In Good Hands


I’ve had years where Lent sort of builds and somewhere just before or even during Holy Week, something shifts. Some years its been quiet, like last year’s time spent in solitude on Cape Cod. Some years, it quite dramatic, like the Holy Thursday I ended up in an empty church late at night, sobbing on my knees before a statue of the condemned Christ as I realized that He had been with me through everything I had survived and He understood what no one else ever would. But this year, it seemed like Lent started a few days early. After sort feeling my way forward, I suddenly found myself faced point blank with the question: What did I really believe and how far would I go to stand by that belief? No sooner had I declared that above all I trust that nothing can take me out of God’s hands than the Gremlin tried it’s damnedest to do precisely that – in church no less – and in the one church I had always run to for safety. Because of that trust, love trumped fear. Part of me shattered that night but not in bad way. Some illusion that I’d held on to fell away. And the realization that home really wasn’t home anymore became clearer than ever.

It took a day or so to gather my wits about me and I so wanted to get to church that first Sunday of Lent but another Sunday snowstorm (a now weekly event here in New England) put the kibosh on that. An injured pastor coupled with a pipe break early in the week called yesterday’s services into question as well. Thankfully, by Sunday another pastor was able to fill in and while the hall and kitchen were a mess, the water damage had stopped at the very edge of the sanctuary. The weekly Sunday snowstorm kindly waited until mid-afternoon before dumping another six inches on us. I was so grateful to be home in this little Lutheran church, with it’s handful of what the pastor refers to as “Moonlighting Catholics”.  You can’t miss us, we have many little tells. We celebrated a baptism and thus that became the main focus of the service as we were reminded that in baptism we are claimed for Christ and nothing, absolutely nothing, can take us out of His hands. Each of us is called by name and we are His. The truth of that rang so clearly for me. Everything I had come to on my own ten days earlier echoed back to me. It’s a far cry from the days of the figuring that since I was in the world, I was somehow saved by accident or by default, by some sort of divine Salvation Cupcake rules that I wasn’t privy to understanding. That wrapped around me like a much needed hug.

Where does that leave me? I’m not quite sure. Some of the pieces of that shattered illusion have been rearranged into something else, by hands other than my own. That new image is still unclear to me. Patience – a virtue, but not one of mine – is what is being called for this time and for once, I won’t argue. The remaining pieces, I still have to pick through to understand what can stay and what must go. But despite the soul-rattling start to Lent, I am more certain than ever that I am in very good hands. I have been led to where I am right at this moment. I have finally stopped fighting the process. (Cue the collective gasp from my longtime readers – yes you actually read that right – and some of you can stop smirking right now.)

Love In The Ashes


Lent started yesterday with ashes, as it always does. It was the tears that were so unexpected. For some crazy reason, I didn’t sleep the night before Ash Wednesday. I have to get the boys to school and I have to work which means the only Ash Wednesday services I could get to had to be at night. My Catholic church had a 6:30 Mass.  The university had one later than that but I was completely exhausted. My kids were going to the Catholic church with their father. ***Sigh***  I wasn’t up to facing my ex. Maybe another church. I checked the times and found I had other options. But at the last possible moment, my mother asked me if I was going to Mass and could she come with me. Mom hasn’t been up to going to church since Christmas and she loves our Fr Tom so I didn’t even suggest the other parish I had in mind.

We settled into her usual pew, way in the back. That suited me just fine. I haven’t been there much for quite some time and I wasn’t feeling especially social. At the start of Mass, my ex’s new girlfriend announced that she and he would be our lectors for the evening.

Oh my God. Really? REALLY?!  I really do not have the stomach for this tonight Lord.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with her. I’ve met her a few times.  She seems very sweet and my boys like her. And I truly don’t care what my ex does with his life because I don’t have to be part of it anymore. I managed for the last six years to avoid the Masses where he served in any visible role. High holy days, I’ve learned to shut my eyes if he does serve in any visible role. But lector? I didn’t expect that one. And here I was, trapped as the captive audience.

‘RUN!’ Oh yeah. The Gremlin showed up full force. That bastard was loving this.

‘This has been my home for almost thirty years and I’ll be damned if I’m leaving.’

‘Have it your way, Kid.‘ The laugh. The awful, nasty, evil laugh.

My ex read the second reading last night. 2 Corinthians. I can close my eyes but I can’t close my ears. My only option for avoiding this was to walk outside. To literally get up and walk out of Mass. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I steeled myself. thought I could handle it. I was wrong. As a result, I heard something else entirely. Years of emotional abuse replayed in my head at full screaming volume interspersed with The Gremlin’s snickering. So what I heard went a little something like this:

Brothers and sisters:

You stupid, miserable waste of breath

We are ambassadors for Christ,


as if God were appealing through us.

You are the worst mother I have EVER seen…

We implore you on behalf of Christ,

Know what’s wrong with this house?! YOU’RE IN IT!

be reconciled to God.

Stupid, hopeless piece of trash!

For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,

You are so completely WORTHLESS!

so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

A worthless PIECE OF S***

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

You are NOTHING but…

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.


At first, I started to laugh and that immediately turned to tears that would not stop until many hours later. Waves of nausea washed over me and I fought to keep down what precious little I’d had to eat on this day of fasting. All the while I desperately fought the urge to run. I pleaded for Him to silence The Gremlin, for sanity, for calm, something, anything…please just help me.

I love you. Stay with me. A whisper, nothing more. To walk out the doors was to walk out on Love. And He was asking me to stay now. I couldn’t walk out on Him.

