On Babies, Dogs, and God’s Little Rabbit Trails

I have officially become her. My mother. The one who talked to strangers in the grocery store line about things that were way too intimate and transparent for the general public. She used to talk about herself and others would open up to her. Random strangers would share their woes.

gods rabbit 6“Who are you?” I would think. “Must you talk to every tomato bearing elder, or toddler slinging mum you meet?” I tapped my foot impatiently as if just by her conversing with another human, the grocery lines would come to to a stop like some endless slow moving film.  I rolled my eyes at the need to share her story, or the safe portions of her story, while we stood waiting to hear “May I help who’s next?”

gods little 7Now I stand in grocery lines and look at the person waiting in front of me. The art of sharing my story was birthed by a women who was trapped inside the painful memories of a childhood that formed stories built upon cynicism. Though I could share in the same cynicism from my own childhood (*yawn* who doesn’t have wounds –  my childhood was far better than hers), now I gaze at the person in front of me because I am genuinely interested in her story.  

My story can wait. There may be a divine narrative needing to be encouraged in the stress lines of the face peering back at me. Some much needed mama encouragement as we walk together, image bearers trying to find the place that fills empty, aching, arms.

gods rabbit.jpg 5The reflection I see in the mirror, though it is different from my mums, stems from the same place of origin. Not just familial, but humanity’s. She has passed on to eternity and I have replaced her. I am now her.  Yet, fully me. A snowflake with a similar line here or there. I look like her. Sometimes I act like her. I still occasionally roll my ‘R’s with a remnant of Irish brogue. I am surprised to hear her laughter and realize it’s me. I remember details about her when she was my age. Details that seemed so old to a teenager with a lifetime to be lived. Now I look in shock at myself. I am at her place in life. I am her age. This can’t be me. I didn’t even see it coming. 

God's little 3When did I fall in this hole? When did I become my mother, and my daughter become me? When were my eight toddling wee babes replaced by twelve toddling to teen grandchildren? A family was my lifelong dream. It was all I ever wanted. Farm life. Animals. Family. Homebirth. Babies at my breast. The smell of freshly baked cookies and bread rising. I lived it to the fullest all the while finding the sacred in the mundane.

I have lived my dreams. 

 Now, like Beth in Little Women I wonder why “everyone has to go away.”

gods little 10

 

But… “I can be brave like you.” 

We all age. We all gain wisdom (hopefully). We learn that other people have stories, and if we are careful, if we have developed empathy, if we have learned to let go of controlling conversations, outcomes, or our own agenda’s – we can hear the divine narrative written on the pages of other image bearers.

My story is completely unique from anyone else’s. Everyone else’s is completely unique from mine. We run into trouble when we try to jump in with the, “I understand what that is like, I…” comments. No, you don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like for you either. We are all snowflakes, and snowflakes can’t be imitated. One of a kind.

gods little 12We aren’t comfortable in the silences. We feel threatened by stories. If I tell my story and rip open the flesh, separate the ribs, and expose my heart, it makes you feel insecure in the divine narrative woven throughout your own story. You don’t like the blood and guts. You want tidy, non-offensive, unchanging, and fully clothed. Beautiful. Serene. 

gods little 8My whole life was centered around raising my babies. I home-schooled, they married and lived nearby so that even the grand-kids became part of my day. Friends lived with us, stragglers came on weekends. It was a full house. 

One day, all of that changed. I thought I would be the old lady who had tea with my daughters while I helped them to can the abundance from their gardens. They would borrow books from my extensive home-school library and pick from my home-school career brain. The library has been mostly given away to the parents now carrying on the home-school legacy. Only one has a garden.

The rabbit hole is full of twists and bends. I was blinded to what was ahead. 

They had a divine narrative being spoken into their lives too and we can’t always predict the story line. It is their story line. It’s God narrative for them. 

gods little 9

(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Yet, I find a space to cuddle in white fur. I have always loved dogs, but they made space for nursing babies and became “Nana” to my wee ones. Now I find myself developing the kind of companionship I had with fur before I knew the love of a child at my breast.  I have become one of those people. I have more pictures of my dog on my phone than my grand-kids. I text them to Dave and we laugh over becoming “those people.”

Dog’s love is as reckless as God’s in a creation not creator form. Our new little doggie girl was abused before she came to us via a rescue group as a “foster.” Slated to be euthanized, Big Fluffy rescued her and she landed with us. She would cringe if we reached too quickly towards her. She blinked her eyes waiting to be hit anytime our hand came near. My heart melted as her tail continued to wag, despite the obvious past inhumane treatment.  We “fostered” her with no intent of adopting her, but the day someone was interested, Dave closed the deal and she became ours.

I imagine Jesus must feel like that as he reaches for us at times. We wince and back away from Him, told the lies about a God who is more interested in our mistakes than our redemption.

daisy

Anyone who has experienced abuse and neglect will tell you that they remember forever when they were delivered from it. Maybe it was a day, maybe it was a season – the timing is different for everyone. There is a then and now. In Christ – there is a then and now narrative that plays out in all of our lives. Our little Daisy (who we call Piggy) is living out a then and now narrative in her little life. We see it as our little while love ball blossoms into our protector, keeping us from all harm. She shows her gratitude for being saved in how she loves. 

