Long ago and far, far away.

“And he came and preached peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 3:17-18

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it, there are many dark places. But still, there is much that is fair -and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, perhaps, it grows all the greater.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Yes, I know it’s been nearly three months since I last posted to this blog.

It’s not like I haven’t thought of a dozen clever titles for a post, or a half dozen scriptures, or a handful of clever and oh-so-timely things I want to say here. They all fell kind of flat.

But yet, I am quietly drawn these days to the power of silence. The world is kind of running amok right now, isn’t it? Do you feel like that, too? Today was the beginning of proceedings to try and warrant the impeachment of a president.

We are, indeed, despite your political leanings, a world full of peril and dark places.

Within my own beloved church, we are wrapping up disturbing thoughts and charges and disconnect after the Amazon Synod. I have personally met and talked with a half dozen people in my church in the last month – many of those personally torn, hurt, discouraged, outraged, upset, despondent and yet struggling to find a bright light in all of this crazy bad, no good, something evil this way comes kind of upset.

We are upset.

We are up-SET. Our world is not what we thought. Not what we thought it would be. Not what it should be.

We are torn asunder, and it totally breaks my heart.

Hence, this tiny short post here tonight.

I have spent the last few weeks off social media stupidity (yes, not taking that back) and instead on line in a very intensive, thought-provoking study of the Gospel of John. The Beloved Disciple. The one guy, who, despite all hardships and followers who fell into disbelief upon the crucifixion – chose to stand at the foot of the cross – and believe.  The one who took Mary to be his own mother, to shelter and care for her. Who set up a house for her in Ephesus, who had great revelations about what was to become for the world (Revelations). The one who ran to the open grave on Easter Sunday, yet waited for Peter to catch up to him, out of breath. Panting, bending down, leaning into the empty tomb, to see what he could see. And yet, he waited. While he knew he already believed.

John, the Beloved, already knew. Could already see. Beyond all of the other disciples, maybe even Peter, John knew, and trusted – and chose to believe.

John the Baptist, in like form, yet different, knew Christ from the very seed of his existence in the womb. While still being formed in Elizabeth, he knew and recognized Christ the moment that Mary uttered the first breath of her Magnificat in Luke:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”

I have thought about that, a lot, this week, approaching Advent.

And my soul finds…courage.

At the approaching baptism of our Lord, John the Baptist spots Christ from far away and declares him, with great gusto and confidence, to be the Lord. The one that he is not worthy to untie his sandals. From very far away, John knows.

Likewise, Mary as a very young girl, likely unsure and shaken about what Word she has just manifested in her soul, races across the hills of Bethany to meet her cousin, Elizabeth. Confused by spiritual circumstances, she seeks comfort in what the world knows.

Even though it’s a miracle to merely think it, she dares to ask:

“Is it true,” she wonders, as she approaches the house of her cousin, “that ye of old age have conceived a child?”

While at the same time, Elizabeth must be feeling the approach of the Lord, thundering down upon every step of Mary’s tiny foot steps approaching her, bearing in every step toward her the promise of Christ. Bringing him ever closer and closer.

“Is it true,” Elizabeth responds to Mary’s query, without really thinking, without seriously having to answer,”that my Lord, the King of Kings, the Lord over all – the promised Messiah! That he makes the child in my womb leap with joy when you enter. That as you approach this very place where I stand, looking out over the valley, I am filled with wonder. How can it be that he is coming to me.”

How can it…BE.

Wondering. Waiting.

Wanting.

Wow.

Is it true?

Is it?

I could write something pithy here, I suppose. About a parallel between the fight between good and evil in Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or the latest Marvel comic series saga thrown up and erupting on the popular movie screen, coming soon to a theater near you.

Instead, I will leave you with this.

Once upon a time, there was a very simple girl. Her name was Mary. She believed in God, and she prayed every single day for the conversion of sinners. For the ADVENT of the world to come. She didn’t pray for that for herself. She just wanted it to happen for the good of the world. For a Redeemer to come, and save the world. From this hapless, sad state that we find ourselves in. She just wanted a Savior – someone who could see where we had been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Someone who would step in, step up, and intercede on our behalf.

Someone who gets us.

Not because He had to.

Because He WANTED to.

Yes, the world is full of dark and awful things. At the very last things of Christs’ life, he foretold his death more than once. He was really pretty specific about what was to come. He even said that one of the 12 would betray him. He dipped bread with that one at the Last Supper and told him to hurry, and do what he must do.

My soul is beat up, smashed, crushed and bleeding many days now because of many accusations against the Catholic Church that I have heard or had sent my way. Angry emails. Bitter accusations. Questions I can’t answer – yet.

We DO need to answer – we do.

Yes, our Church is broken. It would be easy to scoop up the pieces and toss them away.

While I appreciate all of those comments, I have decided that nothing will deter me from standing with John at the foot of the Cross.

Once upon a time, a young virgin conceived, and bore a son.

The Savior of the World.

Is it TRUE?

If yes, let the rest of it – what is now and was and is and ever shall be – belong to Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater than 1.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.”

                                             – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

“‘Well, everybody does it that way, Huck.’

“Tom, I am not everybody.”‘ 

                                           – the Adventures of Tom Sawyer

This has been a week of immense gratitude for me. I have had some tough times personally and friends old and new have rallied around and supported me. I am so very thankful for that.

Sometimes, when you think you are at a low point, friends, that’s when God chooses to reach in and pick you up and set you down on that high, rocky point – and show you where you truly are. Maybe He knocks you off your high horse a bit. Maybe he reaches out a hand to you as the Good Samaritan. Maybe He asks you for a drink of water at the well of the Samaritan woman.

Or maybe He just encounters you on a dusty road to Emmaus. Tired, hungry, thirsty, sad. Wondering why you thought the Messiah must surely be just around the corner, only to think you’ve been let down. Blinded in your own misery, you are just trudging along.

He offers us a glimpse along that road not as a king, but as our friend. He walks with us  and gives us a chance to step off the beaten path, take a deep breath, re-evaluate where we are, and take up our journey again.

