Nail Me Open: A Love Story

Dear Lord,

I am tired. I cannot think straight and I am finding it hard to understand your love for me right now.

But your love is all I can think about.

This morning, I am remembering how in years past I’ve spent this Holy Week feeling the heaviness of your suffering, the sadness of your death.

But not this year.

This year, I sit here thinking of your glorious return. Your unfathomable Resurrection.

Your story is such a beautiful one of joy and love and true power over self and the world, how can I feel anything but joy in remembering this story?

This week, you remind me that you are here to serve me (John 13:5), you are willing to give up all for me (Mark 15:37) you are willing to suffer, be beaten, ridiculed and punished unto death, for me (Matthew 27: 1-56). You tell me with each and every action of your life and with love pouring from your Spirit that I am worth it (John 3:16).

How can that be? Who can love me that much? What have I possibly done to deserve that kind of love? Why am I even here, that you should love me so?

You do not answer me with words, only actions. You wash my feet (John 13:5), you give me food (Matthew 26:26), you ask me to sit with you while you pray (Mark 14:32), and then you wait.

You wait for my betrayal.

And sooner than later, my humanity wins out. I hold onto the world and all it offers me (30 shekels of silver!) and I betray you with a kiss (Mark 14:45-46). Or, at the very least I deny you (Mark 14: 66-72).

And you are taken away (Luke 22:54).

Separated from you, I am without hope. What have I done? I wonder and worry while you are sentenced to death. Even as I don’t want it to happen, I know I will not speak up, will not defend you. I comfort myself with my sinful reasoning that “at least I’m not joining the throngs of people chanting for your death.”

But I can’t prevent your dying.

Even if I could, you wouldn’t let me.

And why?

Because death (yours and mine) is necessary.

And here’s where I’m confused—how can that be true? Why did we have to kill and betray you? Why did you let it happen?

Your answer comes again not in words, but in actions.  You offer yourself up and stretch out your arms in love—and as a reminder to me– you have them nailed open.

Always, always, always I will love you, this says to me(Ps 100:5). And you pour out your Spirit of life into me (John 19:30).

As I sit stunned at the horror of your death, your words echo in my heart…

“Follow me,” you said. (Matt 8:22, Mark 1:17, Luke 9:23, John 21:19)

And I try. Though I am so much more human than you, I do try.

I try to serve others.

I try to feed the hungry.

I pray.

And then?

Then I experience suffering, and betrayal and rejection in my life and I wonder and worry and blame you for punishing me for my goodness!

And you wait and you watch, wondering what will I do? Will I follow you?

But in my humanity, I become afraid and angry and I demand better. I do what you never did: I resist.

This is where the mind boggles and buckles, as the ego tempts…am I really to follow you all the way? Am I to give in now? Give up? Lose?

Then I think of the times you could have been killed, but you slipped away (Luke 4:24-30, John 10:39-42).

And I see now that your death has opened the door for me to slip away, too (1 Cor 10:13). In your forgiveness and mercy you give me another chance to try again, to serve more, to share more, to forgive more…until I, too, can finally let go of this world for the next one (Luke 23:46).

Again and again, bit by bit, ever so slowly, I let go (goodbye excuses, goodbye self-loathing, goodbye perfectionism, goodbye ego) and I open my arms to you (hello love, hello forgiveness, hello reality, hello acceptance).

And I ask you to nail me open, too.

Do not let me close my heart to you, nor to others.

And never, please never, let me stand in judgment without mercy.

Nail. Me. Open.

You taught me this. You showed me this. You lived for this.

You died like this.

I live because you loved me into being.

I die because you love me into New Life.

That is the love… that is the joy…that is the hope of Easter.

It is the Paschal Mystery. It is the Mystery of Faith.

It is a Love Story unmatched in history.

A Love Story for the Ages.

Amen.

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Embracing Our Need to Receive

“Life is not a solo but a chorus.  We live in relationships from cradle to grave.”

           -Anonymous

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of spending a day in retreat with some women in my parish.  Many of the women who sat at the same table as me, shared things that have stayed on my heart and in my mind since that day.

It seems I have been called out of my blogging sabbatical to share with you about one thought in particular:  our need to receive.

