Susanna’s Message

…but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.   Daniel 13:57

The sex scandal in the Catholic Church has captured headlines for many years.  When news of it first broke in 2002 (as depicted in the movie Spotlight), it caused great shock and awe in both Catholic congregations and across the globe.  Even today, details of the horrific crimes of abuse and cover-up are still being revealed as dioceses across the country are bringing to light the names of those priests and clergy members who were responsible in any way for causing pain and harm to its many victims. And as dioceses around the world continue to find scandal and cover-ups of their own.

This is the Church.  The one place where we should be able to go as a “safe space” for all.

But how can we when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

Today’s story in Daniel exists  in the Catholic biblical canon, but may also be found in the Apocrypha of many Protestant bibles.  In this story, we find, Susanna, a pure and pious spouse of a church patriarch, Joakim, being threatened by two corrupt elders who insist that Susanna succumb to their lustful desires or they will accuse her (falsely) of adultery with a young man and she will be sentenced to death.  She seemingly only has two options:  do as they wish and sleep with the two men, or die.

Enter Daniel.

Daniel sees through the two elders to the underlying truth.  He sees that their stories don’t add up, and he demands the two elders be separated to give their testimony.  And when they do, they each describe its events differently, which proves their guilt and Susanna’s innocence, and they are then put to death and Susanna escapes abuse and is free.

I can’t help but see some parallels in the story of the religious elders of ancient Israel and the hierarchy of the Church today.  Then, like now, corruption existed in religious settings.  Then, like now, it wasn’t in everybody and everywhere, but it was in some…and even one victim is one too many.

But there is hope.

Then, like now, more and more often details of the scandal are being brought to the light.  Then, like now, victims advocate groups and counselors rise to help those who have suffered.  Then, like now, people’s eyes were opened.  And while it stinks to feel as though we have to scrutinize the leaders of our churches (or our corporation or our country, etc. ), it’s a good reminder to me that the reason for that is because there is only one True Authority, one Truth we can trust in this world, or any world…and that is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Though Susanna walked the earth many years before Jesus, like Jesus her heart was aligned with God, the Father.  This daughter of Judah, remains faithful to God in the midst of this little -known scandal,  just as many years later a little babe who is born in the “hill country” of Judah, called Bethlehem, remains faithful to God the Father to the point of death on a Cross.  Then He rises into New Life, breathing that Life into the very Church of today.

My footnotes tell me Susanna is a “type” of the Church.  (In biblical talk, a “type” is a foreshadowing of sorts–someone or some thing that parallels someone or some other thing that happens later in history). Like Susanna, we the Church, should not tolerate wickedness, neither outside her “walls,” nor within them.  Like Susanna, we the Church can overcome scandal.  We owe it to the thousands of victims who have suffered at the hands of it, and we owe it to Jesus who died because of it.  We need not fear it.  And we need not despair over it.  We need simply let the Light shine upon it, until the last stone is overturned.

Until then, we put our hope in the day when we, like Susanna’s husband and parents, can say with every confidence “praise God…because nothing shameful was found in her.”

Reflect:  Have I lost faith in God because of the wrongdoings of men?  What can I do to be like Daniel, and help victims of abuse (either in or outside the Church) in my area?  How can I deepen my faith in Jesus, so that when uncertain times fall upon me, I can still trust in his goodness and love?

Pray:  Lord, today we pray for all those who have suffered abuse at the hands of those they trusted, or through random violent attacks.  Help us to love one another, to understand one another and to have compassion and provide counsel for all those who suffer, but especially for those who suffer from abuse by church and religious leaders whom they trusted.  We will not tolerate that wickedness.  Empower us to continue shining your Light until the last stone is overturned.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

An Oasis of Laughter

Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.  – Esther 14:14

We learn as small children that the smile is a facial expression for “happy” and that a frown is a facial expression for “sad.”  So, most of us, I think, see gladness and sorrow as polar opposites.  As a simple communication tool that’s helpful. But life and it’s emotions are very complex.  And the spiritual life, even more so.

