Friday, July 30, 2010

Move Along

"And all ya gotta keep is strong...
And even when your hope is gone,
Move along, move along
Just to make it through."
--"Move Along," The All American Rejects

I haven't heard that song in a long time. I used to listen to it a lot when I was in middle school, screaming out the words with my friends on band trips, dancing to it at my grandma's house after school. So when it came on the radio today, it was a blast from the past that instantly brought a smile to my face, and a stronger message that I see clearly now:

Keep moving.

Emotionally, I'm a bit of a "runner." My friends see it when I take to odd periods of solitude, my ex-boyfriend did when things would get especially tricky and I'd just shut down and try to pretend as if nothing was wrong. Even my confessor becomes a victim of it now and then. Sometimes, I avoid him like the plague. Not that any of that has ever done me any good ... sooner or later, my loner ways get the best of me and I end up breaking down. I thrive and am happiest when I surround myself with people that can share the journey with me. So when I push everyone out, it's very foreign.

Between my cat, my grandmother, recent bad luck on the road learning to drive, an issue at work and a particularly painful visit from "Aunt Flo" complete with hot flashes, I've had the week from hell. The other day, I burst into tears at nearly midnight, curled up on the couch while I poured out nearly a year's worth of troubles to my mother.

I am always quick to deny it, but I always end up admitting with sheepishness and humor that she really does know best.

She told me that I am way too worried about my future. In fact, I get myself so wrapped up in the future that instead of enjoying the present, I have been walking around with no appetite, a stomach full of angry knots and a heavy heart. And for what?, she asked me. What good does sitting around and crying about a future that is entirely out of my hands going to accomplish?

"Nothing," I told her in a watery voice.

She's right about me. I have wasted so much time, more than she might ever realize but you folks who read this blog will know well, on concerning myself with things that I have no power over. I have mourned for the ill in my family for months on end, and it's starting to affect me physically now. And for what?

That was such a lightbulb moment for me, and while it's taken me several days to process it, the relief has been palpable.

I spent a lazy morning in bed, my kitty tucked safely behind my knees. Then, I spent the entire afternoon with my Mom-Mom, chatting about school and laughing until our sides hurt. Not a drop of worry in it...and how much happier I've been!

I don't know what the future holds. But Matthew 10 rings out over and over again in my mind: Do not worry about tomorrow. As the Lord provides for the birds of the air who do not reap or sow, He will provide for you.

For me. No matter what. As David says in my favorite psalm, "You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High . . . say to the Lord, 'My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.'" (91:1-2).

WHY do I worry so? It's needless. And in that realization, I can move along in relative peace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Down Day

Let's face it, not every day can be sunshine and rainbows. I am learning to accept that as a part of life. It's sticky, but a worthwhile lesson.

I had the weekend from hell, mostly due to yet another bad day driving, and most recently, my 13-year-old cat has taken a turn for the worse, health wise. This morning, she attacked me.

All at once, the things I cherish most in this life are being ripped away. I've been nauseous and exhausted for days, no doubt caused by my recent anxieties.

But tonight I was reminded of the Gospel where Jesus says to just worry about today. I've been thinking so much about the future lately - life without my grandmother, without my cat, without school and my Newman family. And predictably, it overwhelmed me and I am crumbling.

I can't let that happen. I am called to live in the present moment, and that is still full of fierce purring and Mom-Mom's laughter.

I can be thankful today. And someday, while it won't be anytime soon, I know that life will go on and turn into something a little more like normal. Until then, every day is brand new. The sun will rise in the morning. I'm going for a drive with Dad, then back to work. For now, that is all the future I need.

Please pray for me, and for my family.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Perseverance and Prayer

Sometimes, I think the folks at my parish must think that I've lost my marbles. Then again, I don't think many people know someone who snickers at the Scripture readings during Mass. But really, what they don't realize is why I find it so funny: so often in those pages, the voices and personalities are my own. There's something so relieving in knowing that the Lord put up with people just like me, even back then.

Tonight, it was Abraham in the passage where he pesters God to death (you know what I mean) about the fate of the innocent people living in Sodom and Gomorrah. God says once that they would be spared, but Abraham just isn't satisfied with that answer. Not until he gets it spelled out in a way so specific it borders on paranoia: what if there were only 40 innocents? Thirty-five? On and on he goes.

I must say I experienced a great deal of empathy for him. We both worry so much about God's patience toward us and the people around us. We're constantly questioning if we've done well, or well enough to make it "count."

Our new parochial vicar #2 -- stay tuned, it changes every time I blink these days -- is a phenomenal preacher, and today he talked about two things: persistence, and answered prayer. He hit me below the belt with both. The gist of his homily was fairly simple, but also loaded: most of the time we don't get what we want from God.

It doesn't come the way we wanted, in the package we wanted, on the time frame we wanted or in the circumstances we wanted it to. People pray for peace, sure, but if only one or two people pray, we only receive a little. God wants to give us so many gifts, but what do we ask for? Do we act like we really want salvation, for the coming of the Kingdom, or do we just ask once and give up?