The story we were reading as a group was the story of a paralyzed man whose friends carried him on a mat in order to meet Jesus and be healed (Mark 2: 1-12, Luke 5:17-26, Matt 9:2-8).  Before reading this story, we were asked to “tell about a time a friend went above and beyond to help you in a time of need.”  Many of us shared how, while we were grateful for those times when others do things for us as part of social convention (like bringing us meals after the birth of a child, in times of sickness, or after the loss of a loved one), what stood out to us most, were the little things others have done for us when we were least expecting them.

Later, we were asked if we could see ourselves as a kind of friend that could appear in the story of the paralyzed man.  One woman bravely admitted that while she would gladly help a friend in need, she had a hard time seeing herself as the one who would allow others to do this for her.

Her comment struck me. While I didn’t say it at the time, I felt the exact same way.  Hearing it come from someone else, though, made me wonder what if we all felt this way?  What if we all wanted to be the one to help, but are not willing to be helped except in times when it’s “socially acceptable”?

If we are truly followers of Jesus, the point is clear.  In his own life, he demonstrated for us that receiving the help of others is a necessary part of humanity.  Jesus was open to receiving from others.  He received baptism through John the Baptist (Matt 3:13, Mark 1:9, Luke 3:21), he received anointing with expensive oils from a woman others rejected (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-11).  Beyond that, in the garden as he agonized, Jesus requested help from his apostles to stay with him while he prayed.  (Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32).

If Jesus, who needed nothing, was able to receive and even request help from others, why should I think I am above similar help?  Seeing Jesus in this way, makes me question whether I have, in fact “picked up my cross” at all, or am I trying instead to create  my own twisted, incomplete version of one?

This first week of Lent–when the spotlight often shines brightly on our call to serve–I am grateful for having also been reminded of our need to receive.  As a result, perhaps the next time I find myself waving away someone trying to offer their help to me I will remember one stark observation made by another woman in our group:  if the paralyzed man had not allowed others to help, no miracle could have occurred.

My Perfect Life at 40

I’d hate to jinx things, but it looks like I’m finally growing up a bit.

I know.

And to think it only took me 40 years.

(I’m sure my mom must be very proud.)

But, as I look back at the three months since I’ve turned 40, and the changes I’ve made in my life, it seems like a logical conclusion.  I mean, I’m getting my diet and exercise under control.  I’m more organized.  I’m staying on top of the housework.  I’m making good choices with the time I have each day.   And even though things like having a daughter with a raging stomach virus slow me down for a bit, I find I’m calmer than usual in the midst of the storm.  I understand there are many things beyond my control, and I’ve learned better how to just roll with it.

In fact, prior to last week’s bout of stomach flu, I would have thought last week was going to be one of the busiest weeks of my Spring.  I’d committed to helping with several things at my children’s school (on top of the “normal” things I volunteer for), and I’d made promises to myself to stay on top of eating right and exercising,  in the midst of all of it.  When all was said and done, even the exercise had to fall by the wayside.  But I kept my eating relatively under control so that this morning, when I did my weekly weigh in, I was still pleasantly surprised.

It seems my One Word idea for this year (SIMPLIFY) combined with my Lenten promise to “give up” my excuses, seems to have moved me forward a bit.  Forward in terms of getting things done.  Forward in terms of letting go of the desire to want everything to be “perfect” and then “stay put”.  Forward in terms of trusting that when things go wrong, a solution will be made known to me for where to go from there.

In SIMPLE terms:  discipline, detachment, and trust have allowed me to move forward.  It’s easy to see now that somewhere in the endless loads of laundry, the nonstop homework paper trail and the miles of errands and activities, I’d lost hope that I would ever feel at peace with the rhythm of life.

The best image I can think of to describe what I’ve come to understand isn’t Biblical.  In fact, it’s not even “grown up.”  But it is SIMPLE.  It’s a scene from the movie Finding Nemo.   The scene where Marlin, the clown fish (who’s anything but funny), wakes up after an intense, worrisome, anxiety-ridden journey to find the EAC (East Australian Current) which he knows will lead him to his lost son.  After many mishaps and near misses, he falls unconscious to a jelly fish sting.  So used to searching for the EAC, he wakes up and quickly realizes that in his unconsciousness he’s lost valuable time to get there.  So he begins to panic and quickly asks the very laid-back surfer dude sea turtle, Crush, to point him to the EAC.