Today’s Old Testament reading is taken from the book of Esther, which is a beautiful story of triumph about a Jewish orphan who becomes queen and ultimately saves her people from genocide.  A dramatic plot unfolds over the course of only a few chapters wherein as evil plans are being formed on one side, God is at work planning to overcome the evil through Esther and her uncle.  At one point, Esther turns to prayer calling out to God to save her people and “turn our mourning into gladness.” 

I’ve had many prayers like this myself, and I imagine you have, too.  My intention, of course, is for them to be answered immediately, so that I can “turn that frown upside down” as we sometimes say. And while it stands to reason that God could certainly work quickly– and sometimes does–very often his work is more slow, more methodical, more plodding than I’d like.

Yesterday I had an experience that gleaned some new insight into the hurried pace I often tread alongside a slow and methodical God. And I realized I might be missing something:  that joy and sadness don’t have to be polar opposites, exactly because sometimes joy and laughter appear right there in the middle of the sadness, not as an opposite but as an oasis of healing in the middle of a struggle.

You see, last week, a friend informed me  that she’d received a call  confirming a diagnosis she’d been dreading: cancer.  The same friend met up with me yesterday only to share that she’d just gotten another phone call with more news that they’d discovered a second disease she would now have to battle along with the cancer.

A devastating blow for sure.

But after my hugs and assurance of prayers, she broke into a smile and said, “You know, when I told my daughter about the second phone call today, I was wallowing over all this bad news. I told her it was bad enough to get the first phone call, but the second was even more devastating.  Then I asked her what she thought I should do.  And you know what she said?”  I shook my head no. “She said, ‘Well, Mom, for starters, I’d stop answering the phone!’.”

And we both broke out into laughter right there in the middle of all that sadness.

Of course, we’d all like to be spared from loss and suffering.  But I’ve heard it said, “The only way out is through,” and very often that is true for each of us.  While, unlike Esther’s story,  we may not always get the outcome we are hoping for, in the midst of our struggles God is happy provide us an oasis of healing.  It may come in the form of laughter with a friend to balm our wounds, or in the form of a warm hug to flood us with the grace to accept an alternate ending to the story we’d written for ourselves.

So I see Esther’s prayer a little differently today than I did before.  Since her story has a happy ending within only a few chapters, I’ve always seen that God answered her prayer immediately. But the ultimate answer wasn’t immediate, of course.  Things had to be set in motion.  People and places had to be just so.  And I realized God had to work slowly because we are limited by time and space, not him.

But he meets us where we are.

And he walks us through s-l-o-w-l-y, reassuring us of his presence with countless oases of healing along the way.

Reflect:  What or who provide an “oasis of healing” for me in my struggles?  Do I recognize these moments with these people, too, are a way for God to answer my prayers?  If not, what would happen if I just labeled these moments as “from God” even if I’m not certain they are? 

Pray:  God, thank you for your constant companionship!  Help me remember that just because I grow frustrated or weary in my struggles, does not mean that you have abandoned me!  Help me to soak up the joys of each “oasis of healing” I encounter to strengthen me in my journey ever closer to you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

O, That I Were a Ninevite!

Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God…     -Jonah 3:4

Today marks the first full week of Lent, and already it’s feeling like a lifetime to me.  The weather is dreary, the dog’s foot fungus won’t clear up, and the flurry of activity on my calendar for this month makes me anxious just looking at it… not to mention the fact that I’ve already failed a few times at some of the things from which I’d said I would abstain  (hello, all things sugar).

And I sit here like Jonah.  Resisting the words God is putting on my heart to share, insisting first that God respond to my own demands, OK, God, but first tell me…When will I see the sun again? When can I finally stop rubbing this stuff on my dog’s foot? Why can’t I just have one day without 47 errands to run and places I need to be? And why am I already failing at Lent and it’s only Day 7!?

