Friday, May 01, 2015


I have really been enjoying Matt Maher's new album, Saints and Sinners.  My current favorite song is "Everything is Grace."  (You can listen to it here.)  With all the changes and upheaval in my life lately, the lyrics really speak to me.

Especially this line:  "My portion, the only thing I know, You are enough."  This echoes the Psalmist, who repeatedly affirms the sufficiency of God in our life.  I've heard this over and over and repeated it without really thinking about what it means.

I began meditating on the concept recently and realized that I've been looking at God like I look at food.  I've struggled with my weight throughout my adult life and I'm constantly refusing treats or second portions.  The kids will give me sweets or encourage me to eat fattening foods and I refuse, saying that I'm satisfied with the healthy things I've chosen.  Which is a lie, because Cookie Butter is delicious and so is bread.  But I stick to the party line, trying to convince myself that I am satisfied with the healthy option.  The word "portion" itself speaks of deprivation and sacrifice because it seems small and whittled.

So when I think of God as my portion, it seems like sacrifice as well.  As if He is the tiny bit of healthy food I allow myself when I am sticking to my diet.  I mouth the words that He is enough, while still pining for the world in my heart.  As if I'm being "good" by pretending to be satisfied with Him.

I was praying at Mass before the Eucharist a couple weeks ago and as I stared at the crucifix above the altar, the real sufficiency of God as my portion hit my like a load of bricks.  He is not diet food. He is the feast.  The God who spun the world into existence with a word is my allotment.  Mind-boggling, yes?  I get excited when I work a little extra and get a larger paycheck, or when I splurge and make a delicious "cheat" meal.  And yet I act like a pious beggar when declaring the sufficiency of the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe as my portion, as if I'm somehow holier for being satisfied with less.  As if He is less.  And something is wrong here.  I've unknowingly gulped satan's lie that God wants to deprive us.

Do you struggle with this? Does satisfaction in the Lord seem like the false satisfaction of a salad instead of a cheeseburger?  I challenge you to meditate on what His sufficiency really means.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Ps 73:26

Saturday, April 04, 2015


I usually give up Diet Coke for Lent.  It's good to get it out of my system and rewire my tastebuds when drinking Diet Coke gets habitual.  But this year I decided to try something a bit harder.  I gave up Facebook (for the most part, though I did post a prayer request and look up some recipes).

And it has been hard.  Surprisingly hard.  I hadn't realized how often I check in on FB.  I compulsively reach for the phone as soon as my alarm goes off and scroll through my feed as I get ready to start the day.  I scan it while helping Nate with school, while waiting in line at the grocery store, while sitting at stoplights, etc.  I am always on.  And I am always distracted from dealing with the empty spots in my life.

I have holes in my life that need to be filled with Christ.  I have feelings that need to be dealt with and destructive thought patterns that need addressing.  But when I'm constantly distracting myself with social media I can avoid the hard work of facing my loneliness head on.  I can find solace in online friendships and avoid seeking interaction with friends here in Texas.  I can pretend to be in community while isolating myself in real life.

But most importantly, I can avoid the soul-searching, life-changing encounters that Christ wants to have with me.  I desperately need to be still and let Him reveal things to me about my life and my heart,  But that is uncomfortable, and I crave comfort.  So I slap on the balm of mindless entertainment, and I ignore the anxiety and fear and despair that He wants to heal.  I pretend to be too busy to pray, when in reality I am too frightened to allow Him real intimacy.  I gladly trade intimacy with Him for amusement with the masses.  And I wonder why I still feel empty and anxious at the end of the day.

I'm not saying FB is bad or that I won't continue to use social media.  But like anything else, it can become an idol for me.  A substitute for what I really need and what I was really created for.  I seek comfort when I really need the Comforter.  So I'm coming out of Lent determined to use social media rightly.  As a tool, not as an idol.  And I pray God grants me the grace to bravely seek Him, even when it is uncomfortable to see what my heart really looks like.