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She has her own redemption story – from the brokenness of man’s irresponsible and unkind folly, into redemptive life. We are the caretakers of God’s creation. Dominion means care, not abuse.

My Masters of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, has a concentration in “children at risk.” One big rabbit trail in my living intentionally dreams. It’s one big rabbit trail that I travel completely alone. No kids, no husband, no partners. Just me on the road down the Divine Academia Lane. Piggy sits faithfully next to me as I write papers and read endless amounts of books. I am completely engrossed and completely alive.

My prayer is that the knowledge I gain will better the lives of little image bearers and their moms – that I can make a difference. But I really hope to expand my own depth so I will see more of Christ and less of my mother when I look in the mirror. Less of me. I witness a broken world and a church that often is more concerned with self-preservation than laying down their lives.

gods rabbitI have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. It’s more like Jesus. 

From babies, to strangers – maternal healthcare, children, infants, orphans, refugees, broken, bleeding… The world needs the love of God. They need to see the Jesus that lived. The Jesus that went about doing good and healing (and rescuing) all that were oppressed of the devil. Not the one that promises cars, money, mansions, and a perfect life if you have enough faith and “declare it.”  Not the one who turns a blind eye of fear to the plight of refugees, orphans, widows, the marginalized, or people from other religions. 

The Jesus who rescues them and who died that they may live. That’s the Jesus I wanna live like.

Jesus declares he is the way the truth and the life. He declares only Himself. He declares the Kingdom of God is at hand in Emmanuel.

Gods 14Jesus says, “Hey, follow me.” I have something really perfect written just for you. You are part and parcel of this divine narrative. You may not always like where I have to go. Sometimes it may even hurt a bit. There will be rabbit trails and sometime you may get lost. But don’t worry, I will never, ever lose sight of you, even if you fall down the rabbit hole. The only drink that will make you smaller is the one that makes me increase. It’s my magic potion of living water. Drink it with joy and it will reveal the divine narrative that I have written just for you.

God's Rabbit trails 2I have to the drink the potion. It’s time to grow up and leave home.

 

Brave Illusions

Winter, summer, drought, floods, sunshine, darkness, happiness, grief. Changing seasons.

Brave

Changing emotions. 

Days where we don’t feel quite so able to be real or authentic. Days that lack motivation and creativity. Days that lack the tangible presence of God when the heart needs to be wrapped in theophany. Days we simply don’t feel brave enough to face the endless toil needed to move us forward into the dreams and visions that propel us.

Days I wonder if I will ever desire to be authentic again, and brave enough to share it.

Seasons of disappointment. Seasons of accomplishment.

Will I feel inspired again? Will I be able to continue to co-author my story with God’s in a way that will bring him glory, and quite possibly help someone else? Is the call real?

Days we are afraid with genuine love comes genuine heartache. 

I’ve had those days recently. Today is one of them. The ups and downs of loss and gain exacerbated by the dreary New England winter days. I long for warmth. I long for sunshine.

I’m not feeling very brave.

Days run into weeks and I don’t write. The feelings are there. The thoughts are there. They are scattered. Not creative or well put together. A bit dark and cloudy like the sky. 

Emotions make us vulnerable (saying us instead of me makes me feel less vulnerable). Emotions show I am breathing, living, moving, loving. They open up the heart to a place that invites others to walk in. And walk on.

They open the heart to compassion. 

They open the heart to community. They open the heart to God. We can’t do this walk of life without others.

The very same others that overwhelm my introverted soul and make me want to hide out and watch re-runs of I Dream of Jeanie, or read books written by the very same others who have met my God in the dreary places too. 

The others that wear the face of God even when I’m not expecting to find Him there.

My theophany comes in the face of a sad child, an old woman in the vegetable aisle who sadly smiles from a well worn countenance. The Vietnam vet who loves God in the struggles of his addiction. The pastor who exposes his weary soul week after week with hungry nay-sayers.

I cling tightly to the words of Brennan Manning, one of my favorite others, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

I refuse to live an illusion in a world that is needing to be defined by the radical love of God.

This is my theophany. This is my Holy Spirit presence. It’s not always the happy, clappy, charismata of my youth and tradition, but the quiet peace of remaining true to myself as radically beloved by God. It’s a liturgy of love. 

Radically beloved by God. 

This is what I know. This is my reality.

So I blog the scattered thoughts of what I know. I will be brave. I will trust in the creativity of God when my own is lacking. I will hope his voice comes through when mine doesn’t. His voice continues to cry in the wilderness of souls “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Darkness is only an illusion. 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”   Robert Frost

brave 1

 

Advent Surrender

Surrender

 To give control or use of something to someone else (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)

“…But you don’t know what he did to me…”

“…move again?”

“…my kids…”

To give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc… “He surrendered himself to a life of hardship. (dictionary.com)

“…actions speak louder than words…”

“…my boss…”

“…the weather…”

“…my church…”

Surrender

A very simple word with unimaginable implications.