He joins us there. He meets us there, because He is the better one, the Father of the Prodigal son who always runs halfway down the road to meet us. The one who beckons to us to break bread with Him at the end of the day.

God shows us through so many ways – friends, trials, circumstances – that sometimes our low point – that point just around the corner that we can’t see, that place that makes us uncomfortable because it’s hiding in our “blind spot” – can instead be a turning point. That our greatest “down” can be the escape door about to spring open to our biggest “up” if we will just have faith and trust in Him.

We need each other, friends. Now more than ever! We are good on our own, but with a friend by our side, we are oh so much better than one. Christ sought out friends in His ministry because He knew this same thing to be true. While He could have wandered among the desert, sailed the Sea of Galilee, traversed that dusty road to Capernaum on his own – he chose instead to walk with us. He wanted to have us beside him. Asking dumb questions, making false presumptions about who He was, failing to understand all of the parables, arguing about who would sit at his right hand, insisting that he could not possibly suffer persecution – all that. Until he finally convinced us “I’m not everybody.” Until he was finally gone, resurrected in all of his glory – and we finally understood what He was trying to say all along.

Sometimes I think, how were the disciples so slow to understand?

And then I think about my own situation. And I totally get where they were coming from.

We need each other. We were built for community. We were built to work together, travel together, pray together, make dumb mistakes and fall down and get up again and rise together.

There is a lot of value in picking yourself up off the ground, dusting the dirt from your pants, and getting back on that road that you stepped off.

It’s even better if you have a friend, pointing out that you have a bit of dirt on your pants, and helping you brush that away. Offering you a hand. Reassuring you that your questions aren’t really so dumb, and let’s talk about that.

If you don’t have a tribe, find one.

If you don’t have a friend to share your spiritual journey, find that person in your parish that needs a friend, and be one.

It starts with you.

 

 

The Waiting Place.

“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place.

…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.” – Oh, the Places You’ll go, by Dr. Seuss

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel? He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” – Acts 1:6-7, The Ascension of Jesus

I am finally back home and entered back into a familiar routine after off-and-on-and-gone-again travel since mid-May. My day starts once again with morning scripture, coffee and cat snuggles on the deck at sunrise, and my life at City Hall has resumed its fast-paced, ups and downs, daily deadlines and challenges. I would have thought by now that maybe this return to my old, normal life-style would have felt, well, kind of normal.

Instead, after a two-week pilgrimage to Israel, a week training in Ann Arbor, MI at Heart of Christ while studying Spiritual Direction with like-minded, soul-filled folks from across the U.S., and then attending the three-day, jam-packed, mind-blowing talks from Catholic speakers about the battle and Spiritual Warfare at the Avila Summit a week ago, I have figured out there is a New Normal.

Let me explain what I mean by New Normal.

In May 2000, our community went through a terrible wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in an entire section of town and thousands of forested acres surrounding us in the nearby mountains. I went to work for City Hall as their spokesperson in October 2000, on the very heels of that crisis with burned-out homes, good people left with nothing but the shirt on their back, an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief about the loss of the mountains that had once been towering pines that were home to trails so dense and green that it really was like walking across a mountain top belonging to God. There was so much to be done to rebuild that the list seemed endless and the climb to get back on top of that mountain top seemed formidable. I gave interviews to regional and national news stations in 2001 about the town’s slowly creeping along progress and the devastation. I went home more than a few times in those post-fire days and cried when I saw the faded green ribbons tied around tree trunks of surrounding homes in the burned out neighborhoods near where I lived, as months stretched into years gone by. Those green ribbons became a stark reminder of the first few days after the fire when they were tied everywhere to say “thank you” to firefighters who saved lives and battled back a blaze that by all rights should have escaped fire lines and consumed the entire town if not for some very brave men and women. It really was miraculous. I remember a reporter from NPR asking me in an interview that was coming up about the first anniversary of the fire (odd, isn’t it, that we mark tragedy with a happy name like “anniversary”) and he wanted to know how I thought the community was doing – what would I say if I had to sum it up in one sentence.

I had to think about that for a minute. 48,000 acres burned. 403 homes lost. Lives changed. We had barely started clearing out the rubble of burned out homes and chopping down dead, burned trees. No light at the end of the tunnel…yet.

Well, I finally told him, it’s a new kind of normal.

We rebuilt the town over the next 10 (okay maybe more like 12 to 15) years. We were all in that Waiting Place together as a community. It brought people closer together – families, neighbors, friends, the church community – everyone. Those long-term impacts and friendships forged have outlasted the devastation.

And since then, we’ve lived through a second fire (Las Conchas, in June 2011) with very few losses and no homes here lost. Thanks be to God for that.

I explain that here, because, that was one kind of New Normal. You face it, you adapt. You recognize the challenges. You plan for how to move on. You wait. But you do move forward.

But this kind of New Normal for me…it’s not of any epic proportion. It’s not arising from any crisis, or even noticeable to anyone, but myself. So I thought it was interesting that, when I thought about writing this post, my memory of that interview with NPR would suddenly come to mind. I am in my own kind of confused Waiting Place right now. Ready to move on. I think I have a plan. But maybe it’s not up to me right now, but God’s plan for me. So, I am that person who was just a few page turns before when Dr. Seuss gets the reader all jazzed up in his famous book:

“You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights. You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.”

That’s so…Me after the wonderful experiences I have had and shared with others. No doubt, a lesson in humility that I need to practice being less than the best of the best. Humility. Patience. Obedience.

Wait. He tells me to WAIT.

No doubt, too, this had to be on the minds of the Apostles as St. Luke relates to us in his typical let’s-get-right-to-the-heart-of-it-shall-we manner in Acts. It’s his account that picks up where the other Gospels leave off, which I always admire about Luke. He is a Paul Harvey “rest of the story” kind of guy in this opening chapter and quick to point out that, despite all those great sights, all those soaring to the highest of heights, the Apostles trot out after Jesus to the point of Ascension and pause to tug on his sleeve and hesitantly ask, “so…is the part where you restore the Kingdom? After all, we’ve been waiting a really long time…”

I really wish I could have been there.

