on our behalf to help us!

Here’s a bonus link for you today that dovetails nicely, I think, with today’s message.   I’m grateful to have stumbled across this song last week and have been prayerfully singing it ever since:  New Wine by Hillsong

Reflect:  What are some ways you’ve seen yourself change in the past several months?  Are you more joyful, more positive?  Or are you growing discouraged, tired, and distraught?  Whether you answer yes to the first question or the latter, take a moment today to see one positive change in your life over the last few months and really thank God for it!  Give him total credit for making that happen in your life and then reflect a little on how, like the vessels at the wedding feast at Cana,  God may have chosen to use you to make that happen, or like John, he may have chosen you–and perhaps ONLY you–to witness it!

Pray:  Lord Jesus, thank you for always wanting to make me a better person!  While I sometimes find the process difficult, and I don’t always participate willingly into your plan, I trust you to lead me only to what is good for me.  I surrender my will to yours and ask you to create in me all you desire me to be, so that I can become more like you.  Amen.

 

 

2014: Starting My Year on Sabbatical

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  Mark 1:35

After a wonderful Christmas with family and some time spent reflecting on what I want and hope to see happen in the New Year, I’ve felt compelled to take a step back from blogging for awhile.  I have some writing projects I’m working on with a good friend and have found after some practice that I’m simply not equipped to “do it all” (i.e., keep up a blog, and work on other writing projects, plus, you know, be a mom), or at I least I can’t do it all at once!

At this point, I do not have a specific idea of how long I will be away from the blog, though I know it will be at least a month…perhaps several…perhaps the entire year.  Time will tell! 🙂

I hope the New Year brings you much peace and prosperity.  I have embraced the word “Wellness” for the New Year, and it is already proving to be a nice navigational tool for my health and fitness focus (hello dry-roasted almonds, goodbye Peanut Butter Blossoms) as well as for the the six other areas that encompass overall wellness.

Thanks for reading along with me the past few years, and thanks for dropping comments or encouraging words along the way. They have meant more to me than you’ll ever know!

Until we meet again…have a blessed 2014!

Expectant Waiting

 

 Mary kissing Baby Jesus

On this day forty –some years ago, at least two mothers I know sat in hopeful expectation of the birth of a child.  The first mother already had three little ones at home.  This, the delivery of her soon-to-be fourth child, carried a greater reason for concern.  There had previously been complications, and, if her doctor had had the final word, this child would not have been created at all.  The risk to both mother and child for a successful delivery was greater than he felt comfortable delivering.  Nevertheless, a child was soon coming into the world, and despite her doctor’s fears and concerns, the mother held out hope and confidence that this child would be delivered safely into the world.

The second mother had one child at home and was eagerly looking forward to the experience the delivery this second child promised.  For the delivery of her first child, her husband had been absent due to the growing conflict –many called it war—in Vietnam.  At that time, she’d had to wait six months before even introducing their first-born child to his father.  Now, the war had ended, her husband was home, and this baby would know the loving gaze of both its parents, right from the start.

In both instances, there was much to celebrate:  obstacles overcome, milestones reached, dreams realized and the simple reality of promise and hope soon to be held in their arms.  Both instances also had very real doubts about the possibility of it all working out.  What if something is wrong with the child?  What if the child or the mother doesn’t survive the delivery?  But these questions would only be answered by moving forward through the process, when the time was right.  Waiting and worrying were hardly productive. There was only room for hope and promise now.

Remarkably, (or perhaps not so remarkably, because most days we take it all granted) the first mother went on to have a healthy baby boy, and the second, a healthy baby girl.

Almost twenty years after their births, these stories merged where few would have guessed.  The boy and the girl grew up, met, and fell in love.  They went on to have three beautiful children and as normal a life together as anyone could hope for them.

This month at our house, we celebrate the birthdays of those two babies born so long ago.

The boy was my husband.

The girl was me.

As I reflect on these stories today, through the eyes of my mother-in-law and my mom, I am reminded of the expectant hope in all of us this Advent season. May we wait with the same quiet confidence and joyful hearts of soon-to-be mothers everywhere.

And may God continue to reveal himself to us all in ways we never imagined!

Happy birthday, Ted!