And as I pray more over this Scripture the answer to everything–yes, all of my questions!– comes into focus.  But it’s not easy.  The answer is this: Return to Me.  Rely on Me. Repent and let go of so much…you.  And while I am more than happy to preach that word to everyone else (you know, all you sinners out there), God is reminding me today that having a share in the spiritual gift of prophecy does not give the prophet a free pass.  One cannot simply share God’s words and ignore it for oneself.  For Jonah, not following God’s words meant suffering in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights.  It was only after that miserable experience that Jonah took God’s word  of repentance to the ominous and intimidating citizens of Nineveh.

But how did the Ninevites respond to God’s word through Jonah?  By immediately believing God’s warning, fasting, and putting on sackcloth  (a sign of mourning and a prayer of deliverance).

By widening the lens, we see the bigger points:  sometimes we are quick to change our hearts (like the Ninevites), other times we change more slowly (like Jonah).  Keeping our hearts open enough to leave room for God to enter into them and change us involves sacrifice. The psalmist sets the example for us today with his words, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” Psalm 51:17

The self-emptying of our pride, our own agendas, and even some our earthly desires are reasonable and necessary requests for God to make of us in order to make us more like him: Perfect Love.  How we do that looks a little different for each of us, but the good news is that God is more than happy to work with and reward us no matter how much, how little, how long, or how soon we open our hearts and make room for him to do so.

Reflect: What is one thing you know you should do, but you have been avoiding doing for a long time?  What if God were to appear before you today and ask you to do it?  Would that spur you into action?  If not, ask God to forgive your stalling and help you see how tackling that one thing will free you, and how continuing to avoid it is making you a slave to something contrary to God’s love.  Then ask him to help you take one (teeny-tiny) step towards accomplishing this one thing…and be ready to take it!

Pray:  Lord Jesus, we see in Jonah a foreshadowing of you. In three days time, you entered into death and overcame death for the world! Thank you for opening the gates of heaven for us so that we may know eternal joy.  Help us follow your example by purging ourselves of our own earthly desires and sacrificing them for God’s greater heavenly desires for us. Jesus, we trust in you! Amen.

 

Pray Boldly!

“This is how you are to pray.”   – Matthew 6:9

When I was in college, I did a research project on using directives in the English language.  A directive is like a command, or “an official, authoritative instruction,” as dictionary.com states.  As an example, some simple directives that parents may use frequently are things like shut the door, brush your teeth or go to bed.  These are things we are not merely suggesting our kids to do if they feel so inclined, but are expecting to be done…and quickly!

As I read again the prayer we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, in Matthew’s gospel today, I’m reminded once again that Jesus not only lived with authority, he prayed to God our Father that way, too!  Viewing his prayer through a directive lens, it’s astounding to see the boldness with which Jesus prays. Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us.  

As disciples, we surely are meant to pray this way, too!  However, it’s important to see that our directives, like Jesus’ must be rightly ordered.  Before Jesus begins praying these bold requests of God, he first praises God for their relationship as Father/Son (our Father) and praises God’s holiness (hallowed be Thy name).  Then Jesus aligns his own desires properly behind God’s desires (your kingdom come, your will be done).  Then, and only then does he begin with the directives, but these are also directives that had first come from God:  daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil are all things God has given us first!

In the Catholic Mass, before we recite the Our Father, the priest always prefaces this prayer by calling us to recite together “the words we dare to say.”  When you look at it this way, it does seem daring!  We call the God of the universe our father.  We ask that he cast his will upon us.  Then, we list the things we want from him as though they will happen.   How dare we say and demand these things!?  Yet, this is our faith.

Perhaps the words God speaks to us in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah can help us understand,

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11

If we’ve rightly ordered ourselves to God, the relationship of God’s desires for us and our requests for those desires becomes analogous to the water cycle:

  1. God rains his love upon us.
  2. We absorb that love into our hearts.
  3. We grow in his love and begin to trust him, desiring even more of his love.  (But  we are helpless to give him anything, so we offer the only thing we have: our prayers.)
  4. Our prayers rise to him like water vapor, requesting ever more and more of that life-giving water pouring down upon us.
  5. God’s rain falls upon us even more, etc.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Perhaps with this renewed sense of understanding we can begin to pray even more reverently– and more boldly– to God our Father, just as Jesus did.

