Friday, August 23, 2013

Balancing Act

Do you ever feel in the deepest parts of your heart that God, even in His infinite goodness and patience, gets SO SICK of our complaints? 
Especially the ones of which we can't let go? 
That He starts by loving us and cradling us through the hurt? 
Then He brings answers in the form of friendships and loved ones to listen to us? 
Yet the more we complain, unable or unwilling to get past what's bothering us, He decides a more direct approach is in order?
That the tough love comes out then, thundering in our ears and our lives, waking us up to His grace and His will?
The grace and will that were there all along, of course.

I had such a thunderous moment on Sunday.

An epiphany from a few weeks ago about my life being "off balance," started me chewing on the realization for quite a while.  You see, growing up, I think my family was balanced in a certain way.
My dad was the center as the post, carrying the plates on either side.  And with six of us females left over, depending on who was in what mood or going through which transition, there were almost always three in one plate and three in the other. 
Countered, but balanced.

The same holds true of my immediate family today.
Colleen and Drew are the same person and Braden and I are the same, so we balance that way sometimes.
Or Colleen and I sit on one side as women, while the men are on the other side.
Or kids and adults balance one another...well, you get my drift.

But when Daddy passed away, this equilibrium was thrown.  I don't think I felt it at first because my mom, sisters and I were all mourning and sharing life and memories of him.  This summer, however, I experienced it for the first time.  Ever since that trip home to visit, I've just been...well...off.

The revelation was truly something of value to me.  It helped me understand why I was in a funky place.  But rather than realizing and regaining my momentum in Him, I chose to continue focusing on my unsteady scales.

Bless Him for letting me go on and on about it for a while before hammering His message home.

I had just finished telling my husband about my discovery this weekend - and to be truthful, I was almost sick of talking about it and thinking it myself.  But I wanted to include him in this thought train so as to give him a better understanding of my heart.  No sooner had I shared then we went to Mass.  The Gospel reading was from Luke.  It read:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
'I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.'"

(emphasis mine)

Drew and I just looked at each other, him smiling and me with my mouth agape. 
Thunder
Got it, Lord.

God didn't send His only Son to earth to make sure I was put in a comfy family with only our members at its center. 
I would never, ever have need of Him if this were the case. 
No, He sent His Son to set my heart on fire. 
He wants it to be ablaze for His glory, not my comfort. 
He wants me to rely, not on my family, but only on Him. 
For everything. 
For every moment of grace. 
For my peace of heart. 
To give me inner balance and be my equilibrium.

 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

If It's Good Enough for Abraham...

It is said that the smallest action brings about an infinite number of re-actions. 

Prompted by one of the Scripture readings from this past Sunday, I wondered, "What if Abraham had not faith?" 
Every single thing as we know it today might be utterly and completely different.  So based on that Q&A, I asked myself the ultimate tough question...

"If Abraham could hang on to his faith through travel in the desert
for what must have seemed like a million years -
for all of the promises God told him he and his descendants would receive -
despite the one unanswered plea he made to God over and over and over...
the plea for a child...
until he was 100 years old -
and so, by his patiently awaiting the son Sarah bore him, abundantly bless his generations and generations of descendants....
it begs the question.

"What will my generations and generations of descendants miss out on if I'm too impatient to wait for God's richest blessings, sure to be rained on me?"

I'm not 100...I'm only 44. 
What waiting can I not endure?
I'm just sayin'.



Postscript the following morning after writing this: 
My daily devotional entry for August 14th, entitled "Keep Trusting," began with Deuteronomy 29:29. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our grandchildren forever, that we may follow all of the words of this law."  Wow. Yep.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Miserable, Vomitous Mass

I don't know of anyone who enjoys the stomach flu.
It's awful.
I hate it so much that my reaction is generally the same each time.
I either pray to be immediately healed or pray for imminent death.
Depending on how many hours I'm in, I really don't care which prayer is answered. 
Just put me out of my misery!!
(Can you believe I'm talking about vomiting in this post?)
 
