Lighten Up

Come away by yourself to an out-of-the-way place and rest awhile. Mk 6:31

The last few months have been rather intense. Short-handed at work, deadlines for work and school, juggling three classes, and taking on an ever-deepening role as caretaker for my mom – it was all piling up to overwhelming levels of stress and anxiety. Six days away on Cape Cod was a desperately needed break. Me, being me, packed light…well sort of. I brought my usual beachwear of ragged jeans and ancient hoodies, wool socks and boots but I also brought three books, my laptop, my bible, my journals (there’s two – don’t ask why) and some reading material from my pastor. Somehow, I had it in my head that although I was going away to rest and take time alone to deepen my connection with God, ponder the questions of my Lent, and to ground myself again, I was also going to write a paper on Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith and still have time to read two books and walk the beaches. Yeah – I needed a reality check and bad.

With the fourth nor’easter in three weeks coming up the coast, I was up and on the road to the Cape well before dawn. That first night, I was exhausted from the drive and just life in general. I had unpacked and settled into pajamas, snuggled up with a blanket and my phone on the couch to leisurely scroll through social media and blink… BLINK… PITCH BLACK. Yup, the lights went out. I swear to you in that moment I heard God laugh. It was the kind of laugh you get from an old friend who has just pulled off an awesome prank. After the initial shock, I started to giggle at the absolute absurdity of driving nearly four hours only to sit in the dark while the lights – and the heat – were still on back home. After about ten minutes, I shrugged and decided an early bedtime wasn’t such a bad thing. I used my phone for a flashlight and turned down the bed. No sooner did I slide under the covers than the lights came back on. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

The next day was gray with rain, sleet, snow, and lots of wind. So while the water heated for my tea, I dragged a big chair from the living room into the bedroom. I positioned it to face the bedroom chair, planning to put my feet up and enjoy a lovely day of staring out the sliding glass doors, watching the wind stir up the water, and listening to the rain and sleet ticking off the windows. I got my tea, gathered up my journals, my bible, and my pen and as I settled myself into that big chair, it suddenly hit me that I had just walked into my morning prayer time the same way I would walk into a classroom. I was mentally in full-blown honor student mode, ready to make good use of my time and accomplish something. I had the first completely unscheduled morning I’ve had in over a year and instead of putting my feet up and soaking up the silence, I was ready to make intelligent observations and take copious notes.

And right there in that instant the full weight of everything I’d been carrying for the last six months came crashing down. All the expectations I had shouldered, some put on me and some I’d put on myself, were suddenly way more than I could carry. Add to that all the guilt I was carrying for not being able to do more than I’m already doing. And on top of all of that, I had planned to go to confession the night before I left and didn’t go because, well – life happened. I crumbled and over the rest of the morning, I cried six months worth of pent-up tears while God picked through the load of stuff I’d been carrying. God patiently sorted through it all.  This isn’t yours. This isn’t yours. This is yours. Where did this even come from?! Definitely not yours. Don’t need this. Put that down. No! Don’t pick it up again! Yes, that’s yours but it’s heavy. Let me help you with that one. Oh sweetheart, please don’t do this to yourself. You aren’t meant to carry the whole world on your shoulders. That’s my job. 

I spent the rest of that day watching the wind move over the water, listening to the rain and sleet tick off the windows. This was time to let God do God’s thing, some of which consisted of telling me to lighten up and let go and some of which – no, actually a lot of which – I don’t even understand yet. Two of my books, my paper, and my laptop sat mostly untouched for the rest of my time on the Cape. I read one book, slowly, soaking in it.

I came home in the middle of Holy Week and so much needed to be done at home. It would have been so easy to pick up where I’d left off, carrying things not meant for me. But somewhere in the middle of the Holy Thursday liturgy, as the community prayed for wisdom, courage, and strength, I remembered to let go. I remembered that it’s okay to be small, to be weak, to be vulnerable – in other words, to be human in need of a Savior.

During my days on the Cape, I had wandered my favorite beaches. God Himself had washed my feet in the cold Atlantic ocean that I love so dearly under a sky that was my favorite shade of blue. The Spirit moved in the wild March winds and carried the reminder of my baptism in sleet and snow blown in off the waves. In all the world, there is no finer cathedral to be found than this. But just in case I’d started to forget any of it, as I left the Easter Vigil, the moon was rising over the church, a stiff March wind was blowing, and I could hear the waves crashing on the beach nearby. And in that sound there was a voice that said, Lighten up kid, I love you.

