Spiritually Honest


Some years, Lent is quiet and reflective.  Some years it’s a struggle. This year, thus far, it has been a swift kick in the ass. Ash Wednesday really hurt and while I’d like to say it happened, it hurt, I’m okay now, and walk away from it, I can’t. Because if I won’t take the time to understand what broke loose that night, I’m just going through the motions and at that point, the weight of this holy season would be completely lost on me.

I learned some things that night:

1) I have panic triggers I didn’t know even know existed, even after seven years out. This scares me.

2) I have incredible, supportive, faith-filled friends and family. This encourages me beyond words. I love you all.

3) I was lazy, dishonest and prideful Wednesday night and I paid a heavy price for that.

These three things will take a lot of working through over the remaining 37 days of Lent.

I have my list of excuses. I was legitimately exhausted, having not slept Tuesday night. It was dark and brutally cold. I opted to drive the mile to my old familiar Catholic parish rather than the ten miles to my Lutheran church. Even though I brought my mother to Mass, I didn’t want to tell her that I would rather go somewhere else for Mass because I didn’t want admit anything that even remotely resembled weakness. I stayed in a situation that I realized would be difficult because of territorial pride. This was my parish first! I was here since childhood! How dare this interloper come in and take over!

I set myself up and I got knocked down hard. It was a wake up call I needed. Showing up in my Catholic parish because I didn’t feel like dragging my sorry self to the next town over for Lutheran services is nothing less than spiritually lazy and worse, spiritually dishonest. Bringing my mother to Mass is a good thing and had that alone been my reason, all would be well. But settling for what is convenient, familiar and, therefore, comfortable is wrong. I can’t continue with a foot on either side of the line. I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of girl. In or out. Yes or no. Can I accept all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and professes? No. Okay, then I need to be out and quit running back because it’s a mile away and I’m quite fond of the pastor. Those are not valid reasons to be there.

It took me about a day to fully reset the emotional switches after Ash Wednesday but I learned a hard lesson in love and trust. It’s easy to love and to trust when things are going good.  But when the bottom drops out unexpectedly, when I get clobbered with far more than I can handle, can I love and trust Him even then? More than that, can I let Him love me, even when it scares me to admit I screwed up? Yes. God doesn’t want perfect. He wants honest. He can work with honest. And I needed to learn that  – again – for the hundredth time – and God knows, I learn everything the hard way.

What does all that mean for the next 37 days?  I don’t know yet. This year Lent for me has slowed to a one-day-at-a-time crawl. And that’s okay. I got knocked down and I will crawl until I can walk and walk until I can dance.

Stuff My Dad Taught Me


I could spend this weekend trying to avoid Father’s Day. I’d actually gotten quite good at avoiding it over the years. Seems kind of stupid really. After all the good times we had, why would I try not to remember? (She types bravely with a tissues close at hand.) I was looking at some of my favorite old pictures and ran across this one. I was 11 and we were in Kansas City then. I still remember that Christmas Eve. It was cold, as in 15 degrees below zero cold and that was actual temperature. Cold, as in we got to church for Midnight Mass and the water in the baptismal font was frozen. I don’t mean it had a thin crust of ice on top. It was frozen into one big solid block or as Dad put it, “Holy ice cube, Batman!”

That was also the year that the RA first acted up although the doctors wouldn’t find it for another 26 years. In that picture, he’s got my hand completely wrapped up in his because mine were so cold, they’d turned white. He said he could feel the cold on the other hand right through his flannel shirt. Everything hurt that night. When Mass was over, my knees and ankles hurt so bad, I could hardly walk. Dad left Mom and I in the church while he brought the car around. He carried me to car, stopping to let me swipe my fingers across the the holy ice cube on the way out. When we got home, he carried me inside and he sat on the couch next to me holding my ankles in his hands because the warmth made them feel better. It’s funny looking back, I don’t remember anything I got for Christmas that year or for my birthday a few months later. What I remember was his tenderness and his mischievous sense of humor. I hear that same sense of humor from Eugene on a regular basis and Andrew inherited that big heart of his. I can only imagine how much fun they would’ve had with their grandpa, and how much trouble they would’ve caused together.

So instead of avoiding Father’s Day, and with only a little sniffling, here are a few of the things Dad taught me in the 14 years I had him and the things I try to pass on to my boys.

Practical jokes break up the monotony of life. They require forethought and careful planning. Some also require an escape plan.
(He had his car keys in his pocket, ready to roll and flipped the ceiling fan on high over the receipts Mom was carefully sorting for tax time. It looked like snow. She yelled and we ran like hell. We spent the rest of the day at the mall. He cooked her favorite dinner later to make up for it.)

Read. Read everything. Read it over and over. Read until you can recite it. Reading is knowledge and one of the greatest joys in life.

Reach for the books on the higher bookshelves. Teach your kids to do the same.

When you read to a kid, use THE VOICES. Yeah, you know which ones.

Beauty is everywhere, even in the ugliness. You only have to open your eyes and see it.

Never pass up a chance to do something kind for someone. It’s the little things in life that mean the most.
(He used to bring my mom two cups of coffee in bed every morning on a pretty little tray he’d bought for her on one of his trips to Belgium.)

Knowing all the constellations is wonderful, but sometimes you just need to look up at the stars in awe.

Whenever you have the chance to take in a scenic vista, do it. Stop. Get out of the car and breathe in the view. You may never pass that way again.
(I mean this quite literally. On the way from Connecticut to Indiana, we stopped at Niagara Falls. He talked me into going on the Maid of the Mist and I still remember breathing in the spray. I’ve never been back.)

Learn the names of the wildflowers. Leave them where God planted them.
(He taught me that one only after I had picked a big handful of bloodroot. Yuck!!)

Take the time to look at the flowers. They may wilt by tomorrow.

Learn the names of the birds in the back yard. Sing back to them.
(I have lovely conversations with the mourning dove who lives in the tree behind my garage. The neighbors think I’m a wee bit odd.)

Catching bugs is fun, so long as you let them go.

Wild animals are meant to be wild, not caged. Predators aren’t cruel. They only hunt for food and they are part of the balance in nature.
(Beauty in the ugliness. I’ve developed a particular fondness for the osprey that hunts in the Stratford Marsh.)

Praying isn’t something to do in church on Sunday. It’s as all day, every day conversation.

Learn to be quiet. That’s when you hear God.
(Dad’s habit of a 5 AM coffee on the back porch makes more sense to me with every passing year.)

Read the Bible. Read it so much you know whole passages by heart. Someday, you’ll need those words when the book isn’t close by.

Never quote the Bible to score points in an argument. Using God’s words to win man’s arguments is the utmost sign of ignorance and arrogance.

Sometimes life gets so absurd, all we can do is laugh. And that’s okay. God has a sense of humor, so should we.

Sing. God gave you that voice and it’s beautiful to Him.
(Either that or God is deaf, I haven’t quite decided that one for myself yet.)

Bad stuff happens in life. It’s not God’s fault. Someday we’ll understand why.

Death is part of life. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.