Category : Faith

Philip Kromer / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
Faith, Grace, Lent, Life, Passion, Scripture, Spirituality, Suffering
2

How Are You?

Ironically, for as difficult as it is in this time of social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, at least we’re all in it together.

Be reassured: No one knows how to do this. No one knows what they’re doing. We’re all figuring it out together.

In my last two posts, I talked about needing to Reevaluate Lent and my decision to Be Real and Have Hope (with key insights from the story of the Raising of Lazarus). So here’s me being real: I’ve been going through a difficult time and things have been hard.

Here’s Me Being Real

About 9 months ago, I wrote about my son suffering 2nd degree burns. Five weeks later, I wrote one follow-up post. But nothing else because… it was just too much. It was just too hard.

While in the Pediatric ICU, the doctors said 2nd degree burns heal within 2-3 weeks. So, 2-3 weeks is what we mentally geared ourselves up for.

It was actually 3 months of daily wound care and intense restrictions. The most severe 2nd degree burns (“deep partial-thickness”) take longer to heal and leave thick, raised scars, which need another 18 months of care, including wearing compression garments for 23 hours a day. It was a lot. It took a toll on everyone, in every way.

Believe me: I’m not complaining. All you need to do is walk into any floor of Shriner’s Pediatric Burn Hospital to have every possible complaint in your life be put into perspective.

However, this was—and still is—our reality. And quite honestly, it was hard… really, really hard.

How Are You?

When we see people out and about, most of us greet each other with, “Hi! How are you?” Generally, Americans subconsciously intend this to be a surface-level, friendly greeting. Generally, in the aisles of the supermarket, we are not inquiring about the status of a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. It’s not to say that we don’t actually care about each other. It’s just… usually, if we’re genuinely interested and aware that the standard answers of “good,” “fine,” or “alright,” aren’t actually the expected answer, we’ll lean-in and give permission to be truthful with something akin to, “No, really; how are you?”

For a long time, my honest answer wasn’t, “Good!” It wasn’t even, “Fine,” (which my mother considers to be a four-letter word). For a long time, I was struggling. And my personal integrity was taking a hit by answering with anything less than the truth – because things were just so hard. Eventually, I settled on a non-answer, “Hey! Good to see you!” or with a swivel, “Busy! How about you?”

The lenten promise to Be Real was born out of this struggle. For the sake of my sanity and integrity (aka—mental and spiritual health), I eventually decided I would be real with anyone I knew would want to know… whether they were prepared for it or not. I had a lot of conversations that started with me stumbling over expressing the truth: “Good! No. Actually, I’m not good. Things are hard.”

Speaking Truth

When I started “being real” and speaking the truth, I started to open the door to unexpected love and grace.

No. Wait. Actually, a caveat: Not everyone is entitled to know the truth. And frankly, not everyone can handle the truth.

you-cant-handle-the-truth

No joke. Some people are really bad at this.

But more often than not, I found support, love, and compassion. Sometimes I’d lay out my truth with a voice-quivering, “Things are hard.” Then I’d purse my lips and shake my head—tears might fall—and I’d whisper, “Can’t talk about it. Pray. How are you?”

Speaking truth opened the door to community; I wasn’t so alone.

Yes. This is hard.

We are all struggling with this “new normal” (which is hard), for an undetermined amount of time (which is—speaking from experience here—really, really hard).

It’s been a relief to hear more and more people being real and acknowledging that this is hard.

Acknowledging that this is hard doesn’t mean you’re complaining. Nor does it mean you’re lacking in faith or trust in God.

Take a look at the exchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16, right after the big question “Who do you say that I am?” (v.15) and Peter’s profound confession of faith. This is when Jesus begins to get real with the disciples, predicting the his suffering and death (v.21).

When Jesus speaks these difficult truths, he’s not complaining. He’s not lacking in faith or trust in God.

In fact, it’s Peter who lacks faith and trust in the one whom he just confessed to be the Messiah! Peter refuses to hear the difficult truth and rebukes Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:22).

Jesus has no tolerance for telling himself (and others) a lie that will make everybody feel better. Because although the pain and suffering of the Passion and Death will be hard, that is not the end of the story. (More on that another day.)

We’re all in this together

There is tremendous grace in hearing others being real and speaking truth. We’re reminded that we’re not alone. We’re reminded that we’re not doing it wrong. And in the broken Body of Christ, we’re reminded that our Savior is with us in our suffering, present to us through one another.