I never understood just how big the word surrender really was until this morning. I was passing by my little table top nativity scene and pondered the little empty space among the sheep, waiting to be occupied by my little ceramic baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.

An infant. A tiny, helpless, vulnerable infant.

film_nativity_scene

It hit me like a spiritual truck.

Picture it – The creator of the entire universe, the God over all of eternity, the infinite, majestic Now who is beyond human comprehension or my fumbling words, humbles himself enough to become a helpless, vulnerable, dependent, drooling, crying infant.

Ultimate surrender

We see the scene everywhere this time of year as we sing songs about Emmanuel, God with us.

The Son of God, God incarnate – GOD – born to a human, among other humans.

 To give up control of something to someone else.

Jesus, giving up control to Mary, Joseph, teachers, neighbors… the Roman soldiers, Herod, Caiaphas…

God

From the moment it was ordained He would be born to die, He surrendered.

December is my sad month – it has been for many years. Yet, each year as I have sought God and embraced life with all of its ups and downs, joys and pains, and the ever flowing tide of change, the Advent season is becoming a time of peace.

Sadness and peace can and do co-exist.  

This December I was feeling sad, forsaken by a friend, taken for granted, missing my kids as I baked cookies alone, fretting over finances, grad school, our ministry losses, and dreading the thought of selling our home and the work involved in moving – yet again.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  Matt. 16:24-25

It always seemed like such a harsh passage and terrible burden; losing my life to save it, denying myself, taking up the cross of crucifixion. Really? What a harsh reality, this Christian life of disciples.

No, it’s not.

Our heavy burden was not only take from us, but he carries the burden and us. It’s not harsh, it’s not a burden. It’s actually quite simple.

Surrender

To agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting etc., because you know you will not succeed (Websters Collegiate Dictionary.)

Surrender

I understand the infant part – I know what it is to hold, nurture, care for, and protect my helpless babies. I know what it feels like to be willing to die if it means saving them. I have agonized when I can’t take their pain and carry it for them. I know what it is like to wrestle a toddler who doesn’t want his diaper changed, or to carry her screaming into the house and out of the storm, even though she wants to play.

Black and White baby Levi

I can surrender into safe arms like that. I can be God’s infant and stop fighting, resisting, or hiding because His arms are too big for me to fight against.

Surrender has nothing to do with our future actions, and everything to do with His past example.

When I am tempted to fret, I will gaze upon the manger and resist the temptation to hide from the One who loves me best.

Advent has taught me Surrender.

Advent Hope, Ways to Honor Infant Death

I visited the cemetery yesterday.  I spent the two-hour drive, listening to the angelic voices of the Vienna Boys Choir singing  Ave Maria, and other Advent Hymns and picturing all the children who have left us too soon, circled around the feet of God, faces uplifted in glorious song.

Vienna Boys Choir Singing Ave Maria

I decided that today, I would throw it out there and honor Micaiah by doing two things. First, by asking the people who read and are blessed by this blog to make a donation in his name, to feed the malnourished children in the Philippines. These are the kids who have been served as a result of his death –the reason I became a trauma chaplain. So far, I have gotten less than $300 in donations – not enough to provide Advent Hope for a thousand plus kids. So please share this blog, and help me spread the word. Tax deductible donations can be made at:

Compassionate Reach (100% goes to the kids)

Holy 4

For some last-minute Christmas shopping without the lines, you can also purchase Yankee Candles. 40% of the price of the candle is donated back to us, and as you know, 100% of what we get goes directly to the kids. The candle funds will purchase chickens and garden seeds for sustainable food for families.  

You can order through December 13th for Christmas delivery and in time for Advent Feeding. 

Yankee Candle Fundraising Store

I said “two things” so here is how number TWO plays out:

There are few things I would like to tell you about moms who have lost infants. There is never a one size fits all in grief – ever – but these are few things common to many moms who have lost any baby preterm, at birth, or shortly thereafter.

As in all deaths, many of the same do’s and don’ts apply. I won’t list them here, they are written elsewhere and on my website.

  1. Our babies (usually) have a name.(Sometimes for cultural or personal reasons the baby isn’t named.) My son’s name is Micaiah. I love his name, and I never get to hear it in reference to him. Don’t be afraid to ask if our baby had a name and use it.  (NOTE: As in all grief, never say “at least.” I have had people say to me, “At least he wasn’t like four of something.” “At least he didn’t suffer.” I’m not sure he didn’t suffer in the moments leading up to his death, but even if he didn’t, that really isn’t of any comfort.) 
  2. About being “four”… Mothers of infants who have never had a chance to hold, or see our children living outside the womb don’t have many, if any, positive memories. I never saw my son open his eyes, or held him full of life in my arms. I never heard him cry. I never gave him a bath, or held him nursing at my breast.  I never saw a first smile, heard a laugh, or the myriad of other moments that we take for granted. I have nothing positive to remember him by. Our memories are formed as we move into the future without them. Our memories are the ceremonies of remembrance, hearing their names spoken, and by having others remember them. That gives us positive memories to take with us. 
  3. The day of birth is difficult for anyone to remember, but just like you may say to someone with a living child, “How old is your baby now?” you can also ask, “how old would your son be now?” If a Mom doesn’t want to talk about them, you will be able to tell, but most moms like to know our babies have been remembered. 
  4. If you don’t remember the exact day, but you do remember the month or time of the year, you can also say, “It must be difficult for you this time of year remembering your son.” Most of us are thrilled that anyone remembers that we are missing an extra place setting at our table.
  5. You can purchase a small token gift in honor of the child. Today, there are Christmas ornaments for the deceased (I just ordered three.) My daughter started me a collection of Willow Tree figurines that have been a blessings. I think of Micaiah every time I gaze upon the little crafted angels.
  6. You can make a donation to a favorite charity in their name, beyond the day of the funeral as an act of remembrance for a birthday, or Christmas, or just because.