In the same way, I've always hated when my kids have gotten sick.
It's different, this feeling. 
It's helpless. 
I know the virus has to run it's course, so there's not much I can do except try to make them comfortable between wastebasket deposits.

But here's the thing I've encountered with my boy and the flu.
Ever since I can remember, whenever Braden has been sick with a stomach bug, he says "thank you" for my care after he throws up.
"Thank you."
What?!?

I'm not kidding.
Like...
Wretch...
Cool washcloth on face and neck...
Then before I can even take the receptacle out of the room...
"Thanks so much, Mom."
Every time!

How does he muster the grace?
I can barely keep from driving off a cliff when I'm sick like that, much less have the presence of mind and heart to say "thank you" to someone for wiping the spittle off of my mouth.

I don't know why I was thinking about this today.
But amidst my thoughts, it struck me.
It's at our times of misery that we need to thank our Heavenly Father.
Thank Him for everything.
Every situation.
Healthy or sick...
Rich or poor...
Successful or stagnant...
Life or death.
(That last one's a tough-y, I grant you.)

When I put myself in His place as "parent" and think about the gratitude Brae is able to muster under the most difficult circumstances, I know it means more
It means more to me than when he says "thank you" for, say,
a bowl of ice cream. 
It means more than when he says "thank you" for a gift I've purchased or a reward I've granted. 
It is in its purest form, this grace. 
He's thanking me for caring. 
He's thanking me for standing beside him when things are rough. 
He's thanking me for not turning and running as I really want to when I can't fix something. 
It's as though he inherently knows how difficult it is to watch my children suffer...that I am sacrificing my own emotional comfort to be there. 
But everyone - especially our precious, dependent children - needs support when they are at their lowest, in their times of human suffering...
So I stay and wipe and comfort and dispose of the sick and the waste.

The lesson strikes in that final realization.

Imagine that if I...
in my very small human way...
in my limited by time and space and earthly feelings way...
in my terminally dense and slow to comprehend way...
if I feel so gratified by Braden's act of grace,
how much more does our Father in Heaven feel gratified by my thanks in the toughest times? 

I can barely fathom. 

Because it must mean more, you know? 
For life is hard and it hurts. 
And He hurts with us. 
But He stays with us, walking beside us - nay, carrying us.
He stays and wipes and comforts and disposes of our sick and our waste...
He stays because everyone - especially His precious, dependent children - needs support when they are at their lowest, in their times of human suffering.

Oh, to channel the grace of a child in my most profound misery.
Oh, to absorb this lesson and remember.
Remember to utter that which means so much more when we are suffering.
Remember to simply say "thank you."



Title credit:  One of my favorite quotes from "The Princess Bride." 
Go rent it!



Friday, August 9, 2013

What's Your Grade?

Do you ever feel as if life is a classroom assignment and you are failing miserably?
I'm not talkin' about just barely making the grade here.
I'm talkin' about a Big Red-Letter "F" with a circle 'round it.
Epic fail.

Today I feel like I'm failing.

When I was a teacher in the classroom, I had different types of students.
Those who exceeded expectations.
Those who squeaked by.
And those, in my professional opinion, who just didn't care.
Didn't wanna.
Didn't try.
So I understood the impetus for giving a letter grade from an educational standpoint.

If a student wanted to advance professionally in their skill set - for my students, this was as a singer and performer - they needed to understand the fundamentals of technique. 
They needed to master their craft so as to bring beauty to an audience or pass on their expertise later in life as an instructor. 
They needed to be ready to share their gift with the world so they could move forward on the next part of their journey.
The assignments I gave were necessary to accomplish that growth. 

One of the life assignments I've been given, I've come to understand, is empathy.
God gave it to me in spades.
He expects me to give it freely...easy!
Moreover, I sense that He wants me to teach it...not as easy.

