Monday, February 18, 2013

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

If it is possible for me to break my Lenten sacrifices before I leave the church grounds, I will do it every time.    It's that aforementioned rebellious nature. Therefore, I try to construct sacrifices I can't goof up on while the ashes are still snowing off my forehead!  Most of my plans for this year fall into the latter category but as a family, we took on "bear wrongs patiently." (In case you can't decide on a sacrifice check out this Lenten Resolution Flow Chart!)

Since I made threats to all three little children at one point or another during Ash Wednesday Mass, thus goofing up before we even got to the Eucharist, it's safe to say this is a sacrifice tailor made for me. My personal spin on it is "refrain from criticism."  Of course I have to correct and train my children, but the criticism is not needed.  Criticism is a bad habit. I plan to break the back of that habit during Lent.

It's my training ground, for certain. The only place that tests me more than church is the ballpark. Safety is a huge issue at the ballpark when older girls are playing. The only place you are really safe from foul balls is sitting on the bleachers. Therefore, I cruelly insist that my little ones "sit" when the batter is up. Since 90% of all the other little ones at the ball park are allowed to run around nilly willy, this is excruciating for my Littles. I say over and over, "Go to your seat," "Please sit on your bottom," or "Where are you supposed to be?"  I make it okay through the game but the minute we head to the parking lot for a sandwich, all my patience drains through my shoes.

Saturday was no exception. I was alone with the kids as Paul was away being inspired by Matthew Kelly and Alli was at a discernment retreat at the Cathedral. As I corrected Tinker, my tone turned sharp and I said rhetorically, "What is wrong with you?" She smiled and ran off but The Blitz stopped dead in his tracks and turned around, an encouraging look on his face.

"Bear wrongs patiently, Mom."

Chastised, I said, "Oh, you're right buddy.  I need to bear wrongs patiently."

"That means, 'don't be mean,'right, Mama?"

"You're right again, buddy."

"K Mom. Well just try again, okay?"

I thank God for my children. They are my best teachers as well as my greatest joy. I greatly needed that reminder about our family sacrifice, but even more, I needed the reminder to "just try again." Lent is about making perfect my soul, but I am not going to be perfect getting there. The prophet Isaiah had it right, we need that little child to lead us!

(Photo credit: Lily Parish)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rend my Heart: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

 I have been waiting for Ash Wednesday for about a month. I am impatient with the dreariness of winter; I long for the warmth in the breeze and that beautiful golden-green that signals the very first moments of spring (al a Robert Frost). "Lent" literally means "spring" and I relish living in a part of the country in which the two events actually coincide.  

In December I became aware of a blind-spot of mine: I have a rebellious nature. (I can hear you laughing! Of course you knew this! I am the last to know and that's why it's called a "blind-spot," smarty!) I took this revelation to confession and Fr. Jonathan sweetly asked, "What are you rebelling against?" This I could not answer. Fast forward a few weeks, many hours of prayer and a couple of conversations with my astute support partner and the answer was abundantly clear: I rebel against vulnerability. Or to put it another way, I close my heart. As much as I am being lighthearted, it is a terrible and painful admission for me. Since then, for weeks, truly, I have been praying for open-heartedness, abundant love, abiding love, for perfect love.

I love the words from the first reading today, "rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God."  I can visualize that tough old covering being "rent" off. I see progress. As always, just identifying a blind-spot tends to make us work on it. I was sorely tested in Mass today though, I promise; all three little ones were putting me through the ringer and I was grateful for the Lord's prayer in which we forgive others because never did I need it more! I managed to genuinely pass the peace with them but I'd be praying for forgiveness again before we got out. Yet, in other days, I see that I am more willing to be open-hearted, to love unconditionally, to let others in. Not as much as I'd like, but progress.

I know I have it in me to be vulnerable. I can remember instances-- days and weeks -- in which I opened my heart, both to beauty and to pain. In More to Life, they call it "letting in the lifeshocks."   I remember inspiring jubilation and terrible, heart-wrenching hours, both met with that simple vulnerability. What amazes me now that is that I can see in both extremes (and all that occurred in between) that regardless of the raw emotion, when I was able to let go the reins, such incredible, sweet tenderness was present. I was able - in those times - to feel a peace and assurance that is not present in my daily life. Remembering these times encourages me and quells my fear.