And what Crush says next, is how I’ve felt about the “perfect” life I’ve been searching for this whole time.  Most of my life I’ve searched and worried and worn myself out trying to control and think my way into a better way of living.  But, it wasn’t until I got moving (discipline) and let go of my need to control every little thing (detachment)  and believed that Someone bigger than me had the answers (trust), that I was finally able to see what Marlin saw once Crush helped him “open his eyes:”

“You’re looking for the EAC?”  asks Crush, as he laughs his surfer laugh, “You’re riding it, dude!”

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And though my realization was more of a slow unveiling, than a clear-cut statement, Crush’s words ring true all the same.

Because what is the perfect life after all?  Is it not a life full of hills and valleys?  An epic journey fraught with harrowing moments of indecision and bad choices?  But is it not also sprinkled with moments of ridiculous ecstasy like the birth of a child, or at least the birth of a great idea?

That sure sounds like a “perfect” life to me.  In fact, I find it every bit as obvious from this perspective as I did Crush’s answer to Marlin in the movie.  Suddenly, it seems so silly of me to ask, because God’s answer is so obvious:

“You’re looking for a perfect life?  You’re living it.”

Yep.

And to think it only took me 40 years to figure it out.

The Pharisee In Me

Of all the characters throughout the Gospels, the least relatable to me are the Pharisees.  Those well-to-do, high-and-mighty, laa-dee-da, goody-two-shoes men who have taken their jobs of upholding the law (Their God-given law! The Church’s law!  Man’s law!)  so seriously that they do not see what we, some 2000 years later, have the full benefit of seeing:

They are killing God.

And so I look for the Pharisees around me, and I speak out against them when I see fit.  “Get behind me, Satan!”  I say.  (Only it sounds more like, ”  “That’s just stupid!”  or  “You are so blind to the Truth!” or “How can you say that?”)

And when I’ve successfully changed their hearts and minds, I walk away feeling triumphant in my battle.  I have won!  I have shown “them” the way of Truth!  (Because I know it).

I am impressed with myself.  And sometimes, I can see others are, too.

And I smile to myself, “Look what I’m doing for you, God!”  I say.  (And secretly, I think I’m his favorite).

Until today.

Good Friday.

The day I see what God’s love really looks like:

…the buzzing coud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up….  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.   -C.S. Lewis, from The Four Loves

Today I see that if this is what love looks like, I am more like the Pharisees than any other character.  Me, still thinking God’s love is “earned” through careful score-keeping.  Me, still thinking I can “see” God’s truth better than anyone else.  Me, still thinking it is my duty (and my God-given right!) to uphold the Law.

But not willing to open my arms, and my mind, and my heart to those who think differently.  Who live differently.  Who sin differently. And who love differently than I do.

Not willing, despite the fact that I say I am.

Who else can I be in these stories, if not the Pharisees?  Why am I so willing to see myself in any other character of these stories–even Judas, who at least has enough sense to just get rid of himself!–but not the Pharisees?

I don’t know…probably because it stinks to admit that I’m killing God?

I. am. killing. God.

And my breath catches at that realization.

I am a Pharisee.

And the thought sinks into my core.  The awareness dawns that even though I am just now beginning to see the Pharisee in me, our Triune God has seen it there in me the whole time.

And I wonder at that for a while.

I am speechless.

The tears begin to fall, as I want so desperately to hate myself for God.  But how can you hate yourself when God has commanded you only to love?

I don’t know how to remedy that.  In fact, if I understand the stories right, I don’t even think *I* can.

But, what I see in Jesus on the cross, is an act of love.

“Follow me,” he says.  And I want to.

What will my act of love be?

Today, it will be that I will go to liturgy, and I will kiss Jesus on the cross.

And I will ask for forgiveness.  (Again).

And I will feel his love. (Again).

And I will accept his love. (Again).

And I will cry.

Because my heart spills over with this impossible realization:

I am a Pharisee…and he loves me, anyway.

Every Knee Shall Bend

I knew this would happen.

Me and my big mouth.  Or big words from my keyboard.

Or whatever.

Remember three weeks ago when I had the brilliant idea that I needed to discipline myself to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Lent (but really, if I’m honest my intention was through forever, I was just too chicken to admit it)?   Well, here we are at the day I feared as soon as I published those words…the day I’m too full of thoughts about my unending To Do list to really settle down and put thoughts together to share.  (I was hoping for a short thought at least, but so far, I got nothin’!).  I even laid the groundwork for a topic to write about today on Monday’s post but can’t seem to focus my mind enough to even tie into what I thought I was going to say clear back then.