We have to be persistent, and trust that as God puts together even the tiniest pieces in the puzzle, it will cause a ripple effect that will come to blossom in the fullness of time. But ONLY then, not before.

The same goes for prayers that are answered with a "no" or "not yet." God's will for us is perfect love and holiness. If He permits a relationship to fail, maybe it wouldn't have brought that completely. Maybe there is something even better He sees that we don't. Perhaps for me, the personal way to holiness at least right now is in singlehood. If someone is ill and won't recover, God might be bringing that person into a deeper experience of Himself that they would never have found if they remained well. Maybe people die before their time because their job here was done. Only God sees the big picture. With humility and grace, we can pray to receive that wisdom, too. This summer, I think I'm learning to look at my recent experiences with His eyes.

Then, he really hit it home with this one: Say you have family that isn't faithful. And you pray and pray for them to come back to the Church, but no luck. He said to consider our motivation: are we asking because we really want them saved, or because we're afraid of God not loving them? Or are we just tired of their behavior and nag God for Him to make them the people WE want them to be, instead of accepting them where they are, flaws included? Is it really about them, or us?


Sometimes, God holds off on blessing us until we learn some greater lesson. If we have trust and faith in His will, sooner or later, even some of the hardest things in life -- even loss or illness -- will make at least a little more sense. Keep asking. Keep seeking. As the Gospel promises, we will be answered.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Accepting Humanity

Today, I got to spend the day with one of my best friends. While we went to high school together, it wasn't until our graduation day that we actually connected for the first time. She also happens to be a strong Catholic, so naturally having her around has been a breath of fresh air over the last few years.

As we ran around and spent time together today, we also had to stop at some point to go to Mass. We decided on her parish; ironically, it happens to be the one that my mother and her siblings were raised in.

I've not been on the top of my game lately, and to say that is really understating where I have been over the last little while. Thankfully, my prayer life is strong...there have just been some other issues that have been keeping me from fully cooperating with what God was asking of me. Put simply, if you know me, you know what this means: I had to go to Confession before Mass today.

Now this might be a little bit silly to admit, but I was completely thrilled at the prospect of getting to confess some pretty hairy stuff to someone who had never seen me before, and won't see me again so soon that he'll ever remember who I am. Score! And as I walked through the stained glass door that led to the refreshingly sunny confessional, I made a split second decision that ended up having a huge impact on my experience there.

For the first time in my entire life, I went to Confession behind the screen.

...It was really, really nice. It didn't take me long to do my business, but there was something comfortable and reassuring about getting everything out in the open behind a floor to ceiling purple drape. (I wonder if it was purple for penance, or just an interesting decorative decision.) I've always been a little bit hesitant to go behind the screen, thinking it to be a little bit of a cop out. Now, mind you, I mean absolutely no judgment to those that prefer it that way -- in fact, after doing it myself I can definitely see the appeal that it might have. It just ... personally, for me, feels a little bit like hiding and not being brave enough to truly own up to my sins by looking another man in the eye. Hey, I come from a family where testicular fortitude is a necessary and lauded personality trait. ;)

But, I digress. My litany of wince worthy sins now behind me, I exhaled deeply and waited to hear the priest's response. What he said drew an unexpected giggle out of me:

"Well, first of all, welcome to the human race."

Nice. The slight Jersey Italian accent reminded me at once of both my old confessor and my grandfather.

What I got from the good monsignor is the reminder that I've been playing games with God's mercy, and that while He's certainly used to it in all of humanity's failings, it doesn't excuse me. However, that doesn't mean I should act as if I can achieve perfection so early on the journey. He's not looking to see how many times I fall down, the priest said, but how many times I get back up again, and how quickly I endeavor to do so.

There was so much peace in that advice. It seems that I am always waiting for the next time to be the one that crosses the line, the sin that finally tries God's patience in such a grievous way that He refuses to forgive me.

Not true. Not as long as I recover from my stumbling and keep moving forward.

As my own confessor likes to remind me these days, faith and a relationship with God is my choice. He is not going to beg me to follow after Him, and He's not going to bribe me, either. He's just going to call, and wait to see how I respond.

Maybe not every answer of mine is "yes" at this point in my life. I'm working on that. But what I do know is that the number of "no" answers have been decreasing. That's my goal ... progress is everything!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Introducing Audrey Assad!

You are the highway I travel,
As I watched you carve streets of gold from sand and gravel,
I gave You brokenness, You gave me innocence and now
This road leads to glory.

For love of You, I'm a sky on fire,
For love of You, I come alive,
And it's Your Sacred Heart within me beating,
Your voice within me singing out
For love of You...

--"For Love of You," Audrey Assad

Around this time two years ago, I discovered and then later introduced to my bloggers one of the newest bands on the Christian music scene at the time, Tenth Avenue North. I've been a huge fan of them since that day and have been glad to see them go on to win multiple awards for their work. They definitely deserve it!

So today, I want to introduce you all to someone else. I know that just writing about her isn't a good luck charm for her future success, but I definitely want to give her as much recognition as I possibly can.

A few years ago, Audrey Assad left her family's Brethren and non-denominational background in search of a certain richness she found in the work of the early Church Fathers and others. That road happily led her to the fullness of truth in Catholicism, and I am more than convinced that we have gained a real gem in her, not only in musical talent but in faith.