Love,

Lisa

Photo source:  Google search, artist unknown

The Gift of Darkness

Gift of Darkness3

As the daylight draws more rapidly to a close in the weeks ahead, it is hard not to feel as though the world itself is losing the battle for light.

I have found that, if I am not careful, I can begin to grow quite comfortable in the darkness.  After all, even in darkness we find comfort, but here it is very often the ego that comforts us. In the darkness, our ego minimizes our spiritual wants and rationalizes our spiritual needs to the point that we may begin to doubt that we need God at all.  We grow complacent, convincing ourselves that our bad habits– ranging anywhere from the socially shameful habits of alcohol or drug abuse to the socially acceptable habits of material self-indulgence–aren’t hurting anyone (or at least only me). 

And we forget that we were born into the light.

The light is not welcome now.  When light begins to dawn, we turn away, digging ourselves deeper into our own little corner of the world, where we are in control, even if it’s only in the shadows. Our darkness has become our blanket of comfort and protection. Our habits serve us just fine.

We don’t feel suffering at all, until our habits get old and stop serving us the way they once did.  Then the struggle begins anew, as we try to find ever more “things” to appease our wants and desires—more drugs, more financial security, more “friends” so that we never have to be alone (with ourselves).

In that struggle, somewhere deep within, we remember that we are made for the light.  We find ourselves filled with longing for it. We know suffering once more, because we see we can only be in control in the darkness—we cannot control the light.  We may become fearful that the hole we have dug for ourselves this time is too deep, too dark, too far from the light to ever feel its warmth again.

Only then do we realize the gift that darkness brings…an opportunity to welcome the Light once more.

1.  Prayer taken from Little Pieces of Light…Darkness and Personal Growth, by Joyce Rupp.

A Lesson in Silence

“Silence is God’s first language.”  – St. John of the Cross

Years ago, my husband and I read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  We weren’t far into the book at all when we learned that while a kind or heartfelt word or sentence for me is the equivalent to a warm embrace, my husband would much prefer the physical embrace of a hug to loving words of affection.  What we learned from the book was that each of our primary “love languages” (the gestures and behaviors in which we best understand love) differed for each of us.  With that new awareness, we began to make an effort to “speak” each other’s primary love language more often.  While our marriage had been strong before, we found that understanding this about each other and making a few changes to the way in which we behaved towards each other took us to a deeper level of appreciating and understanding our marital connection.

That’s why, when I read the words of St. John of the Cross defining God’s “first language” as silence, I believed that if I wanted to get to experience God on an even deeper level, I needed to make some adjustments to my habits and behaviors.   I understood that making time for silence in my life  was the equivalent to making time for God.  As a result, over the past several weeks, I’ve changed my behavior in such a way that I’ve deliberately “penciled in” quiet time with God.   And by that, I mean I spend time in absolute silence.  It is time spent outside of my “normal” time with God (the times when I read Scripture and pray or meditate), so when I started I hardly knew what to expect.  It seemed silly to be nervous, but, at the same time, absolute silence is really not something many of us are used to.  What if I started hearing voices?  Or, even worse, what if I drove myself mad?

No doubt, silence can be uncomfortable.  Especially in comparison to the “normal” hustle and bustle of our daily lives.  Most of us hit the alarm clock in the morning, swing our legs out of bed and go, go, go all day long hopping from one task to another with hardly a breath in between.   In addition, electricity and technology make it all too convenient for us to spend any time in solitude (silence’s close friend).  As a result, when we do stumble into a moment without being “plugged in” to something outside ourselves, it is understandable why we may quickly grow uncomfortable, restless, and fidgety.  In addition, even if our body has built-in times of rest throughout our day, our minds usually still zip around checking off all the things we got done, the things we still need to do, and things that we plan to do “some day.”

When I embraced the idea that God’s primary language is silence, I realized that while I’d spent my life fully expecting (and at times, even demanding) that God come to me and speak my primary language of love (“Just give me a sign! Any sign!”), the thought had never occurred to me to make time to learn to “speak” His language.

I had doubts that I was even up for the task.

