The Grace and Impatience to Wait

I lit the first candle in my Advent wreath tonight, the winding up of a day spent in various forms of preparation – at Mass, preparing my heart, at home, cleaning and cooking to prepare myself and my house for another week.  I’m caught this year by the apocalyptic readings that the lectionary contains as Advent begins – by the dual longing for the birth of Christ and for Him to come again in glory.  And as I pondered that dual meaning, I came across another prayer from Walter Bruggemann, an Old Testament theologian who has penned a powerful collection of prayers titled “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.”  The prayer that catches me tonight is the one that this volume dedicates to Advent.  It shares a title with this post, and captures for me the the duality of waiting that I’m experiencing this year.

The grace and the impatience to wait

In our secret yearnings

we wait for your coming,

and in our grinding despair

we doubt that you will.

And in this privileged place

we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we

and by those who despair more deeply than do we.

Look upon your church and its pastors

in this season of hope

which runs to quickly to fatigue

and this season of yearning

which becomes so easily quarrelsome.

Give us the grace and the impatience

to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,

to the edges of our finger tips.

We do not want our several worlds to end.

Come in your power

and come in your weakness

in any case

and make all things new.

Amen.

the first candle lit as I ponder the duality of the wait

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For Abigail on her first birthday

Today was my youngest niece’s first birthday.  We celebrated her last weekend with a party and cake, and I spent this morning with her and her mom and sister, doing a little bit of girl bonding while shopping.  When I came home, though, I found myself thinking of a profound God moment that happened shortly after Abby’s birth, and in which she played a special role.  I wrote her a letter this afternoon to capture that sentiment, and with her parent’s permission, I wanted to share it here.

For Abigail May on her first birthday.

Abby-May,

You were born one year ago today, and I remember smiling as I got the text telling me of your arrival.  I was so excited to welcome another niece into my heart and family, and couldn’t wait to hold you, to snuggle, to enjoy watching you grow.  It’s been a year full of all of those blessings, and you are a cute, funny, active little girl, crawling all over the place and hinting that soon you’ll start trying to walk.  You love your parents and your big sister, and your smiles, though sometimes hard-won, light up your face.

But I’m not really thinking about those things today, Abby girl.  Instead I’m thinking about a moment that came less than two months after you entered this world.  It was a sacred and holy moment, one I’ve returned to often during the upheaval this last year has brought in my life.

One night in January of 2015, though you were too little to know it, you kept vigil with your mama and I as we sat next to the hospital bed where your great grandma was dying.

IMG_5696

a photo of the photo – Grandma in Ghana with an alligator

Your great grandma was an interesting lady, Abby.  I lived with her for the last five years of her life, and I saw her foibles and her gifts more closely than most.  She was spunky and friendly, never without a greeting, and her memory for dates and people, even in her last years of life never failed.  There wasn’t a person in the family who had a birthday or an anniversary who didn’t get a call from her on that date each year.  My favorite picture of your great grandma is hanging on the wall in my kitchen.  She’s wearing a dress and a funny straw hat with a bow, and straddling a giant alligator, nearly sitting on it’s back!  That was your her, Abby-May – all primness and spunk, straddling generations, but willing to step out, and so, when she was 75, she got a passport and joined your grandpa and your daddy and your great-aunt Cheryl and great-uncle Brian and went on a mission trip to Ghana, where she ended up looking just a bit Mary Poppinesque while straddling an enormous alligator.

She was one of the first in the family to see you, Abby.  She got to visit with you in the hospital – you were born in the same hospital that she was in for the last few months of her life. Someone printed out pictures of this newest great-granddaughter and tacked them to the wall across from her bed, and she pointed them out to everyone – she was always telling the nurses and doctors and really whoever would listen to her about her beloved family members.

That night, the last night she spent on earth, your mommy and I took a shift together at the hospital, keeping vigil with her, and you joined us.  It was a moment of sacred sweetness, Abby.  I arrived at the hospital before you and your mama, and I remember thinking that it would be so lovely if your mama would sing to grandma – how much grandma would appreciate that. When your mama arrived, we were on the same page – Jesus had given her the same thought, and she showed up, handed you to me, and pulled out a songbook.  For the next few hours your mom and I held grandma’s hands, we sang to her, and read her scriptures and song lyrics, and we prayed for her. Grandma wasn’t really conscious anymore – her eyes flicked open every so often, and she was starting to struggle with breathing, but I think she knew we were there.

The nurses came in and out, alternately talking with us, and giving us space – doing as much to care for those of us who gathered around your great-grandma’s bed as they were doing to care for her in those moments.  They were wonderful, Abby, and made me proud to be a nurse.  Several came in, too, because they’d heard we had a baby with us.  They were excited to see you, Abby, and they told us how Grandma would talk about you and your sister, pointing out your picture on the wall.  “Oh! This is the baby in the picture,” several said.

What I can’t explain to you, Abby, is how much your presence in that hospital room that night was a gift from Jesus.  I have a picture that I’ll treasure forever, of you sleeping at the foot of grandma’s hospital bed.  A life just beginning, and a life ending, both resting in the same bed. That hospital room was what the Celts called a “thin place” that night Abby,  a place where heaven and earth are nearly touching and you can feel it – and you being there was a part of that.  There was something deeply healing and holy for your mom and I in having you there – in seeing your new life juxtaposed against grandma’s waning life.  I don’t have a lot of words for that, but I wanted you to know how special it was that you were there.  That your presence was special, and that in being there, you were present for a holy moment – one that was filled with sorrow, but also immense joy and peace.  As your mom and I walked back to our cars that night, we just looked at each other – neither of us had words for those few hours, but we knew that we’d been gifted with the peace of Christ in that space, and that somehow, you being there was important for us to see. And so, Abby-May, this is your first birthday, and I’ve just spent several hundred words describing a moment you’ll not remember.  But I pray this for you, as you grow, sweet girl.  I pray that you will have many more moments that are as sacred as that one.  I pray that you will grow to know within you the peace of Christ that your mama and I experienced that night.  I pray that you will love family deeply and fully the way your great-grandma did, and that you will know Christ’s mercy and forgiveness in the ways she did too.  And I pray that you’ll have even a little bit of her spunk – that you’ll take chances wisely and seek to deeply enjoy life – that you’ll laugh, and maybe one day you’ll be the old lady who looks just a bit like Mary Poppins, straddling an alligator.

I love you sweet girl.  Happy Birthday.

Love always,

Auntie Lisa

with my Abby-May, only a day old.

 

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Live at the Space

SMRTdigipak_template_0.5mmlower_11by17_TEMPLATEA couple of months back, in late summer, I got an email inviting me to drive to Red Deer in September and sit in the studio while my friend Karla Adolphe recorded a new live EP.  I managed to snag some time off from the hospital, grabbed a friend to road trip with, and was privileged to have the chance to be part of the recording process for Karla’s newest album.

For a musically clueless soul such as myself, it was enlightening to see part of the recording process, to watch the multiple takes, to see the back and forth conversations between the producers and the musicians.  For me, it was also fun to see Karla in her element – performing the songs she’s crafted and turning them into something even more beautiful with the help of her band.

Although I was familiar with several of the songs on the EP, the live setting and new instrumentation gave them life in ways I haven’t experienced before.  I listened to the EP several times through on repeat yesterday while I was cleaning my house, doing food prep, and sitting with my journal.

In “Magnolia” I hear the richness of one who has wrestled with life, with faith, with journeying.  I hear in it the struggle of the two years Karla and her family have spent recovering from the damage of the devastating floods in Southern Alberta in 2013, and I see a friend who is emerging from that space with a new depth in both her soul and her music.  Magnolia was one of the tracks Karla worked on while I was part of the small audience in the studio, and it was also cool to hear how the amazing studio experience translated to the recording.

I could talk about each of the five tracks individually, but “Child of the King” is probably one of my favorites.  I’ve loved the lyrics for ages, and I love this new recording of a song I’ve turned to often over the years.

