Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Into the Waters of My Baptism

One week ago, I stood on the shore of the Pacific Ocean on Cannon Beach, Oregon staring into what felt like the face of God. As the waves caressed my feet, I knew the feel of ruach, the breath of God, encompassing my whole being.

I remember the same feeling as I stood on the shores of Lake Erie at Presque Isle in Pennsylvania. The power of the wind coming off of the water, the feel of the sand beneath my feet washing away as the water rushed forward and returned to its being, staring into the sunset, hearing the words of the Phos Hilaron; God was in that place.

When we were traveling in 2007, as we made our way across Missouri, we stopped at Eminence, Missouri. Near there are the two rivers, Jacks Fork and the Current. It was a fairly low water year and there were pools on the Current. The water was icy cold on that summer day. I walked into the water, thinking I could never dip all the way. But the thing about cold water is that after the initial shock, the skin goes numb. I have never been able to float and I can hold my breath quite a while. As I went into the water, I stood on the floor of the river with the water just over my head. I stared into the water, watching the baby trout as they explored this new thing in their home. I was mesmerized. I felt no need to breathe. I felt a peace that passed any expectation or understanding.

Suddenly, I realized that there was a loud but muffled noise above me. It was Debbie and Tucker shouting at me to come out of the water. I had been under for so long that it frightened them.

That is what the waters of God do to me.

I was baptized when I was ten years old in the First Baptist Church in Lipan, Texas. I had been asking to be baptized since I was about six but was told that, no, I had to wait. I was told that I wasn’t old enough to understand. But I knew that I needed to be baptized. I knew I needed to go into the water. Finally, on the same day that my step-grandfather was baptized, so was I.

It was, of course, a full immersion baptism. I remember the instructions of the preacher telling me how to hold on to his arm, that he would hold my nose as he laid me in the waters, and that he would immediately bring me back up out of the water. Then. Then, I would be Christ’s own forever.

When I first watched the movie, Big Fish, I fell immediately in love with it. While I do have some tales I can tell that might sound like tall ones, it wasn’t the main character’s ability to tell the stories that got to me. It was his need to be in the water, to be a part of the water, to be one with the water. That idea resonated clearly.

This past Sunday, we baptized three people into the body of Christ. Each time I witness a baptism, I feel the water being poured over the head of the new child of God. In the name of the Father. In the name of the Son. In the name of the Holy Spirit. The waters of baptism flow across the head…and sometimes into the eyes…of the baptized. Each is marked with the sign of the cross; marked as a child of God forever. We are one in the Body of Christ.

There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.

That is what the waters mean to me. One Body. I felt that so clearly standing on the edge of the vastness of the ocean. Looking up the difference between ocean and sea, I found a piece of knowledge long ago learned and quickly forgotten: the oceans are in reality one large interconnected body of water. That re-memory heightened my sense of interconnectedness with water. To stand on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and to look into that never-ending greatness, I sensed the world in its first days of creation. There was the sun. There was the dome. There were the great waters that I stared into and the semi-dry land upon which I stood.

What other feeling could I feel but an overwhelming sense of being a part of something so much larger than myself; something so beyond my understanding; something so omnipotent. Thankful. The gratitude for being able to experience this greatness washed over me, baptizing me in a newness that healed yet left me longing for more.   

All praise and thanks to you, most merciful God, for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Solo Dios basta. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The certainty within the Mystery

When I first saw her, I could tell she was near tears. A volunteer had come to tell me that there was a young woman that I needed to see. She was a small woman with a backpack cutting into her shoulders. She looked as though she was carrying the weight of the world.  

As soon as I said hello, her eyes filled with tears. She told me her story. She was homeless, her car was out of gas, and she and her two month old baby had spent the night in the park. She had three more children with her but she was able to find them a place to stay for the night. The problem was that she had nowhere to spend the night and this night, she would have all the children with her. She was frightened.

A major blessing of working at Trinity Food Ministry is having a nurse from Deaconess Faith Community Nurse Ministries ( there. While my resource list is growing, I am often at a loss as to help people when their needs are so far beyond the immediate need of food. I introduced her to our nurse.

This was all just a part of the story. She began working for a man four years ago. He was disabled and needed help around the house. She and her little girl moved in with him. The man had two children of his own that came to live with him after their mother went to prison for drugs. At some point, the relationship between the man and the young woman became romantic and later, she became pregnant.

She left his house with all the children after the man was arrested for hitting her. While she had a place at a domestic violence shelter, she could not take his two children there because she did not have custody of them. As a result, she couldn’t enter into the shelter until she found a place for the two. Their grandmother was coming from Kansas City to pick them up but would not be able to be in St. Louis until the following day. That left her one more night with four children.

