God’s Love is Stronger than the Winter You Were Frightened Of

popeILY“My love is stronger than the winter you were frightened of.”

~ Lucy Wainwright Roche

I had a quite intense religious experience last week. It really came out of the blue.

Like most of us who are dealing with snow storms in the United States, the past couple of weeks have not been ones of convenience. Our oldest son moved to our town and he fell in love right away with a very sweet gal. Both of those happenings have been grand! Our other adult son decided to go to college in the town where we live. This decision of his has been superb for me!

But, that means that when fourteen additional inches of snow falls upon snow that was already on the road, last week I was worrying about four adults besides myself driving safely to work and school. Even more worrisome was that my oldest son was needing to move while sick, without missing work, while the storm was happening.

It all worked out thankfully other than a nick on his new dining room table.

So, then on Monday, we all had a snow day and I wasn’t feeling well, but our youngest son was able to live the life of a kid and had a great time in the snow. This is good.

I wouldn’t say that prior to this storm I was feeling depressed, but I’ll admit that I was in a slump for much of January.

It was more like a winter blues state of affairs and I’m not sure why.

14 inches

 

But, this is where the religious experience comes in – I’m not sure how to put it into words other than that my slump is no longer. Bare with me as I try to describe what happened, I think it was last Tuesday evening.

 

I have a very dear friend who lives in Chicago, which is only a couple of hours drive away from here. I’ve not seen her in, as Billy Joel would say, the longest time. A week or so ago she wrote a beautiful blog post as a guest writer on a theology blog. What she said, in essence, is that for what it’s worth, darkness can be a place of learning. That, if we let our long nights become a place of reflection, the Holy Spirit swoops right in and manages to turn our worry and despair and wondering into the most lovely surprises that we could never imagine ourselves.

And, I’m not sure if this was part of what she was saying in her article, but what she said made me think about how guilt can really mess with this whole magical system.

In the Catholic Church, before we receive communion we say a prayer that goes:

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof

but,

only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

I’m guessing that when Pope Benedict changed this prayer from a previous one he was talking about a communion wafer hitting the roof of my mouth, but it’s not how I imagine things when I say those words out loud.

I imagine being surprised by a friend stopping by my house on a whim. The sink is full, my homework is far from done, my hair looks more like a bird’s nest than usual. And out of the total blue, there she is – a cherished friend, perhaps in high heels with a camera in tow, looking for a quick chat and a long hug. And since it’s communion we’re talking about here, of course Jesus is in the picture as well. I either imagine him being there at the door as well, or having taught that cherished visitor to stop by and lift a burden.

Now, back to my theologian friend. I’ve known her since she was born. I have the distinguished honor of being her first babysitter beyond her grandmothers. I must say she was not the easiest baby to care for because she did a bit of fretting. She couldn’t wait for her parents to return and I had to come up with a good balance of fun and quiet and soft singing to get her down for a nap.

She really loved silence.

As an adult she and her husband have been waiting a very long time to make themselves a family of three.

Now, if you will, go back to my story about our latest snow storm. It was big enough to shut Chicago down, which puts in a really, really big snow storm category. Our town gets pretty much the same weather as Chi, but less windy. So – on an evening mid-week after the storm and moving our son, and digging out to get back to work and school I needed a pick me up. I decided to work on a project that I felt like I had failed. I had plans to make several sets of painted nativity Holy Family people to give away for Christmas, but things got busy and I only made a few. What the heck I say to myself, I’ll work on them as an Easter project. So I sit down in the dark, at the kitchen table and start painting.wise people2

 If you have ever had a family or a dog (we have two),

please imagine how many times I may have been interrupted or distracted while simply trying to decide between pink or paisley paint colors.

I found myself just ignoring the excitement and praying though – it wasn’t even on purpose. As I started to coat a couple of little Magi, a little bit of burden fell off and I started asking God for a bit of help. And I said sorry, I’m not sure about what. Maybe it was about Christmas not being what it could have been in our house, maybe it was because the laundry wasn’t done, probably it was related to having missed going to Mass for a couple of weeks.

Then my cell phone rings.

It was a college friend and she said: “Get on Facebook – go now.There is something you need to see.”