Christmas is a wonderful time to remember a loved one who is missing from this life. Be all things to all people, and maybe you’ll win some.

May the promise and peace of the Christ child move you to love in ways beyond your wildest dreams. 

Jamie

 

Hosanna in the Highest, Advent Resurrection (Happy Birthday Mom)

Born on December 8, 1919, she would have been ninety-six years old today; my Irish, Catholic mother named Mary Josephine Meehan.

She died thirteen years ago, twenty-four years after living with, and beating breast cancer.  She died just three months after our youngest son Samuel, came home from Kazakhstan.

She was tough, and prided herself on it. She didn’t like “sissies,” and raised us to be tough. Life is hard and she wanted us to grow up to take care of ourselves. She grew up across the tracks from Frank Sinatra and told us he was a sissy – a mama’s boy who wouldn’t even hang off of the back of the trolly’s when he was roller skating. She never listed to him sing. “Turn that sissy off.”

She spent most of her childhood in a tenement flat at 311 Ninth St. in Jersey City, NJ. There were cockroaches inside and rats in the outhouse. She talked about stamping her feet to keep the rats away when she sat on the “John.” Born to poor Irish Catholic immigrants, the depression and poverty wasn’t kind to her.  Her name Mary means “bitter” and she told me to never name a child Mary; it’s a “bad-luck name.”

Mary J. Meehan age 8 (My mother)

Mary J. Meehan age 8 (My mother)

I was taught to never put my shoes on the table or I’d have bad luck… never raise my hand to strike my mother, or when I die my hand will stick up out of the grave… never bring a sparrow into the house...never walk backwards down a staircase or Satan will be waiting at the bottom… and never stick my tongue out a her or my tongue would fall off. I never, ever thought about striking my mother, I never stuck my tongue out at her – ever – even when she wasn’t looking.

It was vitally important stuff to know. Life or death. 

She spoke highly of her mother, my grandmother who worked  twelve hours a day, six days a week, at Dix’s Pencil Company, to support her family; she despised her father who spent his days drinking away the cash my grandmother earned. Her mother had married a widower with two children and together they had four more. My mother said her mother had gotten pregnant to “the bum,” trapped, and forced to wed. That piece of information about her mother, she spoke with disgust, “How could she have gotten pregnant by that bum.” My mother ran to meet my grandmother as a child, to be the first to get the warm rolls she would bring home for dinner, often not having enough to feed the whole family. Who ever met her first and helped her carry the bags, won. 

I have heard some others speak well of my grandfather, who died before I was born, but my mother went to her grave despising him – bitterly. (I think – of course – no one can know the intents of the heart in those last moments. ) She told me about her sister that he tried to throw out at window when she born; he wanted a son and despised “another split tail.” She spoke about his drunkenness, his filth, her endless cleaning of the apartment. She talked about coffee in her bottle because it was cheaper than milk in the 1920’s, and revealed that her father had dropped his used condoms into the toy box that was kept under her parents bed. (Her mother never set foot in the Catholic church again because of the guilt – birth control was sin.) Sex was disgusting she said, and she only “did it” for children. My heart breaks when I think of the reasons she had for so much brokenness towards any, and all aspects of relationships. 

Mary (Cox) Meehan

Mary (Cox) Meehan (my grandmother, age 4)

Her bitterness towards men carried over into her marriage and towards all men. The rejection my mother held ran deep and was evident in all her familial relationships, though two of my aunts were a regular part of our holiday gatherings. Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas dinners were a trip, like a Saturday night live skit in living color… 

SNL Thanksgiving Miracle    (Sums up what dinner would be today if any relatives were yet living.)

At the encouragement of the Parish priest my mother married right out of high school. She was a beautiful woman. Father Mac told her Joe Casey was a good man, and she needed to get out of her poverty ridden circumstances to have a better life. I imagine her care and concern for her mother may have kept her from finding her own way. She didn’t marry for love, and her Irish Catholic husband also drank. Joe was a good guy I was told, a “happy drunk,” well liked by everyone, and kind to all. Together they had one child, my sister. When he was drafted to fight during WWII, my mother divorced him which caused her excommunication from the church.  She died having never set foot in the Catholic church again, except for weddings or funerals. She was disgusted by the annulments that can be purchased today.  She never felt worthy of the church again, yet never stopped affirming to us, “I was born a Catholic, and I will die a Catholic.”  She liked the Mass better when it was said in Latin. 