Reflect:  Have you ever asked God for something and didn’t get it?  How did that make you feel?  Did you give up on God after that, or did you try to learn more about what a healthy relationship with God really looks like?  Consider one thing you could do today that imitates the example Jesus gave us:  If you are baptized, do you call God your father?  Do you ask for his desires to come before your own? Do the things you request from God reflect things that God would want for you?

Pray:  Heavenly Father, we know you love everything you have created, including each of us.  Thank you for the gift of life and the gift of free will to choose you.  Thank you for the grace of baptism which makes us your children and draws us closer to you.  Thank you for the gift of your Son and your Holy Spirit who dwell among us and teach us how to draw intimately and confidently closer to you.  Amen.

 

On Choosing Life

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live…” Deuteronomy 30:19

When I was in ninth grade, I loved animals so much that I was sure I was going to be a veterinarian. I was lucky enough to have my parents steer me to a career exploration program where I got to “shadow” a veterinarian for three or four weeks so I could decide if this was indeed my future career. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.) Mostly what my fellow explorers and I observed were surgeries to neuter or spay dogs and cats.

One day in particular stands out to me from that experience. That day we were going to “spay a pregnant dog.” My ninth grade mind didn’t quite conceptualize what this meant, so I stood and observed the vet as he made an incision into the dog’s belly then reached in and pulled out the dog’s uterus (which was more akin to how I’d always envisioned an intestine would look). His pulling it out of the dog’s belly reminded me a bit of a magician’s scarf trick…it just kept coming and coming out of the dog. As he held it up, we could clearly what I can only describe as a “sausage-tube” of five puppies. You could see their fur, you could see their little paws, you could see their closed eyes. And I thought to myself what exactly are we doing here? What’s he going to do with those puppies? And after holding the sausage-tube of puppies up for us all to see, he wordlessly dropped it into a garbage bag-lined plastic bin. And then he began sewing up the dog, who’s body, I was beginning to realize, had been slowly stretching and shaping in preparation to give birth, but who now was going to awaken from anesthesia with a belly slackened and empty.

That’s when I realized that I had just witnessed a dog abortion.

And while my heart broke for those puppies quietly dying in the bin, it also broke for the dog on the table who I was certain would feel some sense of loss or confusion when she woke up. I wanted to both save the puppies and comfort the mother. I wanted to find a home for her and for those cute little pups. But I couldn’t do that myself, and that wasn’t why I was there, so I did neither. But I went home deeply bothered and realized in that moment that I was not cut out to be a veterinarian.

I didn’t know it then, but this concern I had over the dog and her pups is what Pro-Life ministries do for human families. While the terms “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” have become trigger words in our culture that are pitted at opposite ends of a spectrum, I truly believe that most people on both sides of the abortion issue act out of deep concern for the woman expecting a child. I also believe that most people on both sides agree that men and women should be able to have a say in (or choose) medical procedures that affect their bodies. The problem with pregnancy is that there are actually two bodies involved: the woman’s body, yes of course, but also a separate hidden body that is her unborn child. And even if he isn’t present, somewhere there is a third body: that of the man who helped create that unborn child. This is what my exposure to Pro-Life work has helped me see, because I didn’t always see it: that we must act with love out of concern for ALL of them.

Yes, we help and love and pray for the destitute and overwhelmed mothers, yes we help and love and pray for the distraught or absent fathers, and yes… we also do all of these things for the unborn.

The words from Deuteronomy are clear today, “Choose life then, that you and your descendants might live….” It is an inarguable fact that through abortion, not all of our descendants get the chance to live. We are cherry-picking our descendants before we even know them. And while the gateway for that may have been a law that gave us the option, the law is not even the issue. Abortion could be legal forever, but that doesn’t mean that any of us must choose it.

