Easter Sonrise

1997, Washington, DC, USA --- Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument --- Image by © Joseph Sohm; Visions of America/CORBIS
1997, Washington, DC, USA — Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument — Image by © Joseph Sohm; Visions of America/CORBIS

I’ve only attended one Easter sunrise service in my life, but looking back I can see how very blessed and privileged I was, for it took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, overlooking the Reflecting Pool, in Washington D.C. I was with my dad and I think I was about 13 or 14 years old. The sunrise looked something like the one pictured here. Pretty. Spectacular. Pretty spectacular.

And there is one memory that stands out for me the most, aside from the triumphant Easter music and the rousing sermon.

During one especially moving song, I glanced up at my father’s face. Tears streaming from his eyes reflected the morning light. I was caught off guard and mystified.

‘Why is Dad crying? Is he ok?’

The questions boomed in my mind like thunder, but I was paralyzed. It  seemed completely wrong to ask him – to interrupt what was clearly an important moment – so I didn’t. I held my tongue. But I never forgot.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I was sitting at my kitchen table with my own 13-year old son after school. He and I have been having pow-wows to go over his assignments as a way of staying on top of the demands of middle school. At the end of our discussion, I found there was something on my heart that I needed to say.

“You know,” I began, “You’ll be leaving my house in 5 years, and there are things I want you to understand before you go. What do you think is the ONE thing I really want you to know?”

“That you love me,” he said, rolling his eyes while giving me a charming half-smile.

I laughed.

“Yes, yes. Ok, that. But what else.”

“That I should get a job.”

“Ha! Ok. That too. What else?”

“I should go to church.”

“Well, sort of….I mean, yes that’s good and all, but what’s more important is that you have a relationship with God. That you KNOW Him. That you understand our God – Jesus – is FOR you. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think so.”

“Ok, we’ll discuss this again. Because this, this is the most important thing I want you to know. In this life, you are going to encounter stuff that Dad and I can’t help you with, and your friends can’t help you with, and whoever you marry can’t help you with. Only God can help you. He is the One who can meet all your needs because he created you. This is why I tell you about Him, and why He’s so important.”

The conversation kind of ended from there, and that’s ok; I’ve found that faith is best fed to kids in small bites.

What my dad knew that Easter morning so long ago is exactly what I wanted to explain to my son: Faith in Jesus is a personal experience. It’s a one-to-one encounter with a risen Savior. It isn’t a community deal. It isn’t a cultural tradition. It’s SO MUCH BETTER than that.

Jesus rose from the dead to prove to us His absolute authority over the powers of this world. We can totally rely on Him. He is our Protector, Provider, Defender, Champion, Friend, Redeemer…the list goes on and on. And all we have to do to know Him is turn our hearts to Him and ask Him to enter in.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

-John 3:16-18

I railed against this Truth for a long, long time. I understood it to mean that God would condemn me to an eternal torment if I did not follow his Son, and I just couldn’t square this with a loving God. I couldn’t even see that I could ‘perish’ in the here and now – that life today could be far less than was envisioned for me.

But I finally came to a point where anger, depression, and fear burdened me so much that I fell to my knees and cried out to God – and guess what? He answered. I found I could trust in his name. His name has a rock solid reputation of Love. Every single time I turned to Him, He was there. And the condemnation I had been suspicious of in Him, was actually in me. With my lack of faith in Him, I had condemned myself to life without Him, and it was bleak indeed. 

I went back and re-read John 3:18, and then I understood.

“For every cross, there is a resurrection,” the saying goes, meaning that  with Christ, all burdens, no matter how impossible they may seem, can be mitigated or overcome. A man who can defeat death can do anything. Don’t ever underestimate Him.

This Easter, let’s surrender our hearts, minds, souls, and strength to Our Risen Lord – Jesus Christ – in full trust that He is worthy, because He is absolutely FOR us. 

Geometry Lesson

imageOh my gosh it was hard.

It was all I could do to stay calm.

Truly – I thought I might rip my hair out.

Or break my own fingers in frustration.

The situation? Helping my oldest son study for a geometry test.