So enter Lent, which I like to call "the spiritual work season." I am ready to roll up my sleeves, put myself in the paths of lifeshocks, and knock the devil on his keister! I know that it is evil, not love, that makes me close my heart out of fear. And when I do, I don't always notice. It's not a loud, clanging door, like when the wind catches the screen. It's more like the heavy sliding door of the confessional; it just eases closed without a peep. It is not until later that I realize I have fortressed my heart again.

I have chosen my Lenten sacrifices of course, the measurable, accountable kind. But my true sacrifice will be one that is much harder to measure; I am giving up my protectiveness. I am going to stop worrying about what will happen if I truly let God hold the reins in my life. I am letting go of the illusion of control. In fact, I am suddenly reminded of something my friend and mentor Richard Perry said once, "God has given me every moment of choice . . . and not a single moment of control."

My work for the season is to see how God can use me if I let him. I will let him. Stay tuned. . .

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Annulment is Not a Dirty Word (Conversion - Part 6)

This morning my "quiet time" was interrupted by Dear Hubby, then Pepper, then the Blitz and then, frankly, I gave up. I know I have to get up earlier than I did today in order to have that solitude but it was hard to let go because I was contemplating the first reading from not today, but yesterday and this passage in particular:

For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
That what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.
Hebrews 12:7, 12-13

For some reason, this passage reminded me of my beginnings of RCIA and having my previous marriages annulled. At first, it just seemed like a painful ordeal, a harsh discipline . . . but I am getting ahead of myself.

Shortly after starting to attend Mass at St. John Vianney, I found in myself a profound curiosity about the Catholic faith. I started wondering about the order of the Mass and why things were done as they were. At the time I had no intention of converting but I responded as in all things: I began a process of research.

I started with a book, Why do Catholics do That? which explained some things quite well. I began to see the flow of the liturgy and the rhythm of the Mass.  A friend suggested Scott Hahn's book, Rome Sweet Home.  It was very hard for me to buy this book, I will admit, because I hated the cheesy title (of which I am still not enamored). Nonetheless, I was drawn to learn about why a Protestant minister became a Catholic theologian. So I read the book and related to much of what he said, particularly about his searching for the "true church of Jesus Christ." These books were the starting point of my quest.

Within months of joining the Parish, I had done enough research to know I wanted to join the Catholic church; Father Sam, however, said (basically), "There is a way to do this, and it is through the RCIA process." Even well-researched and convicted people have to go through RCIA, apparently. So I did.

I was sure about most things, but I had one source of concern* and one roadblock.  My roadblock was that my previous marriages had to be annulled. This was a big one for me. I had married to escape the issues of my adolescence. I had been in and out of relationships for years until, in my mid-thirties, I finally realized that I could not change my past, nor my past relationships, but I could change the course of my future. At that point, I began to take true responsibility for my own happiness which included accepting the mistakes of my past and forgiving the other actors in those events.

It is an understatement to say that I entered the annulment process with fear and trembling. Annulment meant revisiting not only my past, but truthfully and fully owning up to my part in all that went wrong. In annulment paperwork, you not only tell the story of what happened in the marriage, you have to tell why you think it happened, what you could have done to repair or prevent it and why it ended as it did. (And not only this, but put it all on paper for total strangers to assess.) Oh and let us not forget, you also have to provide witnesses who may know something about the situations. As gut wrenching and difficult as that was, it was the easy part. The hard part was knowing my former spouses (in their current lives) would also be revisiting our mutual past. I felt terrible about intruding on their lives in this way. Over the time of counseling with Father Sam and working on the annulments, I got in contact with them and had a chance to say,"I'm sorry for my part. I'm sorry for the pain I caused you. I wish you nothing but joy and peace in your future." It was amazingly liberating to be able to say, "I'm sorry" while truly expecting no apology, no admission of responsibility or anything else in return.

[I notice as I write that I want to launch into a defense of the process of annulment. I know it is widely misunderstood and disliked. That's not my role right now.]

I can tell you that for me, the process of going through my annulments was one of the most healing, hopeful, and cleansing experiences of my life. I was able to look back at what had previously been chapters of shame in my life and to realize that I was a regular human who had made mistakes and subsequently confessed those mistakes and that they were over and done with. I was able to close those chapters and accept God's true and complete forgiveness. It was beautiful.

At the time,all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

*I will talk about my "one concern" in my final installment of my conversion story.

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Three - Crucifix Ephiphany
Part Four - Seeker
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith