Life is very, very good. Life with God in charge is….heavenly.

It has been so long since I’ve written substantively here…so long since we’ve talked…that it’s hard to know where to start.

And, isn’t this always the way where there’s separation, disconnection, distance? We lose our place. We miss important events in one anothers’ lives. We fall out of touch.

The “project,” I’ll call it, was to help our daughter move 2500 miles across country to a new home and a new job…a new life, really. The opportunity was a true gift from God. There were so many miracles, so much euphoria. I feel certain it will be a while before I understand all the lessons and discern God’s handiwork with any real clarity. The time has been both exhilarating and exhausting.

I asked God early on how to handle my blogging while I was engaged with ‘the project’ (it was really 6 or 7 major projects in one as it turned out.) I didn’t feel that I could reflect thoughtfully or write insightfully — heck, I wasn’t sure I could even write grammatically with the pace we were keeping — about much of anything until my part of the work was done. This place, this communication, I felt, needed more, deserved more, than I could give.

Still, where communication is suspended, relationships suffer. It’s true for friends and couples and between ourselves and God.

I’d welcome your thoughts about this whole subject. I know several of you have written in the past about this and that my feelings of undifferentiated, amorphous disappointment in myself are not unique or even unusual. How do you make time for this blog space, how do you do it justice, during times when life’s demands become…well…demanding?

And yet, I asked for and felt the comfort of your prayers. Thank you so very much. You first deserve an update:

  • My daughter has a new job, a new home, and a whole new community of friends. I thrill when she tells me nearly each day for the last 2 months that she feels everything about this total change in her life is right and exactly where God wants her to be right now;
  • Her old home near us is on the market and we’re currently praying for a quick sale (late breaking news: we just received our first offer!);
  • In the meantime our son and daughter-in-law (about whom I have written before here and here) went to the hospital with labor pains in early May…our new baby grand daughter arrived 7 weeks early. She stayed in the Neo-Natal ICU for several weeks. She is, nonetheless, perfect! (This is just simple fact and has nothing to do with my grandmotherly status!) She has over the last month gained weight (she’s over 7 lbs) and lung capacity and she’s now home with mom and dad and they are all thriving in every way. We celebrated Father’s Day together in their home last Sunday. I’d forgotten what 7 lbs. babies are like to hold…there’s just no feeling like it in the whole world.
  • We are so very blessed by God’s amazing grace. The abundance of His love over the last couple of months was everywhere and in every encounter:
    • He helped us carry our burden by sending us the kindness and charity of so many wonderful friends and family who sent their good wishes and prayers to me and made sure my husband was feted with good food and company during my absences.
    • There was our mover, who together with his wife, the dispatcher, held our hand during the long move, as they transported all our daughter’s belongings, arriving right on time with everything in perfect condition, and with no last minute surprises in price.
    • There was the HVAC expert, who gave up his Saturday morning to help us vent a portable air conditioner; and
    • The appliance repair guys, who made themselves immediately available to fix a washing machine; and
    • Our realtors, who offered their friendship and their own personal resources to help us; and
    • Our financial wizards, who just wouldn’t give up, even in the face of fairly complicated transactions; and
    • The hardware store clerk, who spent nearly an hour helping me figure out how to secure a dog kennel; and
    • So many thoughtful drivers who let me cut in when I missed my turns in unfamiliar country.
    • There were, of course, all the caring and competent neo-natal staff taking care of our grand daughter…and her parents; and
    • The fact that our grand daughter joined us during one of the short windows when I was in town was a true personal blessing; and
    • We enjoyed a full complement of joy-filled family communicating with parents and all the rest of us with abundant use of the “reply all” feature on their email and texting. We were, as a result, able to share across family lines and across geography and time zones in one another’s experiences of wonder and joy with the new and precious baby girl in our midst.

The list seems almost endless…right down to some unknown young man who was standing in front of me in line at the airport, who paid for my water bottle as he was purchasing his own. It turned out he was sitting across the aisle from me on my flight home and before I even realized I needed help lifting my carry-on bag, he was up out of his seat, man-handling it into the overhead bin, assuring me as he did so that he would get it down for me when we landed…WOW! The good Lord had me surrounded with his angels.

Life is very, very good…life with God in charge is heavenly.

 

 

 

 

Our Father comforts and encourages even during times of deprivation

Merton writes that even though contemplation and sanctity are found through deprivation, most of us so fear fully relying on God that we end up depriving ourselves of the experience.

He says:

The prospect of this wilderness is something that so appalls most men that they refuse to enter upon its burning sands and travel among its rocks. They cannot believe that contemplation and sanctity are to be found in a desolation where there is no food and no shelter and no refreshment for their imagination and intellect and for the desires of their nature.