After many phone calls, we were able to get her into a motel for the night so that she and the children would be safe. Arrangements were made for her to meet the grandmother and for the shelter to pick her up. I filled a bag with food and other necessities for the evening and she was on her way. As far as we know, all things worked out.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? The Mystery. The Great Unknowing. We do what we think we are supposed to do, to help, to pray, to offer food and drink, then we simply have to rely on the idea that it all was enough. That it was exactly what we were supposed to do. That God heard our prayers.

As a culture, we seek certainty. We want to know that what we do matters. We want to know that if we do good things, good things will follow, that all will be well simply because we think that is the way it should be.

Yet, the only certainty in life is that it will end at some point. We can try to force the issue but all in all, life happens and sometimes it is very messy regardless of how we try to fix it. At some point, all we have is faith.

Faith is a mystery. God is a mystery. It is what it is. Simply. Profoundly. Mystery.

We accept that we have been commanded to help the “least of these”, to feed, to tend, to care for the children of God who are less able to care for themselves.

No car. No phone. No money. The young woman could have turned the two children over to Family Services. But she didn’t. She put herself at risk to make certain they were handed over to a family member rather that slipped into a system where they could disappear under mounds of red tape. She had a faith that she was doing the right thing.

It often feels as though the problems of this world are so large and so numerous that it threatens to overwhelm me. I feel smothered by the need surrounding me. But community pulls me out from under the cloud, fills me with the breath of God so that I can walk up to the next person with God’s smile in my eyes and say, “Hello. How can I help you today?

It is in that common core of community that I find my life. It is in the midst of that community that I know I am called to beckon to others. How do I know that? I don’t know “how”, I only know that I do know. It is that mystery.

It is in that mystery that regardless of where that young woman ended up, I know that along her way, she found a short respite where people cared enough to sit, to pray, to listen, and then to do what could be done. She searched out and found a community that could help her. I trust that it was what was needed at that moment in time.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

It is not a simple thing

Being the parent of a child, even though that child is an adult, has a lot of baggage. The fact that the child was abused psychologically and verbally by a father takes its toll. Further compound that issue with a physically abusive partner, well, hope feels as though it is always at the moment of flying out the window.

The abuse is always about the abuser. The chances are high that the abuser was abused himself. This is true in this case, for both of them.

But the costs of abuse are high. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or being a victim of violence. That violence can be a one time thing. Or it can be something that happened over a period of time, short or long. Violence that happens over a long period of time can manifest itself in Acute Stress Disorder.

Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate. These are not the problem. These are simply a reaction to the problem.

Even with professional help identifying the triggers that cause the panic attacks or nightmares or insomnia or any of the other symptoms of PTSD, the road to recovery is long. Add to that nightmare addiction. The road becomes even more difficult.

What does it say about society…or a parent…who is able to recognize a drug problem before recognizing the source of an anxiety disorder?

What does it say about a mother who is unable to have seen the damage done by an alcoholic father while she could see the damage being done to herself?

What does it say about a mother who could see that something was wrong but couldn’t imagine that her young adult child was being beaten to the point of having broken bones?
What does it say about a mother who was willing to blame the victim when she couldn’t get her life together for her own little boy?

It took me twenty five-plus years to understand the full extent of what damage the term “Goddammit, A!” did to a young teenage girl. It took me that long to understand the full effect of the physical damage done by my child’s partner. She laughed one time when she told me she thought it was a part of her name. It wasn’t funny. It has taken me a little bit longer than that to realize that drugs were not the main problem.

But I have lived with the fear of the drugs and the unpredictable behavior for so long that the first thing I do at a sign that points to the past is to react in fear.  

When a child who has been diagnosed with acute PTSD and has used drugs to self medicate, even though that adult child has been through rehab, counseling, and is involved in a 12 step program and appears to be mending…when something happens, I panic.

It was a simple thing of not having heard from her in a few days. I had not even thought about it until I had a dream about her. Then, the next morning, texting to say “hey, all things ok?” and no response. In the afternoon, calling, the phone went immediately to voicemail. Fear gripped my heart. Worry that here we go again. Prayers to God asking why why why and then please please please.

It goes against my nature to confront my fear with reality. Reality can be even more frightening than my imagination. A simple thing would have been to go to her apartment to see if she was there.

But no. My mind obviously relies on unhealthy speculation of realizing the worst of my fears come true.

Thank God I have a pragmatic spouse who is nothing if not always willing to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it out of the way. We had to go out anyway and before I knew it, we were turning down the street where she lives. My beloved simply asked, “Do you want me to walk up there or do you want to?” Meaning, one of us was going to find out if she was ok or not.