If our hearts change, the law will hardly matter. Blessed Mother, pray for us!
Reflect: Do you believe your life and body are your own or that they are gifts from God? If you believe they are your own have you ever thought about why you exist? What do you believe is the purpose for your life? For your body? If you believe your life and body are from God, what are some changes you need to make to better align with what God desires for your life? For your body? (Hint: Try reading Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West or These Beautiful Bones by Emily Stimpson if you are unsure of God’s desires for your life and body.)
Pray: Loving Father, you have created us out of love for relationship with one another. Help us break down the barriers that prevent us from having real communication with one another about difficult and complex issues. Open our ears to hear what those whom we view as our opposition are truly saying, and help us unite the many divisions of our government, our country, our economy, our world, and most especially your Body the Church. Amen.

NOTE:  Some people (men or women) experience traumatic loss, sadness or even suicidal thoughts after choosing to terminate a pregnancy.  If you experience any of these thoughts or emotions after an abortion, please know there is help for you!  Consider reaching out to  Hope After Abortion  or  Rachel’s Vineyard .

Rehearse Your Victories

“Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing…” -Joel 2:14

It’s sometimes hard for me to remember, when I’m in the midst of suffering, that God loves me and wants what’s best for me. Instead it feels like whatever pain or heartache I’m enduring has been ordered by God as a punishment for me and that he gets great pleasure from watching me suffer.

The prophet Joel’s words echo this sentiment for me today. While many years ago, I may have believed that God seeks to punish us; today, I know better. Still, when suffering comes, this can sometimes be my first gut reaction: that God is getting pleasure from punishing me. It takes a bit of actively recalling on my part all the many things that are good and have gone right in my life for me to remember God’s endless love for me. Some people call this active recall “counting your blessings.” And while that is certainly true and helpful –because when we begin to do that we start to realize that the good in our life outweighs the bad — “counting blessings” for me usually gets watered down to listing out people and things in my life I’m grateful for. And this sometimes leaves me feeling a bit guilty, because in that moment I may be experiencing heartache over the actions of a person that I know I should be counting as a blessing in my life!

A few years ago, when I was out for a walk and fuming over a particularly difficult situation that left me both extremely angry and deeply saddened, a neighbor was out gardening and came over to chat with me. (Little did she know the mood I was in!) But as we chatted, I found myself pouring out all my woes to her. She paused when I finished and said, “When I feel defeated and begin to lose hope, I find great strength in rehearsing my victories.”

Then she said simply, “Rehearse your victories!” and she walked back to her gardening.
As I continued my walk, I began to do just that. How many times in my life had I thought a situation hopeless, doomed, or defeated only to have become a better person for it, or to have been able to turn my heartache into a blessing for someone else? More times than I’d realized, it seemed.

As I viewed my life through this new lens, I was able to count the “blessings” of my life not just as people and things, but also as triumphs over tragedies, and healings that came from heartache. These were my victories! These were “blessings” from God, that had previously gone uncounted! Suddenly God was no longer a punishing God, but a loving Father who suffered greatly with me through each trial, in order that I might come out better and stronger in the end. I could also relate better to Jesus who asked God to “let this cup pass” if God willed it, because I would never actively seek to endure the “blessings” of suffering in my life. But each victory? I could now see that like a mother enduring long labor, each victory was definitely worth it!

As we enter this season of Lent–a season of active sacrifice and suffering in small ways,– I don’t really want to give up even the smallest of things, and a part of me even resents having to do so. But when I remember Jesus’ own triumphant Victory, and all of my many small ones…it helps.

Reflection: What are the victories in your life? What trials have you overcome and what blessings came from overcoming them? If you are suffering now, how might you envision the victory that awaits you?

Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for the many blessings and all the victories in my life! Help me to see the trials in my life as mountains You climb with me, rather than tests You are waiting for me to fail. Open my eyes to see you working in both the joys and the sufferings of my life. Amen.

You Are Not Alone

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…

was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness,

tempted by the devil.”

-Luke 4:1-2

 

Each of the three synoptic Gospel writers who mention the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew, Mark and Luke) anchor the temptation solidly between two other events:  Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

What might they be trying to tell us about Jesus—and ourselves–by this sequence?

