Questions for Lent



There are a lot of good things I could do this year for Lent. There are books I could read, church events I could go to, reflections I could write… well you get the idea. But this year seems to be a year full of questions. And not the kind of questions that are going to have some sort of formulaic answer. I can’t answer Question A by reading Book 1 and writing answers to discussion questions 1-5. It’s just not that simple. And that’s okay.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve reached a point where I’m okay with just knowing the questions. And maybe this year, Lent isn’t about looking for answers. Maybe this year, Lent is about just sitting with the questions.

Can I accept that God sees something in me that I don’t?

Do I absolutely, positively need to see exactly what that something is?

Or can I accept – and I mean really, truly accept – that it is more than enough that God sees it?

I was driving home from spiritual direction on Friday when these hit me. That last one was enough to make me pull over for awhile. Driving and pondering is a brilliant way to end up in a tree.

So this year, for Lent I’m writing down the questions as they pop up and just letting them be. For every question I write down, it seems like ten more pop up that are related to it. And instead of indulging my perfectionist inner honor student, I’m not trying to come up with the right answers. I’m just writing them down. Answers will come in time.

Salt and Light

I’ve been know to ask (beg, plead, whine, demand, politely request) God to be a bit clearer at times. An email would work. Three foot flashing neon sign would be nice. Text message would be awesome. Ha ha – right? I mean, God doesn’t work like that. Except that all three of those things have happened to me over the years that I’ve been writing this blog. God speaks through the people and the world around me in ways that never fail to catch me off my guard – and that is impressive because I’ve had a tendency to be fairly guarded.

The thing is, little by little, God has been undermining my defenses in a thousand little ways and while I’ve noticed, I haven’t resisted. Does that count as surrender? I don’t know but it’s about as close as I get to it. I’ve learned that God actually does answer me – not on my timetable and not in ways I expect – but answers nonetheless. So I’ve learned to watch and listen and while I’ve cracked the joke to friends that God has picked up a megaphone lately, I suspect the truth lies less in God’s megaphone usage and more in my being open and paying attention.

So paying attention to a bunch of little things stretching all the way back to last Easter led me to these words on the twelfth day of Christmas:

‘Ye are the salt.’ Jesus does not say: ‘You must be the salt.’ It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received.

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And in case that wasn’t quite clear enough…

‘Ye are the light.’ Once again it is not: ‘You are to be the light,’ they are already the light because Christ has called them, they are a light which is seen of men, they cannot be otherwise.

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ever read something that so rocks your world, you have to put the book down and talk a walk?  Yeah. This was one of those. I’ve spent so much of life trying to grow into or step into or become some ideal that I’d made up in my head. I had some vision cobbled together from a hundred different sources but not one of them was Jesus. And having realized my error and going to the only source that mattered, I was now reading as direct an answer as I could have dared to ask for. By virtue of following Him, I am salt and light, whether I like it or not, and cannot be otherwise, even when I can’t (or won’t) see it in myself. That means all that work of “becoming” really isn’t up to me. Which also means I’m not really in control of it. That is both a relief and scary as hell. Relief because I have been known to make my life way more complicated than it needs to be. Scary because… well…control.

Mary Schmich once wrote: Do one thing every day that scares you. So I made up my mind to do same thing every day until it no longer scares me. I will trust the One I’m following.

My Way Isn’t Working


Patience is a virtue. It isn’t one of mine. Now if stubbornness were a virtue, I’d be golden. Don’t be misled, I don’t mean the never-give-up type of perseverance that has brought me through some really rough times. I mean the hard-headed, I-got-my-Irish-up stupid type of stubborn that has a tendency to land me in trouble. Yeah, there’s no spiritual reward in that kind of stubborn. Trust me on that one.