I fear I don’t yet have strength enough to withstand the kind of deprivation he describes here…certainly not without failure. Yet, Our Father in heaven promises to sustain us.

I believe that. But I don’t come close to acting in ways that really test my faith.

Could I ever let go of the dock — its security, its familiarity and substance and provision — and step wholly into Our Father’s boat? Could I let go and be completely dependent on His provision and substance — secure in His love?

My friend Angie over at Family Answers Fast wrote to say of Lenten sacrifices that

It is your desire to please God that is so pleasing.

And she directed me to her friend, Diane’s comments who added that Lent for her meant finding

little things, little opportunities throughout the day to deny my self in order to love Him better.

I love Thomas Merton and I’m inspired by his call to austerity and trust, but I am blessed and comforted, by loving friends and their encouragement — God’s encouragement, through them — of my search for understanding.

Reflecting God’s Divinity

I’ve tried to find words to express the tremendous tsunami of emotions and joy that I have experienced since reading Fr. Martin’s book “The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything,” earlier last year. Similar to one’s experience of God, I think, my comprehension of its significance has taken — will take — time to fully appreciate. I need to view the experience looking back.

It was like having a large package of tiny seeds strewn upon what (apparently) was the moist and fertile soil of my mind and heart. Only now have I begun to recognize all the young sprouts of new life that are taking root. I fear the possibility that even one of these seeds might be so far-flung that I’ll miss it and fail to tend it properly. At the same time I know the God who blessed me with the grace to receive these messages is the same awesome Lord who will help me discover and tend each seedling in its time, and His.

To say that it has fully changed my life seems too small an expression to capture the full effect it has had. In everything I do now (five months later) I realize I have the responsibility to reflect the divinity of God. I know Him personally, therefore, I have the responsibility to acknowledge Him, learn more about Him, understand what He desires of me, feel and practice His presence constantly, introduce others to him.

I’m not very good at all this yet. I begin to understand why some carry around such a sense of guilt all the time. It’s both an appropriate reaction (because I fail continually throughout the day, practically from the first word out of mouth in the morning) and a beautiful grace from Him who allows me to glimpse a small part of what He desires of me, to perceive just a bit of the perfection He desires for all of us.

I have an especially difficult time seeing Him or feeling His presence in others, even when I actively try to think of Him and look for Him in them. It’s like looking through a steamy window. I can see the vague outline of possibility, but I can’t yet bring it into focus.

Quiet tasks are a bit easier – sometimes when I am alone I can hear Him and feel His presence with me.  My conscience speaks to me of important insights that seem just a bit clearer than they might have before.

One such scene played out for me just today. It had to do with allowing our close relationships to evolve to fully include God.

Take, for example, a relationship between mother and daughter: For the first decade or two, it is very…well…mother-daughter.

Mom loving, directing, soothing, in control, encouraging, disciplining, teaching.

Daughter learning, growing, hopefully becoming the person God intended her to be.

As the third decade emerges, these roles (by the grace of God) begin to shift. The two begin to build a friendship with one another – closer than friends, really, but more a relationship of two adults.

For me and my daughter the next step will be for me to reflect better the deeper sense of God’s divinity that I’ve been given. To accept the responsibility that comes with this gift, to share it with her, maybe most especially, and others who are close.

For some this may be straightforward. But for me it feels as though I’ve somehow turned a corner spiritually and begun to see a whole different world than the one I lived in just a few months ago.

In important ways I’ve become a different person than the mother who raised my daughter. As much as I raised her to know and love God, there are so many areas of my behavior that were still driven by ignorance and carelessness…and therefore, so many areas that require amendment.

This responsibility applies to other family members as well, ones especially from whom I have been estranged.

My stepson and his wife and I all had a falling out that had split our family for several years. The beginnings of healing had already begun when his wife bought the The Jesuit Guide for our son, who in turn bought a copy for my husband to read. My husband, in turn, encouraged me to read it. Soon we were all four sharing our collective amazement with its powerful messages and how they were changing our lives.

The insight of reflecting God’s divinity that pertains here is that God chose these particular people to bring me closer to Him. In so doing He bound us more closely than ever to one another. It has helped to heal old wounds, certainly. But it also created a new and stronger bond, a divine responsibility all around, each of us for another, to recognize and acknowledge how and who God used as a conduits for His message of love.

So, too, do I feel some responsibility to help ignite a new relationship with my husband’s brother and his husband. This is still a work-in-progress, so its shape is not so very clear. But, baby steps have been taken. They had dinner with us recently and we were all, it seemed, surprised and delighted that we were able to laugh and share stories and to genuinely enjoy our time together.