It wasn’t the material that was difficult. It was my boy.

He was angry about having to study. Seeing nothing but red because he didn’t like the questions. Literally throwing his hands up in the air and raising his voice in contempt – at the book – and me.

The triangles on the page were congruent, but he and I were emphatically not.

His temper when he’s threatened surges – just like mine.

But there was hope and I so desperately wanted him to see it.

“What you already know – in part – can help you move forward.”

I whispered words over him.

“Take the information you are given and work it step-by-step to arrive at the answer.”

“Breathe. Believe you can follow the path to the end – and you will.”

“The given clues and the ones you uncover are guides, pointing you toward where you need to go.”

I wanted him to see that I could meet him in all the angles he was trying.

Because I’ve been there. Walked this same path. And he is like me.

I GET him and I GET the struggle.

And as I sit here today and pray for patience and for my son to do his best, it occurs to me that there is a corollary. Another similarity.

The Lord looks down on me and says, “Why do you think I came?”

 

Hocus Pocus Diplodocus

imageLast Saturday morning I was hanging up the kids’ towels which had been strewn on the floor, when my daughter walked into the bathroom with a red plastic cup full of murky water.

“Whatchya got in there?”

“Just stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

She gave me a coy smile.

“Don’t laugh. It’s water with a lot of salt in it. I’m trying something.”

“Hmm. A science experiment?”

“Sort of.”

I left her alone and not too long after heard murmurings of some sort. So when I was doing her hair for a dance performance that afternoon, I asked her about it.

“Oh, well. It was nothing. But I might try it again.”

“I heard you talking. What were you saying?”

She got very quiet and as I studied her reflection in the mirror, I could tell she wasn’t sure what to say.

“Did that stuff happen to be some kind of potion?” I asked.

Her eyes darted around peevishly and she suddenly burst out, “Yes! But it didn’t work!”

I knew where she’d gotten the idea. We’ve been having a wonderful time reading Harry Potter together, and who wouldn’t? Fantasy is fun. But that’s what it is – fantasy.

“Well, of course not!” I said. “And you know this – we don’t believe in that kind of thing. We trust God. And only God. He has the power. Not potions, or lucky charms, or horoscopes. None of that stuff. The Lord is the ONLY one we rely on.”

“I know. But I just wanted to try it.”

I smiled at her.

“I understand. But it doesn’t work. That’s what you found out.”

“Yes. But can I try it again?”

“If you want. But I know you’ll get the same result.”

She gave a resigned shrug. And dismissed the idea.

I know how she felt. In third grade a boy gave me a rabbit’s foot dyed blue for “good luck.” It was soft. And creepy. And my parents told me the same thing I told my daughter. “You can keep it. But it has no power. It’s just an animal’s foot on a keychain.” But I wondered. And kept it in a box. Until one day I let go of thinking it could “do” anything for me, and threw it away.

Our desire to control is deeply ingrained. We want to have a leg (or foot) up on our circumstances. And the idea that we ourselves can conjure some sort of power, predict or influence the future, is very tantalizing. This lie is exactly the one the serpent told to Eve in the garden. “God well knows that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know…” (Genesis 3:5) (emphasis mine).

This somewhat latent desire is most often expressed in subtle ways. I have heard countless adults over the years make statements like, “I didn’t want to say anything, for fear of jinxing the situation,” or “Cross your fingers for me.” I’m guilty of this too. We might say we’re just voicing these things in jest, but more than time half the time, we wonder if there isn’t a possibility that we actually are affecting people, places, or things.

Our words reflect what’s going on in our hearts and minds, and we must be very, very careful. The reality is – in and of ourselves we are powerless, and we can easily be led astray from the Truth by human-created fictions. God is far bigger and more powerful than anything we could imagine, and He doesn’t want us messing around in the serpent’s muck. Scripture is clear on this in multiple places. Here are just two:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.  

-Deuteronomy 18:10-11

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

-Colossians 2:8

So how do we fight this? How do we check ourselves?