I learned so much about dealing with folks empathetically from watching one of my best teachers and models...my dad.
I watched the way he was kind.
I watched the way he spoke and made use of his hands.
I watched the way he loved and uplifted.
I've recounted here before my personal favorite empathetic line from him to me:

"Tell me what's troubling you child."

(Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear him say that right now...)
Following that question and my answer would be the most wonderful, inspired, faithful, Spirit-filled lesson. 
Not a lecture. 
A Gift.
A gift of words and understanding.

Anyway, back to my life assignment.
I'm beginning to understand those students who appeared in my classroom as if they didn't care . 
Though they didn't want to do the work - they didn't try - maybe it wasn't apathy. 
Maybe it was pain. 
Or fear. 
Or just maybe it was sheer exhaustion.

Today I'm tired of my assignment.
I'm in need of empathy, so I don't want to give it.
I'm desperate to feel it, so I don't have the energy to teach it.
Just for today (okay, I'm not gonna lie...I'd really like to say "just for the next week"), I'd like God to hand that assignment over to someone else -
then send them my way for good measure.

But that isn't the way it works. 
He gives us our own individual assignments for a reason. 
He doesn't want us to just understand the fundamentals of our skill set.
He wants us to grow in them. 
 He wants us to master our given craft. 
He wants us to bring beauty...
gently pass along knowledge and understanding...
share our gifts with the world so we can move forward to the next part of our journey.
A journey that takes us to where He's waiting joyfully for us.

Oh, Lord, give me the grace to walk away from this Red-Letter "F" today. 
Help me to honor the task you've given me.
I'll try my best to earn an "A."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Grace

There's a funny little habit that I've had ever since I can remember. 
Or at least as long as I could use my voice. 
Or a record turntable for that matter.

When I discover a song that I love - one to either listen or sing to - I play it over and over and over and over until I eek every last bit of enjoyment from it. 
Every bit of lesson. 
Every bit of vocal prowess.
Then I move on to the next. 

I remember my high school go to's...
Anything from the soundtrack of the movie Yentl.
Tainted Love.  (Hey, stop laughing...the choreography on that one was fierce!)
I almost don't want to mention the theme songs to "WKRP in Cincinnati" & "Alice"...I wasn't sure if I was going to survive my family on those, they were so sick of hearing them.

Now before you call me obsessive compulsive or on the autism spectrum (though I am not ashamed to admit that I must have all of my pillows lined up a certain way or I can't relax..or work...or function...uh oh...), please let me suggest that it may be something different.  I think I am just so overwhelmed by how deeply I am moved, I simply cannot stop listening.  The message, the melody are penetrating to the core.  I need to learn all I can.

I do it still today.
My current song?
"Grace" by singer/songwriter Laura Story.
I am blown away by how intensely personal this song has become to me.

As I was loading and reloading the dishwasher this afternoon, I had my iPod in the speaker system and selected this very song.  (Yes, yes, I listened to it four times total.  Mind your own business.)  The first time through, I heard the following lyrics and my breath caught in my throat, I was so undone at how my inner thoughts were mirrored...

"My heart is so proud.
My mind is so unfocused.
I see the things You do through me as great things I have done."
(emphasis mine)

Oh, how often in my past have I taken credit for those things all Him
All His grace
All His goodness
All His problem solving and intelligence and inspiration for others.

And how horrified I am that I ever did so.

I had the most awesome conversation with my friend, Charlie, the other day about my app development.  Charlie is on his way to becoming an expert in programming and writing code.  He knows SO much and was really concerned that I had all of my T's crossed and I's dotted.  His manner and questions, partly of a financially personal nature ("I have a question for you...how are you going to finance this?  You have to think about that."  Love him...), reminded me of myself at 20.  Authoritative...sure...opinionated...probing.
The difference between us?
He had the most purely beautiful intent. 
He wanted to share his knowledge.
He wanted to be helpful.
He wanted to make sure I was going to be okay. 
I loved every minute of our exchange. 

