Tag Archives: saints

A Very Valentine-y Thankful Tuesday

It’s Valentines Day! If you are reading this in the morning, I am probably in my smiliest morning mood, the one I reserve only for special days. August and I will be popping open the can of cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Then we’ll move quick from them into a mid-morning mixing and baking of “pink velvet” cupcakes (box-mix courtesy of World Market). Ahhh, the sugar intake of Valentines Day!

I love Valentines Day for its heartfelt kid-ness. I love handmade valentines. I love candy and cookies. I love little children and stickers and the sweetness of making a Valentine for someone because they’re your friend. I also think that once Valentines Day becomes about kissy kissy relationships circa 7th grade, it loses all its earnestness. Though I think there are plenty of other days to celebrate your significant other, I’m not a total Valentine grump. I did buy my husband a present. It’s just that his present happens to be a $10 variety pack of old fashioned root beers (which I will share with him the next time we eat a burger…) And, we will celebrate tonight. He will cook me my favorite pasta…the one he used to make me when we were dating and he hardly knew how to make anything else. We’ll watch Breaking Dawn because I haven’t seen it yet and because his watching it with me is the greatest romantic gesture he could possibly make. But, mostly, today the boys and I will celebrate Love with lots of sugar and construction paper, just as St. Valentine always intended his day to be celebrated.

In that spirit, I have a full list of Thankfuls for today. This past week was emotional and good and hard and rich. I’m grateful for…

  • My grandfather’s miraculous recovery from his broken hip last week, his being released from the hospital into rehab. A conversation with Meemaw on the phone and being reminded of her deep love for him, getting to see a bit more of her heart and her commitment to him.
  • Being able to give my 90-year-old grandma (the other one!) some much needed snuggle time with Brooksie this past weekend. (We drove to Dallas Friday afternoon and came back late Saturday night for a day-long visit.)
  • My sister-in-law and my mother were almost in a terrible, terrible car accident  this past weekend. It’s a miracle that they weren’t hurt. It’s a miracle that, despite my sister-in-law’s car skidding across several lanes of traffic and refusing to start (in the middle of two interstate lanes), they were safe and surrounded on all sides by the cushion of grace. In a week that was overwhelming for my family in several ways, it’s a gift to have such a tangible reminder of God’s good care.
  • Brunching (can that be a verb? a super snobby verb?) with a table full of friends from college on Saturday while I was in Dallas. I love how after all these years of wishing I could be close enough to actually see my Texas friends, I am. It’s such a joy.
  • Speaking of Texas, look at this baby and the Texas flag in my husband’s office. Had you shown me this picture a year ago, I would never have believed it was possible.
  • Being stuck in traffic with Melissa, one of my college roomies, for an hour and a half and getting way more time than I planned for to talk to her alone.
  • Jesus’ promise that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, not only for ourselves but for the people we love who suffer physically or emotionally. Easy and light. There is so much rest in “easy and light,” isn’t there?
  • Brooksie’s new favorite word, ball. “Bah bah bah bah bah,” he sings while he crawls around in search of one.
  • Sunday morning pancakes
  • August’s little book about St. Valentine, who risked his life to perform weddings when marriage was forbidden by Claudius the Cruel. Did you know that?
  • Chuck E. Cheese with friends Sunday night.
  • Finding August asleep in his room with a Thomas the Tank Engine Valentine book on his face
  • My friend Trisha’s handmade Valentine she gave me yesterday (I put it on my fridge)
  • Talking about poetry at Writing Group Monday night
  • My friend Andrea’s new book will be released this week! (More to come…)
  • And, of course, a warm cat in my lap while I type

It’s a very Valentine-y Thankful Tuesday. List your thankfuls, people!

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To my Mary icon, in preparation for Advent

Theotokos of Vladimir

Mary, you’re always sad, looking at me from the corner of my desk, your son with his arms wrapped around your neck, his fingers spread and grasping your skin, his face pressed up to your cheek.

You are always sad and he is always concerned. Look how he hugs you, one tiny pre-Renaissance-little-man-hand caressing your chest. His eyes lifted toward yours, as if he knows. (Of course he knows, you say.)