First, perhaps to remind us that we are not alone in what we experience in life…good or ill. The Holy Spirit, poured out to us at our Baptism– the very same Spirit who told Jesus he was God’s “beloved Son” –is with us in times of joy as well as in times of suffering.  Through this single event of Baptism, we, too, become “beloved” sons and daughters of God.

Second, times of trial and temptation are a necessary part of our life experience. The old adage here of “If God leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it” comes to mind.  Not everywhere the Spirit leads us will be a pleasant one; but even the unpleasant experiences will be worth it, if we endure.

Third, that we are all called to a life of ministry, by using our suffering to help others. How much would we be willing to listen to someone who has never suffered in life?  How much do we think they would be able to relate to us, if they have never suffered?  Not much at all, of course!  Why?  Because it is primarily through someone else having “been there, done that” and showing empathy and compassion for our own suffering that usually resonates the loudest with us.  This type of “ministry” is at the very heart of Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs.  Only those who have suffered the effects of drugs and alcohol addiction, and then learned to overcome that addiction have earned the right to be heard by those who are suffering.  It is someone else’s stories of triumph over the type of suffering we also experience, that  softens us enough for our “ears to hear and eyes to see” (Matt  13).

Each of us, no matter what lot in life we’ve been dealt, knows suffering and knows joy. Let us use this season of Lent to live out the faith of that cycle—suffering, joy; suffering, joy; suffering, joy—so that we may help others do the same.  Most of us are not going to live a life experience of preaching to crowds of people, true.  But each of us knows someone who may, right now, have it just a little worse than we do.  Let’s let our life be a beacon of hope to that person, and let our experience of suffering be the doorway to compassion we need in order to help them through.  That may be the closest to “ministry” most of us will ever get; but, it may also be just what we need to deliver us to eternal joy.

 

Reflect: What are the times in my life when I have suffered the most?  What/who was it that helped me through?  What was it that was so hard for me to change and/or accept that time of suffering?  How might I be able to use that experience to help others?

Pray: Lord of our sorrow, help us to know that we are not alone in our suffering. Help us to remember that you sent your Son to suffer just as we do, as an act of love for us. Help us to remember that while he suffered greatly, he was never alone;  your Spirit was with Him, as it is with us now.  Come, Holy Spirit of Love and Joy!  Lead my life towards others who may benefit from my suffering, and guide my heart to comfort them in the way they need most.  Amen

When God Regrets

The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked the question regarding a painful moment in his life, “How did you deal with that feeling of regret?  How did you eventually get rid of it?” to which he replied, “I didn’t get rid of it.  It’s still there.”

As Christians, we too, know the feeling of regret.  We are hardly alone.  I have regrets.  You have regrets.  The Dalai Lama has regrets.  Despite our best intentions, it seems, we all have regrets.  Searching in my memory for moments of regret in Scripture led me to the story of Noah.

 Then the LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and he was deeply grieved about that.

Genesis 6:6 (ISV)

While this may not sound like the beginning of a story of hope and promise and love, it most definitely is.  It is, of course, in the beginning of one of the most popular bible stories of all time:  Noah and the ark.  While it may initially sadden us to read that God ever “regretted” creating us, what we may find comforting about reading this is the reminder that we are made in God’s image so if even God had regrets, then it must be OK –perhaps even necessary—that we have them, too, right? That leads to the question: what do we do with regrets?  Well, more importantly, what did God do?  He looked at this regrettable situation and the messy-ness his decisions had created and he found the good. He.Found.The. Good.

 The LORD was pleased with Noah, however.

-Genesis 6:8 (ISV)

And when God found one good thing amidst all the bleakness, he was able to find more!  As we read on we discover not only Noah, but his wife, his three sons, their wives and all the animals were still good and worth holding onto in God’s eyes!  So God focused all his attention onto the goodness that remained, commanded it to stay put, and tucked it all away into the safety of the ark.