And our Lord answers patiently to them that no, now is not the time, implying that they may be waiting in this Place a lot longer than they expected. Little do they know as He ascends that he won’t be coming back maybe as soon as they thought. (Or, by today’s digital standards, He won’t be texting them BRB and recommending they grab some fishes and loaves at the local market to mark His triumphant return.)

Waiting is hard. Waiting in anticipation for some big, exciting, known event on a date certain is tolerable. When our kids were little, they could not sleep the night before we headed off to Disney World, or some other big vacation we had planned. Waiting to hug a friend you haven’t seen in ages, or welcoming home a loved one after a long period of time, or being excited about an event you’ve looked forward to — all good kinds of waiting places.

I find, instead, that in today’s frantic, self-centered and worldly world, I am hanging out in that local market with the Apostles, checking my Apple watch, looking to the skies for some kind of sign, and wondering when He will finally come back to multiply these scant fishes and loaves that I have gathered up in anticipation.

In my New Normal, I have many things I want to pursue. The list gets longer every day. I am re-energized, enthusiastic, optimistic, and have ideas about new ventures, drawing upon newly forged friendships and opportunities that I am discerning.

Lord, I have Places-I-wanna-go!

But the sky remains instead very quiet.

Did I mention that little detail about Patience?

So here I sit this evening, waiting. Praying very hard that all of that which I desire – God willing – in this Waiting Place of mine, might come to pass. I actually concocted my own verse to try and explain how I feel, although it’s admittedly not very good by Seuss standards:

Waiting for the phone to ring, or time to stop, or angels to sing,

Or a mountain top, or a sign to drop,

Right Now, I’d welcome most Any Thing. 

Yeah, maybe I should leave the rhymes to Dr. Seuss.

Fortunately, for Seuss fans, he ends “Oh the Places You’ll Go” on a happy note – the good doctor of rhyme doesn’t leave us lingering there in that Waiting Place, but pushes us on to the final pages:

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft, and never mix up your right foot with your left. 

And for us Christians, despite our dumb-founded standing there, looking longingly up at the sky wondering if we should make dinner plans until a couple of angels have to nudge us and tell us to stop gazing skyward and move along – well, hey, we get to end on a high note, too. We receive the Holy Spirit, to be with us here now, traveling among us foolish, mostly too full of ourselves and oh-so-impatient humans. We are still in His good company, friends, two thousand years later, here in this Land of Waiting, daring to lift up our eyes toward heaven – while occasionally remembering to stare down at our feet and try humbly not to mix up our right foot with our left.

Be dexterous. Be deft. He’ll be back.

 

 

Crossing Samaria

“(Jesus) had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman answered him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” – John 4:1-10

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”  – Dorothy Gale to Toto, upon landing in Oz.

A few weeks ago, I was standing on the Mount of Temptation near Nazareth. The wind was blowing like crazy, and I was struggling to hear our tour guide describe the view of the vast valley that lay before us. Yes, this was the place that the Devil brought Christ, and tempted him to lay down his allegiance to the Evil One that would bring him great kingdoms and riches. The one who begged him to throw himself off the cliff, to ask the angels to catch him, “yet before he cast his foot upon a stone.”

Someday, I will write about that. But today, my attention was hooked on something else that the guide was pointing to in the far off distance – Samaria.

Back in the day, he explained to our group, it would have been forbidden to go there. It simply wasn’t done. Samarians were the outcasts of Jesus’ time. Travelers went “the long way around” that God-forsaken land.

And yet, the great disciple John, whom I think loved our Lord the most and likely knew him the best, says with great intention that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria.

It’s funny, those words. We use them all the time in our common speech.

Oh, I can’t go to your party. I have to wash my hair.

Oh, so sorry. I can’t meet you for dinner. I have to take my son to an appointment.

Our lives are full of things we say we “hafta” do. When in fact, there is just One Thing we must do – offer all that we are up to God – to his greater praise and service and glory.

Imagine if Dorothy Gale would have plopped down her house after a tornado, killed off the wicked witch, and accepted the praise and glory of the Munchkins. No yellow brick road. No encounter with an evil witch. No returning home at the end of that journey. No “hafta” statements there. She could have been okay with just staying in Munchkin-land. They were already leaning toward making her Mayor.

It’s not so different with this story. Jesus clearly chooses to pass through Samaria. It’s not an accident that he meets the woman at the well. He was full of purpose and moving on. Indeed, was there ever really an actual “accidental” meeting with Christ and the people you meet in the gospels?

What was remarkable to me, that day with the crazy wind on top of Mount Precipice, was looking out at the vast landscape before me and thinking, “why would anyone go around that, when they could go through that?”

As Americans, that’s our tendency and tolerance, I think. Short cuts. We see, we conquer, we trample over that. I was sincerely struck that day gazing out at the scenery that Christ had to make a conscious choice to enter a place that was unfamiliar, unknown, unsafe, unworthy, unrecognized. He had to really WANT to go there. Even the disciples were likely pretty uncomfortable with his choices (“let’s leave him here and go find some food…”)

He engages a Samaritan woman in conversation at the well (another Uh Oh moment for the disciples). It’s one of the longest conversations recorded with any individual in the gospels, and for good reason. After he questions her, and her life, he offers her the true Living Water.

She was trapped, she was thirsty, and he offered her a drink.

Like most of us, though, she feels compelled to know the One whom she is speaking to. We all fall into this trap, don’t we? We want to label a name, and a place, and catalog what we know, so that we can independently judge it, now and forevermore.

He catches her by surprise, though, with his response about her ramblings on about the well and the Messiah.

“I who speak to you am He.”

I AM.

She leaves her water jar, folks, for a guy she just met. She runs to tell everyone she meets in town what he said about her – all of its truth and ugliness (this, from a woman who is so ashamed of her life style that she seeks to draw water at the hottest part of the day at noon…)

When you are standing there on that cliff, that’s what is mind-boggling. Yes, you realize just how hard that diversion is to avoid Samaria is. It costs you maybe two or three days’ travel to “go around” and not “through” that land.