You, in your robe of black, marked by two flowers, one over your heart, one over your mind and then this gold ribbon along the edge: it flows from your head covering, down along your chest and weaves itself into the robe of your child. He is dressed in gold. (Of course he is, you say.)

You, with your long pointed nose, pursed lips. That face. That face! So full of everything, eyes dark and searching me out. What do you have to say to me? Mary, I want you to smile sometimes. Your son needs to quit worrying about you and play. And you need to find something to laugh about.

Your eyes on mine, that shared fabric from your robe into his. There are moments when I know why you’re stuck there in that eternal pose: your child’s embrace, your ache that runs from face through body. Of course you have something to say to me. Your hand raised and open beside his body, offering him up. Offering him to me.

So say it now, friend. Say what it means to wait, what it is to be filled up, what it is to resolve to hold heaven in your womb. Tell me about the kind of earnestness that a girl like you holds when she says yes to this: holy pregnancy, loss, the miracles and the longing for normal, the promise of eternity and the fear of eternity.

Tell me what I need to hear today: My boys are not built of God-stuff. They are not holding my face in hopes of my finding peace. They are playing and crying and demanding food. But so was yours, wasn’t he? In every other moment but this one, he was child and you were mother. Except here, your eyes on me, his eyes on you—that cord of gold wrapping around you and weaving your lives into mystery. You want to say something to me about what it means to hold such glory.

So, say it, sweet friend. Look in my eyes and say it.

Linking up with the Extraordinary Ordinary today. Just writing…

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All Saints Day


"A Gathering of Spirits" by Jan Richardson

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We ride in the car to our new church, a people we’re still working our way into and around. We’re new to them, them to us.

Last week my husband worshiped with our former church in San Francisco. Only months ago they were ours. We walked there, down city streets, with a boy in a stroller and a baby strapped to my chest.

This week we drive the miles to the center of our new town, where the college students walk from laundromat to sports bar, the lights of the outdoor TV screen flashing pre-game ritual. We worship in the Women’s Federation building: priests in Anglican robes and us in folding chairs. The juxtaposition feels right.

What I love about the liturgy is the ancient connection. The robes of our leaders, the candles, the cross carried down the aisle high above our heads and past our line of vision. As it passes we turn our bodies toward it. There’s something about the practice of worshipping with more than my song, more than my quiet prayers. Here we lift our hands in worship but also toward those we bless. Here I cross myself when I hear the names of the Trinity, a reminder of the shield God makes for me, from head to heart and across my chest. Christ in me and I in Him.

All Saints Day is for remembering all the saints who have ever called upon the Lord. Not just the fancy, important ones. Not just those who wrote brave words or performed the miraculous, but the unremembered elderly woman who raised three boys, suffered much, and prayed in her home for the high school kids who walked past her door each day. For the child who died too young. For the Southern Baptist pastor we called “Brother” who spoke Jesus from his pulpit while I drew in pencil on my church bulletin.

This morning I hear the words: “Recalling the faithfulness of God in past generations gives us courage and conviction for the generations to come.” That’s what our pastor Cliff says as he speaks about Jacob and his frailty, how somehow, God used him for miraculous things.

“The point of the saints,” Cliff says, “is not to look at their lives and think we need to try harder. That’s anti-gospel. It’s their frailty, how God used them in spite of their weakness…When we celebrate the saints, we celebrate a covenant God who keeps his promises for all people. It’s all grace.”

It’s all grace as we kneel to pray, my bare knees on hard floor, and thank God for the saints who’ve already gone. Those who shaped us, by their lives, their ministries, their words on paper and those we never noticed, who lived just as brightly.

We speak their names. I whisper “Brother Shad,” that man who took my hand to my nose, spread his hand across my back and tilt me, seven-years-old, into the water. That saint who spoke of Jesus with tears in his eyes, who sat in front of me in the car in Chile as we drove past a village, his palm on the window toward the people he loved, his blessing.

“Shad Rue,” I say again, thankful, imagining him among that great cloud of witnesses, a mass of people, all roar as we appear.

We gather the boys from the nursery. In the car August wants his favorite song, one he only learned yesterday running errands with his dad. It’s an old hymn with reworked music. The guitar begins and that little boy’s head bobs to the beat (“I like loud guitars!”). When the chorus comes, he sings out what we remember, about our frailty, about a covenant God, about grace:

His love can never fail

His love can never fail

My soul is satisfied to know to His love can never fail


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Do Not Easily Leave: A Small Reflection for a Friday

“Someone asked [St. Anthony]: ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.’”