She met my father at a picnic. He was handsome, well dressed, and hard-working. He was a “smooth talker” a salesman by trade, who would become very successful later in life. He was also divorced. I didn’t know anything about my mother’s or my father’s past marriage until I was in my twenties. Divorce was shameful and it was well hidden in my childhood. My sister grew up forced to pretend she my fathers biological child with all the implication that caused to a child.  I just believed she had a couple of extra names due to her Catholic communion and confirmation.

Together, my parents had three children, two boys and me. I am the youngest. I was my father’s pet. Their marriage was a mess – wrought with infidelity and trust issues caused by my father, constant yelling, complaint, and discontent from my mother – But this post is to honor her – not to speak about the pain of her life that carried over into how she raised us. She did the best she knew how with a terribly traumatic past, an unfaithful husband, and limited skills or resources. 

She worked hard her whole life to keep a clean house, immaculate clothing for all of us, and home-cooked meals. She wanted us to have everything – a life far removed from the oppressive poverty she had known.  When I was little she bought me clothes I despised, always wanting to have a china doll of apparent affluence to parade around, in hopes of filling the painful void in her soul. The expenditures caused many battles, even though my frugal father could afford it.  She didn’t know how to express love in any other way – neither by verbal communication or a show of affection. It was quite the opposite.

The day before she died I received the first verbal response to my declarations of love for her. Usually an “I love you,”  was met with “Yeah, yeah, yeah, actions speak louder than words. ” On the day before she died, the words I had always hoped to hear were  spoken weakly, but softly, kindly, from her death-bed, exposing a lifetime of love that was buried beneath pillars of pain,   “I love you Mom.” “I love you too.”  I ran from the room and wept like a baby. I can’t write it, without reliving the moment.

She went home to the Jesus she had met and hidden from, us only a few years before. She would never let me know that she embraced the same God I did – except to say, “Yeah, yeah, I believe all too.” I was raised that a son will take care of His mother so Mary can get anything she wants from Jesus.

She was never able to grasp that the man-God, Jesus, could love her, but I know she understood He was her Savior.  After she died I found a bible we had given to her – highlighted, worn, sinners prayers written in a shaky hand, copied down from Billy Graham, evidence of her softened heart. Though she repeatedly stated we were making a mistake in adopting a little boy (with much cruder language and notions – she said we should adopt a girl) her response to meeting him, just once before she died, “He’s cute, God bless him” left me shaking my head in awe.

Today on her birthday, I want to sit down with her and drink our Irish Breakfast tea together. I want to look her in the eyes and reflect God’s love from a place of total acceptance for who she is. When I tell her that I am getting my Masters of Divinity, I want to hear her say, “What the hell are you doing that for? Get a job that pays. Become a nurse. You need your head examined, you are going to die broke and I won’t be around to help you.” I would inwardly smile, knowing she is being “tough” and making me “tough,” but if anyone else dare say I was pursuing foolish ideas, she would quickly quiet them as well with a, “Shut the hell up. You should do so well raising eight hard-working kids and twelve grand-kids. None of them are in jail or on drugs. And she homeschools them all too!”

I want to hear her  challenge my theological views against what I used to hold to, “I thought women couldn’t be pastors?” “What the hell do you have a tattoo for?” “You change your ideas like you change your underwear.” “I believe in the old ways.”

I know at times she would exhaust me, and I long for one more time to be exhausted; now, as a mature, wise,  older woman, who would no longer hear her crass language or pain driven remarks. I see a broken woman who desperately wanted to know she was accepted, loved, and forgiven. 

I never wanted to be like her – anything like her – but that nature and nurture heritage followed me in so many ways. Part of it has made me who I am. I am a survivor. She made me that way. She taught me you never give up, and you never give in. You fight for what you want, what you earn, what you believe in, and what you deserve. She was a feminist before the time of feminism, and without understanding what that meant, even as she mocked Gloria Steinem she stood for what it meant. She sent money to the poor and needy and spoke with compassion about oppressed women and children.  The stranger and orphan loved her.  I would like to hear her tell me how foolish I am to go to Haiti, the Philippines, Nepal and other places, and that I should stay home where I belong, knowing that underneath it all she would be of the woman I have become. 

The defining difference between us as older women, is that I embrace how great God’s unconditional love for me is, how His grace and forgiveness is the sum total,  and I can live out my life free of bitterness, anger, or rejection. I can love myself and others as God does – the all-encompassing commandment of law and grace. I know the peace that she never gained in this world, but that she has embraced in eternity.    

I love you Mom. I know you are happy now and all of the things I wrote, I can picture you are probably rolling your eyes – but you roll them from a place of total love, acceptance, and tear-free abandonment.

I miss you Mom. You were one hell of a woman.  Save me a place in the Kingdom and fist bump Jesus for me My next tattoo will be in your honor. 

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(I apologize if anyone is offended by language, but that is exactly how my mother spoke, and I loved her for her she was at. If you are offended, I would challenge you to think about how much you can embrace others who speak far worse, do far worse, and needs so much more the grace and love of God reflected by us.)

Shalom.