Still nursing my injured foot, I lasted five whole days on the crutches before I did anything overly stupid. Then I decided I could cook dinner and hobbled around the kitchen on one crutch to do it. Not only did I make the foot incredibly sore but I also burned my hand in the process. Given another four days, I decided to walk the half mile from my lousy commuter student parking space to my sociology class using only one crutch, not taking into account the fact that I had to then walk back. I was in tears by the time I got back to my car. That was three days ago and as of this very moment, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, with my foot iced and elevated, crutches by my side, sipping on a cup of strong Irish tea and pondering ways to bake a batch of snickerdoodles without putting weight on my foot – or if there is any way I can get away with putting just a little weight on it.

My younger son watched me get up yesterday and head into the kitchen on one crutch and called after me, “Uh, Mom, should you be using TWO crutches. You’re never going to get off them if you keep this up.”

Darn kid. Why did I ever teach that one to talk? But he makes a valid point. I know if I use both crutches and stay off my foot as much as possible, it doesn’t hurt and the swelling goes down considerably. So why do I keep trying to do what I usually do? Because I can’t stand not being able to do things for myself and in my own way. Because I can’t stand having to ask for help. Because the only way for this foot to heal is to be still and wait.

Be still and wait. I’m perfectly fine with being still. Sometimes. At times of my choosing. For finite amounts of time. Oh alright, I’m okay with being still when it’s on my own terms. And waiting – also, for finite amounts of time and on my own terms.

How many times have I needed God’s help and wouldn’t ask? How many times did I decide to limp along and make things worse rather than be still and wait for the healing or answers or guidance that I needed? How many times am I going to charge ahead with only half of what I need? How many times am I going to let my stupid pride trip me up, both spiritually and physically? What’s going to take to get through this thick head of mine?

Maybe spending a third week on crutches will get me to sit still and ponder these questions. Maybe after a batch of cookies…Hey, this office chair has wheels, I’m sure I can manage on my own.

Okay. Okay. I’ll admit it. I can’t stand being laid up because I can’t stand not being in control because not being in control scares the shit out of me. But I also have to admit, my way isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to let go, be still and wait.



Sandy Hook. A year later. Is that really all it’s been? One year? It feels like so much longer and yet… somehow it still feels like yesterday. My heart still skips a beat to see a police car outside either of my sons’ schools. Used to be a police car at a school meant a rather vague safety talk about not taking candy from strangers and maybe a chance to sit in the officer’s car. Now they’re there watching, on guard against nameless, faceless potential threats. Both boys have had real lockdown situations at their schools and while I find it unnerving, they take it in stride. That makes me want to scream, ‘No! No! No! This is NOT normal!’

A year has passed and I still have nightmares now and then. I skip past the month of December when I flip back through last year’s journal. It will be a very long time before I can look at some of those entries. Last year’s Christmas letter, which I was writing when the news broke, still sits unfinished, the half-formed thoughts that had been coming into focus remain scattered. The blog post I wrote in January still holds true. I find myself still very much out of answers. There is no undoing the horrible evil that was done that day. So the best I can do is to hug my kids tighter, to be quicker to tell them I love them, to do more of the silly little things that we love to do and to laugh as much as we can at the craziness life throws at us. Very simply, to bring as much good to the ones around me as I can and teach my kids to do the same.

The boys are at their father’s house for the weekend, leaving me time and quiet to reflect on this past year. There’s a new playground within sight of my backyard now, bright flamingo pink and dedicated to teacher Vicki Soto. I heard the chorus singing ‘Feliz Navidad’ when it was dedicated back in June. I could only stand and cry while over all of it a plane circled overhead pulling a banner that read: Live. Love. Laugh.

What else can we do?

I went there this morning at 9:30. It’s the first time I’ve gone to the park since the new playground was built. It’s cold today and the snow is falling. Three little pine trees have been decorated with pink and purple Christmas ornaments. I took photos but I found I couldn’t set foot beyond the paths that marked the edge of the playground. It was so perfect, so still, and somehow, I knew, it was not to be disturbed. Even the birds and squirrels, who are usually quite busy in that park, had chosen to be still. The few inches of snow covered the playground in a blanket of white and with more snow falling, there was an absolute hush in this place with the sign that reads: Where Angels Play.