So friends, I guess what I’m saying is that you should definitely pick up a copy of “Karla Adolphe Live at The Space” when it releases on November 17th.  You can get digital or physical copies of the album here: http://www.karlaadolphe.bandcamp.com  Check it out – you won’t be disappointed!

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Hope, Depression, Healing, Community (Anniversaries and All Saints)

I woke up this morning thinking about hope, about depression, about healing, and about community.  Big topics for early in the morning, but understandable given that today is not only All Saints Day, but also the tenth anniversary of a life-changing encounter that I had with Jesus.

Ten years ago today I started having the sorts of experiences that are somewhat more common in my life now.  I was seeing pictures in my head, and hearing whispers in my thoughts.  I thought they might be whispers from God, whispers that I’d been praying and longing to hear, but I wasn’t sure. I went to a small group gathering that evening and cornered a friend who was my go to source for all things “crazy and strange” religiously.  (What I mean is that he was further down the road of charismatic experiences than I, and that while I tended to panic about such things, he embraced them.)  I began to share what I’d been feeling and seeing that day, and it took only minutes before he became antsy, asking me to head out into the night and walk with him.  I remember protesting, due to the blizzard that had begun, but grudgingly following him outside.  We walked the neighborhood for a long time that night, until we were cold and wet, and then we settled in his car. We talked and talked and talked, and prayed a little, and talked and prayed some more.  My friend invited me to come before Jesus in a new and honest way that night, and it changed me.  For the last ten years I’ve celebrated that night as an anniversary of healing from depression.

If you know me well, that last statement might puzzle you.  I don’t exactly work to hide the fact that I take an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication on a daily basis.  I don’t hide the fact that I spent several years of the last decade in therapy, working through a lot of hard stuff in my life. In fact, I tend to proclaim those things, preferring to do everything in my power to ease the stigma that kept me from seeking help for so many years.  What I mean when I say that I was healed from depression that night is this: in that car, that cold November 1st ten years ago, Jesus met with me, and the hopelessness that had pervaded my life off and on since childhood, and continually for nearly seven years, was broken.  Since that night I haven’t ever gone to bed and prayed to die in my sleep, something that was a routine practice in my life at that time.  I didn’t see a reason to be alive, but I wasn’t willing to end my life, so I sat day after day in hopelessness and exhaustion.

I want to clarify that statement about healing.  I take medication to help manage my moods.  It’s an important part of my day-to-day survival.  I believe that mental illness can and does have a physical component – that it involves diet and chemical imbalances and stress and lifestyle choices.  I also believe that the spiritual world impacts our world, and in my life that played out as an overwhelming fear and hopelessness. That night, what I experienced was a spiritual healing, a lifting of the darkness and hopelessness, a renewed strength to fight the physical battle.  I was gifted that night with spiritual healing, but also with a practical physical healing.  That night I slept six straight hours, something I hadn’t done in nearly seven years.  It was the beginning of a journey.  It started with the spiritual, and eventually moved into the realm of the emotional and physical as I began to fight back, to stubbornly cling to hope.

I remember very few details of the conversation that I shared with my friend that night, but one phrase still runs through my thoughts, all these years later.  I’d been re-reading Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia at that time and this thought occurred to me, “C. S. Lewis looked at God and created Aslan.  I look at Aslan and wish I knew a God like that.”