When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough


I went back to college at 41. Most days I really don’t give myself much credit for that. I’ve let it be merely the next step on the road. And I probably don’t stop to look back to see how far I’ve come as often as I should. There’s so much in my past that I don’t ever want to see again.

I expected stumbling blocks. It would come with the territory, after all I work, I have two teenage boys, and I hadn’t been in a classroom in 22 years. But the one I didn’t see coming was from the financial aid department. They didn’t want to let me apply for aid. My epic failures at 18 had come back to haunt me. There was no waiving those zeroes from 1991. In order to justify my financial aid, which consists of a need-based federal grant and federal loans, the university insisted that I be on probation. I had to earn A’s in my classes for the Fall semester to bring up my cumulative GPA. Nothing less than A’s was acceptable. So when I finished my first semester with a 4.0, I was ecstatic. I had proven myself and could now move forward, free of the shadow of my past failures.

Or not…

I found out a few days ago that I will continue to be on probation for the Spring semester. And this time I will have to write an appeal to justify the release of my financial aid. It was a shock. And the roller coaster of emotions that came with it is awful.

Why did it hit so hard?

It’s just a stupid bureaucratic technicality. I did it once. I can do it again. Maybe. I think. I hope. But I took harder classes this semester. What if I don’t? What if I can’t? Why the hell does it matter that I failed at 18? Why isn’t the fact that I had perfect scores on nearly everything I did this Fall good enough? What more am I supposed to prove? I’m not in the same place I was at 18. Or is that just what I like to tell myself? Damn it! That Gremlin is back to running his foul mouth in my head again.

I told Deacon Ron shortly after we first met eight years ago that my fear isn’t failing. My fear is doing something exceptionally well. Because once you’ve done something exceptionally well, people expect you to do it again. Over the last few years, I told myself that statement was founded in the depths of old wounds and held little, if any, truth. Years of emotional and physical abuse left me with wounds that have still not fully healed. I still fight every single day to accept what I do is not merely good enough but is actually good. Most days, that self-acceptance is there and it has been gradually become easier to reach. I had thought that the worst of that pain was behind me. Now here I am, being told that perfect isn’t good enough. To explain myself. To justify myself. I know it’s stupid red tape bullshit. I know that. But it hurts far more that I can put into words. Those old wounds run much, much deeper than I realized and the scabs have just been ripped off. Again. And the emotional dam burst is almost more than I can take.

It took every ounce of courage I had and then some to walk back on to that campus. I overcame panic triggers that are older than most of my new classmates. I poured everything I had into my studies and somehow still had enough left to balance the rest of my life. I tapped into reserves I didn’t know I had. I excelled in a place where I once failed abysmally.

I didn’t get this far on my own. My RA was in full-blown flare one day and in remission the next. And those reserves of strength and courage and calm and yes, at times even patience, were a grace given for purposes I don’t understand.

So yeah, I’ll justify myself and I’ll explain myself.

And yeah, my head has been an ugly place to be lately.

And while I hurt right now, deep down I know I won’t be swept away by it.

I had one of my vivid watcher dreams in late November. I was with the same guide that always shows up in these dreams. He stood with me on the side of mountain and showed me a dark, shadowy valley below us. There was no path through it. Only rocks and larger rocks, shadows and darker shadows. He wouldn’t show me the way forward. Nor would he show me how far it was to the summit, only the darkness that lay beneath and behind me. As always with my watcher dreams, the message was simple: See this. Remember it.

I remember. God brought me this far. He’s not leaving me now.

The Empty Bench


One of my friends posted a photo of an empty bench on Facebook.  The question posed was simple enough. If you could sit on that bench and talk to anyone, past or present, for one hour, who would it be?

Interesting question.

Jesus?  We talk all day every day already – would be nice to see His eyes – but that day will come soon enough.

My dad?  The hour would be nice but I don’t think I could say good-bye again. The first time was hard enough.

My sister?  I wouldn’t change a second of our last conversation.  I didn’t know that good-bye would be our last and I have a slew of questions I’d love to ask her but ultimately her journey was hers and mine is mine so those answers really wouldn’t change much.

So who would I most want to talk to?

Me.  At 16.