But your greater revelations is how hard it was for her, to meet someone like him at the well. An unexpected encounter.

How awesome is it, that our Lord decided to break through yet another tradition-held barrier in his last weeks before Easter. How compelling is it, that He decided to tackle uncharted territory and fight his way across that. It would have been so much easier to go around.

In the Wizard of Oz, it’s not so different. Odd friends unite – a tiny Kansas girl, a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion and a small dog – all gather to support each other trekking through the forest of the Wicked Witch, to get to the Emerald City. For dreams they don’t even realize. For character traits they don’t possess. For a yearning for something they don’t have.

The woman at that well was yearning, too. For the living water that Christ offers. The kind of water that – even though you brought a vase to collect it – you leave it behind in your excitement to splash it onto your face and cup it in your hands. To drink just once from the true Living Spring.

I wonder, sometimes, what happened to that woman at the well. Did she leave her home and follow Christ?

“And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, it’s no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the World.” John 4:41-42

Sounds a bit dismissive, doesn’t it. John seems to negate any future consideration of the woman. Not because she wasn’t important, but because her role in the on-going Salvation of history was completed when she simply arrived at the well.

How many of us stand at the well, and wait?  How many of us try to derive our own selfish “I AM” statements long before Christ ever arrives? How many of us wait too long, over-thinking and over-analyzing the cost of total surrender at the well, where we are reluctant to cast aside our empty jug in order to proclaim the life-saving water of Christ?

How many are willing to cross Samaria?

Or to journey on a road unfamiliar?

Lord, grant me the grace to follow you when the way is hard and no one rises to meet and support me. Make me the channel of your grace. When you are weary, let me be the one to offer you a drink. You, who are the fountain of every living water and the one who gives the true offer of Life.

 

 

 

 

Someday, my Prince will come.

Snow White: [telling the dwarves a story] Once there was a princess.

Doc: Was the princess you?

Snow White: And she fell in love.

Sneezy: Was it hard to do?

Snow White: Oh, it was very easy. Anyone could see that the prince was charming. The only one for me.

       – Dialogue in Snow White, 1937.

Jesus said to the disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.

       – John 16:12-13

Growing up in the early 70s, the popular thing for girls to receive was a little 4 by 5 story book with records as gifts. The 45 rpm was tucked carefully into a poly-wrapped sleeve with a paper book with colorful images of Disney princesses and far off lands. When you played the record, and sat patiently with the book held carefully in your hands, Disney’s very own Tinkerbell would read you the story out loud, and her tiny little “bell” would indicate when you needed to turn the page.

It’s funny how our Lord brings you a memory like that out of the blue at a very different point in your life, many years later.

A week ago, sitting on the edge of a tall cliff, overlooking the City of Jerusalem on a two week Holy Land pilgrimage, there I was, sweat running down my back in 100 degree plus temperatures, listening to our tour guide unfold the history of salvation – gazing out over the Kidron valley, looking at the gates of the holy city, watching his hand point to the Upper Room, then the brilliant, gold emblazoned cap of the Holy of Holies, and beyond that to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And the one thing that came to mind was the story of Snow White and that conversation with the seven dwarves about a prince in a far off place. I remembered what it was like, sitting there cross-legged in my bedroom as a young girl in the middle of the hot and muggy Midwest, dreaming about places I had never been to, and wondering when my own Prince might be revealed.

And where I might meet Him.

Disney gals are big on meeting places. Bottom of the sea, top of a castle, ball room dance floor, raging sea, forested glade…

Snow White: Oh, it was very easy. Anyone could see that the prince was charming. The only one for me.

Yes. I met my one and only, Christ, my Prince, right there on the side of that cliff about a week ago. Without pomp and circumstance and charming. Right there in the Garden of Gethsamane, where he sweat blood and wept human tears for the difficult task that was about to be handed to him – He asked me many (many) years ago if I would meet him there. But it took me actually traveling there to that very spot in the end. I met Him there, when I was able at last to stand on my own two feet at the edge of that cliff and look across the valley where he would have stood at the night of his greatest difficulty in separating his human life from his divine mission. And I finally understood. What must that have looked like, I thought, to stand there alone, while your friends were asleep, and look out with growing disquiet and troubled soul to the place where Abraham nearly killed his own son, Isaac, in obedience to the Lord.? To wonder why your friends were slow to respond and your followers far away from you. And to wonder if the angel would once again stay His hand?

I met Christ where He picked up his cross on the Via Dolorosa the next day, before it was dawn and the street vendors were screeching about selling their wares in the Old City. I followed him to Calvary, to the place where I stretched out my hand to touch the base of the cross, to where the women wept over his crucified body and mingled their own tears with his blood. To where they laid him in a tomb, beyond a heavy stone. I kissed the slab that held his broken body upon it until the glory of Easter proclaimed that He is Risen.

I did all of that, in less than a twinkle of an eye and the sound of Tinkerbell telling me it was time to turn the page.

Friends, we are run-down, race-weary, down-trodden, soul stricken disciples. Fed up, trumped up, cast down, face-frowned, hard-hearted, stiff necked people.

It takes courage to turn the page, doesn’t it?

Many of my followers have asked me why I have not written a single post in many months.

Maybe I was waiting for my Prince to come.

Maybe you are, too.

Turn the page.

 

An Acceptable Day.

“In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation, I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (Cor 5:20..6:2)

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” 
(A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner)

Sparks through Stubble is almost two years old. So, maybe it’s not so surprising that, up against a birthday event, everything I see and read these last two weeks might seem to be pointing toward some giant, self-propelled time-keeping device.

Tick tock. I am my own Big Ben.

What is it about a birthday that always casts us into “looking back” mode? For me, with this WordPress account, it’s a coulda/woulda/shoulda kind of wistfulness. I read back through past posts. I think, oh, that one was really good. This one could have been better. I could have posted more often. I would have liked to have commented more on XY and Z. I should have written what I felt tugging hard on my heart, but struggled to put into words. So I didn’t. I was wrapped up, too busy, too quiet, too concerned about what someone would think if I said what I really thought I should say. All of the above.