What idols are in your life?  What substitutes have you been using to avoid intimacy with Christ?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Just enough

So it's been almost two years since my back surgery, and it's still a struggle.  Most days, even if I wake up without pain, I'm in pain by lunchtime and limp to bed in the evening.  The constant, nagging ache and burn drags on me.  Anyone who has known chronic pain knows the despair that creeps in.  The unrelenting discomfort of long nights tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable. The invites that are refused from fatigue and weariness.  The isolation that closes in like draperies that block all light and joy.  The fear that this present pain, this ever-present pain, is all that awaits this side of eternity...

And I feel crushed.

Weighed down.

Like I can't crawl from beneath the covers and face another day dragging myself through the motions and fighting like mad to keep my cool when my body wants to fail.  Like I will never be the mom or wife I want to be, because I just can't.  I have challenging children and a demanding job and I can't slow down.

But I can't keep up.

And I'm crippled by fear of the future.

I was reading The Screwtape Letters earlier this week and was pierced by one of the things Lewis wrote.  In the book, Screwtape exhorts his underling to get his patient fixated on the future, saying that if the patient focuses on the future he will become so overwhelmed by what could be, either good or bad, that he will be open to sin (pride, fear, etc) because of his hopes or fears for the future.

And I realized I have fallen so far into this trap.  So far into the pit of trying to bear up under what I perceive to be my lot.  I have been trying to muster the strength and virtue to somehow endure the pain with cheerfulness until death.  Today.  Which is ridiculous.  I don't know what the future holds. God willing, I will wake up tomorrow healed.  Or not. Either way, His grace will be enough.

Either my God will deliver me, or He will give me grace to bear my cross.  And I must, must stop trying to hoard grace to meet my fears.  His hands are safe and His provision is abundant.  Just as the children of Israel were impotent to gather tomorrow's manna today, I cannot and indeed need not gather today what He promises tomorrow,   His promises can be trusted and I can rest in the perfect assurance that He will be the same tomorrow as He has been today.

How is God meeting you in your present ambiguities?  How is His grace enough for you today?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Umm, yeah, not exactly what I was going for there

So I read this story the other day and the last line caused me to burst out in unexpected tears.  I decided to try his words with Leah Claire.  I'd just given her a bath and as I helped her get her jammies on I was telling her how smart and kind and precious she is to me.  I stopped, looked deep into her baby blues and asked her, "Where are you the most beautiful?"

She wrinkled her nose, considering the question for a few seconds.  Then she flipped over on the bed and pointed to her behind, saying "I think here.  Because I have have a very cute butt."

Umm, yeah.  Not exactly what I was going for there.  I guess deep, introspective questions are beyond the grasp of a three year old.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Swimming the Tiber

So, it's been a while since I've written.  Far too long, in fact.  But there have been so many questions rolling around in my head for so long that I really felt I had little to write about.  Unless my readers wanted a list of all my concerns and doubts, I felt I had little to offer.  I knew I was dissatisfied with the fundamentalist patriarchal "gospel," but I was equally dissatisfied and disillusioned with the liberal emerging church dogma I found in my return to the United Methodist Church.  (I realize that there is much disparity in teaching among UM churches.  The church of my youth, St Peter UMC, is faithful and orthodox.  Others, I have found, are not so faithful to the teachings of the Bible. The final straw for me was reading the official position of the UMC on abortion.  It states that while they don't believe that abortion should be used for birth control, eugenics or gender-selection, they do understand that abortion is sometimes justified.  I cannot see Jesus saying it is okay or justified to murder an unborn child.)  So I searched.  And prayed.  And searched some more.  I made lists of doctrines that confused me and questions that I needed answered.

Realizing that many modern churches claim to base their worship on the New Testament church of Acts, I went back to the teachings of the early Church fathers like St Clement and St Irenaeus to see how they described the meeting of the early Christians.  And what struck me most was the emphasis on the reading of the Word and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.  And startlingly, how adamant the early Fathers were about the Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Our old church celebrated the Lord's Supper each week, but made a big deal each week about how it was only symbolic and had no power in and of itself. (They also said the same thing about baptism, which struck me as bizarre.  I mean, why celebrate the sacraments if they have no power?)  But looking at Jesus' first references to the Eucharist in the sixth chapter of John, far before the Last Supper, it seemed like the Real Presence was an indisputable doctrine.  When Jesus explained that in order to have eternal life, one must literally chew his flesh, many were dismayed and grumbled about this teaching.  It seemed to me that if He only meant for the Eucharist to be symbolic, He would have backtracked and explained that it was all just a metaphor.  But He didn't.  He stood His ground, saying "'Very truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.'"  (John 6:53-57)  And then the Bible says many of his disciples left because they could not accept this teaching.  After reading this passage several times, coupled with the writings of St Clement and St Irenaeus, I came to the conclusion that there could be no other faithful way to interpret Jesus' words about Communion.