Ten years ago tonight Jesus began introducing himself to me as one who is “not safe, but good” to again borrow from Lewis.  It’s a big and ongoing lesson, and some of the lessons over the last decade have been ruthless.  It’s lessons like those that led me to tattoo the phrase “stubborn hope and joy” on my right forearm over the summer.  He is not safe, but He is good, and so I stubbornly hold on to the hope that He gifted me with on that night.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the role that community has played in my healing.  My friend was there for me that night.  He’d invited me into that place probably more than a dozen times in the few years that I’d known him, and I’d refused every time, but he persevered and continued to listen to me and offer his friendship, and because of that, when I was at my most broken, I was willing to let him lead me before Christ.  I fell into a group of people shortly thereafter who taught me about the new things I was experiencing, and then taught me valuable lessons about the value of choosing emotionally and spiritually healthy companions to journey with.  There are the group of women who I met online, two especially, who journey with me long distance.  There is my bestie who lives on the other side of the planet now, but lived with me as a roommate through some of the hardest years in the middles of this decade.  She wrote cards, offered hugs, and sometimes even had flowers waiting when I came home from the hard work of pursuing healing and hope.  My family walked with me, and cheered me on through all the stumbles, even when they didn’t know most of the details of this journey.

I’ve learned a lot about community, and how central they are to healing and wholeness.  Without each of those people I mentioned, I would be less whole.  And I’m learning about community in new ways this fall, as I connect with a local church body again, as I make new friends who share my Catholic faith, and as I push deeper into other relationships.

Healing is a communal sport.  Without the people in my life, and without “the great cloud of witnesses” that the writer of the Hebrews references, I would be less healed, less able to cling stubbornly to hope and joy.

Ten years on, it seems somehow appropriate that a journey lived in community began on All Saints Day.  It makes me laugh, since I certainly had no inkling a decade ago that my journey would lead me into the Catholic Church, but that heavenly sense of humor is one of my favorite characteristics of the God who is like Aslan that I’ve begun to know over the course of these ten years.

So today I’m thinking about healing, about hope, about depression and about community.  I’m thinking about how grateful I am for a God who is not safe but good, how grateful I am for that moment when I was given the gift of hope again, how grateful I am for the lessons I’ve learned about managing my physical and mental and emotional health, and how this journey wouldn’t be possible without the many people who have served as companions along the way.

I’m celebrating today – a moment of healing, and a feast of All Saints – a feast of the great ones who have walked ahead of me on this path to knowing Christ.  I’m celebrating, and I’m grateful.

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On Longing to be Made New

This is kind of a wonky day for me.  October 31st always is.  I’m a protestant turned catholic, with a degree in European religious history that focused primarily on the reformation period and it’s aftermath.  I’m also a person who is highly sensitive to the spiritual realm and aware that this is a day when many choose to honor and pay homage to things evil.  Plus, I generally hate costumes and masks – they creep me out – something about hiding inside an identity separate from your own, I think, even if it’s cute.

I’m spending today lying low, fighting a bit of a sinus cold, and pondering.  Later tonight I’ll put on fairy wings (yes, even though I hate costumes) and go hang out with family, and more specifically with my nieces who I’m sure will be dressed adorably.  (I love them enough to put on a costume for them!)

Every year on this date I find myself thinking about the idea of reformation.  Regardless of my ever more complicated thoughts and feelings on the issue of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s 95 theses nailed to a church door in Germany in 1517, and the unity of the body of Christ, I happen to think that the idea of being reformed is worth considering.

It’s that idea of being made over, made new again.  The idea that Christ is ever doing a work of resurrection in us, and in our world, making all things new.  It’s an idea I felt strongly as I read through the lectionary this week, specifically the passages from Romans 8.  If all creation is groaning and longing for redemption, how can I not do the same?

In the last months I’ve encountered so many broken things – in my life, in the lives of patients, in the lives of family and friends.  If I’m so very aware of the brokenness, how then can I not be aware of the need to be made new?

And so tonight, on a night when some will celebrate the darkness, I plan to spend time reminding me of the light.  I’m going to look for it in the joy of my niece’s face when she discovers that there is candy to be had when she dresses up adorably and rings a few doorbells.  I’m going to look for it in the inevitable moments of laughter that happen when I gather with my siblings.  I’m going to look for it in the way I know my niece will love that I am wearing fairy wings.  I’m going to look for it as I savor some treats.  And I’m going to remember that Christ is working to make all things new.  That being re-formed, being made again is a constant and continuous and holy process, and one worth engaging in wholeheartedly.