And now, instead of being able to put any thoughts together about Mary and the women’s roles in the story of Christ’s Passion, I am instead  full of thoughts about volunteer work I’m behind on, laundry that needs to be done, and housework and groceries and upcoming meetings and Easter and Mass times and fasting.

The good news is that in writing this post, I have succeeded in my discipline of blogging every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (so far).

The bad news is that other than sharing my To Do list with you, I’ve failed at writing anything even remotely significant.

Fortunately, I have been taught that failure is always a good thing.  And I can see it right now as I fail before you.  What you may see right now are my meaningless ramblings and a half-hearted attempt to fulfill an obligation to discipline myself and my writing.  But what I see is me allowing myself for the first time to step out of the room, completely naked (speaking figuratively here, folks!) , and show you my true self:  scatter-brained, with nothing to offer you except evidence that I have made a promise to you and I will keep it.

On that note, it has occurred to me that perhaps “showing up” today wasn’t really about me at all.

Perhaps it was about you.

And what I can offer you. (Despite my long To Do list).

And the one thing I could offer you as we prepare for Maundy Thursday, the traditional day of the “washing of the feet”– a reenactment of one of the greatest acts of service in Scripture–is my prayer.

I offer you my prayer.

Sure, my To Do list is long, but I do my best to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).  I would be happy to pray with you as I work through my To Do list today.  If you have anything or anyone special to pray for drop it in the comments below.  Though I’m not overly talented at multi-tasking, prayer is the one thing I can do well with anything!  (Even if you just “like” it, I’ll be sure to pray!)

I believe that Jesus set this example for us– bending down to offer us his service in the most humbling way–so that we would in turn go out and do the same.

After all, he never did become a king the way his followers expected, so what else could it meant that “at the name of Jesus, even knee shall bend.” (Phil 2:10)?

Garden Moments

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Yesterday, for the start of the Christian Holy Week, I watched for the second time in my life, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  This week, in celebration of Holy Week, I’d like to share some random thoughts I had as I watched the movie.