Looking at the doctrines of various denominations, it became clear that only a select few taught the Real Presence.  Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox both teach transubstantiation, and Lutherans teach something just short of it - that Christ is truly present in the sacrament, although the species themselves remain bread and wine.  So the field narrowed fairly quickly.

There were several other hurdles I had to clear before I would be able to accept any of those three denominations though.  For years I had been frustrated by the lack of female leadership and authority in the fundamentalist churches.  I was told that as a woman I was easily deceived and unfit for teaching men or even boys.  I was informed that since my eldest son was nearing puberty, I needed to allow my husband to do all his religious instruction since he shouldn't have to be under the authority of a woman.  I was further instructed that I could not teach a mixed gender Sunday school class once the kids reached puberty since the boys needed to be taught by men.  Women, apparently, were only fit for teaching other women and small children.  (Which seemed a rather strange leap in logic to me.  If women are so easily deceived, why should we even be allowed to teach each other?  By the fundy logic, we wouldn't be able to discern if the other women were teaching heresy.  If women are truly more likely to teach error, it seems doubly imperative to have men teaching women and small children.  But I digress.)  I saw marriages that operated more like corporations with the dad/husband dictating orders like the boss and the mom/wife dutifully carrying them out like some sort of underling.  And it made me sad.  To me it seemed a perversion of the Biblical ideal of mutual submission and deference.  So I was quite wary of looking at churches that seemed to institutionalize the practice of male-centered authority.

At the time, we were attending an NALC Lutheran Church which ordained women.  I was happy there and the kids were making friends and growing.  But it still felt like something was missing.  Like it was a shade of the truth, but not quite the real thing.  But the other two denominations I looked at, RC and EO, both denied women ordination.  Still, I felt like I really needed to look deeper into what they taught regarding women and ministry and why they taught it.

What I found surprised me, as even though the RC and EO did not ordain women, the reasoning behind it was light years away from what I had heard in the fundamentalist churches.  It had nothing to do with women's innate ability to teach or lead, or from any supposed weakness or lack of discernment.  It had to do with biblical precedent.  They reasoned that if any one woman deserved to be appointed as a priest, it would have been the Blessed Virgin Mary, and yet Jesus didn't even ordain His own mother.  Instead, he ordained 12 men.  Furthermore, the priestly role is to be a stand-in for Christ, ministering as Jesus to the congregation. Jesus was a male, so the priests are male.  And although there are not female priests in the RC and EO churches, there are many roles for women.  Women can teach anyone, including priests and adult men.  Women are missionaries and heads of abbeys and cloisters.  Women are even Doctors of the Church, the highest honor given for theological learning in the Roman Catholic Church.  And much honor is given to many female saints and to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Men and women alike honor female saints and seek to emulate their holiness.  I came to the conclusion that the ideas of a male-only priesthood and the empowerment of women to teach and serve can be compatible.

But Mary and the saints were yet another potential stumbling block for me as I investigated the more traditional liturgical churches.  As a Protestant, I'd been taught that Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians worship Mary.  I'd seen statues and icons and assumed that in praying before them or lighting candles, the congregants were indeed worshiping idols.  The Rosary was a mystery to me and I could not see the benefit (in fact, I saw peril) in repeating pleas to Mary for her intercession.  But, having found truths the resonated with me when I investigated the Eucharist and the church roles of women more fully, I was willing to dig deeper to see if my assumptions were true.  And once again, instead of error, I found truth.  Mary is never to be worshiped and neither are the saints.  Worship is reserved for God alone.   Instead, we are to look at them as holy examples of how a Christ-honoring life looks in many different circumstances.  I can ask "what would Jesus do?" in relation to my mothering, but looking at the lives of various saints who actually were mothers, I can see more clearly how to live out my vocation as a mother in a way that brings honor to Christ.  Both EO and RC churches teach that death does not separate members of the Body of Christ.  So asking a saint to pray for you is not the necromancy or sorcery forbidden in the Old Testament.  Instead, it is as simple as asking a friend to pray for you here on Earth.  Furthermore, James 5:16 instructs us that the "prayer of a righteous person is very powerful."  Whose prayers, then, would be more powerful that those saints who are already sanctified and standing before the throne of God in Heaven?