  • Is there someone you can call (old-school phone or Zoom) and be real about the things you’re finding most difficult right now?
  • Really. How are you?

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Houston, TX, September 21, 2005- Traffic jammed the freeways as Houstonians fled the on-coming hurricane.   Recent memories of Hurricane Katrina sent people scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Rita.  Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA
Faith, Suffering, Transformation
2

You are still on the fastest route.

When first I started commuting into town, Google Maps guided me with directions.  After a few days, the routine was ingrained, and I began to appreciate her insight on traffic.

I mean traffic. No one likes it; everyone hates it. But if you’re going to drive, you have to deal with it… much like the reality of suffering in life.

Google Maps helps me deal with insufferable traffic.

Google Maps

I appreciate knowing how long the delay will last and whether or not there are any better alternatives. When she says, “There is an accident ahead; you can save 20 minutes by taking an another route,” I will always click ACCEPT! Who wouldn’t?

Who wants to suffer through traffic, when they don’t have to?

However, sometimes there aren’t any better alternatives. “You are in a 13-minute delay. You are still on the fastest route.

You are still on the fastest route. Hear that affirmation. Release the angst. Stop wasting energy trying to find another way around it.

You are still on the fastest route. Thank you, Google Maps. I’ll claim the confidence that there’s nothing I can do differently—that I am doing the best I can. And with that, I can patiently wait.

Occasionally, when I doubt her wisdom, when I just can’t stand it any longer, convinced I know better, I try some back roads. More often than not, that fails. Nothing is gained, and sometimes my impatience even costs more time.

Suffering is a lot like that. Sometimes there is an alternative and we should take it. (I mean – within reason. Google Maps won’t suggest illicit maneuvers, after all!) But other times — like when you unexpectedly lose a job or a loved one, or a traumatic illness or accident leads to months of care — there’s nothing you can do differently. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Our God is a Redeemer who takes our pain and suffering – no matter how long, no matter how hard – and redeems them. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Also, when the backseat passengers start with the unsolicited advice to take those back roads (bless their hearts – they don’t know), tell them Google Maps said “You are still on the fastest route.

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Screenshot 2019-01-16 09.26.38
Article, Faith, Human Dignity, Joy, Life, Passion
0

“I cared about her more as a human being than as an athlete.”

After the video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi’s “perfect 10” floor routine went viral, NPR interviewed her head coach, Valerie Kondos Field about her character and skill.

Katelyn had almost given up on the sport. “The elite level came at a price. Not just the injuries, but the body-shaming and the cut-throat competition that left her questioning her self-worth” (NPR’s Morning Edition).

Coach Val became a catalyst for change in Katelyn, who had stopped loving the sport at age 11. How? At the 1:40 mark in the two-minute interview, Coach Val utters the sentence that says it all:

“I cared about her more as a human being than as an athlete.”

And that was everything.

Caring more about a person’s humanity than about the role they play, regardless of the context, is the essence of respect for human dignity.

Want to know how to live your faith in the secular workplace? Care about people more as human beings than as coworkers and employees.

How does every single faculty and staff member live out the Catholic Identity of the school? Care about people more as human beings than as students and colleagues.

It really is that easy.

Care for a person’s well-being more than the function they provide.

Stop using people as objects. Stop objectifying the body for the sake of athletic or advertising success. Stop shaming. Stop the competition that leaves people questioning their self-worth.

We don’t have to choose between people and profit, between personal well-being and excellence, between compassion and success.

In fact, look at the results: not only does Katelyn’s routine earn a “perfect 10,” not only has the video of her performance gone viral, but in the words of Coach Val, “She just exudes goodness and love and joy.”

Be a catalyst: care about a person more as a human being than anything they can do.

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Psalm 150 Beach Meme
Faith, Joy, Life, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality
0

What is my Psalm?

Biking around my NASA affiliated Houston neighborhood is one of my simple joys.  When neighbors ask if we’re “the family that bikes to Church,” I smile with delight and gratitude.  Yes. Yes, we are.

Honestly, this isn’t something that I would instinctively insert into my daily prayer.  Yet, studying the Psalms has prompted me to ask at any given moment: What is my Psalm?  This simple question helps integrate prayerful conversation with God into the ordinary moments of daily life.