And it was one of the most beautiful baby photos that I will ever, ever, ever see in my whole life.

Our friend who had been waiting six years to bring a baby home, had welcomed him into the world at last. And his skin is the exact color of beautiful that I was painting – out of guilt and life stress, at my kitchen table.

Lucy Wainwright, the musician, is right on target with her beautiful lyrics. My love for this little person, who I knew would come into my life some day, is stronger than any winter that her mom could be frightened of.

This makes me happy.

“Okay” Can Be a Comforting Prayer

BPyUYW1CIAA-IFqIn part of a passage I posted the other day by Anne Lamott she said that

“okay”

is one of the four great prayers.

o TN_handsigns_O

I wonder what the other three are?

I’d bet they are one worded – perhaps thanks. Amen would be kind of obvious. What about yes? or Hallelujah, or yipee or yahoo or agreed? That’s what amen means in terms of word roots I think. I’m fairly sure it just means “Yup, I think the same thing as you my old pal God the greatest.”

About a month ago my prayers were not close to being quite that amiable. “Greatest” is still not the first thing that pops in mind with how I am feeling about the heavenly host, but I’m starting to ease up on my internal sky rant which started out pretty much like this:

Are you *%@+&ing kidding me? What happened to that giant life plan that you and I mapped out and you were so generously CLEAR with your instructions about what you want me to do with my life? The hints you left were not random on this one. It wasn’t like the time I thought I could somehow make a career out of folding origami cranes and little paper frogs. That wasn’t very practical was it now? Did I try to figure out if that’s what you want. Well YES SIREE I did! I prayed, I journaled. I reflected. I went to mass and made the sons come along as well. I even started reading Anne Lamott books. I may not have gotten to my goal of making a thousand paper cranes, but I got good at that craft and hosted a couple of really fun workshops for kids and showed those little kidlets a good time. Did I whine and moan when I figured out that the want ads had nothing that said: “intensely reflective and fairly forgetful paper folder wanted to fold cute little animals out of beautiful asian paper squares” ? NO MA’AM! I kept on truckin’ and started out working on Masters degree #2 because the first one was not in big demand in the countryside where we were living. Was I bummed when it stopped working out for me to continue in that program. Well sure. It was really interesting and the career demand was going to be huge. And did I stop trying to figure out what you want? Hell’s bells no I didn’t. I dug up all of the Thomas Merton books that we own and got friendly with him again. And I found another hobby as instructed and spent hours and hours building that outdoor porch train track. Giving up that corner of our house that became my little prayer space was pretty damn hard to leave, but I did, DID I NOT? Our buddy Merton says keep reflecting not matter where and no matter what so when I discovered how ridiculously large the Mississippi river is compared to my serene corner on the great Ohio, THAT’S WHAT I DID DUDE! REFLECT, REFLECT, REFLECTED MY *#%…..

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the details. Consider that a prelude.handsigns_K

By the way, I know that I used both “he” and “she” words for God. I’m one of those people who feel like God is so big that gender kind of limits the whole point of divinity. And I get irked at continued references that imply that our collective imagination stopped at the image of a white guy with a big old beard being in charge of the universe. That’s kind of boring I think. And none of my grandfather’s look like that anyway. One was a motorcycle cop and the other a journalist with big thick eye glasses.

Anyway.

My dear friend sent me a beautiful gift after I called her to tell her what was upsetting me so greatly. Wait, no, She is the one that had called me first. I had sent a rapid fire set of text messages saying “ahhhhhhhhh” and “eeeeeeeeeeeeek” and “yowwwwwwwwww”! She knows me well and called and said “I’m calling to talk about the weather and want to know what you are making me for dinner.” So we had a great and funny conversation that was mostly a “not talking talk” about what I was upset about, but at the same time she got a basic run down on the scene.

Shortly after, a gift that she had promised came in the mail. I wasn’t expecting it quite so soon! The card that she sent with it had a cute front that talked about how God’s world is full of all that is good. On the inside though, the little bear was shaking her hands at the sky and saying “give me a *xyz#%ing break!”

So all of this to say is this….

yeah. I agree with Anne.

It took me a month or so, but the best prayer I can burp out at this point is “okay.”