Uncharacteristically, I said I would do it. Meaning, I would face my fear and knock on the door all by my big girl self.

From behind the door, I heard the exclamation, Mom! The door burst open and there she stood, looking well and alive and unencumbered by all things that clouded my mind. She grabbed me up in a big hug and said, “I am so sorry! I know you were worried!” Her phone had been stolen out of her pocket as she stood on the bus.

I was limp with relief. But that too familiar fear had gripped me so tightly that it took its toll and left me with my own form of hangover for a couple of days.

I don’t suppose that I will ever get over the fear. All I can do is muddle through it and watch and wait and offer love. And pray, of course. Because without God, I know I would not have made it through this. Without God, I am sure she would not have made it either.

There are lots of questions in this story that have answers but the main thing is that abuse is cyclical. I think of the disciples asking Jesus when did they not feed him and he answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45) It’s all about paying attention to things outside of our own interior selves regardless of the claw-like grip these may have on us.

My own concern for survival in the past caused me to miss big clues that damage might be done. My own worries about self blinded me to what was happening to a beautiful little girl. My own need to live a life of isolation allowed me to set aside speculation…until the ignorance veil was parted and I was able to see a glimpse into reality. But even then, my concern was misdirected – directed at the effect and not the cause.

Abuse is caused by stressors that the abuser cannot control. Abuse is a learned behavior that sometimes is directed at others; sometimes it is directed at self. Either way, it is dangerous.
I guess the point in mentioning that scripture is that too often we are unwilling to reach out and ask, hey…what’s going on and can I help. We might not get a response at that moment but if we continue to be seen as one who is willing to listen, maybe it can open a door to freedom from whatever is tormenting someone.

We have the choice as to whether or not we are willing to ‘do unto others’. But it seems to me if we want to stop being abusers, stop being abused, stop the abuse then we have to be open to seeing the causes rather than the effects. And that is not very easy. The effects are so blatantly in our faces – addictions, crime, homelessness, violence.

That doesn’t mean we stop offering band aids when there is blood, but the cause of the bleeding has to be found. We do have to begin to see that there is a bigger problem beneath or behind the problems that we can see.

It isn’t just a simple matter of bad people doing bad things. Sometimes very good people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. It is a matter of the ways we find to cope with life. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Rock, A Cross, A Transformation

This Lenten season is the first in a long while where I have actually had the time to spend thinking about Lent, what it means, and what it means to me. It has been a time of reflection and healing.

One thing that helped was to participate in a Guided Month of Prayer. A group of us met on the first day, were assigned our prayer guides, given handouts to help us begin our prayer journey, promised to try to pray for at least 20 minutes per day and then we would meet once each week with the prayer guide.  

Time – what a funny thing it is. Twenty minutes seems like hours; one week flies by as though it has a turbo booster attached. The past four weeks have flown by. Did I pray for 20 minutes each day? Yes…one minute here, another minute there, five minutes in another…yes, I can say I prayed a minimum twenty minutes each day. But did I sit still? Hardly.

Nonetheless, it was a fruitful time simply for the reason that I thought about it. Rather than subconsciously or even randomly, I thought about prayer a lot. Much of the time spent thinking about it was actually trying to think of ways to sit, be still, pray, but it started a pattern, regardless of my success or not. So, this is what this moment now is, actually. It is a time of reflection.

Another tool, for these are tools, is a simple rock. The day after Ash Wednesday, I walked into the Parish Hall where we hold the Pantry and I saw a black river stone sitting on the window ledge. I put it in my pocket thinking that I would put it up somewhere. Here I am, nearing the end of the third week of Lent and the stone is still in my pocket. At some point, I realized that each time I touched it, I thought of God. When I thought of God, I thought, oh, I need to pray. Rather than asking for anything, I just said, Thank you, God, for all my blessings. That little river stone has become a blessing to me.

A healing moment came last week when I met with the bishop of this diocese. He didn’t realize my need for reconciliation, but I did. He was gracious enough to sit with me and listen. I told him of the pain and the angst that the ordination process had caused within me. I told him of the resentment of my screwed up committee, of the priest who ran it, even of his own part as bishop. He told me that he knew it must have been painful but no, he didn’t realize all the other parts. But the idea of my sharing with him, my seeking reconciliation, made it all the sweeter. I walked in there with the idea that maybe he and I would talk about the process and how it might be that I could be ordained. Yet, as I sat there talking with him, I realized that it didn’t really matter. Regardless of how I feel I am called, I am doing what God is calling me to do. I don’t need a collar to be in ministry. I left, knowing that I was going to be just fine.

