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

holy week

This was one of those weeks here.

One of those weeks where the parent of a teenager dies, and my daughter helps to hold that friend up, while grieving and tears and sadness swirl around them all.

It’s happened before.

The first time, the father of one of her friends was killed in a car accident. A couple of weeks later, a guy lost his mother to brain cancer. Another time, a girl in her class watched her kid sister die of brain cancer. A few weeks ago, a young man whose father committed suicide a few years back decided to take his own life. This week, the dad died of a heart attack.

These are the times when people ask God, “Why? Why is this happening?” And these are the times when, sometimes, God’s answer is so unclear.

Why do we suffer? Why do kids who haven’t even graduated from high school lose their parents? Why do these tragedies happen?

From my perspective, as I watch these teenagers go through some of the most difficult moments that they will face in their lives, I have become profoundly aware that these experiences are changing them.

The night of the viewing, a close-knit group of Katie’s friends stood in line for over two hours. As adults, we all know how this can be. People talking in hushed tones around us. As we get closer to the casket, the raw emotion of the family who has lost someone. The awkwardness of not knowing what to say, even though we have all been on the receiving end before.

The day of the funeral, my daughter waited for the mass to start in a pew next to the girl whose father died in a car accident. I’m sure that thoughts of that funeral 12 months ago were forefront in their minds. When the opening song began to play, it was the same song they had heard a year ago, “Be Not Afraid.”

These are moments that change us. These are moments that, like it or not, make us holy men and women. Or teenagers, as is the case for my daughter, many times over, these past couple of years.

These are moments where our faith can be strengthened or lost. Our understanding of suffering can be profound. Our human bonds are transformed. Our commitment to those relationships that have changed because of death are magnified. Our hope in resurrection can be questioned, and then, in the end, sustained.

And though we may not ever truly understand why, in our deepest souls. we come to know, through these holy experiences, that God is good.

This Holy Week, I pray for all those touched by deaths that don’t seem to make any sense. That the grieving in our midst know God’s grace. And that they hope in the resurrection that is to come.

I invite you to do the same.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses,

that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults,

hardships, persecutions, and calamities;

for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

saints

Not long ago, I heard a priest begin his homily with a query: What is the one thing that all saints have in common? The dramatic pause after he posed the question allowed all of us in the pews to consider possible answers. Responses that came to my mind? Holiness, humility, grace, service…

It turns out that my answers were not what he was looking for.

His answer, and the point of the homily, was that all saints are dead. In other words, canonization (which only occurs after death) is the only thing that makes a person a saint. The preacher went on to point out that we’re all sinners – a product of the human condition – and it’s not until after death that we can truly become saints.

I beg to differ. Though his point is well taken (and, I must admit, probably theologically correct), I believe that in our response to the call to holiness, we are continually being invited to choose a path to sainthood. This choice can only be made by the living, as a conscious response to God’s invitation to live a life of grace. Those who are canonized in death got there by living a life of holiness, humility, love, grace, and gratitude. True, they may have been great sinners in life. Yet at some point, whether knocked off a horse or called to conversion on their deathbed, these saints made a choice that only a living, breathing human being could make.

I believe that in our call to be holy in life, being conscious of examples of living saints can help us along the way. People who love, and love well, are the saints I have known. For me, when I think about those living saints I have known who have died, my mind’s eye inevitably focuses on their hands. Hands that showed years of service to family, work, or community. Hands that put a little girls hair into pigtails a thousand times over. Hands that held the steering wheel on the way to church. My dad’s hands were calloused, yet somehow gentle and soft. His mother had beautiful, long fingers with red painted nails.

Today, I give honor to a woman whose love for each individual she came in contact with was a shining example of holiness, humility, grace, and service. My
Grandma Engle. I think about gram’s hands… well-worn and wrinkled. In my minds eye I see her puttering around her kitchen, putting on a pot of coffee for whomever had just walked through the front door. She loved with her hands and with her entire heart. She loved and truly accepted every person she knew. She loved the outcast and the sinner in each one of us. She made a choice to love and continued to live out that choice throughout her life. In all likelihood, she will never be canonized, and yet she is one of the saints I have known.

Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy.

Today, cooperate with the Spirit who makes you holy. Think about your saints – the ones you know. Make the choice.

living witnesses

Joyce Rupp is one of my favorite spiritual authors; several of her books line my shelves. In her book Out of the Ordinary, she writes beautiful reflections about the seasons, from spring and summer to Advent and Lent. One exercise spoke to me this past November: A Personal Ritual for All Saints Day.

Sister Joyce describes it like this:

-Have near you a small container, such as a cup, bowl, basket, or small box, and at least 30 small pieces of paper. An index card cut into fours is a good size.

-Ask for divine guidance as you ponder saints who have drawn you to deeper faith, to a closer union with God. These might be people you have known personally, through scripture or history; they might be spiritual and theological authors, poets, or singers – anyone who has inspired you and stirred your desire to be faithful to the Christ-like goodness within you.

-As persons and names come to mind, take the small pieces of paper and write a name on each one. Place these names in the container.

-Keep the container of names any place where you will see them. Each day of November draw out one name. Remember the person whom the name signifies. Ask yourself: what does this person’s life teach me about the goodness of God and about how to live my life well? Write this quality on the back of the paper. After you have recognized this quality, place the name alongside the container.

-Each day, try to live the quality of the saint whose name and life you pondered.

This was such a fruitful exercise, one that surprised me in many ways. Names of canonized saints made my list, like St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St John the Evangelist, St Paul. One surprise, though, was that the majority of my saints are people I’ve known (or still know) who have touched my life in profound ways. Like my mom. Or particular people who have been instruments of conversion for me. Or people who have been important in my life, who have died, like my dad, my Grandma Engle and Bill’s Grandma Rosie. Or individual, living witnesses with whom I interact regularly.

In doing this exercise, I found that the majority of my saints have, in some way, breathed the same air and walked the same path as me. There is much to be mined from this for me. I look forward to exploring this here.