I start by filling myself up with the Word, which is a sword in the battle against the world’s influences. Grafting the words of Scripture onto my heart gives me strength and confidence to stop the ideas that run counter to God. I particularly love this verse:

We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ…

-2 Corinthians: 4-5

Arresting every thought before it becomes a spoken word is a first step toward changing our ways.

Yes, we want to be like God – to have the power of God. But that power comes only through our acceptance of His perfection as proven by the ultimate gift – the sacrificial self-giving love of His Son, Jesus. And with His power – which we’re given with the promise of His eternal help, presence, love and salvation – we can live in the only way that will satisfy us. His power in us conquers the crafty deception of the world. 

What more could we possibly ask for?

 

Don’t Laugh at the New Bud

image“That daffodil looks funny, Mom!” she said, laughing and pointing at the new bud.

“Well, it has to start somewhere. And that’s where it begins.”

I knew what she was saying – sometimes things strike us as odd. That tiny, fragile bud pushing its way up through our rocky, leaf-strewn, unkempt garden bed.

But I could felt a tinge of criticism in the air. Whether she implied it or I just created it, I don’t know, but that’s human cynicism for you. We color the beauty of growth with judgement.

Was it meant to be that way?

I would posit that No – it wasn’t. That life was supposed to be carefree. We were supposed to rest in the knowledge that we were created in love and are loved unconditionally from day one through infinity.

But instead, the liar came and whispered in our ears that we could be more. 

He’s still whispering – doing his dirty work of telling us we’re unloved and then making us compare ourselves to others – and I fall prey to him too often. My big downfall is ‘wasting time.’ I always think I’m not getting enough done. As if this life is a big race to finish whatever it is we’re supposed to finish.

Ten days ago, I was sitting with my grandma, lamenting my general lack of industry, when I told her my ‘battery theory.’ “I think people are born with different sized batteries,”  I said. “Some people get D batteries, others Cs. I got triple-As!” She laughed and said, “I think you get that from me.”

I was surprised. But then she told me about some of the things she hadn’t done –  like photo albums – and I loved her all the more. Because I don’t care about her accomplishments. I love her for her. 

All the people I love most are the ones who are so genuinely themselves. Sometimes they have even persisted in a rocky atmosphere. Yet, they always maintain a certain air of grace that is unique to them.

Some of these loved ones are successful in a worldly sense. Some are not. Some seem to be well known, while others are like hidden gems. But they all have one thing in common: they have not stopped growing, and reaching for the Light.

I can’t help but think that that’s what the Lord wants from me too.

Waiting by the Door

Photo

The dog is waiting for his Master.

He sits on the cold bricks and fixes his gaze on the door of the establishment where the one he loves has gone.

The icy wind blows his hair, and flaps his ears.

He sits. Stoic.

He’s lightly tethered to a chair. He could walk away with it. Drag it behind him and try to free himself. But he doesn’t.

Once in awhile, he turns his head and looks in either direction, surveying the scene.

But he always comes back to this position. Eyes forward.

Waiting for the Master to return.

Waiting for the Master to tell him what’s next.

Waiting to be taken to someplace they’ll go.

Waiting for the assurance and love that he knows will come.

His loyalty is evidence of their powerful bond.

The dog trusts and respects the Master.

So he waits.

Patiently.

I could learn a lot from the dog.

 

My Facebook Problem

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2009 was the year. I signed on to Facebook and so did just about everyone else I knew. It seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork. Men and women from high school, college, jobs I’d had, and my community, all became ‘Friends.’ It was nifty really, to find that despite all of the dreaming, planning, and working we’d done, we had similar lives. In essence, we all cared about the same things.

Like most people, I typically only post good stuff on Facebook. Or the things in my life for which prayer or consolation are appropriate. I hope they are events that my ‘Friends’ see as relevant and noteworthy, because we all want to find that others relate to us. But we don’t need to share everything. No one wants to see dog vomit, right?

Several years ago, my dad asked me how many ‘Friends,’ I had. When I answered, he probed a bit.

“Do you actually know all of them?”

I told him, “Yes. Or I knew them fairly well at some point in my life.”