There’s one common denominator in all of the above, though. Time.

It’s elusive, it’s a bandit, it’s a refuge, it’s a driver.

It’s a measuring stick and a carrot & stick and it’s a stick in the mud when you don’t have nearly enough of it and feel like you’re dragging it along behind you like a lame horse, and wondering if you can’t just beat it with a stick and get it to fall into line. It’s a handy excuse, too, when your would rather flail your stick in the air with great bravado and pretend the reason you failed is because you simply ran out of time, instead of harnessing it and deciding who’s really in control of it. And conquering it.

It is over-stated, over-anticipated, under-appreciated, under-rated.

It is quantified and qualified by what we wanted to experience, what actually happened, and what we wish could have been. Regrets, remorse, recounting moments we thought we would have been better spoken. Better people. Better friends. Better Christians. Better not say that. Better not think too long about that, too.

It is hopeful in granting us the glimpse – and showing us that brief bit of time to spare – of what we could aspire to be, too. Of what it takes to be better than Better.

What does it really mean to be “acceptable to the Lord?” after all?

better than Better?

better than Most?

I have thought a lot about the word “acceptable” these last two weeks since Ash Wednesday.

I am a results-driven, give me a measuring stick kind of person. That means that in my book, to be someone merely acceptable falls way short of the mark. It says: I am average. I am kind of like everybody else trudging along on the road of faith.

I don’t trudge. I march.

So, to think about God “settling” for something that is merely acceptable to Him, seemed like a waste of talent and resources. Don’t set the bar so low, Heavenly Father. I can’t wait to leap over that in a single bound. In the report card of life, that’s a C+ at best. Average. Not acceptable. You call us to be more than that. I can be Better.

What do I get in return?

Silence. You get a whole lot of silence.

And then, this last week, I really started to dwell upon that word.

Accept – able.

Wait – what? Able to accept…what? Not my will, but Thy will be done?

Suffering? Bearing my cross? Accepting that sometimes, it isn’t what I want, but what You want? Sending me where You need me to be?

Maybe it takes twice as long to get to where I “think” I deserve to be, because you tell me that I have much yet to accept – and I am a long ways from being “able” to do it on my own, unless You help me get there.

“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Be sure of this, friends. Everything you do in His name, it is enough for just today. For just one day. It is acceptable. Little things. Big things. Things that you think aren’t big enough to matter. Little things that show Him that you’re serving him. That He matters. That you matter, too.

He gathers it up and He presses it close to His heart. You could offer him a crayon drawing of how much He means to you, and He would scotch tape it onto the side of His fridge in heaven, among the most holy and adorned ornaments. Crayons and rubies and emeralds and scotch tape. That’s what He would do for you.

Free offering and free will. That’s what is accept-able. Free from time, free from obligations and pay-backs. His gift to you. You can be sure of that.

 

 

 

 

Saving Lazarus.

“As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone…” (and) Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10, various excerpts)

“Confession, by drawing hidden evil out into the light of day, and satisfaction for sins, justice in action, frees man in sanctity. The fruit of death felled the tree. The fruit of grace makes it green again. To acquire wisdom, Hearing sits at the foot of the teacher…casting off soft garments, the sense of touch renounces pleasure and puts on a prickly robe. The soul adorns itself with chastity – and in a fresh awareness, gives itself, an acceptable gift to God.” (Jacopone da Todi, the Lauds.)

Almost two years ago, a quiet voice spoke to me while I was sitting in a pew in the very back row of our church before mid-week Mass. Back then, I kind of did the slinky thing to enter the church at the last minute to slide into the back seat. Preferred to be Not Known. Back then, I wasn’t so very hungry for the Truth of the Eucharist that I wanted a front row seat like I do today.

That particular day, though, something strange happened. I have tried many times to explain it to friends. Something happened. It was the rush of the ocean as it races to the sands of the seashore at high tide; it was the slamming of the waves on the distant shore. It was Spring when it bursts forth and the world can’t contain it. It was the sound of a thousand hoof beats on a well-trod path. It was the sound of rain on leaves in the forest. It was all of that.

I could hear it, but, honestly, I didn’t want it. God had to convince me to hear it. Honestly, to this day, I don’t yet know entirely everything that tiny voice whispered to me in that very brief span of a moment sitting in a nearly empty church, before Lent, before I really started to think about God, and wondered what it would be like to actually know Him. To be His child. To crawl up into His most gracious lap and acknowledge that He is, after all, Our Father. In the two years since that fateful day, where I walked out of church and said to myself, well, okay, I don’t know what that was. It was not my will, but thine, be done, so okay – Lead me Lord. I will trust in You.

That’s been a long journey. I am still a Child of Wonder, and He still speaks to me.

I shared the above verse because it’s who I am. Who you are. I am the weak, rich man who approaches the Lord with all of her possessions and faculties and grievances and says, “Lord, why can’t I just have eternal life? I have been pretty good. Well ordered and behaved. And by the way, can you give it to me right now – because I am tired and angry and disappointed and I want what I want, when I want it.”

And He respond and tells me I need to wait. And I need to let go of my “stuff.” Things I possess, and things that possess me. I am frustrated and angry and self-righteous and deflated and despondent.

I am not good at waiting, friends. I get upside down, sunny side UP seriously so annoyed at having to wait on anybody, for anything.

But yet, He tells me I have to WAIT.

In the last week, I have been in deep meditation on the Raising of Lazarus. Yes, you might have to pause a minute and recall that bible story. There are two sisters. Their names are Martha and Mary. Lazarus is the brother they loved. But scripture tells us that Christ loved him, too. Why? Was it a day at the seashore? Was it his abandonment to scripture? Was it because his sisters loved Jesus so? Was it because the Son of Man was so irresistible?

And by the way, God loved Martha as much as he loved Mary. I finally had to reconcile that point this last week in contemplation. Martha was a woman of action. Mary was a woman of contemplation. Both are actually the perfect balance in our Lord.

We don’t know, of course – about Lazarus. We know that Christ received the message from the sisters, yet tarried where he was for two full days before he departed for Judea. Not for his glory, or even the glory of the raising of Lazarus, but for the fulfillment of the scripture about His days.