 (From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward)  

 

Some wise sayings are easier than others. Or at least they seem that way. You know I love the ancient faithful, those who followed Christ at great cost: the mystics, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the monastic heroes, whose lives have taught us how to be people of prayer and humility.

And so, I’m stuck on the saying above, words that have pricked me and that offer no ease to my modern soul. St. Anothony says: You want to follow God? 1) Don’t let God out of your line of vision, 2) always live in light of the scripture, and 3) Stop moving everywhere, Micha! Seriously, pick a place and live there.

I can’t stop coming back to the idea of stability around here. The Benedictines commit to stability for life. And then I sit around reading books about them while moving myself and my family all over the country every two years. Something about my “love” for the ancients doesn’t add up. I’m reading about the Desert Fathers (St. Anthony in particular) in Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart right now.  St. Anthony did leave the place in which he lived. But he left it once and spent the rest of his life in the desert, making a calling out of solitude.

Part of me wants to laugh when I read about solitude or stability or even reflective prayer. How am I supposed to seek solitude when I have a baby my body feeds every three hours, who can’t sleep without my touch? How am I supposed to pray in paragraphs when all the time my 3-year-old allows is one sentence brain spurts?

And how am I supposed to “please God” (according to St. Anthony, of course) when I have left the places I’ve lived over and over and over?

I began this blog because I feared I was losing my spiritual earnestness due to the tangible needs of motherhood. I had some inner nudge that there is a deep answer to motherhood found in monastic life—that underneath the constant emotional and physical demands of raising babies, there is room for the sort of faith of the monks. I have this kernel of belief that if I keep holding my mother-calling up to God my time is going to be redeemed, my depth is going to be expanded, my soul is going to ease out of the scrunched wad it often feels like it’s in.

St. Anthony says: “Don’t easily leave it,” these places we’ve lived. He also says, “always have God before your eyes.” Neither is easy.

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Theotokos of the Sign

When Pastor Beverly joined the clergy at our church in the Philadelphia suburbs, I happened to work down the hallway from her, in a donated office for Young Life. One afternoon, soon after she had arrived at our church, I was in the office preparing myself for a serious and difficult phone call with an angry father. I walked down the hallway in hopes of finding someone who’d pray for me (I was already near tears and hadn’t even made the call yet). Beverly was in her office. I hardly knew her, but we sat together as she prayed. Her prayer was full of silence and kindness. She didn’t use many words, but simply sitting with her was enough to bring me into God’s presence. After than encounter with her I kept thinking that I wanted to learn to pray as reverently and quietly as she.

When I approached her about teaching me “contemplative prayer,” she brought up icons. Although I had a vague knowledge of the existence of icons, they meant little me, other than my assumption that they were the Christian version of idols. Up for the chance to be proven wrong, I agreed. Thankfully, we began with a book by Henri Nouwen, whom I already trusted. Surely he wouldn’t lie to me about icons, right?

What Nouwen and Pastor Beverly taught me was that I’d never before used vision as a form of worship. My eyes are constantly being stimulated in my culture, but rarely did my eyes draw me into prayer. In fact, prayer was almost completely one-dimensional for me. It lacked anything physical or sensory. What would it mean for me to begin to use my senses as a means for encountering God?

Beverly and I began to practice a meditative process in which we spent fifteen or twenty minutes looking at an icon and asking God to speak some truth to us through it, usually taking time to journal and discuss it together. It always led me into such rich conversations with God about realities in my life I would never have noticed otherwise.

Three years ago, at a point when Chris and I had decided we were ready to try to have a child, we took a vacation to Paris, where I made sure we visited the local Greek Orthodox Church. At that point a few icons were so precious to me that I longed to see them painted on the walls and ceiling of a place of worship.

Though I expected the icons surrounding the altar, I had no knowledge of the Theotokos of the Sign, the icon I discovered of the Madonna painted directly above us in the ceiling. This was not Mary holding a creepy looking adult faced baby Jesus. This was Christ displayed in Mary’s womb. Her hands were open in worship, and her child sat inside her baby bump, ruling the cosmos.