  • I like that Gibson’s portrayal depicted Jesus’ time in the garden as one of an ongoing internal struggle.  In the past, it’s been far too easy for me when reading Scripture to think that Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine” (Luke 22:42) with a lot of strength and certitude.   My thinking had long been that because Jesus is also God, somehow facing his own impending doom was easier than it would be for us “mere humans”, but in that thinking, it also makes Jesus very distant from our own struggles.   Instead, Gibson nicely casts the human side of Jesus for us, struggling with putting his own personal agenda aside, letting God work through him as the darkness surrounds him.  In this depiction, Jesus is much more relatable to us, much more understanding of our own struggles, making our own suffering perhaps more tolerable because we know that he, too, has “been there.”
  • Gibson’s portrayal depicts Satan as a soft, gentle tempter.  I think very often the challenges that God lays out for us are often the more difficult for us to choose (Remember “choose always the hardest”?), and so this makes Satan’s job much more easy, because he is simply appealing to our own human weakness.  If you don’t believe me, look again at Genesis and the story of Eve.  Have you ever noticed that she doesn’t ever question the serpent?  Never says, “Where did you hear that?”  or “What would make you say such a thing about God?”  No.  There’s no need to question because she’s already thought it for herself.  The serpent’s gentle suggestion that God is not being completely honest with her was all she needed to act in vain.
  • I like the fact that when Jesus was looking to the moon and praying for God to take away his burden, a cloud immediately passes in front of the moon.  I’ve had experiences like this in nature before and I personally believe God speaks to us all the time in nature, but we rarely listen, or we slough it off as coincidence.  I remember one particular incident last year when I was really angry with God about our having been relocated again.  Why was I being called away from the work I had grown to love in my old town and the friendships I’d formed?  Why was I being asked again to start over, knowing that this location, too, would likely not be permanent?  And the whole time I was letting God have it!  (If you’ve never done this before, you may want to try it.  I’ve learned he can take it!)   As I was demanding answers to these questions, the sun was parked hidden behind a cloud.  The cloudy sky seemed to fit my mood perfectly.  As I rounded the church building that was part of my dog’s and my daily route, the sun and cloud were blocked entirely, but just as I rounded the corner of the building on the other side (and was really letting God have it), the sun popped up real big from behind that cloud  and I heard (in the quiet of my heart) the ringing laughter of my grandpa who’s been gone for over 20 years, and the words, “It’s OK, I’ll leave the light on for you.”  And just like that, my anger was gone.  Gone!  And I was ready to move forward.  It was the perfect “sign” for me, and the perfect “thing to say” to my heart.  It made me laugh out loud!  In a similar way, Gibson’s version of the cloud covering the moon at the time that Jesus is praying for relief, seems to be the perfect “sign” for Jesus, too.  It seems to confirm what Jesus already knows, that he will not be relieved from his fate.  And just after that, when the soldiers arrive, Jesus meets them with a new resolve that he was missing earlier.  I like this depiction. From my own experience, it makes sense to me.
  • My thoughts on this final topic are jumbled, but I’ll do the best I can to explain…. If there were one thing I would change about the garden scene, it would be to try to draw us into what I see as the deeper meaning of Jesus’ request to the disciples to “stay awake.”  I’ll admit I wouldn’t have the first clue how to show it.   But, I personally  contrast Jesus’ ability to do this with the inability of Adam & Eve to do so in the Garden of Eden.  True, Adam & Eve never literally “fell asleep” there, but it seems to me that if they had been “awake” to the serpent’s suggestions in the garden, and not “fallen”  into blaming others (and each other) for their own bad choices, our whole salvation history would probably be written much differently.  To me, it is every bit as disappointing to “fall asleep” in the hour of another’s need like the disciples did  (I’ve heard many a divorcée or ill person lament about the so-called friends that left them in the hour of their greatest need), as it is to “fall asleep”  and abandon ourselves, as I believe Adam & Eve did, in our hours of greatest need.  The times we really should question the gentle, coaxing voice that says, “There’s always tomorrow,” or “God wouldn’t mind,” (am I the only one who hear’s that voice?)  are, as I see it,  all “garden moments” because somewhere deep down we know that tomorrow is never guaranteed, and that if we are seeking reassurance that God “wouldn’t mind” something we are about to do, it is only because we already know that he would.  I’ve come to believe that the only real difference in a garden moment is whether we choose to follow Adam & Eve’s example, or follow Jesus.  This is, I believe, why it is only proper that Jesus is the only one fit to “stay awake.” (Of course, eventually all of the disciples did “wake up”– providing hope for us that we can do the same– and then went out to spread God’s Word instead of blaming “the crowds” for putting God to death…and that is, in fact, Good News!)

Join me on Wednesday as I take a closer look at Gibson’s depiction of some of the other characters in the story of the Passion.  And if you haven’t yet seen the movie, or it’s been awhile, I encourage you to revisit this movie for Holy Week, as well as reading about the Passion in Scripture which begins in each of the four Gospels at the following chapters:  Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 12.

Sacred Cows

As you already know, my Lenten journey this year is about “giving up” my excuses. The first excuse that came to my awareness was in regards to my overall health. I realized I could no longer “cheat” my way to good health knowing full well what every American is taught from birth  (but many, like me, continue to deny in the “land of plenty”):  that in order to lose weight I must make smart food choices (diet) and I must move my body more (exercise).

So I had to take a personal inventory: Did I really want to change? Yes. Was I willing to change?  Yes. Was I willing to let go of old habits? Um…I think so…where are we going here?  Was I willing to let go of my idols? Wait….what? How did this get religious all of a sudden? I thought I was trying to look like a super model. Or at least a local ad model. Or at least the best looking girl in the room (when I’m the only one it). How did this get to be about idols?

But my heart knew.  And it did what it always does.  It waited.  It waited for my head to catch up. And eventually my head did.   I realized that if I looked at the past three or four years, I’d worked out pretty consistently in some way or other for all those years,  but, I’d also successfully lost and then gained and then lost and then gained.  Could idols have something to do with it?  In all those years there was ONE thing I could think of that I had absolutely refused to give up.  That ONE THING was now on my heart, and in my head, so I knew it was time for me to let go.  It was the “sacred cow” I’d never been able to let go of  in all my other attempts to get healthy.

And its name is Diet Coke.

And it pours most deliciously from a fountain out of any McDonald’s restaurant.

And it only costs $1 (a dollar!) regardless of how big or small you want it.

(Large, please!)

And I have been addicted to it for over a decade.

ADDICTED.