I have thought a lot about those two days. As a disciple, what would I have thought? I would have wondered why my Lord, the one who breathes life in all He does – seems to refuse to respond. Why do we pace back and forth here – when the one that you love needs you. Why would you wait, when you know we cry out in desperation for you? We should be on the move – racing to save Lazarus. Rushing to defend the man who is dying.

And yet, we wait.

We think that you let him die.

Hearing sits at the foot of the teacher…casting off soft garments, the sense of touch renounces pleasure and puts on a prickly robe. The soul adorns itself with chastity – and in a fresh awareness, gives itself, an acceptable gift to God.” 

I am an acceptable gift to God. I am not the best, or brightest, or smartest – or the most Theologically bound person He ever knew. I love him and I seek him and I wish I knew everything about him.

But I don’t have to.

He knew Me. He made me, just for Him.

He delights in ME.

How awesome is that, friends.

I AM the one and the only ME.

I can’t even look at that last sentence and not cry.

You should, too.

 

 

 

 

Deliver us some cookies.

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” – John 6:66

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – Winnie the Pooh

A portion of this blog post has been tucked away on a tab on my computer screen since Oct. 30. I have written, edited, re-written and abandoned two drafts. I have re-titled it and tweaked it and scratched my head in frustration about the content, and yet the inspiration for the above didn’t come with any pre-packaged, words-flowing-out-of-my-keyboard sort of way. In the year and a half since I started Sparks Through Stubble, I was kind of…stuck, like a Pooh bear in the hollow of a tree. So I sat, and I thought about it from time to time, and I looked at the two very different quotes above, and I waited for the Holy Spirit to tell me what I needed to know. And He finally spoke up.

In the last week, I have had the opportunity to reflect quite a bit on my past life. All the way back to my childhood. Things I did, things I should have done, and things I could have done differently, too.

I was reminded of a woman who lived a few doors down from our house and a short time that I spent working for her after school. I was probably ten or maybe 12 years old when my mother volunteered my scant housekeeping skills to this woman, whose husband was away from home on his job, and who had some physical limitations that kept her bound to her recliner most of the day. I think I was paid 50 cents to be there after school daily to wash dishes, dump trash, fold laundry and do some light dusting and cleaning for her.

Things started out fine, and I was generally home by 5:00 p.m. – but as the days went by, the lady started asking more of me. Could I help her get some things started for dinner? Chop some vegetables and make a dinner salad? Yes, I could do that. Could I perhaps help her sort through her mail and make a list of what bills needed to be paid, and then maybe, if it wasn’t too much to ask, could I sweep the leaves off the front doorstep to tidy it up? Yes, I could do that, too. It didn’t take long before my 5:00 p.m. departure became 5:30 p.m. and then 6:00 p.m…and annoyance began to set in. Just as I was gathering up my things to leave, she would find one more thing that needed to be done. Could I sift through the pile of magazines on the floor and organize them a bit better? Could I throw in the next load of laundry so it could be washed by tomorrow? Could I dust off the television and wipe down the kitchen stove? Yes, yes and yes, I could do all of that – but my attitude was beginning to sour quickly.

By the end of the next week, I was resentful. I started inventing reasons I needed to leave right at 5 o’clock, and then I started making excuses about why I couldn’t stop by after school until at least 4:00 p.m.  Homework, tests, other chores, a church or club activity, a date with a friend…soon, I told this woman that I could come every other day, and soon that turned into every third day, or maybe once a week. And then I told my mother, who started asking about my time commitment and lack of interest in the task, that I didn’t want to go two doors down anymore at all.

My mom looked at me thoughtfully and asked “why?” and I complained at length about being taken advantage of, that she didn’t pay me more, but yet there was always one more thing to be done, that there was always one last conversation with this woman as I was trying to put on my coat and head out the door. It was taking too much time. It was too costly for me, I felt, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My mom listened and took it all in, and then after a minute she said:

“You know, the housework isn’t the real reason you’re there. She is lonely, and you being there gives her a little bit of company – a bright spot in her day. She finds things for you to do, because she enjoys having someone visit her. Someone to simply talk to.”

In a perfect world, I would have answered something like “Oh! Well that makes all the difference then!” and become fast friends with this woman two doors down. I would have written her letters and sent small gifts at Christmas time, and probably even taken my children to see her when I married and as she grew older.

No. None of that happened. I don’t recall exactly what I said to my mom that day, but it wasn’t affirmative and it certainly wasn’t Christ-like. I was done. Kaput. Not going back. Had better things to do. So, my mom, being the gracious woman that she was, went two doors down and relayed to the neighbor (when it should have been ME) that I wouldn’t be coming over any more. Beyond that, I don’t know what words they exchanged. From that day on, I did my best to avoid eye contact with this lady anytime I was out and about in the yard and saw her from a distance. Several years later, after I had moved away from home, I asked about her and was told she had passed away. I didn’t even know.

I share that story because I needed to do that, for myself. It’s easy to recreate what really happened, or, soften the edges of our memory with a shaded pencil and think that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I didn’t act like that. But I did. In and of itself, the above story is just one example of the many times that I have fallen short of behaving like a daughter of the King – one who is called upon to lift others up, ready to serve others, willing to feed the poor in spirit. Missed opportunities to share the love of Christ and show it to others who cross my path. Overlooked possibilities to practice humility, patience, charity and kindness.

But wait, there’s more.

