trust

My daughter is going into the peace corps. I find this so hard to believe. Wasn’t it only yesterday that my mom and I were painting the cow-jumping-over-the-moon nursery? (It was the perfect decor, since we didn’t know whether our little offspring was going to be a boy or a girl.) Wasn’t it only yesterday that we loaded our tiny newborn into her brand new baby carrier car seat and took her up Mount Battie in Camden, Maine on her ‘First Outing”? (She was barely a week old.) It might have been that, combined with our ‘First Plane Ride’ two weeks later, that instilled in her the wanderlust that drives her to this day. (We moved to Kansas soon after she was born.)

She leaves for Kosovo on June 6. And while I have known, ever since she applied, that this could actually happen, when we got the news that she had received her official invitation, reality began to set in. In all honesty, I secretly hoped that she wouldn’t make it through the very competitive selection process. But as time tends to do, the grief over the thought of having my daughter so far away from me for so long has waned, somewhat. The roller coaster of emotions that go along with this separation will carry me for the next two-and-a-half years, to be sure. And yet, when I sit with all of these realities in prayer, I know God’s grace.

My mind tells me, she’s going so far away… And God responds, she’s an adult, now.
My minds says, it’s so dangerous… And God responds, I’ll watch over her.
My mind tells me, she won’t have a car, or a mall, or her comfy bedroom… And God whispers, she doesn’t NEED any of those things.
My mind tells me, she NEEDS my love and guidance… And God chuckles a bit. Because God is love, and God is in every face she will see every day during this amazing adventure on which she is about to embark.

It’s funny, this parenting thing. We try to love them with all our hearts, we guide them, we protect them. We say “no” perhaps a few too many times. Or maybe not enough? And we pray. A lot. We do all of these parenting things imperfectly, at best. And somehow, with God’s grace and with Holy Mystery, they become a person who wants to serve others. I’ve thought about this so many times in the past few months. Where did this desire in her soul come from? I’m not entirely sure that I had anything to do with it. But I delight in it, I believe in it, and I am overflowing with gratitude for it.

Today, I pray for complete trust in God’s plan, that plan that is Holy Mystery.

I invite you to do the same.

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
-Matthew 19:21

sustenance

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Lately, as I’ve been walking on the trail near our house, under the guise of exercising the dog, I’ve noticed the dry leaves. The ones that have been “released” from their service to the tree. I’ve watched them fall from the canopy while I walk, I’ve listened to the crunch of the leaves under my feet as I plod forward. Amused, I’ve enjoyed the times that Jasper thinks that the animated leaves, caught on a breeze, are little animals to be hunted and tracked, only to find that, when he finally catches up to one, it is just a dry leaf.

Jasper doesn’t seem to mind. Once he realizes that it is just a dry leaf, he moves on, his nose directing him onward to the next thing. He continues to trot along, his head to the wind, waiting for the next scent, or leaf, that will catch his attention and lead him to something new.

Just a dry leaf. And yet, just a few weeks ago, that leaf was working very hard to sustain the tree. To help to feed it before the cold winter ahead. To stretch itself out to the sunlight, providing the tree with needed growth and life.

At times, I think we can all feel like one of those dry leaves. Our energy spent. Our hope lost. We’ve given all that we can, and we can only hope that our efforts to sustain have provided growth and energy for the times to come.

I think it can feel that way when we send our children off to college. I’ve been contemplating this since I’m now living with an empty nest. And yet, changes in my life of late have given me so much hope. I’ve started painting. I’m finding time to enjoy the changing seasons and the spectacular autumn colors. The empty nest is agreeing with me.

Now that our kids are both off at college, I’ve been able to enjoy a bit of freedom. I’ve allowed the winds to carry me, just a little bit more than I’ve been able to before. Like Jasper, I’m looking to the next thing. Today, I reflect on how much of my energy has been focused on sustaining our children. Until now, I’ve expressed sympathy and love when they’ve been bruised and battered by forces outside themselves. I’ve held them tenderly when they feel as if they are hanging by a thread. I’ve watched them stretch and grow and begin to sustain themselves, as if they have put down roots and are now creating the seedling of life in their own world.