I quickly learned, however, that my “faith the size of a mustard seed” (Matthew 17:20) was all I needed to bring.  That is why, with great confidence, I encourage and invite you to make time– even if only a little– to spend with God in His “first language.”  I have found silence with God to be not only a welcome–but also a very necessary– part of my daily life.  By implementing this practice into our daily lives, it is my prayer that we will grow to learn what Job has known from the beginning, “If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom!”  (Job 13:5)

Freely Given

When I was a tween, I loved the “Flowers in the Attic” books by V.C. Andrews.  They were among one of the first “scandalous” books about love and family I’d read, and they initiated my cross-over from the  babyish “Young Adult” section to the grown-up “Fiction” section of the book store.  In the pages of those books, I had become so engrossed in the lives of the characters, that I was truly sad to say goodbye to them.  So you can imagine my elation when, a short time later, I learned that V.C. Andrews was releasing a new book—the start of another series.  Wanting to read it right away, I knew it would take a while for me to get a newly released book at our local library, so I made a plan to save up my money and buy it as soon as it hit the book store shelves.  For weeks, I saved up my hard-earned money until finally, I bought the book!    That is why it was such a painful decision when my neighbor–somebody that would hang out with me out of convenience of proximity more than out of interest in being my true friend–asked me if she could borrow the book.  I hadn’t even read it yet, and I told her so.  To me, the fact that I hadn’t yet read it explained everything, but she didn’t seem to think so.  She continued to pester me for the book.  She assured me she would take good care of it.  I felt guilt sinking in.  I began to reason the possibilities.  It’s a brand new book.  She might lose it.  She might not ever give it back.  She might drop it in a mud puddle or spill food on it.  There was no way I would give it to her. But then, my Sunday school upbringing and the image of the Santa Clause-like God that was supposed to teach me goodness and save my soul, (even though He seemed a little bit scary, incredibly powerful and very judgmental), pushed the guilt I felt to an intolerable level within me.  The angel of my conscience must have been all but visible on my shoulder.  You should share. Let her borrow the book. It will get you to heaven.  In the end, my conscience overpowered me.  What could really happen? I shrugged and reluctantly handed her the book, fully expecting it would come back to me as good as new.

Not surprisingly, it took weeks for her to give it back to me.  I would ask about it and drop hints that I would like it back pronto, but it seemed that she was in no hurry.  Further, she informed me the book wasn’t nearly as good as she’d thought it was going to be.  When she finally did return it to me, I nearly cried.  While I clearly enjoyed reading books and tucking in bookmarks to mark my pages in an effort of new-book preservation, she clearly preferred to wrap the front cover around the book as she read, and dog-ear pages or leave the book cracked open, face down to mark her place.  The book no longer looked new.  I was sick to my stomach thinking about the generosity of my heart and the sacrifice I’d made to give her the book.  The world had taught me an important lesson:   Don’t be a doormat.  Stand up for yourself.  Do not be bullied into sharing things that belong to you, even if someone makes you feel guilty. 

I never forgot that lesson the world taught me.  I rarely loaned out books at all, and when I did it was only when I was sure I was done with them, totally prepared to lose them forever.  In other words, only when it would be of no sacrifice to me whatsoever.

As the years wore on, I met others who loved books every bit as much as me, but seemed to have no attachment to them at all.  Instead, where my paranoia and need to control who was taking and bringing  books from my personal library had me feeling frayed and frustrated, they would demonstrate—time and again—their lack of attachment by sharing with me books they’d enjoyed, with no expectation or deadline for their return.  Their actions demonstrated for me a new way of handling my books.  For me, it was the “Jesus way,” the flesh-and-blood-God-with-us experience that opened my heart to reconsider my death-grip hold on my books. That experience softened my approach.  I began to share my books a little more freely, but only to those I had faith in, those who were deserving, those who’d earned my trust.  This loosening of control over my personal library left me feeling God-like.  Generous. Almighty. What I failed to see though was that I had only “evolved” into the God of my youth—the Santa Clause-like God who gave toys to only the “good boys and girls.”

Years later, the fact was dawning on me that perhaps my “generous” actions to embody the “image” in Whom I’d been made were no longer a true representation of the God in which I believed.  This was barely a thought, really.  But it is clear to me now this thought was dawning on me because I’d made a new friend who was raising the bar for me in the world of book-loaning.  I had taken note with awe at countless books she’d given me.  Time and time again.  At least a dozen.  Maybe more.  And I mean GIVEN.  Freely.  “You might like this,” she would say.  And inevitably I would.  I would like it.  I would LOVE it, in fact.  And I would tuck it safely on my library shelf, partly because I didn’t know of anyone else who would be interested in reading it, but really–mostly–because I wanted to OWN those books for myself.