Those of you who are familiar with the music of Matt Maher -- and really, if you've read this blog for more than two seconds you should be -- might recognize Audrey as the backup vocalist for many of his songs. As it turns out, the two of them are good friends. Now, she's been signed to the same record label as both Maher and Tenth Avenue North. Her debut album, "The House You're Building," drops mere hours from now on the 13th. From the previews I've caught, it's a collection of piano and vocal pieces that not only lead you into worship, but give some intimate and heartfelt insight on Audrey's own walk with God. It's sure to be a powerful album, and I expect her to go far in the music industry with it. Please, if you can spare the $10 or so for iTunes, do yourself a huge favor and download it tomorrow. You can also buy the CD on Amazon.

Now, for your listening pleasure, here's a live acoustic performance of the album's first single, "For Love of You." I'd like to note here that she's every bit as good live as she is on the album...a sign of a talented musician, for sure!

I wrote this at 10. It's after midnight now, so get to iTunes!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Learning to Crawl

Yet another life lesson fell into my lap today--or rather, my inbox.

My confessor knows me better than I know myself sometimes. Remember back in April I wrote an entry wondering if my struggles in faith were prolonged by my own fear?

Well, his email was my entry verbatim as we reflected on the good that came from that rough season. I admit that I laughed when I read it. There are only some situations where I am truly an open book to people...and now it is coming back to bite me in ironic ways. Ha.

At the same time, I found myself a little sore that he didn't clue me in sooner. But as I chewed on it, there is something important that I can remember a dear friend saying to me years ago. He's been a Wiccan priest for almost two decades now and back when I was still seeking Him, he was my shoulder.

I can remember lashing out at J for taking a step back and telling me that I needed to work things out on my own for a time. I didn't get it, and was furious with him for well over a year.

But you know, I came out of that experience knowing myself better than I ever had previously. What's funnier is that by then I knew that I needed to go back to the Church. The day I told him, terrified and in tears before my first Confession, he was one of my first supporters. If I recall correctly, he told me it was about time.

Sometimes, the people that care the most about us are the ones who give us a kick in the ass and make us walk on our own rather than coddling.

And once again, while a little older and wiser now, I am still profoundly grateful for the lesson.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Burning and Burying

Over the last week and a half, the Gospel from last weekend has been tugging at me more or less nonstop. Eve though I wrote about it once already, it seems that every time I read it another layer of depth or meaning opens up to me.

First, let me talk about a dream I had last week. I usually dream regularly, but for the most part they’re petty and not anything of particular significance. This time, what happened was striking enough to remember well.

I was in a mansion, dusty and old but still in use. It was reminiscent of a bed and breakfast, cozy yet elaborate in d├ęcor, very comfortable. A lot of people I knew were there, most of them old friends from my high school days whom I no longer keep touch with simply because of time and distance.

I spent some time walking the whole place, taking it all in, noticing the people yet not really interacting with them. In time, I returned to my room and gathered just a few things that have personal significance for me, including my glasses (which, oddly, I wasn’t wearing at tearing at the time), my Bible, a childhood stuffed animal and those in my family that were there. Once we were all outside, I set the place on fire.

…Dramatic, no? Certainly not my style.

It took a few days of mulling it over, but I came to wonder if it had something to do with leaving the past behind and clinging to only those things that were most precious to me. Coupled with how impacted I was by the Gospel and recent events in my personal life, it seemed like a likely reason.

Then, I happened to notice the homily of a priest acquaintance who is also one of my favorite preachers. Father’s homily reflected on those elements of last weekends Gospel that originally caught my attention, but then mentioned something else that was uniquely interesting.

“Let the dead bury the dead.”

This doesn’t have to refer to people either, but really anything in our pasts…sometimes, there are things we just cannot repair despite our best efforts, and the best thing we can do is let it go, accept that we cannot change the past, set our hands to the plow and keep on going.

Recently I realized that I was firmly rooted in the past and trying to do things that I was simply incapable of doing. Now, I realize that. I have decided to leave the people and things of my past behind in order to truly embrace where God is calling me to be today.

As much as it hurt to do that, I realize now that it’s for the best. And I’m confident that God has some amazing things in store for me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Price of Freedom

Yesterday, while we celebrated the 234th birthday a country built on freedom, I found myself given pause to consider my own freedoms.

The freedom of speech has given me the ability to stand for those who are voiceless and marginalized, and against those who would value justice over mercy.

The freedom of religion allows me to dare proclaim healing and peace that comes only through Christ. Though some may ridicule me for it and many may not understand, no one can take away my ability to speak out.

And the freedom of the press is, put simply, the source of my very livelihood. Without it, I would be unable to do my job with the integrity and fairness it deserves, no longer serving the people but the best interests of this government. I would be a panderer, not a truth-seeker.

Most of all, I'm thankful for the ability to free myself from the chains that this life forever tries to bind me to. Anything is possible for God, and with Him there are no limits. That breathes new life into Independence Day.

Listen to Straight No Chaser. They are so beautiful.