I loved it. I loved the non scientific vision of Jesus fully robed in his mother’s (awkwardly high-placed) uterus. I loved the glory with which Mary’s pregnancy is on full display. And mostly I loved Mary’s surrendered hands, palms up, willing to participate in this beautiful and tragic  journey of raising the Messiah.

I bought a little version of that icon. It has sat next to my mirror since, through my first pregnancy, through these two years of child rearing, and now into my second pregnancy.

Sometimes I think about Mary’s morning sickness, and imagine her palms raised in surrender before her chamber pot. Sometimes, I imagine her fears: how she was just a girl with no clue how to raise a child, especially the most significant man to ever walk this earth. And I imagine how important the prayers of her pregnancy must have been, in the midst of ridicule, solitude, fear and anxiety, to hold that God-child inside her womb and offer her hands, open, to her Lord. To say, “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38).

In the moments when I don’t believe I can go through this whole thing again: the pregnancy, the aches, the exhaustion, the delivery, I remember Mary. I remember that in the physicality of my surrender, in my moments bowed to the toilet, I’m making holy vows to God on behalf of this child. I just have to remember to raise my palms.

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Hey there, St. Patrick

I’m not Irish. My step mother-in-law is and that could possibly count for something. Otherwise, St. Patrick’s Day has never meant a ton to me, besides my memories of how hard it was to go to gymnastics class on St. Patrick’s Day never having any leotards with green in them. An entire leotard wardrobe with no green? It was so unfair.

That is why I’ve spent today doing a little research into our man of the day, Patrick. In my hours of research (Just Wikipedia. And, ok, maybe it was more like 20 minutes of research. But come on, that’s still a commitment.), I’ve been challenged by the life and faithfulness of this saint who annually gets lost in a festival of green beer.

There are not a lot of legit, historical accounts of his life. Two of his letters remain but most of what’s written about him does not necessarily constitute scholarly historical recording. A lot our knowledge of his life is based on apocryphal tales. But we do know this: Patrick was a faithful man who suffered under the hands of the very people he later went on to rescue in the name of Christ.

He was born in the late 4th century as the son of a deacon in Roman Britain. He was captured at the age of 16 and taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for the next six years until he heard God’s voice telling him he should flee his master, which he did. Patrick was able to return to his homeland in his early twenties. And within a few years he experienced another vision. In it, a man came to him, carrying letters. On one of the letters was the heading, “The Voice of the Irish.” And as he read the letter, Patrick imagined the very people he had known in Ireland, those who had enslaved him, calling out together: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” (Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age, Liam De Paor, 1993.)

The dates are vague, but it appears that the Pope ordained and sent Patrick as the first Bishop of Ireland in 431. That means he waited twenty or so years after seeing the vision of the Irish people calling to him before he ever stepped foot back in Ireland. I love that. I love that Patrick waited a long time—about the length of time it takes to raise a child—before God provided a way for him to fulfill what must have felt like a very specific calling.

I often feel that daily life at home with my son is not putting to use the gifts God has given me. Giving up full time youth ministry has broken my heart in a lot of ways. I love being with high school girls. I can’t walk past the middle school on the way from my house to Trader Joe’s without my blood pressure amping up and my heart feeling the urge to pray. My favorite way to spend an afternoon is watching a high school field hockey game in the sunshine and taking a girl out for water ice. I know I am uniquely gifted for ministry to teenagers and that makes it all the more difficult to be in this season when, for many reasons, I cannot give my life away to kids.

But, I do believe in seasons. And I do believe in calling. And I believe that Patrick heard those voices saying, “walk among us,” and still had to live for another twenty years—studying, learning, praying—until God’s timing was spot on.

And it was then, when Patrick and his former captors were ready, that a grown man came back to the land where he had been a frightened boy and preached (in words and life) a gospel of forgiveness and redemption, and brought Christ into an entire culture of people.

So, wherever we are in our seasons of life, however our talents are or aren’t being used, I hope that today, with every green shirt you see and goofball pinch, you are  reminded that God is always going ahead of us and there are always voices (whether they are our children’s or strangers’) begging us to “come and walk” among them.

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