Thursday, July 6, 2017

Love in the Time of Mercilessness

Choosing to love is a precarious thing, more for some than for others. There’s such a variety of things to get in the way: our expectations, emotions, other’s perceptions, past hurts. Watching my children become human and learn how to love has become a favorite pastime of mine, maybe moreso a daily lesson. The challenge of this lesson comes when my eldest challenges authority, and in this aims to test the bounds of love: even if I do something wrong, will Mama still love me? Will that love remain? She’s feeling out the nature of mercy. Love itself is authority in our lives, and how we choose to acknowledge the mandate of love comes at us in different ways every day. One of the problems of late? So many who have decided that hatred, cynicism, generalization about entire groups of people, and an overall lack of mercy in favor of repudiation and control wipes the mandate of love right out. It disturbs me to the core.

The death of my colleague and friend Lance Wilder at age 47 drew out for me the mandate of love in a new way—his passing reminded me that we must be in the now, fully given to it and each other. We are given the opportunity for infinite time with God, but limited time with each other. And then we choose to waste our time daily, to ignore each other in favor of smartphones and taking each other down, defending self instead of walking with others. My head is crowded with “what’s next” lists, striving to achieve all before the clock runs out. It’s not a game, though—heaven can live in those moments along the way toward God. I am so grateful to have realized this not too late, but I definitely have a way to go for consistent practice of self-surrender.

A step away from these sometimes suffocating limitations we place on ourselves as humans creates an opportunity for understanding, a shift in mindset. Here’s the thing, though: you have to be willing to put down your smartphone, your gun, your so-called principles, and walk away, far enough to see the world God gave you as it actually is, not in the mirror of your making. We don’t want to see our brokenness, we don’t want mercy and scramble instead to put each other out, not realizing that instead of creating a space for peace we’re creating within us a black hole, endless in its hunger for greed and misplaced righteousness. A long, long way from love.

Lance was good at spotting the brokenness, at grappling with it, and I always respected that about him—all the sadder he’s gone from this earthly home. I think he also questioned the kind of faith that was blind to truth and self-serving, immovable to the point of mercilessness, something of  a plague around us. This blindness is not the faith I cherish, cultivate, and challenge daily. The mandate of love is about God’s hand in our lives in spite of our brokenness—indeed, because of it. Choosing to love now is a radical act in this context—what Jesus calls for when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and suggests a deeper answer to the question an “expert in the law” (Luke 10:25) boldly states: what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answers with a story that encapsulates the opposite of what humans seem capable of when wrapped in their own pasts and burdens, and suggests that those of us free to do so should help in the unravelling. He calls for mercy, no matter the cost. He chooses a parable to get past the questioner’s legal expertise while at the same time tweaking it: what’s fair? Who’s included? What’s the bottom line? He does not sacrifice the lesson of mercy or succumb to only law as a way to perceive. There is a place beyond earthly perception, and Jesus’ eye was on it when he answered the question with more important questions. He took brokenness and love in both hands and brought them together.

Would that it were true, that we would heed the gift of time both now and forever.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Discerning Pause

Discernment is this series of steps that themselves seem daunting: making observations in the pause of realization; naming or voicing your aims or even worries; praying and meditating over these; taking some kind of action. Sometimes just taking one step is the biggest reward, and that’s been true for me: it has taken me 10 months to birth the pause. I wanted to jump for joy when I realized it—that I can see and not blow past significant and insignificant realizations and draw the connections to what I seek from them. I have found that when I can observe—when I can stay in observational mode in any crisis or even internally, looking at myself—I am at my best. I so cherish this discovery (or perhaps rediscovery) and will aim to ruminate a bit on it here in my summer blog. Now that the season has changed and I have in essence dropped my job, I suddenly have the gift of time, another thing precious to me. Who knew the both would come together so fortuitously?

