Thursday, March 29, 2012

Words to Live By

While at the Y this morning, I met up with a friend that I hadn't seen in several months.  We spent a few minutes catching up.  I told her about our current "predicament" (oh, yeah, I'm still being vague).  Her reply to me was, "All in God's good time."
I laughed and said, "I had to run into you today, didn't I?"  
Later, I was chatting with my friend, Fr. Simon (of the most awesome Dominicans) and he told me about a prayer practice he recently picked up.  Every hour he repeats Mary's prayer, "Let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38, NAB).  
Okay, God, no need to break out the baseball bat; I think I've got the message this time.  I would like everything to be wrapped up nice and pretty with a bow on top right this very moment.  However, that's not going to happen.  I simply have to WAIT. 
I'm crap at waiting!!! I'm great at action.  Give me something to do and I'll get it done.  Tell me I have to 'sit back and wait' makes me all stressed out which makes me want to eat lots of chocolate!
AND...not only to do I need to wait but I have to be happy about the waiting and whatever it is that is coming my way.  I'd like to think that I'm pretty good with the "let it be done to me according to your word" but I'm not.  I want things done the way I think they ought to be done.  
So God, here I am.  Let it be done to me according to your will and your timeline.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Note to Self:

Note to Self: Don't ever pray for a lightening bolt from God.  Seriously!

I haven't posted lately because I've been reeling from a couple lightening bolts from God, for which I foolishly asked.  Don't ever pray for lightening bolts!  When I prayed for the lightening bolt, I was really looking for some direction, but instead I got KA-BOOM!  Actually, I got a couple KA-BOOMs.  Now, I'm waiting for a few more KA-BOOMs to help make sense of the other KA-BOOMs.  Am I being vague enough?  Yup...and that's all I'm going to share on the subject until I know more myself.

Dear Self, next time pray for the whole storm all at once...or better yet, just pray for some answers.  Sheesh!

p.s.  I'll do my best to blog while I'm waiting for lightening.

Friday, March 16, 2012

It's been a while...

My family and I hit the road for Spring Break and trekked north to my sweet, home(town) Chicago.  It has been fantastic to catch up with family and friends this week.  Since we moved to Mississippi our trips to Chicago have been either short or busy; neither type of trip allows for much time to simply hangout.  This trip has been very relaxing - even with a strung out, tried 2 year old.  It's been a while since I've spent quality time in Chicago and I miss my hometown and my loved ones.

There's another little person who is here that I miss very, very much.  My daughter is buried here.  We went to the cemetery this morning.  It's the first time that my son has "understood" that Keenan's home is somewhere else.  He asked to "go in" while we were visiting her grave.  How do you explain death and burial to a 2 year old?  Before we got back into the car, my husband said, "Bye-bye Keenan."  Then, my son said perfectly and cheerfully, "Bye-bye Keenan."  Oh, that broke my heart...

Three and a half years ago when I buried my daughter I had no idea how my life would ever be "normal" again.  In all honesty, it's not normal; we've just discovered a new normal.  Who goes on vacation with the express "to do" of going to your daughter's grave?  Thankfully, that's not normal for most people.

Last night my aunt mentioned the verse, "Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God and believe in me." (John 14:1).  In the grand scheme of God's plan, I realize that my life is a blink of an eye and 3 1/2 years a nanosecond.  I don't know how God's plan is going to play out but it is comforting to find gems like this in the Bible to use as a mantra when life is difficult.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

On being fickle

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.  (Jeremiah 17:5)

Wouldn't it be awesome to name names of the people who have trust in human beings over God?  I have a nice list going in my head...him, and her, and that guy on TV, and that politician...and of course I wouldn't be on that list.  No way!  When have I turned away from God and trusted in people over God?  I'm practically perfect...well...except for that one time...oh and that other time...ugh, and last week...sheesh, maybe I'm not so perfect.

It is so easy to make a list of those who are "cursed" and convince myself that I am not on that list.  Yet, the fact is there are plenty of times when I have not fully trusted in God or even consulted God.  A few verses later God tells Jeremiah:

More tortuous than anything is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it? (17:9)

Yes, the human heart is a feeble thing.  God knows it and so does the devil.  One of the best descriptions of sin I have ever heard was that Satan makes sin look really attractive before the sin is committed and then afterwards makes you feel like a piece of garbage.  In fact, you feel so horrible after a sin that Satan plants the ideas that God won't forgive you or love you.  The next step is to just turn away from God, and tah-dah, you're trusting humans who have the same devious and fickle heart that you have.  What a wretched circle!

Yet, God declares in the very next verse:

I, the LORD, explore the mind
and test the heart,
Giving to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their deeds. (17:10)

God knows everything...even when I think I'm keeping things from Him.  The goal of this life is to grow closer to God, become more and more holy.  I can't reach that goal by trusting in my husband (sorry, Ben) or my best friend (sorry, Kim) or my parents, (sorry, Mom and Dad) or any other person.  I have to trust in God even in the times when it seems impossible.

God tests our hearts to see how committed we are, not as punishment.  Sometimes I'm bothered when the word "test" is associated with God, because a test seems arbitrary.  But if I'm honest I'll admit that I test my friends.  I want to see who is trustworthy, who can keep a secret, heck, who shows up on time!  And, that is all God wants to know from us as well.  What kind of friend am I to God?  Do I run at the first sign of trouble?  Do I only come calling when things are hard?  Or am I the sort of friend who is in for the long haul?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Walk the Talk

I live with a parrot.  He's about 37 inches tall, nearly 2 1/2 years old, super cute, and he repeats back everything I say.  The old adage "practice what you preach" has new meaning for me with my 2 year old. 