And I’m going to leave you with this lovely prayer for this day, taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and shared on Facebook by Pete Greig, one of the founders of 24-7 prayer, the group that introduced me to a meaningful life of prayer.

all hallows eve

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We Treasure What You End

Fall is my least favorite season of the year, and like so many years past, each for their own reasons, I’ve found this fall to be difficult and heavy at times.  I hesitate to say that I’m emerging from that space, knowing that the few days a year I am traditionally most aware of and sensitive to the spiritual realm remain still weeks away, but in some slow ways, I’m emerging, and as I begin to sort out the new rhythms and paths for my life that always come from this season where things begin to die and fall away, I’m drawn again to the following prayer that shares its title with this post, penned by Walter Bruggemann, an Old Testament scholar and poet, whose book of prayers “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth” has accompanied my spiritual journey for a number of years now.

We confess that we are set this day in the midst

of your awesome, awful work.

We will, because we have no alternative,

be present this day

to your dreadful work of termination.

We watch while you pull down

and dismantle

that with which you have finished.

We will, because we have no alternative,

be present this day

to your dream-filled work

of evoking,

imagining,

forming,

and inviting.

We are double-minded in your presence,

because we treasure what you end

and we fear what you conjure –

but we are your people

and trust you all this day

in your awesome,

awful work.

Override our reluctance

and take us with you

in justice

and mercy

and peace.

Take us with you in your overriding,

that our day may be a day of joy

and well-being

and newness

from your very hand.

In the name of your decisive newness,

even Jesus. Amen.

(Loyola University, Bastille Day/ July 14, 1989)

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My tattoos are mocking me

It should surprise exactly no one who knows me that my theology and faith are influenced by the time I spent in charismatic churches.  It should be equally unsurprising to you to hear that I have a rather strong sensitivity to the spiritual realm.

Here’s what I always forget about that sensitivity – it’s strong.  And more than that, I have this tendency to forget that when I push into something good, when I’m leaning into new places that Jesus is leading me, when I make a strong statement about things I believe to be true about life with Christ, when I’m pushing into places of growth in my faith, life has this tendency to suddenly become very hard.

I’ve been thinking about how I always forget that this week, while considering the context of the tattoos I talked about in my last post.  Those tattoos are mocking me in the weeks since I came home from Colorado and re-entered everyday life.  I sort of forgot that if you make a statement of faith, if you, for instance say to God and everyone, “I believe that the Father is in control and that all things truly will be well, and that hope and joy are so deeply important that they’re worth stubbornly fighting for, and I believe these things so much and they’re so central to my life that I’m going to have them permanently inked into my skin,” that you’re kind of asking for trouble.

And that’s what I’ve found.  There have been other things going on that have added to the sense of spiritual battle I’ve been facing lately, but I do have to say that my tattoos are mocking me.  It seems that in inking those beliefs into my skin, I was opening myself up to a myriad of situations that seemed the direct opposite of those truths marked on my arms.

Stubborn hope and joy.  All shall be well.  Can we just talk for a minute about how broken the world is right now?  Can we talk about the heaviness I’ve experienced in my life?  Can we talk about how at work some days I’m pretty convinced that nothing on the planet will ever be well?  Can we talk about how I work in the “happiest area of nursing” and yet I also see some truly heartbreaking things on a daily basis?  And can we talk about how my sensitivity to all the brokenness has seemed to grow in direct proportion to my statement that I believe that even in those most broken of moments, it is important to stubbornly choose to have hope, to stubbornly choose to be joyful, to believe that all really shall be well some day?

It’s a weird tension to live in, and most days I feel like the tattoos are as much a mocking reminder of my failure to believe, my failure to live these things I claim to believe, as they are a truth to aspire to.  And yet, they’re a truth to aspire to.

As I write this I’m reminded of the father of the demon-possessed boy who encounters Jesus.  The father who cries out, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”  It seems the most human and holy of prayers, that.  I believe, and yet, help my unbelief.  It’s a prayer I’m echoing tonight, one I’m clinging to as I wade through this season of heaviness.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

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