There are elements of childhood coming back to me—and perhaps for you too, dear reader—that late spring and early summer bring out. Smells and feelings and stuff my daughter asks me as school draws to a close  (it’s clear she has grown exponentially) and the feeling of play all well up in me a little reservoir for observation and pause. Start there, its says: here’s a pile of good gifts for your consideration. And maybe that could be your starting point, too. You wouldn’t have to start with the pains or struggles of your life, but instead approach them via the angles of your reality, of how you came to be in this moment as you read, of what led you to this spot, physical and spiritual. That’s the very nature of discernment in any situation, whether you’re making a big life decision or simply trying to manage a small and everyday kind of decision, the kind which impacts state of mind more than, say, the state of your wallet or house or something physical. There’s a great value in even the smallest of progress, and I guess what I’m saying is that the pause you take once your realize it is worth it alone, an ultimate offering from God our Creator. Take this discovery and hold it in your hands for awhile—the world with all its sham will always be unfolding out there, but you are a child of God, your time here itself important, and this pause will change you in unexpected ways.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Broken Lets the Light In

No one wants to talk about brokenness. I mean really talk about it – like wondering how life would've gone if I could've had my babies 12-13 years ago; if I could've met the right person at the right time then ( when I was young); if I could've not had three miscarriages; if I could have avoided getting into debt; if I could've avoided someone leaving me when I moved 2000 miles for him.  But then again these burdens wouldn't have created what is true and good about my life right now. Both must go together – the brokenness and the light.

To be broken can mean many things to many people. I have met so many people broken in so many ways throughout my life, and I am always surprised by their endurance and ultimate hope. Even to have been beaten by a relative; abused in different ways; controlled by someone out of control; battled (and lost) to illness--these strong souls carry their burdens, and then these burdens appear in new ways in later parts of life and challenge becoming human. Still, each one allows the struggle to become something new.  My most poignant personal experience of this happened in this timeframe: one of my miscarriages happened on Good Friday, and how excruciating, that shared suffering, but then for me a transformation. Since then my life has been full, and I can see hope in the child I have now, a reminder of life’s possibility, even in the face of isolation and desperation.

Our lives can be too full – we have to find a way to meet and embrace the brokenness. Still, business is life: people take care of their children, clean their homes, work, plan their lives.  In truth there's only so much we can plan. Our brokenness meets us in all places, at all times. We have to push out of the way all the extra, all that would keep us from embracing our true selves.

In my Examen lately, I have realized one of many reasons why we humans don't want to acknowledge our brokenness: sometimes it's too much to face. Sometimes we don't want to see our own ugliness, or that of others. We don’t want that responsibility to meet, greet, and acknowledge those aspects of our lives which are bound to change us for better or worse. What I am finding now is that my brokenness is something to accept, because it's opportunity for me to become more fully human, and to reconnect with the One who made me right now, without waiting and without fear.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Encounter

When people ask me how old my girls are, marveling at their cuteness, my first thoughts always go to how old I am and will be as they hit milestones. Then my answer brings me back to earth: 6 and a half years seems both an eternity and a blink. When I think of all I have learned about myself in that short time, all I have found myself capable of, I do a double take.  And it’s handy to have this reminder, especially when I find myself struggling as I have for these six years handling babies and job simultaneously by myself; or negotiating insurance issues of various kinds of surgery for Isabella; or finding ways to educate and enrich my children spiritually and mentally myself, and supporting their teachers; or maintaining a family life rich in slow, not fast living—tied to Franciscan values.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  And I know I am not the only one, though sometimes my journey feels solitary, lonely. It’s always alleviated by sharing as I do with the many Mamas in my life (and growing number of Papas willing to talk about this stuff). It’s easy to forget we are a blood and flesh community, and that support can stem from that readily.  I wish I’d had some of the online communities I am a part of when Isabella was a baby, and I was at home, teaching online, pumping at the same time, changing diapers while on a chat call with a student, mish-mashing too many things and losing my mind.  It would have been helpful to have had someone to turn to during those times, and now I see the further value of moving beyond the Facebook feed to somewhere local and meeting face to face, sharing the growing pains of the journey.