To pray in the style of the Psalms – or to pray using the words of the Psalms themselves – it’s helpful to know a little background.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs from throughout Israel’s history.  They are prayerful responses to real, specific life experiences.  And as varied as our life experiences may be on any given day, so are the Psalms!  This variety and connection to life is why the Psalms were so often sung and prayed in worship by the ancient Israelites, sung and prayed by Jesus and the apostles, and continue to be sung and prayed by us today.

Acknowledging simple joys with a Psalm of Praise is a beautiful way to recognize God’s presence in all things.

How?

Begin by inviting praise, such as: “Let us praise God!” Then articulate the specific reasons for praising God in that moment. And conclude by recapping the praise.

Look at how Psalm 117 – which is the shortest Psalm, with only two verses – provides a great example of this basic structure:

Praise and Psalm 117

As I bike through my neighborhood, if I were to use the words from Scripture, I might recite the final verse of Psalm 150

Psalm 150 Meme

But the beautiful gift of the Psalms is how they also teach us how to pray our own Psalm of Praise.

Praise God

For my adorable green bike

For its form and its function

and its matching green basket

For the ability to ride

For my wonderful neighborhood

For biking to the homes of friends,

to fun at the pool,

to Church,

to Starbucks,

to CVS.

For the opportunities I have

to share this with my family

whom I love

For all that I have; for all that I am,

Praise God

IMG_0147

Ask yourself: What is my Psalm?  And then say it, write it, sing it, pray it.

For more Wisdom of the Psalms, be sure to subscribe by entering your email on the sidebar.

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Tent in Cayonlands
Book, Faith, Lent, Spirituality, Transformation
1

Pitching a Tent

I originally wrote this post three years ago, shortly after having lost a dear friend to breast cancer.  Of course, in the 3-year cycle of readings, Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is (once again) the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent. This reflection also makes its way into the first chapter of Continuing the Journey (which is now available in both English and Spanish, with a Leaders Guide–also in both English and Spanish… but I digress).

From February 2013…

My dear friend Amalour passed away last week.  And in my grief, I am still having a difficult time paying attention to almost everything.  So it  didn’t come as any surprise when I had a hard time following the homily today at mass.  The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28:-36).

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Years ago (before kids), I facilitated a faith sharing group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Maryland, and one of the women explained how the story of the Transfiguration was one of her favorites because it offered a glimpse of Jesus Christ glorified.  I heard her words and felt moved by her passion, but that’s not how the story struck me.

Personally, I find myself identifying with Peter, James, and John.  Like them, I would have been happy to follow Jesus up a mountain.  Like them, I would have probably been overcome by sleep.  Even before kids.  And like them, I would probably been so awestruck, I would have been happy to  to pitch a tent.

Actually, I would have been happy to have my husband pitch the tent while I set up camp.

IMG_1690

At the Vigil service for Amalour’s funeral, her husband Brian offered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard.  Brian talked about Amalour’s unending quest for improvement.  In their marriage–in their lives–they’d do the work and come to a plateau.  It was a nice plateau, on which Brian was ready to pitch a tent and enjoy the view.  And Amalour would say no; we’re not there yet.  We can do better than this.  There’s more to see; there’s more to do.  Again, and again, and again in their lives, Amalour was always striving for something more… for something better… in all the ways that mattered.

I am a do-er.  I’d like to think of myself as someone who walked alongside Amalour on the path of growth.  In many ways, I know I have.  But I also know one of my weaknesses is doing too much. I have been guilty of distracting myself from the real, true, important things in life with busyness… filling my days with so much stuff that I don’t have time to think.  When I’m in this mindset, pitching a tent and enjoying the view sounds like a GREAT idea!  In fact, I’ll even busy myself with setting up camp.

Thing is, life is more of a journey than a sit-down and watch (or in my case, get everything ready to sit down and watch).  And sometimes that journey is hard.  Very hard.

I can imagine that witnessing the Transfiguration was to be a gift to inspire Peter, James, and John for the journey that lay before them.  It was not meant to be the end of the journey… or even a break from the journey.

So the challenge, I suppose, is to take those moments of grace, peace, hope, and light and allow them to inspire us along the path.  To avoid the temptation to pitch a tent as though that moment was the end-all-be-all.  To avoid the temptation to busy ourselves with setting up camp instead of doing the real work of journeying through life.


Tent in Canyonlands by [Rob Lee]https://www.flickr.com/photos/roblee) licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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