That all changed sometime in the last couple years, because now I have ‘Friends’ of Friends. They are people I have minimal knowledge of. People who really don’t know me. You probably have some ‘Friends’ of the same sort.

If, in real life, I would usually have no idea that ‘Jen So-and-so’ vacations in the Caribbean twice every year, why in the world am I spending time viewing photos of her beachy getaways? And if ‘Dave What’s-his-name’ has political opinions that unnerve me, why am I allowing his caustic comments to get under my skin? I have learned to switch my news feed settings, but there is A LOT of stuff out there that doesn’t pertain – in any way – to me.

I justify my time on Facebook by acknowledging its value. There is useful information that helps my writing and guides my reading. And if it weren’t for this social medium I wouldn’t have known that an old, dear friend lost her niece to suicide, or that the prayers of thousands are helping to heal another friend’s husband – a Marine who was gravely injured overseas. I want to know what’s going on, and if I can contribute something worthwhile to my friends’ lives, however remote they might be.

But instead, I am sucked in by catchy (though not original) everyday truths about coffee, friendship, parenting, or the mourning process. ‘LIKE’ and Repost if You Agree!

Last week, I shared my woes with a friend. A “real-life” “in-the-flesh” “we met for coffee” friend. Together we renewed our vow to only look at Facebook at certain times and for certain reasons (mine having to do with participation in a writer’s group). My efforts have been valiant, but I am still not following through on that promise. I have wasted time – scrolling.

This morning, the Word spoke to me loudly.

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.

-Ephesians 6:10

As a Christ follower, I have been made a new creation and given the enormous power of the Holy Spirit to overcome my flesh, which is prone to stray from the abundant life that He has envisioned for me. If I’m struggling in my inner battle, it’s because I have NOT relied on Him.

This life is a concrete, physical life – NOT a virtual one. God designed it that way. He gave me, you, and all my ‘Friends,’  bodies with which to taste, touch, smell, hear and see the physical world. In these ways, we can truly experience the richness of life, and by extension, the richness of Him.

Lord, renew me today. Help me to dispense with the wasted time I spend dabbling in worldly chatter – which I KNOW diverges from the fullness I have in You.

 

Small Success Thursday – Trashing an Attitude

Small Success Thursday – Trashing an Attitude

I have been angry for some time, and it led me to do something I typically wouldn’t. On February 2, I complained on Facebook.

Posting this photo, I gave the following ‘status update’:

Ok, Annapolis friends, I don’t usually gripe but I am fed up. Does this look like recycling to you?!? Every week they empty our two yellow bins and leave the tall one UNLESS I hang a sign on it saying, ‘Recycling. Please take this.’ Needless to say I didn’t put up a sign today….I mean, really?? Really??

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Many friends responded and shared their same frustrations, and I relished the sympathy for a little while. Don’t we all stew in our own self-pity sometimes?

But others suggested I go to the city’s facilities office and ask for one of the new, larger, blue bins with a lid on top. After two weeks of delay – and not feeling any better about the situation – I finally made the trip today. I walked into the city building so ready to politely vent to whomever was in charge.

A petite woman emerged from a back room with a resigned smile on her face. I explained my situation, and she told me that the blue lidded bins were on back-order, but that I could take one of the open top ones, if I’d like.

And then she told me what hadn’t occurred to me before – that there is considerable turnover among the contractual companies that pick-up the city’s waste, so it’s not the same people on our route from week to week, and they know only that they should pick up the blue bins. They’re in a hurry of course, and they kind of go on ‘auto-pilot.’

I started to envision these guys – dumping my cans on 15 degree mornings, not stopping to look at the cans’ contents. Moving from job to job. Trying to provide for families.

Then I realized, my bins are yellow!

I was holding the yellow ones in my arms, ready to exchange them, when she asked how I’d gotten them. I said, “I’ve had them 14 years. I don’t really know.” She replied, “Well, get yourself a blue one and you won’t have any trouble.”

I guess I’m blessed they had been picking up the stuff in my yellow bins at all!

I left there with a new blue open-topped bin, and I will go back to get a lidded one when they come in.