I see a sharing now as well over the growing pains of our times—this vast change  in too many cases for the worse, in aspects of our lives that are important (even if politicians are treating the subject matter of our lives carelessly). I see and feel the pains, concerns, and real fears of my friends, and pray for them—but want to act as well as pray. When I lament that I am old, I am half-kidding: indeed it will be tough for me in uncertain times to age, to deal with my body as it gives way to time, and to cherish each aspect of my family’s growth.  But the flip-side of old is wisdom—is the experience gained that I equally cherish and bring together with my faith experience to see a whole picture. Part of my action in the world will be sharing wisdom; I like to listen to others' wisdom and share my own. In the act of sharing we can console each other and bring love into this toxic mix-up of a world so desperately in need of it. We each have ears, hands, feet to carry this out, and I am willing and able and grateful for such opportunities. I hope we find each other—and ourselves—in these encounters. I know we’ll find God waiting there for us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Lifetime of Grief & Love

Grief is of the moment, but grief is also a lifetime of negotiating an empty spot.

And grief looks like many things right now.

If you’re like me, you’re grieving the loss of some true and real things hard-earned: community, trust, understanding. Compassion.  It’s not all gone, but there’s a dearth of it right now in some places—and then, by God’s grace, there’s an uprising of compassion, a calling of many to do the right thing that stems only from something planted deep within each of us. To rise up, truly love, be genuine in our faith.  This alone gives me great hope in this time of toxicity.

I still desperately miss my spiritual director Fr. Tom, who would have had much to say, ways to guide, even just a word, sometimes—to heal, coax in the right direction, touch the soul. My soul at times feels too far away from the ways he was able to bring people together, but I know he planted in me the smallest of mustard seeds and that growth begins. If you’re like me, perhaps you were lucky enough to have such a reminder of God’s grace in your lives, and can draw from the deep pool they’ve left you.

Still, there are times, like tonight as I write this, when I despair. When I take my doubts and hold them in hand and turn them in the light to make sense of them. Much of what we’re turning in our collective hands before us has been around a long time, and some of it surfaces afresh—all of it calls for our attention: to do what is right in the sight of God. To lead each other toward light, a light filling our broken, cracked beings and rendering us not useless but free. Body and soul free.

My prayer for you tonight is that your reserve is deep, and that, should you need it, sharing is always a good thing. Peace and All Good to you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Marches On

January is this clean slate we created by marking time, and it always feels a bit cold emotionally, with the hard follow-up to the Christmas season, to the warmth of so many holiday celebrations in which families gather, commemorate, acknowledge life in its fullness and glory.

January feels like a slap in the face by comparison.

I resent this a little because my birthday is in January, and I joke and say that’s a holiday, too. In fact, there are nine shopping days until my birthday, in case you needed to know. I’m pretty easy to shop for.

But seriously, back to this January thing: time is time. Time has continued, as have the ills and misfortunes we left, it seemed, in 2016. These follow, trail behind us ever-so-slightly as we continue. The gate of time is only an indicator for humans; beyond the gate we have to recognize the work that continues to call our attention. Whatever your work is, however you contribute something to this world, make it wholehearted and inspiring, make it count, because believe it or not, your contribution does something. Our Creator who sees and knows all will blend it into the greater picture. Now, more than ever, we need to become people of integrity, who recognize the worth and dignity of others, and allow this to influence our progress.

We do say goodbye to the old time, we do need that commemorative moment collectively for our souls, we do need to find ways to celebrate. And then we need to pick up our tools and carry on, bringing hope into situations of despair, and recognizing those moments that no platitude can fix (although when does that ever work?). Make peace with the ugly, maybe even sometimes accept the worst as its own kind of lesson, its own beauty marred by external forces. But certainly do not be shy when you encounter hatred and all its brothers and sisters: by all means, as we start the new year, make a plan of action against the nonsense and chaos we create, too. Because that also marks this time we are in, and calls to us for change that only we can bring.

Happy New Year to all!