 

Restless

restless 2

Supreme Court decisions, over 1,000 people have died of heat stroke in Pakistan, one convicted killer is shot in upstate NY as another one is pursued, nine people murdered in a church shooting, innumerable natural disasters, religious persecutions, pandemics, failing economies, terrorists attacks…

All must answer to a Higher power.

Personal difficulties surround all of us – death, loneliness, physical illness, depression, job losses, relocation’s, difficult relationships, the loss of love, the loss of dreams…

The worst loss is the loss of dreams, which encapsulates all other losses – fear encompassing all other emotions. The future looks dim…

The future is God. 

Augustine is one of the most important theologians in the church, to both Protestants and Catholics. His “Confessions”  reveal our deepest longings, his words the cry of our hearts,

“You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our heart is restless, until it rest in you.”

For the majority of my “Christian” life, all of the turmoil of this world captured me with worry for the future of our children and grandchildren. It prodded me with the need to do more, say more, and help more – always striving to play a part in turning what was wrong in the world into what was right.

I was restless to the depths of my soul with concern for this world. Psalm 139:7

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

The earth is the Lords. Everything that was created was created by Him. There is no where we can go, nowhere we can hide that His presence is not with us.

Always.

At all times. 

As disciples of Christ we also have the fullness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within in us.

The Spirit dwelling in us. 

God present everywhere outside us.

Jesus interceding for us. Walking with us.

God is not taken by surprise when distressing things happen around us, or to us. His light shines most brightly in the darkness, but we fear the darkness.

We are blind in the dark, but God is Light. He is present in the darkness to break the fear and cast off the shadows. As Augustine said, God created us for Himself. We cannot flee from His presence because of His great love.

The only place of rest is in Him.

One of my top five favorite songs – powerful in its theology, moving in its simplicity, and reflecting the heart of the devoted believer, is Audrey Assad’s Restless. She wrote it based on the above writing of Augustine. I listen to this song almost daily now, as I remind myself not to allow the things happening in the world, or in my life to make me restless. My restlessness has become the unsettled feeling I have when I am not knowing God’s presence of God experientially, as much as theoretically.

Every moment of every day. 

Only when I stay in His presence –  in me, around me, and sustaining me, that I feel peace and my restless soul finds rest.

This video may very well be the best five minutes you could ever spend, as Audrey sings about the Restless cry of our hearts. 

My heart longs for God in ways that are beyond words. It took me twenty-eight years of “Pentecostal/ Charismata” much speaking to realize I would rather listen to Him speak, than to speak before Him. I bask in fearful wonder as He embraces the cries of my heart and consumes my prayers.

Close your eyes and listen to the voice of angels sing.

Holy Love in the Philippines, Feeding the Poor

Partaking the Passion and Death of Christ through Service to the Poor     Day 2     By Bryan Mattilano

Holy Friday marked the 2nd day of the feeding operations. In God’s Grace, the typhoon that was threatening Eastern Visayas went to the northern part of the Philippines and weakened.

Day 2.1

Early in the morning, my family prepared the menu composed of chocolate porridge, hard-boiled egg, milk and chocolate bars. My father suggested the menu since Holy Friday in the Philippines, we would usually prepare something sweet to incite fasting and abstinence.

day 2.3

Children were taught by my Nanay, Lucila, to say graces before meals as some of the BHWs look over the children, ready for the distribution of the meals.

Day 2.4

Some of the cute kids were eager to partake the meals as they were prepared with their utensils. Some of them came from the outskirts of San Jose along the foot of the mountains and far flung rice fields.

day 2.5

day 2.6

We owe the success of these operations to our Barangay Health Workers (BHW). These awesome ladies were untiring in gathering all the kids and the upkeep of the proceedings.

day 2.10

Holy Week 9

 

 

The Face of Jesus in the Philippines; Holy Love

As we enter into the weekend, please consider how selfless servants in developing countries spend their Holy Week, and may we learn from them as we read the words of Filipino volunteer, Bryan Mattilano,

Holy 5” Compassionate Reach International , together with my family and the Barangay [Village] Health Workers (BHW), initiated feeding operations in our barangay beginning] Holy Thursday.

As Christ dined with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist, we may also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.”

Holy Week11

Thursday: Supper of Salvation

Day 1 “There were 192 identified malnourished children in the barangay, and 163 of them participated in the feeding program. All the children were weighed and the height was measured. The MUAC strip (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) was also used to determine how malnourished each child is.

Holy 2

The menu was composed of rice, chicken adobo, egg, vegetables, and hot milk.

Holy 3

The Barangay Health Workers (BHW) identified each of the malnourished children in every purok (sections of the barangay), getting the weight, height and the MUAC measurements, for the locations of the feeding, and follow-up home visitations.

Holy 6

From 163 respondents, 103 of them (63%) are already at risk for becoming malnourished, while 38 children (23%), were identified as malnourished. Only 22 children, (less than 13%) were in normal ranges for nutritional adequacy.

Holy 1This malnutrition is due to scarcity of resources: sufficient food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, brought about by the devastation of Super-typhoon Yolanda, in November of 2014.