 The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

After this, of course, a brutal storm rages.  Waves crash, winds howl and Noah and all the animals are tossed about, until finally, one day, storms have passed, the water has subsided and there is solid ground once again.  Here, finally, it is safe and beneficial to let out the goodness that had been tucked inside.  And that goodness—that is, in this case, Noah—makes an offering to God.  God, in return makes a promise:

 … “I will never again curse the land because of human beings—even though human inclinations remain evil from youth—nor will I destroy every living being ever again, as I’ve done. Never again, as long as the earth exists, will sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night ever cease.”

-Genesis 8:21-22

Then, this happens to the goodness that was Noah and his family:

God blessed Noah and his sons and ordered them, “Be productive, multiply, and fill the earth.”

-Genesis 9:1 (ISV)

I see woven within in the story of Noah a recipe from God for what to do when we find ourselves faced with regret:

  1. Acknowledge our regret. For many of us, this is done best through the acknowledgement—or what modern psychologists might call “owning up” – of all of the ways in which we may experience regret.   This act of acknowledgment comes most powerfully in the form of a humble and contrite confession to God and is not limited to acknowledging only our poor choices but also the many ways in which regret and sin may find us, “in my thoughts, and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,” as Catholics say in the Confiteor.
  2. Find something good to hold onto from the situation that brought on the regret. Most often it will be a new awareness or appreciation for something that perhaps was previously taken for granted. Regret over a poor parenting decision, for instance, may bring the “fruit” of a new appreciation for our children.
  3. Tuck that goodness into your heart and lock it safely inside. While God’s forgiveness is immediate and complete, the process of forgiving ourselves generally takes much longer. During this time, our emotions rage. All those Why did/didn’t I…? What if I had…? ‘s can be very taxing, but in time, the harshness of these thoughts will diminish if we let the tides of God’s love wash over them. Most importantly, while the storm of regret rages, do not forget that goodness, too, can and will eventually come from the darkness if you are willing to let it.
  4. Remind yourself of God’s promises. First, that he loves all of us and does not seek to destroy us, yes. But secondly, that throughout all our time on earth we will know “sowing and harvesting, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night.” In other words, we will know suffering, but we will also know joy! Again and again and again. This is not just a promise to love us always, but also a promise to reassure us that everything—even our moments of regret—are all a part of God’s blessing and design for us!
  5. Use any goodness from your moment of regret for a greater good. If your regret brought a new awareness of a social injustice, consider taking action to promote awareness of it, or donating your time and money to its cause. If your regret brings new insight into what led to your poor choices, remind yourself to make a better choice the next time you are put in a similar situation and give thanks to God for helping you see another option. If your moment of regret led you to find a new appreciation for life or family or Church or freedom, cherish that gift and give thanks to God for it and celebrate that gift with others.

It seems in the story of Noah, we can take comfort in believing that it is normal, maybe even necessary, to have some regrets. It is a gift to use them and learn from them. A life without any regrets is seemingly impossible, and arguably would provide little growth. As the Dalai Lama went on to say in his book, “But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down, be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, or interfere with going on with my life to the best of my ability.” Put another way, we can realize through Noah’s story, that what we do with regret is our choice.  God gives us the freedom to choose whether we will hold onto the good that comes from moments of regret and move forward, or let them sink us.

Reflect: What is my moment of deepest regret in life? How am I a better person for having that experience, despite any regret I may feel? What did I learn about myself or others from that experience that has given me a deeper wisdom? How can I use my regret as a catalyst for good moving forward to make my life better for myself and others?

Pray: Cleansing God, though they are painful experiences and memories for me, thank you for giving me moments of regret as milestones in my life. Help me to use them as reminders that growth is sometimes a painful process. Help me also to see that even in painful moments, your love for me and all of humanity endures. Like you sealed Noah and his family in the ark during the storm, seal the regrets of my life with the balm of your love. Amen.