It made me remember how 20 felt to me. 
No doubts. 
No insecurities. 
No disappointments to tell you "you can't." 
Not enough life experience yet to know that things often don't turn out the way you plan them.
 
Yes, Charlie's intent was pure.  I can't say the same for myself at that age.
I remember relishing being the expert.
Knowing everything. (Not!)
Never hesitating to share what I knew and how I was right.
Never hesitating to accept the accolades when I proved to be (rarely) helpful...or gifted...or insightful.

"I see the things You do through me as great things I have done."
Yes, this was how I behaved.
So blind.
So proud of heart.
So unfocused...on Him.

Thankfully, despite these feelings of mortification, "Grace" helps me resolve these feelings...this shame.

"I ask you how many times will You pick me up when I keep on letting You down? 
And each time I will fall short of Your glory, how far will forgiveness abound?
And You answer, 'My child, I love you.  And as long as you're seeking My face, you'll walk in the power of My daily sufficient grace."

Daily sufficient grace?
Daily saving grace.
Daily abundant grace.
Lord, thank You for helping me at 44 (and 45 & 46 & 47 &...) become a reflection of You, in gratitude for all You do through me
Thank You for the reminder that it is never me with all of the answers.
Thank You for focusing my mind on You.
Thank You for taking away every last bit of pride. 
Thank You for Your daily - and bountiful - Grace.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lessons from the Homeland

Did you ever have an experience that was so special, so dear that you couldn't share it? 
You knew no matter what you said, there was absolutely no way to quantify the space it had taken up in your heart? 
You feared that if you imparted it in a manner less profound, it would mean that it never really happened, that it was merely a beautiful but fragile dream?

My trip to Ireland was just that for me.



I've not written much about those two weeks in February simply because they are embedded so deep, indelibly printed on my Irish soul, that there are no words.

You see, I've always called myself Italian.  Which I am.  But I'm not.
I was raised with my Italian side of the family.
There I identified with the food and the passion and the loud...
the drama and the bounty and the pride...
The love for family, food and faith.
Did I mention the food?!?

But when I disembarked from the plane in Belfast and stepped over the threshold of the first house where I was to stay, I caught my breath.
I knew I had come home.
For two weeks, I felt as though I was talking to hundreds of Daddy's, so achingly familiar they were.
I knew these people.
And they knew me.

I arose one morning last week, still feeling a bit off balance.  I opened all of the window coverings to let the light in on me.  There I spied the little Irish Blessings book that I purchased on my trip.  I opened it and the experience came back to me in a rush of joy.  I knew it was time to write, to share.  So, for you today, a little taste of The Emerald Isle through the eyes of the poets.


The Irish people are proud and the land is beautiful...

"Ireland, it's the one place on Earth
That Heaven has kissed
With melody, mirth
And meadow and mist."



Irish friendships are lasting and true...

"May you always have these blessings...
A soft breeze when summer comes,
A warm fireside in the winter,
And always the warm, soft smile of a friend."

"May your right hand always be stretched out
in friendship and never in want."

"May your home always be too small
to hold all of your friends."

The Irish people are practical...

"May the good Lord take a liking to you...
but not too soon!"

Hopeful...

"May the blessings of each day
Be the blessings you need most."

Hilarious...

"May those who love us, love us.
And those who don't love us, May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limping!"


But above all, I found in my journey, the Irish people are faithful.  They may be of different faiths (and adamant that their faith is the blessed one!), but before almost anything they say or do, there is a deep and abiding sense of Him...

(from St. Patrick's Breastplate)

"Christ be with me.
Christ be within me.
Christ behind me, Christ before me.
Christ beside me, Christ to win me.
Christ to comfort me, Christ above me.
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger.
Christ in hearts of all that love me.
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
- St. Patrick, 5th century Irish cleric
 
 
 
 
Oh, Ireland, of the shades of green. 
Ireland of the robust people. 
Ireland of the sea and lakes, hills and vales. 
Ireland of His people.
Ireland of the home and hearth.
Ireland...the home within my heart.