Thinking back on this exchange today with my Mom,  I recalled all of the times that my mother would bundle us children up to go visit someone who was elderly, infirmed, had lost a loved one…someone who would simply enjoy a visit, and someone to talk to. Most often, I recall Christmas visits to neighbors and friends across town, but in thinking about it, I know there were many Sunday afternoons spent visiting others, too. If it was Christmas time, there was always a plate of cookies involved, which was a delightful task as a child – helping Mom bake them, adding frosting and sprinkles, carefully wrapping the festive plastic plate with clear wrap and taping on a bright red bow tucked up against a hand-printed name tag. Propping them up in boxes in the back of our station wagon as we departed the house. Spilling out of the car and up snowy steps while carrying that plate proudly into the house we were visiting. Cookies! Crumbly, buttery, smashed frosting, sprinkles-falling-onto-the-floor cookies. Such a simple thing. A humble gesture of friendship. And a reason to visit someone who needed a hug, or a kind word, or just someone to talk to.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” 

Winnie the Pooh got it right when he said that. He would have been more likely to offer up a honey pot than a plate of cookies, but he would have been quick to make the offer (and accept a cookie.) And Pooh was always one to be moving around outside his comfort zone with Christopher Robin and the friends of the Hundred Acre Wood.

Christ urged his disciples to step outside their comfort zone, too. They weren’t carrying plates of cookies, but something far more important and urgent – the message that the Messiah was here, and He was moving among us. Come see, they told the crowds. Come see and believe.

Christ didn’t wait though. He came to the crowds. The poor, the oppressed, the house of Mary and Martha, the tomb of Lazarus. Offering food to the hungry, blessings to the little children, living water to the woman at the well, forgiveness and mercy to the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery…the list goes on and on. The Bible tells us that there are so many stories of Christ’s mercy and actions during His short time of ministry here on earth, that they couldn’t possibly all be written down. In my youth, here I was complaining about an hour a day at the neighbor’s house taking too much of my time. That it was too costly. Yet Christ paid the ultimate price for my sins with His life, and made every minute count in the days leading up to the Cross. Seeking out others. Reaching out to those around Him. Always giving of Himself.

What is the true cost of doing the right thing when it’s measured against the yardstick of your life? I can’t go back and re-write that story with the woman two doors down. I have many more where that came from. I can only ask the Lord for forgiveness, for the opportunity to see what the Holy Spirit needs me to see at this point in my life, and resolve to do better. To be in the scriptures, reading about the life of our Savior, and model my life after Christ. There is no one else I can turn to. Jesus is the one who has the words of everlasting life, and he challenges me to look at old issues and sins and places I’ve fallen down while trying to live a holier life, and to concentrate not on what’s behind me, but the road in front of me. To live in the present moment, and make better choices.

And that brings me back at the end of this long-overdue post to the chubby, hug-gable golden-colored bear who loves his honey pots a bit too much, and loves his friends even more. Winnie the Pooh has taught me a lot about how to live life, too. He had a way of looking at his present situation through a honey-coated lens – not because he was daft but because that one thing was consistent in his life (there was honey, and he was often hungry) so it was what he knew. And thus it was his gauge for his surroundings, as he tells Christopher Robin on a warm summer day in the House on Pooh Corner:

“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best-” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying, ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.”

What do you like best in the whole world? It’s pretty simple for Pooh here; he had honey, and friends. We have friends, and we know how to bake cookies (or buy them at the local bakery, don’t be intimidated by your baking skills – substitute! improvise!) Take time this holiday season to carry your favorite little bit of something to someone who needs it – even if they might not know it at the time. Share with them the everlasting words of life and tell them you’re praying for them. Invite them to attend Christmas services with you. Make it a hummy sort of day for them, and you’ll be blessed too.

Have a wonderful, peaceful Advent, friends.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta

 

Down from the door where it began.

“The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way, where many paths and errands meet, and whither then? I cannot say.” – Bilbo Baggins, spoken upon his departure from Bag End at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you. A highway will be there, called the holy way; no one unclean may pass over it, nor fools go astray on it. ” – Isaiah 35:8

I grew up reading the “Lord of the Rings” and hanging out on porches filled with good friends, dwindling sunlight, musings on “what if’s” and wondering about where the next Road might lead me. I thought Hobbits should have been real folk, that I wished I knew them personally, and I was so excited to read “The Two Towers” that I actually sat down on the floor of our school library in a back corner on my “study hall” break to start reading it, and the librarian found me there over an hour later and scolded me for being late to my next class. True story.

Someplace along the way, and I don’t know when, my highways became a whole lot more by-ways and I started to forget about orcs and trolls and eagles and buried treasure. I overlooked Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and things called Gollum. I think it was a bit of that sad Peter Pan-growing up bit that strikes all of us as we grow older. I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books to my children over a decade ago (maybe two, which is kind of startling because that means they might have been a wee bit on the young side for it…) but over time, I only recalled the general movie-star plot line. Two weeks ago, I enrolled in a Lord of the Rings Catholic class on JR Tolkien – and it was there that I finally picked up the books and read again the trilogy – and stumbled across that verse  that I quoted above. It was like finding an old friend seated on a back porch rocking chair puffing away on Pipe Weed. asking if it was snack time for elevensies.  It reminded me of a time when I really thought Hobbits existed – and when in my youth I expected that real people of great virtue would travel the super highway of God and save us from sheer ruin before we imploded on our own imaginary, closely guarded castles of gold, silver, jewels and self-righteousness. To free us from our very own Smaug, trapped on an island of self-preservation with no road leading out of those snares of despair. I was looking for a hero, and the trilogy was full of heroes. In the real world – not so much.

So, to read those oh-so-familiar words of the very humble Bilbo again today, well, gee – my hardened heart was wax melted once again into the flame. We are called to be pilgrims on a long and sometimes arduous journey, friends. Better yet – we are called to be heroes. I am blessed that my journey down from the door where it all began was filled with faith, love, family and friends. I might have marveled to think about where the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo might take me, but I was never full of self-loathing, or hatred, or envy – or fear. My porches were full of dark nights with my dad waxing on about the stars over my head and lessons about the Milky Way, and encouraging me to think about galaxies bigger than I could imagine. My days were overflowing with family and cousins (and second cousins) eager to draw imaginary swords out of scabbards to fight ferocious dragons guarding jewels and breathing fire. We didn’t live to escape trials and tribulations; instead, we thrived on that. We couldn’t wait to face them.

Not so, today. Not so. Not all are so lucky to travel on the super highway to meet God. Times of loss, despair, desolation, distrust – all so damaging and very common today.  It grieves and pains my heart. Our Catholic Church in particular is in great need of a hero. A Savior. My feet are eager to lead the way, but the road is very long.