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I also left there with a reminder: there is usually more going on than meets the eye, and it’s always important to extend sympathy to others. Even if you don’t fully understand the rules, obey them and life generally goes more smoothly.

It was like a little bit of divine insight pulled out of my own trash heap.

 

 

The Lift

A Lift? Here?

You recognize this. A Starbucks. We’ve all been to one. Or 50.

And yet there’s more going on in this photo than you might think. In the far right corner of the coffeehouse is a young woman interviewing for a job, and I was there when she walked in.

I was at the counter going through my wallet to find the free drink card that I’d been working on over the holidays, when I realized I hadn’t even acknowledged the cashier. ‘Aw, man!’ I thought. ‘How often am I in such a rush that I fail to look people in the eye? He deserves at least that.’ 

I found the card, faced the young man straight on and made sure to finish the transaction – with eye contact – and a sincere, “Thank you. Have a good day!”

Then, I smiled at the barista and thanked her when my white chocolate mocha came up. She smiled back because I actually looked at her. Whoa. I was on a roll!

I was fishing for my car keys when I saw the woman in her late 20s come in. Gray and black wool skirt, black tights, sharp shoes, a moss green jacket, coordinating scarf, and her auburn hair trimmed neatly and tucked behind one ear. Fairly large portfolio under her left arm.

A man in his 60s sitting at the far table by the door looked up from the stack of papers he was reading.

“Hello!” She smiled. Made eye contact. “Are you Mr. Patterson?”

He smiled back.

To me, she seemed just the right combination of bubbly, warm, eager, and professional. I liked her immediately. I will probably never see her again, but in that moment, I could do one thing for her. I could lift her up.

“Lord,” I prayed silently, “I don’t know her story but You do. You know if this is the job she needs. Give her courage today. Give her confidence in her abilities. Please help her succeed with the gifts and talents You have given her. Give her wisdom to make good decisions. Please whisper to her that no matter what happens, You love her.”

That day, I heard a whisper just before I knew I was supposed to pray. And it was this: Who are you lifting up today? 

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about all week. I’ve heard it said, “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so this week I haven’t, and over the last 7 days, as the Lord has prompted me, it has been my privilege to encourage, and listen, and pray for, and be present to more people than I believe I usually am. It has undoubtedly been a great week.

Yes – there have been sacrifices made in terms of time. Today I have a mountain of laundry to do and the house is a bit of a wreck. But, as my mom once told me, “It’s not like someone’s going to knock on your door and give you the Good Housekeeping Award.” And what’s a house compared to the greater glory of a full life?

I’ve been called to other work this week. The quiet, often hidden, sometimes secret work – of lifting others up. The life in me has been bolstered and enlarged because of it and I am deeply satisfied. But then, why am I surprised? That’s what He promised all along. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

The life of the Lord, living in me, if only I believe in Him with my whole heart. What a promise. What a pool of hope. What a source of eternal joy!

When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ then he will save the downcast.

-Job 22:29 (NIV)

My Own Glimpse of Heaven

Do you know you are seen?

Do you believe, in your heart-of-hearts, that God is watching over you?

Do you believe God hears your cries of weariness, your frustration, and your desperation of silent dreams unfulfilled? The whispers of your soul?

I didn’t. Not really. I mean, I was trying….to believe. But I’d been through enough of life to know that true faith is a leap off a ledge. And God only knew what would happen if I actually took that step, instead of inching along the crumbling path of so-called certainty.

My mother-in-law was just trying to make happy plans when she said, “Then there will be Gretchen’s confirmation. We’ll have to celebrate that.”

It was sometime in the fall of 2006 and she was looking ahead to Easter. I was going through RCIA – the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – the process by which adults enter the Catholic Church.

“No,” I said, perhaps too forcefully, and looked at my husband.

“No,” he affirmed, “We’re not going to have a party for that.”

Because I didn’t want one. I wasn’t ready. The journey to get to this point in my life had already been so difficult that I sort of wanted the day to be just about…. me. And God.