Not 19 when I threw up my hands at God and told Him to take a hike.

Not 21 when I was getting ready to marry.

But 16, when I really started to listen to and even believe those voices that said I wasn’t good enough.  Would I tell myself not to do some of the incredibly stupid things I did or maybe do the things I was too afraid to do at the time?  Nope. I learn best when I learn the hard way and I wouldn’t be who I am now except to have traveled the road I have.

So what would I tell Me at 16?

That English teacher who told you that you can’t write is an idiot.  Don’t listen to him.  Listen to the dozens of others who say otherwise.

That nun who keeps trying to get you to talk about Dad – she actually does care.  You might want to talk to her.  At the very least, stop yelling at her.

That nun who told you to always question authority, she has your back.  It really is okay to trust her.

It’s okay to admit you need help and to ask for it. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.

All those days when you feel like you’ll go crazy or die if you don’t sneak off to be by yourself for awhile? Sneak off. Your gut is right. You need time alone with God to heal.

You’re going to get really, really pissed off at God. Go ahead and scream at Him. No lightning strikes – well at least not up to 41 anyway. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

That big long list of stuff you’re so afraid you won’t be able to get through? You will get through. Not without a lot of tears but tears won’t kill you. Honest, they won’t. It will get messy. It will get hard. It will get very, very ugly and you will be scared out of your mind on more than one occasion. But when it gets messy and hard and ugly and you’re convinced you’re about to break, you’re going to dig down deep into a well of grace and strength that you don’t even know you have and you will come out the other side of hell. Brush the ashes off. Don’t be ashamed of your scars. They’ll tell your story more eloquently than any words you’ll ever find.

I know you don’t believe me but God knows what He’s doing. More than that He knows what you’re doing and He’ll make that work in His own weird way of doing things. Just accept the fact that you can’t possibly screw up beyond His ability to make it work in the end. Life is hard enough Sweetheart, don’t make it harder.

And what does Me at 16 think of all this? She thinks I’m crazy as hell and she’ll do it all the hard way anyway. Because she is, after all, Me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday Morning Grace

Sunday Morning Gift from christine pelfrey on Vimeo.

Remember those Verizon Wireless commercials: Can you hear me now? Yeah, well that’s pretty much been where God and I have been at lately. How many little things does it take? God doesn’t seem to be keeping score. He just keeps throwing little stuff my way, like a lover leaving ‘I Love You’ sticky notes all over the place, knowing me well enough to know I’d trip over anything too big.

I had a bad week. Nothing major, just stressed from work and the kids. By the time the weekend rolled around I was feeling wrung out and beat up. Saturday morning, I couldn’t wait to get down to the beach. There’s an osprey that I see every now and again. I love that bird. I was really hoping he’d put in an appearance. How could so much grace, power, strength and beauty be packed into one creature? He soars so high, stops, then dives under the water to capture his fish. Even the great bald eagle can’t pull that off! He doesn’t turn like most birds. He hovers, then changes course and my soul soars with him every time. I only see him every few weeks and most days he just passes by overhead. On a rare day, I see him catch his breakfast. Saturday he showed up with a friend. I watched the two of them flying long low passes up and down the beach. It took my breath away.

Okay God, that was AWESOME!! Thank you!! You just made my whole day perfect and it’s only 8:00!!

Sunday morning, I was at the beach by 7:30. I love to listen to the waves and the morning church bells. Well guess who showed up… Not only my osprey but SIX of them. No passing by overhead either. They swooped and dove and soared right in front of me for almost two hours. I sat on the seawall with my iPad and filmed for a few minutes. I gave up pretty quick. It doesn’t even begin to capture the moment. My jaw dropped when the third one showed up. When the fourth came from the other direction, I started to cry. I have NEVER seen anything like this.

This is Stratford Seawall… on a main drag… God… seriously?! WOW!!!! Speechless. Completely speechless! There. Are. Not. Words.

By 8:30 there were cars parked all the way down the wall. People were out walking, biking, jogging or just sitting on the wall, drinking their Sunday morning coffee and reading the paper. Almost all of them were completely oblivious to the display of power and grace right there in front of them! I wanted to scream, “ARE YOU BLIND?!”

Oh …. wait… How blind have I been?

But as my soul soared with my osprey towards the early morning sun, I knew…

It doesn’t matter…

God’s not keeping score.