I learned that the various teachings about Mary (Immaculate Conception, Assumption, etc) were well established in the early Church and have deep and meaningful reasons behind them.  I found comfort in hearing that just as Jesus was the new Adam, so also Mary was the new Eve.  As Eve's disobedience brought sin into the world, so Mary's obedient "yes" to God ushered in the birth of the Messiah.  Every Christmas in the Protestant churches I'd heard sermons about how Mary was just an ordinary girl who said yes.  But I read in RC and EO literature that Mary was without personal sin, having been preemptively saved by the grace of Christ from ever sinning.  I learned that even Martin Luther and other Reformers held to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  While the EO denies the doctrine of original sin, the RCC teaches that she was, as the new Ark of the Covenant (Rev. 12), necessarily preserved from original sin so that Jesus himself would be preserved from the stain of original sin.  Mary's Assumption, like that of Enoch and Elijah, is a demonstration of the same resurrection we all look forward to as believers.  And reading about various Marian apparitions around the world, I noticed one thing in common.  They all point to Jesus.  Any time Mary has appeared to people, she has deflected all of the honor to her son and instructed believers to love and serve Him more.  The Rosary, when said properly, is far from just rote requests for Mary's intercession.  Instead, it is a deeply meditative set of prayers in which the believer considers key events in the life of Christ and how they apply to his or her life.  I began praying both the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet on a regular basis and was amazed at how much inner peace and strength I gained from the practice.

Several RC and EO convert friends of mine told me that they struggled at first with the idea of Confession, but this sacrament actually attracted me.  Even though many Protestant friends of mine scoffed at the idea of having to go to a priest for absolution, I longed to confess my sins and hear the words of forgiveness.  When I finally did convert, I was blown away by how amazing this sacrament is.  My first Reconciliation (the official name for Confession) was an hour long.  I had six pages of sins written out and while I was so nervous I thought I might toss my cookies, it was so very freeing.  I came home afterwards and burned the pages.  Since then I've tried to make it a practice to go to Confession about once a month.

As one by one my theological impediments to entering a liturgical church fell, I began looking at the solae of the Reformation.  Growing up Protestant, I'd always assumed that the Reformation was a good, necessary thing and that the solae (Scriptura, gratia, fides, Christus, Deo gloria) were good doctrinal statements.  But upon deeper investigation, I found them to be in large part unScriptural and often based on misunderstanding of Traditional teachings.  For instance, the Bible itself doesn't call Scripture the sole arbiter of faith.  In I Timothy 3:15 we are instructed that church itself is the pillar and foundation of all truth.  So I could not hold onto the solae as justified reasons for choosing the Lutheran church.

With the Lutheran church off the table, I came down to the EO and the RC.  The choice between these, for me, came down to what I believed about the apostolic authority of the pope.  And after reading the Gospels again, especially Matthew 16, I realized that Jesus had indeed established Peter as the first pope and given us the teaching office of the Church to guide us and keep us from error.  I realized that I was ready to wholeheartedly believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the fullest expression of the truth of Jesus Christ here on Earth.  While this doesn't mean that individual Catholics or even individual popes are necessarily holy or orthodox, I do believe the words of Jesus when He said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church He founded on Simon Peter.

At this point, I began RCIA (Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults) and entered joyfully into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church on November 24, 2013.  My husband is not Catholic, though we often engage in respectful conversations about our faiths.  We try as a couple to emphasize our theological similarities and our mutual faith in Jesus Christ.  We agreed to allow our children to choose when they get older if they would like to convert.  I am sharing with them as I learn more about the faith.  Pray for me, that I will become a more faithful Catholic and a more ardent lover of Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The end of the story

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  Not exactly a holiday you wish to celebrate.