As I walked back up the hill to my car, I saw a painted star nailed to one of the trees. It read simply: HOPE.

What further answer could I need?


Out of Answers


Hey Mom:

“Where’s heaven?”

“Did God make houses?”

“Why do we have to go to church?”

“Why do people argue about the Holy Grail? We know there was a cup. They say at Mass, ‘He took the cup…’, so what happened to it?”

“Who took over as the angel of light, you know, after Lucifer fell?”

“Why did Jesus and the apostles wait until after supper to drink the wine? You know how they say, ‘After supper, he took the cup…’ What did they drink with dinner?”

As my kids have grown, so have their questions. I’ve gotten some questions over the past year that are way, way over my head. They’re asking me the kind of questions that have sent me looking for answers from people with far greater theological knowledge than my own. Okay, so that’s not really saying much. My point being, I’ve never had a problem admitting to the boys when I don’t something. I don’t want them to think I know everything because, quite frankly, I don’t. Sometimes, the most important thing is just knowing where to look for the answers.

Last Tuesday, Andrew was sitting in his Language Arts class at the middle school, having a fairly typical day when the PA clicked on, “LOCKDOWN. LOCKDOWN. LOCKDOWN.”

He spent the next 45 minutes huddled quietly in a corner away from the door to the classroom, waiting. Waiting for what, he didn’t know. All he knew was that this was not a drill. He and two friends worked out a plan using sign language and lip reading to take out anyone who made it through the locked classroom door. All I knew was what sparse information I could find online. A fellow mom had tipped me off. She went to the school to scope out the situation while I scoured the internet. Police were at the school. Four people were arrested with weapons in an incident at the school. No one was hurt.

No one was hurt. That was all I cared. As soon as the lockdown was lifted, Andrew was able to text me. We compared what limited information we had so far. Four men with handguns and rifles were found in the woods next to the school and were arrested on the spot. It turned out they were carrying high-powered pellet rifles and pellet guns. A fair number of parents rushed to the school to pick up their kids as soon as the story broke. I offered to do the same but Andrew wanted to stay and finish out the day. I had to tell Eugene what had happened when I picked him up from the elementary school. He already knew something had happened and I’d rather he get his information from me than the news or his friends.

Enter the new round of questions.

“What were they thinking when they built that cafeteria? Two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows? Are they trying to get us all killed?”

“If someone’s breaking in the school or is already in the school, it’s already too late to call lockdown. They’re just telling the bad guy exactly where to find us. Everybody knows we’ll be hiding in the corners. What good is it going to do?”

It didn’t help that one of the men arrested outside the middle school rather blithely told the police, “If I was going to hurt kids, I would’ve done it already.”

I tried to answer my kids’ questions. The best answers I could give were that the windows were supposed to let in sunshine, light and fresh air. The locked classroom doors were to stall for time, so the cops could show up to stop the bad guy. Both were met with incredulity.

“Great. Sunshine, light and nowhere to hide.”

“Sure Mom, like the bad guy’s just gonna look at the locked door and be like, ‘Oh darn, it’s locked. I guess I’ll have to go back to my truck for the tools to take the doorknob off.'”

I don’t have better answers. I don’t even know where to look to find them this time. This isn’t the way I grew up. Classrooms were for learning, not hiding. Windows were for daydreaming, not avoiding. I’m trying so hard to teach my sons to look for the beauty and goodness in the world but society is telling them to be afraid. Be very, very afraid. Schools are beefing up security. More lockdown drills. More cops around the schools. More guns. Protect yourself. Defend yourself. HIDE!

Lord, give me something to work with here, because I got nothing. Not a damn thing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Not totally true. Nightmares. I have nightmares. A little help here….