He is outspokenly atheist, but both he and his husband asked our opinion of our new Pope. And they listened respectfully as we discussed our warm feelings for Pope Francis and our deepening faith. It doesn’t seem like much yet, but it’s a start. And it was an answer to my prayers.

I’m willing to follow in baby steps, or maybe even better, get on my knees and crawl, if our Lord will only lead us and put the right words in our mouths.

There’s more learning required, more work to do — “I’m coming, Lord.

But, for now, just a moment to give thanks for the wonderful grace of being aware of His lessons and blessings so far.

Thank you Lord.

Meditation 9 – What we ask in faith, God provides

Do you dread something painful? Is there in your soul a vague fear, which seems unreasonable, and yet torments you? Trust fully in My providence. I am here, I see everything; I will not leave you.

I’m such a weenie! I’m still concerned about that dinner party. It’s tomorrow night and it has me losing sleep worrying about silly stuff. Have I put out new hand towels in the guest bath? Did I remember to get new candles? I need mercy from my own silly self! There must be something more worthy in my world to be concerned about than having dinner with an atheist family member?

[Well, and it’s much less him and his belief or non-belief. I’m probably more concerned about my behavior. My words and actions. Is it possible that relaxing some might produce better results? Or that I should be more concerned about his soul than my words? But they might be connected, right? (Editor Angel – Lord, can I come home now?)]

Also, my personal thanks to W. Ockham over at Teilhard de Chardin for this post on our discussions with atheists.]

Still, our gracious Lord, asks that we bring Him even our little worries, so that our faith will be bolstered each time we see His hand at work in our lives. I’m looking forward to a having a wonderful miracle to report soon!

Here are a few more of today’s musings…in no particular order:

I try to say a little prayer each morning for our grown children that they will have a safe commute to and from their work. My daughter reported that she was almost run over as she was crossing in a fully lit crosswalk earlier this week. The driver was looking directly at her as he sped through. Later in the same dark walk to her off-site parking, she was concerned about a man who was lurking around the parking lot. I try to think of these occurrences not so much as evil and harm lurking about, but as God’s loving protection surrounding us everywhere.

I worry that our grandson’s parents have not yet had him baptized. I pray the Lord watch over him, understand his innocence, and regardless of his formal baptism, call him to be His own. I worry, too, that I might have some active role to play in this. If I do, it has not yet been made clear to me. So I pray for guidance.

I worry that I don’t understand why so many of the saints sought out suffering and pain in an attempt to feel closer to Jesus, to share in His suffering. I understand a bit better others who do not pray for relief from suffering, but rather ask for strength sufficient to endure the suffering given them.

I worry about how to respond to street people who ask for money. Police and retail owners caution against giving them money, saying these intended acts of kindness only encourage more aggressive and, in some cases, more threatening behavior. How does one discern the difference between a truly needy person and a healthy person preying cynically on the good intentions of the rest of us?

We have a friend who carries a pocket full of coins and small bills in order to give a little something to others each week. If we don’t carry around a bit of cash, won’t we too often end up missing an opportunity to help someone in need when God touches our hearts?

We can always lift our fears and worry up to God. And relief is directly related to our level of faith in Him, in His greatness, in His judgment of what’s good for us and those we love.

This lesson was most potently demonstrated for me over time as our children were learning to drive and taking the car out by themselves for the first time. As they were leaving for their first date. As they ventured out on their own lives, insisting, right or wrong, to make their own decisions. No longer could I be with them 24/7; no longer was I in full control.

But, with some situation presenting itself on a near-daily basis there for a while, I got lots of opportunities to practice, and as my prayers were answered, small and large, and as I learned to pay attention, to be conscious of His answers to my prayers, my faith grew. Through it all He’s taught me that my relief can be nearly immediate. I ask; God provides.

The question is not how great God is. The key is the strength of my faith in Him.

Meditation 6 – Call us to You, Father

And have you no thoughts of zeal for Me? Are you not anxious to do a little good for the souls of your friends, for those whom you love, and who, perhaps, forget Me? Tell Me who interests you, what motives urge you, what means you wish to take.

In reflecting on this sixth meditation before the Blessed Sacrament several friends and family members come to mind, who have forgotten about God or who have never been introduced to Him. I name them often in my prayers, asking God to touch them, to touch their hearts.

My heart aches for them. God wishes so much to love them, but, recognizing we seldom really know others’ inner-most desires, they mostly seem, if not hostile to Him, then indifferent, uncaring.

If they were only open to His call, their hearts could be so much freer; they could go about their daily lives with lighter burdens and with so much more clarity.

And yet, outside of my prayers and the occasional invitation to church or suggestion of a new book or a class or an inspirational writer, I feel helpless to know what to do.