Ask and It Will Be Given

It is easy for many of us to think that somehow Jesus is lying when he tells us that all we have to do is “ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7). How can this be true? we think.  I’ve asked for so many things over the years and they were not given.  Dreams I’ve wanted to come true.  Wishes and hopes and even prayers that never came to be.

Over the years, of course, I’ve come to realize that my requests going ungranted was not so much because God wasn’t willing to grant what I was asking, as much as it was that I wasn’t willing to change to make it so.

Now, when I find myself asking for the same things again and again in prayer, wondering and doubting what power God has over the universe or what love he has for me, I find myself asking other questions.  What is stopping you, God?  Why do you not answer me?  And eventually, I come to realize that, in many instances, my asking has gone unanswered only because God is holding true to his promise.   He is bound by his one and only kryptonite: my will.

It is enough to help me realize that in that moment, I am standing at the threshold of a new opportunity:  the opportunity to change.  And it is only then that I hear Jesus answering my questions with questions of his own, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41 )  and “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

In Three Months’ Time

It is amazing to me what can happen in three months’ time.

Which is how long it’s been since we lost our beloved dog, Baxter.

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And still how my heart grieves!

Slowly, over the three months since his unexpected departure, all the things around the house that were his (and there was literally something in every room…EVERY room!), have been packed up, put away, tucked out of sight for now.  To look around here, you would not know this house has known a dog’s love, a dog’s wet, muddy paws, a dog’s endless loss of fur.

Which makes me sad.

When will we be ready for another dog?

That’s the question on my mind today.  Especially because I was just on a field trip with my son’s middle school class (hence this late afternoon blog post) and spent the better part of the day with a teacher who had been incredibly supportive when Baxter died.  At that time,  I sent an email to all his teachers letting them know what my son would never be able to put into words–that he was grieving the loss of his first dog.  While all the teachers were supportive and kind in their replies, this teacher was especially touched–moved to tears even–by the story of Baxter.  And so today she was eager and excited to hear what we’d done “since then.”

And it was a bit awkward because I wanted to say, “It’s hardly been that long!”

But to some people, when it comes to losing a dog,  three months is three too many.

But it doesn’t help answer the question…what is the “proper” amount of time for me?

People seem to really want to know.

(Nobody wants to know more than I).

All I could tell her was, “The time will be right when my heart is ready to let the new dog be who it’s meant to be, instead of wishing it to be another Baxter.”

For some people, that is almost right away.

For me, it is…not yet.

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At the same time, I believe that the healing won’t be complete until a new dog is ours.

Somewhere in the depths of my heart, I know this.

In a way, that belief was confirmed for me this past weekend when we had the unexpected joy of having my husband’s uncle and aunt drop in on us with none other than their own beloved pup!  Such a treat!  Never have the kids been so excited to have a dog back in the house!  We got out the water bowl and all the toys (and I noted how quickly we found them all.  They are still at arm’s length, it seems.)

Of course, as soon as they left, it was hard not to run right out and pick the first dog that caught our eye.

But, no.

Still my heart is not ready. (It certainly doesn’t seem to mind taking a look on the internet for available dogs, though!)

From a practical standpoint it makes sense that we wait to introduce a new dog until we know our travels will be few and far between.  But, with summer rapidly approaching,  and a few trips planned, that is one reason why right now is not such a good time for a new pup.   Still…

When?  my heart screams.  Because I want desperately to pet a furry head, to step over a furry lump on the kitchen floor, to walk again with leash in hand.

So…when?

I knew  I’d heard some words of comfort in a poem that my good friend and spiritual advisor shared with me right after Baxter passed away.  So, when I got home from the field trip today, I searched for the words and was able to find them without difficulty.   (Thank you, internet!)

“[There are] days when you have your heart back,

You are able to function well

Until in the middle of work or encounter,

Suddenly with no warning,

You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until that coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed;

And when the work of grief is done,

The wound of loss will heal And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return all the time.”

-An excerpt from For Grief by John O’Donohue

I don’t know how else to say it.

The answer to “the right time” is somewhere in these words.

All I know for sure, is this…

For me?

Three months’ time  is not enough.

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