Five times our family has experienced the joy of expecting a baby, only to be crushed by loss.   I know we have been blessed.  Six more times, that joy was made complete in the present as I delivered healthy children.  But looking around our table, I sometimes still see the missing spots.  The longer gaps between children where a brother or sister should have been.  And I catch my breath and thank God that this is not the end of the story.  

Someday I will hold those children again: the ones whose feet never touched this earth, but were born directly into the courts of the Living God.  Someday He will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will be together again.

But in the meantime, it still hurts.  1 in 4 known pregnancies ends in miscarriage.  Chances are, if you have not had a loss, someone you know has.  This October 15, please remember those who grieve.  Pray that God will comfort them.  Lend your ear and your arms to listen and hug when they need to remember.

I have been blessed, in a way, in that all my losses were in the first trimester.  I never felt my babies move before I had to say a premature goodbye.  But there are many, many moms out there who felt the kicks and knew a gender and gave a name before their babies went ahead.  Honor those moms by asking how they are doing.  Talk about their children by name.  A dear friend told me, after losing her full-term baby, that what hurt the most is that no one talked about him.  No one wanted to say the wrong thing, so they said nothing.  And it made her feel like he had never been real.

May God Himself comfort all who grieve their babies, and may He daily reassure us that this world is not the end.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On a ledge

First, an update on the kiddos.

School is going well this year.  I absolutely think we did the right thing putting the boys in school.  The girls are learning so much and I actually feel like we are getting everything done that we should.  I am so happy with our arrangement.  Nate is loving school and making friends.  We are working with the school on his dyslexia therapy and he is making progress.  The little boys are transitioning, not without some bumps along the way, into a more structured environment.  I think this is good for them, and will help them if/when we decide to homeschool them again.

And as for me, well, I am here.  I've had some major changes in the last few months.  I quit my job to be home more, though I am looking for one with a smaller time commitment each month.  I left my church, as I could no longer receive in a place that does not allow women to teach men.   I found a church where I felt home (thank you, St John the Apostle UMC, for being a safe landing spot for me), but my husband didn't like it.  So we are looking for a new church together.  I left our homeschool co-op, as I just couldn't handle teaching another class right now, and felt the prevailing winds of the group were too legalistic and patriarchal for me.

So I've left behind a lot of friends.  And I feel like I'm drifting in a way.  I don't really know what to cling to except Christ.  A lot of the things I've been taught for the past 10 years seem like garbage now:  ways to control people, control women, control children.  As if the Gospel were a fantastic self-improvement plan instead of the water of life.  I've found that I am so desperate for grace.  My efforts are never going to be enough.  No matter how many fancy plans I make, I will always fail.  So I have to cling to One who won't.  And I have to be quiet enough to let Him speak and reclaim the words that seem so twisted in my mental dictionary.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”                                                                                                   John 4:13-14
Looking at my daughters has changed my life.  My girls are growing and asking questions about their roles as handmaidens of the Lord.  And I'm realizing that the box many of the people around me are building for their girls is so, so small.  That the yoke they've placed on young necks is anything but light and easy.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”                                                                          Matthew 11:28-30

Serving the Lord where He has planted you should be light and easy.  Not easy in the sense of "never being difficult," but easy in the sense of "wow, I love this pair of jeans."  And for me, it has not been that way for a long time. (Would it not make sense that the One who made me would fashion me to fit perfectly in the role He has for me, but to chafe at the wrongness of an unfit spot?)

Right now I am waiting.  I am asking and I am listening.  I am considering seminary.  Feels scary to put that into words, but I feel like there is so much I don't know and so much that I want to know.

I've just felt for the longest time like I was standing on the edge of a precipice and the tiny ledge I stood on was slowly shrinking.  I felt like I could keep clinging to where I was and standing on the things I had been taught, knowing it was not a true safe place.  Or I could listen to the Voice that beckoned and just jump, trusting in my Savior to catch me and bring me into a real green pasture of rest.

So I'm choosing to jump.  To follow Him and trust that He still speaks. To believe that the One who made mountains also made me and has a perfect niche in this world just for me.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.      Psalm 27:13-14