As I’ve explained to many, many women in my Bible study groups over the years, I truly believe that discord and division among Christians must break the Lord’s heart. And my feelings on this subject stem from having been raised in a variety of churches, combined with the fact that my parents divorced when I was eleven, and subsequently pursued divergent paths in Christian denominations. Because we had also moved around frequently, we had never had a ‘church home’ to help guide me, and as my parents’ marriage deteriorated, my ability to understand God’s unfailing love, did as well.

As a child, the only message I retained from many homilies I heard was the “hellfire and brimstone” picture of life without Christ. My fear of God was deep and real. And it wasn’t  the “fear” mentioned in Scripture, which is respectful – the kind one should have for a loving father whom you don’t want to disappoint. No – this was abject fear. How could I love this God?

For years, I couldn’t sit through any church service, of any denomination, without crying. In a way I couldn’t explain, my soul seemed drawn to be there, but hearing the Word brought tears my eyes and terror to my heart. My family was torn apart and it seemed that God was at the center of it all. I just couldn’t make sense of how I felt, of how my story was being written. So much healing was needed.

So when I began RCIA, I truly embarked upon it as a period of discernment. Bless the heart of Deacon Moore, who led our program, because a tiny part of him probably wanted to get rid of me by the end. Every time we met, I asked more questions than a six-year old boy watching his father work on a car.

As I’ve written in other blog pieces, RCIA was one of the greatest experiences of my life. By Holy Week, we had reached the end, and I was to be confirmed at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Holy Week was full of exciting opportunities to prepare our hearts for the sacrament we would soon receive. Sunday – The last time our RCIA group would leave Mass together before the Eucharist to discuss the day’s Scripture readings. Monday – Mass at the Basilica in Baltimore, when the parish’s Chrism oil for the year would be blessed and brought back to our church. Thursday – The Maundy Thursday service – where priests would wash the feet of RCIA candidates, as Jesus did for his disciples at the Last Supper. Friday – The Good Friday Service – where the deacon would carry a full-size cross to the front of the church for us to touch….and remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of pure, selfless love.

I missed every single event.

During stressful times I get migraine headaches, and that week I had one of the worst migraines of my entire life. I spent every day in bed, silently crying about what I knew I was missing. On Saturday afternoon, my husband came into our darkened room. He said, “Try to tell me what it is.”

“I feel like I’m turning my back on my upbringing and my family. And I’m still not ready to tell them,” (It would be awhile before I did.)

“You don’t have to do this.”

“I know. But I want to. I really want to.”

That’s when he gave me a beautiful cross necklace – St. Brigid’s cross – and I was so surprised. It never occurred to me he might give me a gift for this occasion.

I got myself dressed, put on my new necklace, and popped one more of the useless precription pills I’d been taking all week. The sitter came. And my husband (who was also my sponsor for the sacrament) and I left for the church.

Brigid's Cross

In the narthex to the large sanctuary, the deacon approached me. “I’m glad to see you here,” he said gently. “I was worried about you.” I told him I just hadn’t been well, and I smiled through the incessant pounding in my head. Our group processed in and took our seats.

At a special point in the ceremony, I was asked to stand and profess my faith. I stared with glassy eyes at the altar as the priest spoke these words to me and the others.

Priest: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Candidate: I do.

Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried,
rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Candidate: I do.

Priest: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Candidate: I do.

In the millisecond after I said the last “I do” the splitting pain in my head vanished.

Vanished.

I felt as good as I’d ever felt on an absolutely perfect day. No worries. No concerns. Nothing but an absence of pain and a clear, refreshed mind.

A few moments later, I moved to the front of the church and stood, with my husband behind me, his hand on my shoulder, as our pastor, Father Kingsbury, stretched out his hand and prayed for me and the others:

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

In my hand was an index card with my confirmation name: Gretchen Elaine. Some people take a saint’s name. I hadn’t settled on one and figured my own was sufficient.

I handed the card to Father Kingsbury when he stopped directly in front of me, with Deacon Moore on his left, and another of my teachers, Father Harrison, on his right.