At my home parish, St. Paul’s Carondelet, we have had a book study and soup supper each Wednesday during Lent. The book is The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser. It, of course, talks about suffering: the suffering of Jesus as he prayed for God to take the cup from him; the suffering as he was beaten, shamed, even brutalized; the suffering as he died on the cross. Yet in the midst of all the suffering, Rolheiser reminds the reader that the Gospel writers do not really delve into the gory details of the suffering. We just know a few things. They did not belabor the finer points. The point, as I understand, is that God is a God of redemption, not rescue. The gory details would be a distraction.

That can be a harsh realization as we struggle with our trials and tribulations. Job loss, insecurity, addiction, disease, death – rescue is much closer to our heart’s desire than redemption, at least in the moment.

My grandmother (and other’s, I am sure) would often say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And that is basically the same point that this book is making. The suffering can harden our hearts and turn us inward. Or it can soften our hearts and make us see that we are but one of many in this world of hurt. We can isolate ourselves in what we think is a self-protecting cocoon or we can live our lives in the midst of community, realizing that we are not alone and that there is great strength and love in that understanding. Basically, the suffering, the vulnerability hold a great power within it. Crumpled in a corner, or under the covers, we do nothing for anyone. Standing in the midst of community with the understanding that God is with us always, just as God was with Jesus always, so our hearts are softened and love radiates from our being. In that love, we conquer fear and hate. What more power could we possibly ask?

One other part of this book that really charged me was the idea of the veil being torn in half as Jesus died. I, like the author, had always entertained the visual that the veil tearing was a bad thing, a sign of the heart-rending sorrow of Jesus’ death. But he offered another thought. In the temple, the veil hid the Holy of Holies, that which only the priests could see. No mere human could see or be behind the veil. When Jesus died, the veil was torn in two. The torn veil revealed the Holy of Holies, the heart of God, Jesus on the cross.

I have worn a cross around my neck for as long as I can remember. I have had my reasons for wearing the cross, like most folks. But it will never be the same. Now, when I put my cross around my neck, I know the heart of God, I see the heart of God, I feel the heart of God beating next to mine.

I told a friend yesterday that there have been so many points of transformation in my life. Sometimes, I wonder how anyone from my past could possibly recognize me. Each transformation has altered my very being. These do not have to be mountain top experiences; these moments can come in a few seconds or seen from a hindsight point of view. Regardless of how small or large, life as we know it changes. I am transformed forever.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


·    I vow to embrace each moment with Not-Knowing, the Practice of Presence and Service as a way of being.
·    I vow to transform suffering and anger into wisdom and compassionate action.
·    I vow to speak from the heart; to listen wholeheartedly; and to seek the wisdom of council.
·    I vow to cultivate respect and dignity in all relationships.
·    I vow to use discernment from a perspective of unity and to nurture a culture of cooperation.
·    I vow to seek what is needed responsibly, to share generously, to work well with what I have, and to take only what is freely given.
·    I vow to promote solidarity and a just economic order.
·    I vow to care for the sacred elements--earth, water, air, and fire; to deeply respect the Net of Creation and its infinite forms of life and energy that co-create our precious earth and universe.

These are the words from a friend that she shared via email from her Zen friend’s priest ordination. These vows should be a daily checklist for me.

In my work, I hear a lot of mommas telling their very active daughters, “Girl, you do too much.” That is what I hear in these vows. “Girl, you do too much; you are too rushed, too busy; too fast; too concerned with little tasks and not understanding the priorities of importance. You need to be still and listen.”

When I get rushed, I forget that it is in the stillness that I remember to listen, to cultivate respect and dignity. That is what happened to me yesterday. I forgot to be still. I am not proud of myself for the way I handled a situation.

It wasn’t a big deal to most of the people around me, but it probably was too one man…and to me. He was acting like a child and I treated him as a child.

I was wrong.

When we think of treating one another as children, we talk down to that person. That is never good.

In the work that I do as manager of a food ministry, there is a fine line between hospitality and condescension, between charity and true caring. If I am too nice, I can be perceived as false. If I am too casual, I can be perceived as uncaring. I don’t want to be fawned over because what I am doing is something that helps people.

What I do, I do because I have been told to do it…by scripture and by God. Feeding people is not the cure for hunger due to poverty but it is what Jesus told us to do – Feed my people.

So, when people tell me thank you, I often say, no, thank you. By their willingness to ask/receive help, they offer me an opportunity to do what I feel I have been told to do. There is a certain reciprocity in that.