I know it may seem laughable that I would think that giving up Diet Coke (it’s Diet, for crying out loud!  ONE CALORIE!) would  be a significant step towards good health.  (Though there are lots of articles to say it is a significant step).   The truth is, an addict is an addict. It really doesn’t matter what we’re addicted to. Sure, some things are arguably much more harmful than others, but the behavior is really the same.  In fact, I would argue that the behavior itself is the most harmful of all!  When you look at the definition of an addict: to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively, you can see right there that anything we’re addicted to, other than God, is breaking the first commandment.  I had been addicted for years.

So…with a deep breath, much prayer, a hard look at my lifestyle, (and the reality of having just turned 40), I decided that I needed to stop drinking Diet Coke.  I knew it was my “sacred cow.”

You see, when I think of  “sacred cows,” what I think of are false idols.  And I realized that not only was Diet Coke  a “sacred cow” for me  in the figurative sense —something immune from question or criticism–every time I’d tried to get serious about my health before, but it was also a sacred cow in the Biblical sense, something that takes your focus off of God.  I specifically think of the Biblical story of Moses and Aaron. Remember that one?  Where Moses went up the mountain to talk to God and receive the commandments, while Aaron, his brother, stayed down with the people who grew increasingly doubtful and impatient, so he built them a cow out of gold to worship?  (Exodus 32: 1-35)

Yeah.  It seems so ridiculous in its ancient context that it’s easy to think it has no meaning for us to today.  I mean worshipping a golden cow?  Laughable!

Until you realize that Diet Coke is your golden cow, and you’re a Diet Coke junkie.

Then it’s not so funny.

Then climbing that mountain for God seems really, really hard.

I can finally write about this because it’s been over a month now since I’ve had a Diet Coke or soda of any sort.  And while that may seem like no time at all, those who know me know what a lo-o-o-ong time that is.

And no one is more surprised that I could do it than me.

Even more surprising to me is the fact that I really don’t miss it.

Or at least very rarely.

I have made some other changes, too.  I’m doing this awesome Jillian Michaels workout every day, and out of respect to my last year’s Lenten sacrifice, I eat with more self-respect, consciously making better choices (most of the time).

I wish I had more news than that. You know, something real impressive like, I lost 10 pounds as a result!  But, as of right now, I haven’t.  (An unimpressive 3 pounds?  Yes.  An inspiring 10 pounds?  Not so much).

Even so, something else has changed. Something even more important, I think, and that is this: I’m focusing on the change, and I’m letting the results be whatever they’re going to be.  I trust they will come.  Not in my time frame, but in God’s.

So why am I telling you all this? Is it because I think you should feel guilty for going to McDonald’s or drinking Diet Coke? Of course not.

But I do think you need to look at any “sacred cows” that may be getting in the way of something you say you really want.   (Exodus 24:3)

And then take another look at just what’s stopping you from getting there.

Because no matter how hard you try?

You cannot climb the mountain while holding on to your sacred cow.

My 12-Step Lenten Journey

Despite living all of my 40 years on earth as a Catholic, I tend not to “give up” things for Lent.

You may have noticed that whenever I talk about what I “gave up” for Lent I always put “give up” in these cute little quotation marks like this: “give up “, see?   That’s because my Lenten prayer is not just about a 40 day fast.  At least not anymore.   Sure, for years it was like that.  I’d give up candy, or soda, or a favorite dessert for 40 days…or as long as I could stand…or until I forgot.  But that’s not how I “do” Lent anymore.

Four years ago, I listened to my priest as he encouraged us to not just “give up” some THING for Lent, but to make it matter.  He said that if we were going to “give up” something for Lent, the best thing to “give up” was our sins!  Right then and there, my Lenten prayer changed from my telling myself what I would (try to) “give up” to my asking God what he would like to see changed in me.  In that moment, Lent was changed forever from my “giving up” my favorite things, to my offering God my willingness to change.  And what a difference it has made!

By that count, I can tell you what my last 4 Lents have involved “giving up”:

2010:  Pride

2011:  Judgment and Jealousy

2012:  Negative self-talk/image (i.e. Loving myself)

2013: Excuses

Looking at this  list, you’d think I’d be just about near-perfect by now,  wouldn’t you?  (Ha!)

Of course, through this process, I quickly learned (SPOILER ALERT!) that “giving up” my sins  really needed to be more than a 40 day undertaking.