And once I said okay, my load started to lighten. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry, but this particular situation is not one that I can afford to pout about for very long.

Some new realities have fallen into my lap that are complicating my plans to get through this Sign Language interpreting certification program, but thus far there is no reason to do anything other than continue to enjoy and get as far as I can in the courses.If some fine tuning needs to happen, then so be it – I’ll deal with it when that time comes.

I’ll say this though – and again, I won’t bore you with the details, but adjusting this quickly from a “BLEEP YOU” cosmic conversation to a kicking my shoe in the dirt and mumbling “okay” prayer stance is completely unheard of for me…pun intended. I hold grudges like a toddler who is unwilling to release a blanket during nap time.

And. I have fallen in love with my studies about a language and culture that surrounds and protects the lives of those who have less than perfect hearing. Somehow, some way though, I didn’t wait even a day this time before sounding the alarm bells to get help and comfort when I had a wrench thrown into my plans. I scattered out a few “hey friends, I’m freaking out” messages and predictably there were those that said “huh?” and those that said “got your back girl. Bring it on. You’ve got this thing. Don’t stop now.”

And the best part? Some of these people are new friends. I survived the three-year mark of relocation and am meeting and entrusting some really, really great people in my new world. I’m encountering people who are flies in my soup too…but I don’t care. This is not my first trip on the pumpkin wagon and I know to be careful to trust only those who gain my confidence. I hope that I have the sense to pay that back.

I don’t know that I need to read up on what the other three prayers are that Anne Lamott mentions. Saying “okay God” is comfort enough for now….gotta start somewhere.

(The top photo is mine and is morning sun on the Mississippi River which is now a favorite water way, second only to the Ohio.)

Anne Lamott on Praying for Spiritual Signs

fallRecently I’ve been enjoying this song by Colbie Callait.

And, this morning I stumbled on an interesting Facebook Post from Anne Lamott. I think it fits with the month of remembrances and thanksgiving.

She wrote it on August 9, Just last summer.

I love the idea of God’s grace being available in an ATM.

Every morning these days, you have to ask yourself, What the hell IS it all about, Alfie? Or you pray for a sign that you absolutely cannot miss or misinterpret, the tiniest hint of direction and assurance.

Well? I got one.

It has been one of the worst week in years, and that’s saying something. You know exactly what I’m talking about, no matter how much you love your life and your pit crew; no matter how hard you strive to present a good face. It is so hard here. It’s like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible.

Under the best circumstances, we are a nutty and sometimes violent species, on an extremely dangerous piece of land.

But one of the saddest things happened. We had to put my darling old dog Lily down. She died peacefully at home in my son Sam’s arms on Wednesday.

I think she was the closest I’ll come, on this side of eternity, to experiencing the direct love of the divine. You may know the feeling.

Through this love, Sam and I came through. We cried a lot, but agreed to let our hearts stay broken for a while, because that is how light, grace and healing can get in, through the armor.

The next morning, I took Lily’s beloved ne’er-do-well husband Bodhi for a walk. I adore him, but he has tiny mental issues, such as aggression, and having eaten entire chickens, and 24 muffins once. Then, too sad to stay at home without Lily, we went out for a bite.

After eating sandwiches in the car, we headed home. I was disoriented, and so far behind on my daily life, after a month of Lily in decline, that Sam frequently consults A Place for Mom online. But a block from home, I got that Holy Spirit nudge, a tug on my sleeve, which urged me, as it often does, “Stop.” It’s given up on nuance.

They say that when all else fails, follow instructions. The nudge on my heart said, “Go to your friend’s kid’s school.” So I said, “Okay,” the fourth great prayer.

My closest friend’s child, who has been through the ringer, the On Beyond Zebra ringer, starts kindergarten soon, but the friend has been on Total Fucking Overwhelm (TF0). She has not entirely gotten him enrolled, and the school’s website had conflicting info on how to do this. And, of course, no one is in the office, because it is August, which was one of the two biggest mistakes God made–August, and snakes. So we drove to the school.