Then, barely recognizable, an opportunity presented itself.

Some might call it a “test.”

My husband told me of someone he knew who was really struggling, a recovering addict who was trying to hold his marriage together and stay “recovered,” but who was also feeling so lost and confused and unsure—particularly about God—that he just didn’t know what to do.

I felt for the man as my husband shared his story with me.  I wanted to help him, but how?  Suddenly, I had an idea.  I went and grabbed a book out of cardboard box.  “Tell him he should read this,” I said.  And I showed my husband what I thought would be the perfect answer for this man.  It was my newly bought, unread copy of my favorite author’s book that I had just received from Amazon.  As I showed my husband the book, I felt something stirring inside of me.  A long-forgotten memory perhaps?  I knew this man was struggling.  And I desperately wanted to help. “Tell him to get this book and read it,” I said again, tightening my grip on the book and waving it in my husband’s face.

That lesson of the world was still with me.  I knew that giving things away that were special to me, could leave me feeling very short-changed. This book was unread.  Brand new.  Mine.  I was starting to panic a bit because I had a sinking feeling that I should give him this actual copy, and not make him order his own.  Let’s face it, I knew that when I am struggling–full of fear and doubt and concern and worry—like this man, what helps me most has never been someone telling me to spend my own money, order a book, wait for the book to arrive, and then begin reading.  What has helped me has been someone putting a book in my hand and saying, “Read this.”  Just like my friend had done for me time and time again.  But then a voice of reason chimed in:  if I haven’t read it yet, how do I even know if it’s what he’ll need.  A good point, but quickly forgotten, as my eyes came to rest on the spines of all the books on my shelf given to me over the years by my friend who’d never once asked for reimbursement, nor for their return.  In fact, in that moment I came to the full realization that she’d never even asked me if I’d read them.  And I didn’t know a single person who was more at peace and content with life than her.

I realized then that she, through her actions, had provided for me the experience– the Spiritual embodiment –of “gifts freely given.”

It was the God-like image I was being invited to become myself.

It was also the same opportunity to experience transformation now, just as it was when I was a tween.  The only difference was that now, so many years later, I had the Triune wisdom—the Father, Son and Spirit–of my choices to topple the “worldly wisdom” that had been prevailing within me for so long.  What seemed like “common sense” to hold onto something I’d just bought and hadn’t yet had the chance to enjoy, suddenly seemed hollow and empty in comparison to the opportunity to provide something that just might be the tool this man needed in his struggle.  The “ramifications” of my choices were crystal-clear now:  I was no longer choosing between an angel on my shoulder and my so-called friend’s guilt-trip.  Now, I was choosing between my own selfishness and reaching out to a man in the midst of struggle.  I was experiencing the promise that Jesus made of “his yoke being easy and his burden light.”  The decision was so easy, it could hardly be called a decision.  It was more of a shifting in the wind.  A change in perspective. A “giving in” to the flow of a current much more powerful than I.

“No,” I said then to my husband, “scratch that.  Don’t tell him to get it.  Just give him this one.”

And I see now that both as a tween and as an adult in these two opportunities, I said yes.  But, the first time, I didn’t have the life experience to understand the benefit of my actions, and so I was left with only the “world” pointing out the foolishness of my ways.  Don’t be a doormat.  Stand up for yourself.  Do not be bullied into sharing things that belong to you….  Those thoughts transformed me in ways that I am only now– decades later– beginning to undo:  the hardening of my heart, the giving in to reason, the berating myself for being “too nice.”

For me, had I not stayed on a spiritual journey– not “found God”– I believe it wouldn’t matter how old I lived, I would still have the mindset of my tween-self.  Because without God, without Jesus, without the Holy Spirit to guide me, there are really only two choices in every decision:  one that leaves me feeling like I did the “right thing” or one that leaves me feeling like a “fool.”

Now, as I continue on my journey, I am reminded time and time again through similar opportunities to give away, to share, to be made a “fool,” that it is not so important what we give, or to whom, or even why…but that we do give.  Freely.  Because the truth is that I am neither the “good person” I once thought I was, nor am I the “fool.”  I am merely an “image” of the God I love. And that “image” –in every instance –has the power to transform.