My love and support of my kids is still very necessary. It will continue forever. As I watch them stretch and grow, reaching for the sunlight, I realize that I am so proud of these young adults. Each day is a new opportunity for growth, for a toddler, or a teenager, or a college student, or an empty nester, or a grandparent, or an elder. Each time I am aware of this, through the grace of God, I am astounded, and grateful, and aware of being fully alive.

Today, I give thanks for the spectacular autumn that I am experiencing. May I continue to sustain and to let go. May I continue to appreciate and to live fully.

I invite you to do the same.

All good giving and every perfect gift comes from above.

-James 1:17

gentle prophets

A few months ago, on a silent directed retreat, I spoke to my assigned spiritual director about something I’ve only shared with a few people: my personal call from God to be a “gentle prophet” in this world.

The director tried to talk me out of this. She tried to tell me that prophets are never gentle, and that if I wanted to embrace this call of mine, I’d have to drop the “gentle” part of it. Prophets, she said, are people like Jeremiah, hated by those to whom they preach and despised for their message.

At the time, I nodded my head in agreement. Surely, someone who had been directing retreats and retreatants for so many years must know a lot more about prophets than me. And yet, her words have stuck with me, challenged me, made me think. And I’ve come to this conclusion. In my heart of hearts I know that she was incorrect. Gentle prophets can, and do, exist, and must continue to do so in this modern world.

This morning, I ran across a wonderful piece by Ron Rolheiser about this very thing. Rolheiser wrote about my kind of prophet back in 1995. You can read his article here:

http://www.ronrolheiser.com/columnarchive/?id=1062

As I sit here this morning considering all that Rolheiser says, I begin to see this gentle “prophet-ness” as a sort of bridge. The only constant in most of our lives is change. We move from place to place. We leave jobs, and find new ones. We get married, have children, and do our best to adapt to their constant change and growth, all the while ourselves constantly changing and growing older. Sometimes, our marriages end. Or we sever ties with people we have loved. Or we suffer deep personal losses that seem to make no sense at all.

As Rolheiser says, the task of the prophet today is “to keep incarnate the wide, all-embracing heart of God, a heart that has many rooms.” To embrace change and continue to love through it. To bridge the hurt and anger and indignation that inevitably comes from living. And to respond with gentleness and compassion.

Today, I pray that my evolving sense of purpose continues to be molded and shaped by God. I pray that providence allows me to live out my purpose with renewed commitment and love. And I pray for each of us to know, in a deeply personal way, God’s all-embracing heart.

I invite you to do the same.

formation

In the early morning, just after dawn, I see them. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of geese. They form lines in the sky, one taking the lead, now another. Maybe, if it were just one, I wouldn’t even notice. It is the formation of many that catch my eye. They are in communion. With the backdrop of the brilliant blue autumn sky, the field of gold, and the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn color in the distance, it occurs to me that I’d love to know how to paint this lovely scene. When I was small, I would watch the geese in the sky, and then I’d take my crayons and draw a perfect V formation of birds on the blue construction paper, the birds always precariously close to the sun with its yellow and orange crayon-lines streaming outward.

It seems the geese are always seeking a perfect place, always on the move. It occurs to me now that the geese can represent much to us humans.

We yearn for a perfect place, whether it is a perfect home life, or perfect job, or perfect partner. The geese do this, too. In the fall, they fly south in an effort to stay warm and happy. In the spring, they come back north to raise their little goslings. My mom tells me stories of the geese that return, year after year, to her property to raise their babies. Apparently, the adult geese lose their feathers when their goslings are young. They only get them back when the goslings are ready to learn to fly. If only we, too, could sometimes focus simply on staying out of danger and learning to fly again.

On a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I stopped to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Its scale and design remind me of St Francis de Sales in my hometown. Four windows form the giant cross above the altar. The walls of the space are decorated with amazing tapestries depicting saints that lived throughout history. What is most striking about them is that their figures face the cross, as if they are standing beside the people in the pews, looking towards the altar. These holy men and women remind us to focus on staying out of danger and on learning how to keep the goal of returning home in focus.

During this month of celebrating our saints, I encourage you to stay focused on the cross. And when you see a formation of geese in the sky, perhaps you will consider the saints in your midst, always focused on their direction, and always there to remind us of our true home.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 2:1-2