There was one car in the parking lot and a woman climbing into it. Then some janitors ran into view and called to her–had she locked their lunches in the office? She had–Oops, to quote Rick Perry. So she got out, to unlock the office. I asked if I cd run along beside her, like a little dog, and ask a quick question. “Fire away!” she said. I told her about this boy, and asked all our main questions. She was so helpful. I thanked her, and asked if she worked in the office.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m the new principal.”

Of course she was the new principal, because God is such a show-off. Call this energy the Divine It, or Ed. Whatever works.

“Wow,” I said, bowing my head.

“Look,” she continued, “the easiest thing is probably for me to just give your friend my cell phone number.”

I said, “Okay,” on the verge of laughter and tears. “Thank you.”

Bodhi and I went home and called our friend. “You better sit down,” I told the mom. “I think we got some kind of Inbreaking.”

I told the mom my story, about how we’d somehow ended up at the Grace ATM, and how holy spirit had saved the day.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Or Lily.”

I gave her the new principal’s cell phone number. Then Bodhi and I went to read the new People, and took a nice morning nap, feeling a little bit better, which is a miracle.
from FB page Suspended Coffees

Litany: Billy Collins

Litany by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,

The crystal goblet and the wine…

~Jacues Crickillon

 

You are the bread and the knife,

the crystal goblet and the wine,

You are the dew on the morning grass

and the burning wheel of the sun.

You are the white apron of the baker,

and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

 

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,

the plums on the counter,

or the houses of cards.

And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.

 

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,

maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,

but you are not even close

to being a field of cornflowers at dusk.

 

And a quick look in the mirror will show

that you are neither the boots in the corner

nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

 

It might interest you to know,

speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,

that I am the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

 

I am also the moon in the trees

and the blind woman’s tea cup.

But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.

You are still the bread and the knife,

not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow – the wine.

Wendell Berry: Everything is Here

Everything is Here

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith: what we we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear. What we need is here.

~ Wendell Berry

Quotes about Windows

Aside

The “photo of the week” word is windows. Saturday chores start in just a few minutes and I look forward to working on that project.

I do most of my good thinking while staring outside.

In the meantime, I found some interesting quotes.

Poor Tennessee…always a scardy cat:

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call;

no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down

with us trapped, locked in it.”  

―     Tennessee Williams,     The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

A “Come to Jesus” perspective that I prefer:

“Bare heights of loneliness…

a wilderness whose burning winds sweep over glowing sands, what are they to HIM?

Even there He can refresh us,

even there He can renew us.”  

―     Amy Carmichael

This quote brings images to mind that remind me of the hours and hours of BBC dramas that I watched over the long winter school break:

“Every face, every shop, bedroom window, public-house, and dark square is a picture feverishly turned–in search of what? It is the same with books. What do we seek through millions of pages?”

―     Virginia Woolf,     Jacob’s Room

399290_10150673771793810_837678809_9134183_1877237150_n

I like this quote the best. Windows are about feeling safe, eh? :

“It is not real,” he whispered.

“This place is only a thought that has grabbed hold of you.

It cannot harm you.

You are not of this place, and it has no power over you.

You do not need it, nor do you owe it your allegiance.”

I nodded,

listening only to his words and not to the rattling of the windows,

which had begun as soon as we stepped inside.”

―     Rita Murphy,     Bird

Does Change Have to Happen All at Once?

Aside

“But Gemma, you could change the world.”

“That should take far more than my power,” I say.

“True. But change needn’t happen all at once. It can be small gestures.”

“Moments. Do you understand?” He’s looking at me differently now, though I cannot say how. I only know I need to look away…

We pass by the pools, where the mud larks sift. And for only a few seconds, I let the magic loose again.

“Oi! By all the saints!” a boy cries from the river.

“Gone off the dock?” an old woman calls. The mud larks break into cackles.

“‘S not a rock!” he shouts. He races out of the fog, cradling something in his palm.

Curiosity gets the better of the others. They crowd about trying to see. In his palm is a smattering of rubies. “We’re rich mates! It’s a hot bath and a full belly for every one of us!”

Kartik eyes me suspiciously. “That was a strange stroke of good fortune.”

“Yes it was.”

“I don’t suppose that was your doing.”

“I’m not sure I don’t know what you mean,” I say.

And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
―     Libba Bray,     The Sweet Far Thing