Then without another word, he turned away from the lights and voices in the fields and tents…he jumped over a low place in the hedge at the bottom and took to the meadows, passing into the night like a rustle of wind in the grass. 

May we all find our feet to carry us far when the way is hard and the dragons threaten to consume us. May we all find a little bit of Hobbit in our souls to drive us forward when the way is troubled. We are the stuff that makes heroes more than wishful thoughts in crumpled pages and faded ink. We just have to recall the door where it all began, and return there. And knock until it is opened.

Hope. Faith. Love. Perseverance. Endurance.

 

 

 

 

Weddings, wine and water

“On the third day, there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” – John 2:1-4

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” – Matthew 14:22-29

A week ago, my husband and I were in the great state of Kansas, celebrating the beautiful marriage of our oldest son to his lovely bride. It was a wedding set in a quaint little Kansas church in the countryside. The weather was exquisite for Kansas this time of year – a bit cloudy (which kept the temperatures out of the 90s) and we were blessed to be part of their vows on such a special day. Family and friends gathered in. It was truly perfect.

The reading during their wedding of the marriage at Cana has “stuck” with me since then, though. Oddly enough, I found myself a few days later reading that passage above from Matthew, and I couldn’t help but ponder and set aside the two. Nearly a week later and after a whole lot of pondering, I think I know what spoke to my heart this past week as a mother of nearly 30 years and a newfound pilgrim on a journey that really only caught a spark of devotion centered on our Lord about three years ago.

I’ll try to explain, although as I have said in past posts, I don’t profess to be a scholar. These are just my reflections, and I hope they help someone.

John’s description of the marriage at Cana is so remarkable in that it puts Mary, the mother of God, at the forefront of the scene. It’s the only other time until Calvary that we will see Mary figure so predominantly in scripture. Most of the time, I have a mental picture of Mary hovering at the edges of Christ’s life. Participating, but not mentioned, in the life of his disciples in his public ministry whenever I read scripture. I am sure that she was there, though. I can’t imagine she would have left his side. Mary must have been there – lingering in the shadows, filling the corners of His life, always encouraging him and loving him to the fullest, but without need to be the center of attention. Always humble. Always keeping the focus on Christ.

As a mother, I totally get that. Your children grow and from their first toddling, uncertain steps when they fall gleefully into your arms, you see them progress to young men and women who begin to gently pull free of your grasp. You are the center of their world, and then you are teetering at the edge of the universe, wondering if they even see you clinging to the edge. It’s exhilarating to see them succeed, and it’s heartbreaking, too. I know I felt that pang in a mother’s heart last weekend – seeing the very last domino tumble between the age-old mother and son bond as my oldest recited his solemn vows to his new bride. Till death do us part. In good times and bad. What God has brought together, let no one put asunder. He only has eyes for his new bride, his new life. As it should be. But my mama heart sobbed just a little bit to see him go.

At Cana, however, I can take comfort in this glimpse we get to see about the fortitude of Mary, who is also a mother. She was invited to a wedding, and that meant that Jesus got to “come along” with his band of fledgling disciples, who at that point were more than a bit bewildered and not-so-very-sure-where-we-are-going-with-this. Mary’s perception of the situation at the feast is key. She doesn’t wait for the lamentations of “oh no, we’ve run out of wine.” She doesn’t second guess what needs to happen or Who she needs to turn to in order to fix the issue. She assesses, consults and acts: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”. The Type A gal in me absolutely LOVES this approach. Mary is my Go to girl. She launches Jesus into public ministry! The future looks bright!

That brings me to the second reading from Matthew that had me a bit tongue-tied and wrapped up in knots this week. Jesus, having withdrawn from public ministry to be alone, watches from the shore as the disciple’s boat is being tossed about on the sea. After the fourth watch (my brain is trying to figure out, is that several minutes? hours?) He finally ventures out toward the boat. No mom on the shore, urging Christ to go to them. He watches. Then he goes. It would seem to me on the face of it that Christ hangs back a wee bit longer than he should have. And then, when He does finally act, the reaction of Peter is odd: He sees Christ walking on water, but yet demands that Christ “command him” to walk to him.

Only if Christ commands it, will water be turned into wine for the wedding guests.

Only if Christ commands it, will water be turned into a smooth pathway for Peter.

In both instances, it feels like Christ hesitates to act. Mary implores him in the first verse. Peter implores him in the second.

I found myself imploring him this week: what gives?

I feel like I have been the one trapped in that moment of indecision between both verses for several days, trying to reconcile the two in my mind. Or more importantly, trying to grasp what the good Lord wants to show me in this suspended moment.

Today, sitting in meditation for a long time, I think that I finally begin to see it. While I would be the one to want to choose one outcome over the other, the two scriptures are actually a perfectly balanced lesson about the demands placed on us in this earthly life.

Sometimes, we are commanded to “Do Whatever He Tells You.” And sometimes, we need to ask Him to “Command Me to Come to You.” In either case, the indecision I see isn’t on the part of Christ. It’s ME.

When I see the situation desperately crying out for His intercession, do I ask Him to act? Or do I think that he must see it for himself and so instead I wait on the sidelines, presuming He will take care of it without any need of me vocalizing my request for His help?

When I am the one being tossed about in the waves on the fourth watch, more than a bit weary of being overcome by the ocean and gasping for air, wondering when the heck is He going to show up and rescue me, do I ever think to stop and ask – or even Command – that he come to assist me? Or do I just assume that he will show up?

Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.

But you have to raise your hand and knock on that door, friends.

My deepening friendship with Christ this last year has been wonderful, and fruitful. But I can’t take it for granted. Even the very best of friends reach a point where they know when to reach out and honestly let the other one know that they need help. It’s not an admission of weakness. It’s an admission that we are human. That we must leave ourselves open and vulnerable in the body of Christ.  On bended knee, we must ask Him to come to our assistance. To change water into wine. To beckon to us to cross the angry sea. To walk on water.

What are you asking for?

What do you need?

Lord, make haste to help me. Assist me in every need.