“Gretchen Elaine,”I heard Father Kingsbury say as I closed my eyes and he anointed my forehead with the Chrism oil, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

I opened my eyes.

It is very difficult to explain what I saw – but it just may be my first glimpse of heaven.

Brilliant, white, and golden light surrounded the three men. The space seemed positively filled with it. And I was filled with, and surrounded, and bathed, in this radiant light. All my fear was gone. Head to toe, I was flush in a spirit of wonder and awe, and I knew I was smiling broadly into the glowing faces before me. I was warm and comfortable all over. It was pure bliss.

I didn’t want to leave that spot before the altar, but it was time to return to our seats.

As we settled in, I said to my husband, “Did you see that light?”

“What light?”

“Up on the altar. All around them.”

He looked in the direction where my eyes were searching – the spot where the second miracle of my night had occurred.

“The lights are on,” he said quizzically.

And then I knew – the light had been for me. And the healing had been for me. Me alone. Because He sees me. He knows my story. He knows every last bit of it, and no matter what has happened or just might happen yet, He is in control. And He loves me. 

In time, I would tell my parents about my faith journey, and their responses would be more grace-filled than I ever could have dreamed. Both of them are fellow travelers on the road to eternal life with the Lord, and we have wonderful discussions about how He works in our lives. Christian unity is at the heart of my relationships with them.

If you seek Him with your whole heart, you will find Him. He sees you. And He loves you. Regardless of whether you know Him, feel Him….whether you doubt His existence or not. He’s real. He is listening to the whispers of your soul.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom

a light has shone.” 

-Isaiah 9:1

Liturgical Text for the Easter Vigil Service was copied from this document, provided by the Diocese of Owensboro.

Holy Moments – Day 30 – Stories

Some people are harder to love than others.

It’s an every day truth, and it was the gist of a conversation I had over coffee in mid-November with my friend and former neighbor, Sarah. But Sarah is a thoughtful, big-hearted woman who smiles all the time, so a discussion that could have turned toxic did not. Instead, as she bounced her baby on her knee, she said,

“But if we really knew every person’s story, if we really knew everything that had happened to them, there would be no hate in the world. It would be so easy to love them, because we all carry so many hidden hurts.” 

I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since. The truth of it. Because we, as humans, are made to live in community with one another, and one way we can know that for sure is by recognizing and embracing our own ability – and need – to sympathize. Life is so much richer when we accept that we have all suffered. That we are not all that unique.

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This Christmas season, I have made a conscious choice to listen more. To listen for the story under the words. And maybe it’s just maturity that has enhanced my hearing, but I think this conscious decision to listen has also opened my heart, and all I hear lately are stories yearning to be told and held in the welcoming arms of Love.

  • A woman in the ‘sandwich’ generation, trying to care for rapidly aging and disabled parents while also raising young children
  • A couple helping their parents out of tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt that was incurred in an attempt to save a family business
  • Multiple families’s struggles to help one of their own deal with drug or alcohol addiction
  • Two parents searching for a diagnosis for their son’s health issues

The pain of those telling me about their problems is often masked by sarcasm or smiles. And deep, deep wounds are buried far under pride and self-sufficiency. How we handle stresses like these are often dependent on whether we’ve healed from our own past hurts, because the frustration of loving others in challenging situations is exacerbated when we ourselves feel shortchanged in love.

But – people need to talk. Often, they are not searching for solutions. They are not looking for any particular kind of assistance. They just want someone with an open heart to be fully present to them.

We all think we are busy, that we have places to be and stuff to do, but do we really? What are we racing around for? What is our purpose, if not to live a full life by loving when given the opportunity?

Once, when I didn’t know how to approach a grieving family, didn’t know how to begin to find words of sympathy, I called my mom. She said,

“Just being present to someone is a ministry.” 

A ministry. A lofty word made simple in this instance, because I could do that. I could show up.

I’m not sure I’ll make a New Year’s resolution. Like most people I’m not very good at keeping them. But I like the idea of finding one word to be my focus in 2016. And the word ‘listen‘ is beautifully open-ended. Who knows what I might hear, and as a result, how I might grow in Love.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29