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines 1/2014

The super-typhoon also destroyed the local crops, rerouted water sources, killed coconut trees, and negatively affected the landscape and other resources in this fishing and farming community.

IMG_0489

The feeding operation was just on time with the Holy Thursday as Christ dines with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist.

Holy Week 9

May we also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.

Holy 4

More than anybody who are most vulnerable are the children…. ” 

Holy Week 10

PLEASE NOTE:   Filipino volunteer Bryan Mattilano, is a professor at the University in Tacloban.

Bryan grew up in San Jose, and his parents and family still reside in the village (barangay). San Jose is a 40 minute commute by jeepney or other public transportation from Tacloban. This work of great love and compassion, is done by Bryan, his family, and other volunteers, without pay, and during their “vacation” times.

Bryan, Chp Jamie 1

Bryan and Chp. Jamie – January of 2014, providing trauma support for the local population, and trauma training for the teachers of the elementary school.

Please consider becoming a sponsor of the feeding initiative in San Jose so we can continue to help rebuild lives, while caring for the least of these.

Compassionate Reach is a volunteer organization.  100% of donations go towards helping the poor, needy, and traumatized victims of disasters.

For more information email:  jamie@compassionatereach.org  and go to our website.

Thank you on behalf of San Jose and the volunteers of Compassionate Reach International. 

Contact us to find out how you can train as trauma chaplains, and/ or volunteer for mission outreach and disaster response, with Compassionate Reach International.

Letters to Jesus (You Know My Name)

Dear Jesus,

You may not remember me. I met you a few years ago at a “charismatic coffee house.” I thought it was pretty cool watching men, women, children, and even nuns all raising their hands to praise you. They all got along and seemed to really like each other. You may already know that I went outside to get high while they were singing. Even though I was high, I felt something there. It was something real. Something good. There was that one night when I prayed with two other teenagers to follow you. I liked those kids – I mean they were really square but seemed to be happy about being so uncool. I felt like they genuinely liked me. Me! Not for the drugs I could provide, or the parties, or an act I put on to be accepted – but just for me. I can’t really explain it, but for the first time in my life I felt kind of clean. Maybe even good. I felt like my life mattered. 

Dear Jesus 1

The coffee house was pretty far away from home though and I didn’t have anyone to take me there. When I went back to school I was called a “Jesus freak” and mocked out. I was known for being a fun person, a party person. I didn’t have anyone who would accept me. I couldn’t stand being alone. I hope you can understand that. I mean you created Eve because you said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. I was all alone and it just wasn’t good. My old life drew me back because that’s where my friends were. I don’t know how to be alone. I guess I am kind of like Adam in that way.

I never stopped looking for you. I went to a church one time, but the people were really cold. I don’t think they liked me. Maybe it was the smell of cigarettes, my ripped jeans or Sarah on my hip that turned them off. I didn’t know there was a special way I had to dress or act to go to church. I really didn’t like living with David, but that’s where we were at. I wasn’t sure if you liked it either, but it seemed to matter more to the people in the church, than introducing me to you. Besides, the pastors I called refused to marry us anyway. Ben had been raised going to church and he told me I shouldn’t expect anything different. There it was again. Where are you? I kept reading my bible and trying to find where you hung out, but the people I asked scared me. Actually, the truly kind people were everywhere BUT the churches. I was very confused. What I was reading about you in the bible was really different from the people who said they knew you. I would have liked that coffee house again.

dear jesus 2

I met an old lady who said she knew you. She was really kind and brought us cookies and meals after Katie was born. She used to talk all the time about what you “did” for her, and how much she loved you. I had no idea what she was talking about, I didn’t understand what “saved” or “born again” meant.  It was all sweet, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I wanted her to introduce me to you, but I was afraid to ask. I figured because of my drugs, cigarettes, jeans, and unholy lifestyle you wouldn’t want to meet me. Maybe, I don’t really want to you meet you if these are the people you like to hang out with now. Come on, I am nicer than most of the people who say they know you! I may not dress all that great, smoke cigarettes or swear, but at least I am kind to strangers. They are all so “better than thou.” Didn’t you write the story about the man who was hurt on the side of the road?

I began to understand that I couldn’t possibly have really met you because if I had, I would have said a “sinner’s prayer” and given up my “old ways.”  At the least I would have “known” I was “saved.” That’s what they told me. I guess there would be some kind of lingo I spoke to show I had met you. I wasn’t really sure about all the things they said I had to give up either. I didn’t understand what they meant by “sin.” It didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong or hurting anyone. I am still trying to find someone who likes me the same way those kids in the coffee house did. I am still trying to find someone who is willing to be my friend, and show me where you live or hang out. I think I’d still like to get to know you Jesus, at least the Jesus who hung out with people like me. But the “Christians” who tell me that they know you make me question if you are even real.  Or worth it.

Maybe those nice people at the coffee house who said you loved me just for me, were were just my imagination.

Sincerely,

You Know My Name

Lenten Losses (Wk.4 – 5)

I missed the last two Wednesdays of the community Lenten services. I did not miss God who reveals Himself the most clearly during suffering.