Calm didn’t come and the racket in my head didn’t subside. Those few minutes felt like hours and when they were over, I felt eviscerated. I received ashes with tears still running freely down my face. By the time I received Communion I was shaking all over. Something inside broke loose last night. One of my protective walls came crashing down on top of me. I don’t know what exactly. I still have walls inside of walls inside of walls and I’ve long since lost track of the where or how or why of most of them. I invited Him into that space a long time ago and apparently He’s decided to rearrange things a bit. I was still teary this morning as I washed the ashes from my forehead. I sat at the beach this morning in spite of the cold. After a little while, the last of the pain subsided and the dust inside finally started to settle. I suspect Lent is going to rough this year.

Crossing The Road

It was sort of a sick joke really. ‘Well, at least it can’t get any worse,’ I’d say. But then it just kept getting worse. The kid got sicker. The marriage got uglier. The husband got meaner. So I switched it up after awhile, ‘Hey, even Job caught a break…eventually…’

It wasn’t funny. Hell never is. And that’s where I was. Then one day I ran across a book and in that book was a quote. One little line from the Psalms that caught my eye and sent me digging for the battered bible that the sisters at Our Lady of Mount Carmel had given me back in 1982 when I made my First Communion. I bought a journal and started writing again for the first time in years. That one little line from Psalm 34 touched off a chain reaction that flipped my life upside down.

‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit, He saves.’
Yup. That was me alright. Crushed and brokenhearted.

I took my life back. Some days it’s been one minute at a time. I’ve been rebuilding ever since and I’ve had to fight for every blessed step I’ve taken. I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve been wiped out, beat down, used up and empty but I’m still standing.

I’ve met a handful of people in my life with a fierce fire in their eyes. A combination of faith, trust, and deep desire sort of all kindled into one huge bonfire. When I was a kid, I asked for that same fire. I kept asking until things got hard and I gave up on God. But over the last few years, I started asking again. Deep down, I still want it. I don’t really know what I’m asking for, so that prayer has been ‘I want what they got… God, you know what that is.’

So here I am seven years later feeling sometimes like I’ve gone nowhere. And on the outside, maybe that’s how it looks. I have my critics who are happy to point that out. But on the inside, I’m in a whole new space and every time I run across that line from Psalm 34, I look over my shoulder to see just how far I’ve come. Now there’s a new road on the outside too. Not an easy one to follow.

‘God is leading me to a crossroads,’ I told my friend.

‘My dear friend,’ she replied, ‘It is not a crossroad. You have to cross the road. Take the chance. You will…eventually. You just need some time to get used to the idea. Six months maybe?’

I know where this new road goes… or at least I think I kinda sorta know. I do know my whole life is going to get flipped upside down – AGAIN. But for the first time, everything that has happened in my life up to this point has a place, even my biggest screw-ups. Nothing is left over. Nothing is useless. Nothing is wasted. I feel like I’ve finally come home. Without thinking, the words flew out of my mouth, ‘I’ve waited my whole life for this!’

One of those people with that fire that I want heard me and said to me, ‘Ah…when I hear that, I know we need to talk…’

No sooner had those words left my lips than that voice popped into my head, ‘Oh shit! You don’t think ACTUALLY think God would let you get there, do you?! Doesn’t He know you better than that?’

Damn that Gremlin! He managed to plant that thought: What if I’m wrong…? And if I am wrong, am I strong enough to handle being crushed again?

And yet… perhaps even more frightening…

What if I’m right?

No. Now what?


Once upon a time, I was inspired to start writing a story, an allegory really. It took a few twists and turns that I hadn’t expected. I’ve written a lot of stuff over the years and this proved to be the hardest thing I’d ever written. I kept trying to force the story in a different direction but it refused to cooperate. Trying to mold this story was like trying to sculpt water. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? It was exasperating but Deacon Ron, my spiritual director, suspected there was more to this so he pushed me to follow it to the end and find out where it led. The result was the short story My Ride. On the surface, it was a fictional face-to-face encounter with the evil voice in my character’s head that I dubbed the Gremlin and some guy who may or may not be Jesus. Underneath it all, it was face-to-face encounter with the evil Gremlin in my own pretty little head and some guy that I know is Jesus.

Well that was a long time ago. Things change. I’ve changed. I haven’t looked at that story in a long time, say three years ago when I published it. So out of nowhere, it came up in conversation last month. Deacon Ron loves to read as much as I do and he started telling me he’d read Paulo Cohelo’s The Pilgrimage. The main character has to name and talk to his own personal devil as well as his personal angel. That had reminded him of my crazy little tale.

That left me intrigued enough to download The Pilgrimage and to reread My Ride. At first, I was a little smug, thinking how far I’d come since 2009. The Gremlin isn’t so much of a dominant force anymore. I know who Jesus is and we’re cool. Right? Umm…well…maybe. Cue Gremlin snickering. Okay fine. So I have a few issues with Jesus at the moment. What else is new? I put myself into that face-to-face with the Biker Jesus I’m most comfortable with and I unloaded on him. I ranted and I raved about needing a few words of reassurance in the midst of all the craziness. But no. I get the old widow scraping the bottom of her flour jar.

“With all the passages of being shield, protector, defender, cups running over, don’t be afraid, I’m always with you, blah blah blah, WHY THAT ONE?!” Yes, I actually blah, blah, blahed Jesus.

Calm as ever, he looked me in the eye and asked, “If I’d pointed you to any one of those, would you have believed it?”

Shit! I hate it when he does that. “No.”

Now what? I don’t know. I’m all out of fight and this conversation is obviously far from over. Meanwhile, the flour jar hasn’t run out.