Therefore, when I fail to act in that way, regardless of how the man acted, I fail to do what I am supposed to do. He walked away unfed…in body and in spirit. 

To live a life according to these vows would take constant attention, full intention, and willingness. I can fully intend to do something good and be very willing but have my attention distracted by life its own self. However, it is in the intention that I can trust that it is what God would have me do.

Therefore, I vow to try to do these things, intentionally, understanding the vastness of my arrogant endeavor, knowing that in all things I do, I can do nothing without God.

And most of all, I will remember that I fail to feed people when they walk out the door unhappy with me…unfed. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Marked by Love

I’m thinking about Mother’s Day…or Mothers’ Day. So many articles out there this week prior to that day set aside by Hallmark to honor mothers. Living or dead, Facebook is full of poems and prose about how wonderful one mother or another is or was.

Mine is dead. But when she was alive, Mother’s Day belonged to her. It was never mine. She was my mother regardless of whether or not I had children.

In many ways, in fact, Mother’s Day continues to be about my mother regardless of the fact that she is no longer living.

I had a fairly great relationship with my mom…it grew into a mutual admiration relationship as adults built up from love from our lifetime together. I know that there are people who have not, do not have such a relationship with their mother. I am sympathetic to that problem. It is not this day with which I am concerned; rather, it is the relationship. I sorrow for that mother’s loss; for that child’s loss.

At one time, I wanted the day to be about me but since it rarely was about me other than for a few short minutes, after a while, the short minutes of hoopla became kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong…I love being thanked for all the things I have done and will continue to do…for all the unconditional love. It is nice.

And it means something.

However, I just cannot allow it to mean THAT much. Seriously. How can one day make up for a whole year…a lifetime? It cannot.

Am I less of a mother or more of a mother simply because or in spite of one day? Does it mean my children, born or adopted, by birth or by law, love me more because they give me a card or less because they forgot or didn’t have the dollars to do so or the desire or time to make one? Well, I hope not.

There are many women who have made an intentional choice to have no children. There are many women who have intentionally strived to have children to no avail. There are many women who have had children but were unable to raise them for whatever reason. That does not mean that there are no children who consider them important parts of their lives and love them accordingly.

And there are many women (and men) who have taken on the role of mother for a short time…or for a longer one…regardless of having chosen to do so.  

All mothers are not women; all women are not mothers.

Try as much as I would like, I cannot ignore this day. It is still about my mom. She loved me. She told me so on so many occasions. She showed me so in every look, even when it was the “hairy eyeball” look that meant I best change my evil ways. I especially remember the last time she showed me her love. There were no words because she was far passed being able to communicate through speech. But she communicated nonetheless. As she stared at me intently, her eyes told me how much she loved me.

I carry her love with me every day of my life. It is a banner; it is a shield.

I pray that I continue to let her love shine through me, marking me, reminding me of our time together. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

40 days and 40 nights

I owe a large amount of money to a financial institution in Texas who holds all my student loans. These have been in various stages over the past 9 years… deferment, forbearance, and now IBR (income based repayment). I have repaid a meager amount considering.
Recently, I was able to once again put the loans into the IBR mode. All I had to do was to fill out the request form and send that plus my most recent tax return and the low payment would be in place.
The other night, in the middle of the night, I woke up in a state of panic. I remembered seeing an email letting me know that I had a message awaiting me in my EdFinancial inbox. To my dismay, I suddenly had the thought that I didn’t send in the forms! They wouldn’t offer me the repayment option again! The payment was due on March 1! It was a full blown panic attack. The rest of the night was shot as far as sleep was concerned.
The next morning early, I began looking for the paperwork so that I could hurriedly get it in. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, I looked upstairs and found the folder…but the forms I needed were missing.
Suddenly, I remembered…I had mailed in the forms the day after these were requested. The panic slowly receded from my body. Everything was ok.
The point of the retelling of the crazy scene is this:
There is so much drama in my life. Between trying to act as a source of encouragement to several people in my house who have different sources of anxiety plus trying to make certain that all things that need to be done by these people actually get done, there never seems to be enough time for me to do the things I need to do…for ME.
Obviously, that problem is causing me some of my own anxiety…and as I have already noted, I am a fairly anxious person all by myself.
So, in these 40 days and 40 nights, I am exploring that anxiety…which often shows its ugly head as anger. In that I process best when writing, I am not only exploring but trying to find new ways to alleviate the anxiety so that it turns into something positive rather than negative. Right now, I feel very negative.

I don’t know how long this will work, but for the moment, I am focusing on the inward aspects of self with a hope that it will clear a path to better see beyond. For now…we will see where it leads.