The blood was dripping down from the open wounds in His hands. My name was scribbled clearly across the palms. An image from God to remind me that His blood was shed for me – that his suffering was my suffering. It brought such a joyful reminder at that time, about two months ago, when I was thanking Him for loving me. Last week after walking through a fire destroyed home – an event that never should have happened, I asked him to show me how much He loves them. I saw the palms of his hands with the names of my daughter and grandsons. Each name was painstakingly written across His palms, reminding me again of how He brings resurrection out of the ashes of Lent – the ashes of suffering.

David’s name was written too – I can see them all written clearly. The names of the people I love most in the world who have been called to this dark place of humanity to wander the desert of grief.  C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”  Why didn’t I understand before how much fear also feels like grief?

The desert is full of mirages; places where you think you see a glimmer of hope; but it just dissipates as you move towards the wavering vision in a twisting, tormenting, torturing play. Yet, it is a glimmer of hope none-the-less, so you move slowly forward, always believing that the cool refreshing waters may lie just beyond the horizon.

lenten losses 2Fires, losses, deaths, uncertainty  – feelings of insanity that grasp your mind as they flutter through from one side to the other. Pounding headaches, confusion. Tears.

Lots of tears.

The overwhelming emotions of love – in pain. The Gethsemane moments when a loved one cries out, “Why have you forsake me?”  And I cry out, “why have you forsake them?”

This was the best Lent of my adult life. The first Lent I have celebrated in thirty-five years, and full of the richness I have missed. It’s been a year and a half of resting in God’s love and finding Him in the places I never really dared to look- inside myself. In finding the inner peace of the living Spirit, the outer Presence became my living, breathing reality.

Hidden places. Quiet places.

I have realized in the last two weeks that the only thing I value in this life anymore is God, and people – mostly the people I love.

The past is a distant memory – the Christ is my present reality.

Some of the scars still remain, some wounds remain partially opened. Healing is a process. The process takes longer when you don’t have a reprieve – a time to catch your breath before the next stretch of sand looms before you. David hasn’t even stopped to look at the sand marked “death of sister” for dealing with “love of family.”

He hasn’t had time to stop and see Jesus is writing in the sand, “I love you. I am here.”

The human side of me – the flesh, still wills for things of this world, comforts, vacations (Oh how Dave and I long for a real vacation), a more stress free life, that Dave didn’t have to work so hard, ministry finances to do His work …but it is the people who matter. It is for love of people we strive.

It is also the people – the relationships that cause the most pain. Things can be replaced, things don’t reject or get rejected, things are without depth, love, or interest. Selfless loves takes the nails in the place of someone else. It is not a thing, but a Person.

lenten losses 3Selfless love is excruciating and more often mistaken for something that it isn’t, rather than accepted for what it is. It is called words like insanity, hypocrisy, heresy, and blasphemy.

This Lent will be remembered for losses, but it will mostly be remembered for the people – the ones who Jesus would call “friend,” who stepped forward to help, email, call, text, or donate.

Not the friends, acquaintances, or community I expected, or that I was even hoping for (in my own hope of relationships I deemed should matter), but in the ones who were moved with compassion despite my church affiliation, friendship status, or the reason for this trial. Some of the people who expressed love know us by reputation, by ministry, by how we have helped others, or simply because they know one of our “great” kids.

I am thankful for the ones who prayed.

Churches who don’t even know us, but took time in their service or small groups to petition God on the behalf of our family. I am indebted to the body of Christ who rose up to be the hands and feet of God. Individuals who gave of their precious time to lift us before the Father in worship and petition.

There is always a lifting up. There is always a resurrection.

Death must always come first. Some individuals run from death, avoid it, are deceived by it, or fail to recognize it. They stay busy talking and doing. They want to pray it away, confess it away, scorn it, or fear it.

There are always hidden treasures buried in the dark places of death, but they have to be embraced to be realized.

This I have learned.

This I trust.

I’ll lead you to buried treasures,
    secret caches of valuables—
Confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God,
    the God of Israel, who calls you by your name…
I am God, the only God there is.
    Besides me there are no real gods…
I’m the one who armed you for this work,
    though you don’t even know me,
So that everyone, from east to west, will know
    that I have no god-rivals.
    I am God, the only God there is.”
Isaiah 45:2-6  The Message. 

I can only hope that God will use my life and experiences, and the lives of my children for His glory and for His purposes. It’s what the scriptures teach us – it’s what we believe. I will choose to trust that He is continuing to arm me for His work – the work of shedding light into the darkness of suffering. I will trust He is changing me by His work and will.

I have handed the lives of my children to Him, and though He may slay me, I will also trust in His wisdom and His ways for them.

I will trust He is forming light in my own heart and banishing the God rivals of this world that distract me from loving Him and loving others.

lenten losses 4Love hurts, but the losses make the resurrection more visible, more powerful, and more promising. Without death, there can be no resurrection.

 

(Note: On 3/7 one of our daughters who is six months pregnant lost everything in a house fire, escaping just in time with her two children. The greatest loss is her dreams – wrapped up in the painful and avoidable reason and cause of the fire. Some dreams that are lost can never be, and should never be replaced. In the midst of of that situation, my husband was notified of the death of his sister –  Lenten losses.