Now, as a result, Lent is less about spending 40 days in the desert and more about beginning the process that every “12-stepper” already knows.  It means admitting that  I,  myself,  am powerless over the very things I attempt to “give up.” 

Yep.

Pow.Er.Less.

That’s so much nearer the truth!  I have no more power over my pride now that I did in 2010, no more power over my judgments and jealousy now that I did in 2011, no more power over my negative self-talk/image than I did in 2012, and no more power over my own excuses (for doing things I shouldn’t and not doing things I should) than I did when Lent began this year.

So, why bother then? you may be thinking.  Great question!  And the answer is this:  because while I don’t have power, I DO have awareness.

Awareness of how I am weak.  Awareness of how I am imperfect.  Awareness of how I.am.not.God.

And, though it may not sound like it…that is Good News!

The even better news is that, for those who are able to take that “first step” and are fully honest with themselves  about their powerlessness, there is a second step.  And that step is that with my new (and usually painful) awareness:  I came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.  (Because, trust me, as soon as you get honest enough with yourself to see all that exists inside of you that you cannot control…you would quickly be headed for the loony bin, if it weren’t for this second step!)  And  that sanity comes for me in the form of compassion, which God readily puts on my heart, for those who “suffer” the same weakness.

The best way I can think of to describe this process of awareness and compassion is like a river gently washing away the roughest edges of a stone.   Over time, as the “waters” of God’s mercy flow over me,  I find myself, bit by bit, letting go.  And then I take the next step.  And then the next.  And then the next. Until finally you can use your experience to help others in the best possible way:  you can say, I understand what you’re going through.  I struggle with it, too.  I’m here for you.

That’s the best example I can find of what Lent is for me: a lifelong 12-step program whereby God shows me the places in my heart where I need to improve, and I do my best to follow.  And, just like the washed-out drunk who has the courage to get real honest about their weakness with alcohol,  I’ve come to understand that while my journey may begin by my “giving up” something, it’s a decision I have to continue to make day after day after day for the rest.of.my.life.

To be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with fasting from, say, Diet Coke or M&M’s for 40 days to help yourself experience some of what Jesus suffered in the desert.  I’m just saying that, to my understanding, it wasn’t just suffering for 40 days with no food and water that changed Jesus.

It was his choosing not to succumb to his temptations.

And doing that didn’t just change him for 40 days.

It changed him forever.

21 Days

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By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?

A Technology Fast… I’ll Call Him John

For a little over a week now, I’ve been taking what I believe is a Lenten fast from technology.

To be fair, I can still browse using technology  without much difficulty.  But, this has a bit of a one-way mirror effect for me.  I can browse out in Bloggyville and throughout cyberspace, but I’m almost forced to abstain from corresponding with it, or sharing my thoughts.   In effect, I’ve been the equivalent of “struck mute” in the technological arena. In other words…I can really only “listen” to you, and can’t really “say” much in reply.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, this fast has NOT been voluntary.

Regrettably, a family member (who shall remain nameless) spilled apple juice on our laptop over a week ago.  This resulted in keys that very inconveniently now type two letters at a time (and sometimes even perform random functions!) with the touch of only one key.  Were it not for our family Christmas gift of an iPad (or some serious patience with editing, I’d not be able to write you at all).

Ju6st so you6 know what I+’m talki=ng abou6t, I+’ll leave thi=s sentence u6nedi=ted.

See what I mean?

And for added fun, when I try to delete something, I get this:  33333

Currently, we are working on trying to figure out the best way to replace the keyboard.    Until we can figure out the most cost-effective cure for us (yes, we are even running the old keyboard through the dishwasher),  I am mostly silent in cyberspace.  I trust there is a reason for this, though I find it incredibly frustrating to have been rendered “mute” in the season of Lent.  I think of Zechariah and his being struck mute until his wife, Elizabeth, gave birth to and named their son John (the Baptist), as God directed.

Right now, I’m not sure what this forced “silence” is trying to tell me, but when I figure it out, I promise I’ll share it with you.

In the meantime, until my technological “voice” is returned to me, I ask that you head on over and visit  my good friend, Anne at Making Room for God.  She has been kind enough to share her insights and observations with all of us daily as a Lenten Reflection.  So, please go on over and visit her, and I’ll be sure to let you know when all my technical difficulties finally cease.

Until then, I promise you all that if I give birth to anything new in the days to come, I’ll share the news.

And, of course, I’ll name the newborn John.