My heart aches for me, too, since the understanding between us, me and each of them, could be so much deeper, richer. We would have a greater ability to share the most important part of our lives with one another.

And my heart aches for God, who waits patiently while we all take our sweet time coming to Him. I imagine Him yearning for our oneness with Him and watching each day as so many pass Him by unnoticed.

Call each of these people to You, Father. Help each of us to find our way. Allow me, Father, if it is Your will, to help them, that my walk with them might be lit by Your holy purpose. Wash us clean, O God, of all our sins, that we may offer ourselves to You as empty vessels to be filled only with the love You pour out upon us. Allow us to commit ourselves again and again until, at the last, we walk hand in hand with You on the journey You’ve planned for each of us.

Meditation 5 – Pray for us

Have you no plans to interest you? Tell Me all about them. Do they concern your vocation? What do you think of? What would you like? Are you planning some pleasure for your mother, for your family, for your guardian? What do you wish to do for them?

This fifth mediation before the blessed Sacrament made me oddly uncomfortable. Do I have plans about which I’m concerned? Some event I’m planning for family?

I found I didn’t want to think about it. I moved instead to clean some dishes left over from an earlier dinner with friends and put them away. I noticed the silver probably needed to be cleaned and polished it before the next weekend’s company. I fixed myself a cup of coffee and began reading others’ blog postings, hoping for some inspiration. I re-read the meditation once or twice and began a couple of sentences about something that seemed mostly unrelated.

And then it struck me.

Well, yes, I do have an upcoming event that concerns me…that dinner party next weekend. And no, I have not yet asked for God to take my apprehensions into His care. In one part of my mind I uncharitably figure God’s to blame for getting me into this situation to begin with. (Editor Angel – Oh, dear!)

A bit of back story will probably help. Even as I write, I can feel my own resistance to the whole subject. How to describe this? (Editor Angel – Stop this procrastinating, Just write; edit later!)

My husband and I have been estranged for several years from his brother. There wasn’t anything in particular that prompted the estrangement — no triggering argument or incident. Just years of this sort of competition of wills.

Just one example: An atheist, my brother-in-law nonetheless always participated in our family Christmas and Easter gatherings, especially after their father passed and their mother was most-often with us for the holidays.

For several Christmases he would decorate the tops of his gifts to us and our children with little rubber ducks. Potentially cute, but instead of the yellow, smiling duckies that we all remember fondly from our childhood, his rubber duckies would be red and black, sporting a devious smile and devil horns. Better yet, they came in varying sizes, so my pre-teen daughter at the time could make little families out of them.

Whoopee! I had a choice of being a wet blanket or acquiescing in a pretty aggressive, but non-verbal tug-of-war in my own home.

The duckies quietly disappeared.

After their mother passed a few years ago, it just didn’t seem we had enough in common to bother getting together with him and his partner. It was a relief for me, actually, to be able to forgo gatherings, where I would have to work to avoid being pulled down by the undercurrent of tension that always seemed to threaten.

So, I guess my resistance is laced with equal parts guilt and simmering righteous indignation. Even I can detect the not-so-latent hostility I’m still carrying around.

As I have been called over the last year to a different level of commitment to Christ, though, I have felt a need, if not yet a desire, to make more of an effort. One minister I heard preach years ago said God has given certain of our family members to us as sandpaper gifts; they’re there to help smooth our rough edges. Still, I don’t know if a real relationship is possible or even a good idea.

But, maybe he’s evolved somehow over the last couple of years. Maybe my prayers for him and his partner to be touched by God have found some traction. Or maybe we can enjoy a simple evening just discussing our favorite new recipes, how all the kids are doing, our travel plans for the year, our favorite new books. Safe topics. Non-personal topics. Maybe.

But, is there something further I would pray for if I had real, honest-to-goodness faith that God was a mighty God, capable of any and all things?

I know I can’t give up God in order to satisfy my brother-in-law, so I guess I could pray for Him to take all of us and our relationships into His care and to show us His way. To make us a miracle.

Oddly (maybe), this following prayer was what I wrote at the beginning of this reflection, those words that I earlier didn’t think were related to this topic:

Our God — father, brother, companion — who walks with us, sits next to us, patiently awaiting our attention, who is always available to comfort and guide and protect us, who understands our humanity — hold my hand. Lead me. Steady my steps when I falter. Strengthen my heart when fear and anxiety creep in. Help me to know Your love so fully that I cannot keep it in.

I’d appreciate your prayers for us this week, too, as we all prepare for this upcoming visit. (Editor Angel: There now. Was that so difficult? Well, yes, actually, I feel just a bit naked, all things being equal!)