Today's Gospel reading from Matthew (23:1-12) is usually applied to priests and other people in positions of leadership.  When I worked in Youth Ministry I heard kids say over and over again that they didn't respect adults who were hypocrites.  Interestingly, even the "naughty" kids wanted the adults in their lives to walk the talk.  Teens, especially, would get so angry when parents, teachers, coaches, and other important adults would do the exact thing they told others not to do.  I decided that if I preached it, I had to live it.  

Now, I've got a little guy watching and listening and repeating everything I do.  I have to mind my language, manners, behavior.  I can't let a curse fly out of my mouth, tell my 2 year old to not say naughty words, and then swear again.  2 year olds don't understand that you're being a hypocrite; they're simply mimicking the world around them.  Older kids, however, understand when words and actions contradict each other.

Today I read this passage as a parent and this is what I picked up:
1.) "Call no one Master" (some translations Teacher).  Obviously, kids have lots of teachers, but my child has one Master - the Holy Spirit.  My job as a parent is to teach my son to know the promptings of the Spirit and to follow those promptings.

2.) "The greatest among you must be your servant."  A friend jokingly tells me that the toddler years are when you have to break your child of thinking that you are his servant to teach him now he is your servant.  Anyone with a toddler can tell you there is truth to this.  I want my son to be self-sufficient and know that I'm not going to do everything for him.  Yet, I want him to have the heart of a servant and the only way he is going to develop that is if he sees me being a servant to others.  

3.) "They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry..."  I interpreted this in two ways: being a hypocrite and sharing too much with a kid.  When I act like a hypocrite in front of a kid it becomes a burden for him to carry.  He will start to wonder, "Well, Deirdre isn't following that rule.  Maybe there are things that I don't need to obey."  

Secondly, Whenever I prepared a witness talk for retreats, I made sure that I was not burdening the kids with my story.  Witness talks are to act like a mirror and window: they see into me, but they should see themselves.  Anytime an adult shares too much with a kid it becomes a burden.  I don't have to worry about this with my little guy just yet, but I saw this a lot in Youth Ministry.  Some kids get caught up in the tug-of-war between parents; the parents would say nasty things about each other and the kid is left trying to sort through the emotions and information alone.  Some kids knew way too much about the family financial situation and they felt responsibility for something they had no control over.  

As the adult it is my job to practice what I preach and carry the burdens for my children.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't judge? Really?

Today's Gospel reading from Luke (6:36-38) is one that is often thrown back in the faces of Christians: "Don't judge me!  Your Bible tells you not to judge."  Ummm...yes...but I'm not supposed to be stupid, allow violence or wrongs to be committed, or allow people to walk all over me. 

My dad grew up in a predominately Protestant town in Northern Ireland and as a Catholic he needed to be wise.  Years ago he and I watched the film, "In the Name of the Father."  It's based on real events about several people who were falsely accused of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and convicted for bombing a pub in England.  At one point during the film I made a comment about feeling sorry for the main character.  

My dad said, "It was his own fault.  He's guilty by association."

I was quite surprised by his reaction.  "What?  How can you say that?"

"When you grow up in Northern Ireland, you know who your friends are.  Everyone knew who was who.  I don't believe that this guy didn't know his friends were in the IRA.  He was guilty by association."

Growing up in Loyalist Larne, my dad needed to make judgements.  It helped to keep him out of trouble - big trouble.  

It seems to me that there are certain areas where I ought to judge, or at the very least make a judgement call.  I remember making decisions when I was young to not be friends with certain people because they did drugs or slept around or were disrespectful to adults.  I didn't want to be friends with people like that because I knew the road it could lead down.  I had watched others go down that road and I didn't want to be like them. 

I have to survey situations all the time and then make a decision.  Isn't that judging?  Perhaps the key comes in the sentence that follows.  "Stop condemning and you will not be condemned." (Luke 6:37)  Making a judgement call can be the wise thing to do, but condemning someone is God's job.  Today's reading ends by saying what you do to others will be returned to you.  If you sit around judging, condemning, and being selfish, then you'll be condemned too, maybe not by others, but by God.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hangin' with Jesus - Part Deux

It's the's time to get out of bed.  You get yourself moving and make your way to the kitchen when you realize you smell coffee.  You're about to grab the nearest item and use it as a weapon when a thought pops into your mind.  
" that you?"
"Sure is!  And please put the weapon down."
You shuffle into the kitchen and Jesus hands you your favorite mug with coffee just the way you like it.  "Hey, thanks, Jesus!"
"I'm here for you."  Jesus sits down at the kitchen table and takes a sip from a mug.
"Uh, drink coffee?"
"No, actually it's tea."
"I don't think I have tea..."
"You don't.  I brought some along."
You sit down opposite Jesus.  Deeply inhale the aroma of the coffee and take a sip.
"This is really good coffee!  Thanks again.  So, what do you need?"
"I just want to talk."
"That's what you said last week.  I did as you suggested and I took on something more challenging for Lent."
"I know you did.  The first day or so you were doing great.  We talked a lot.  The last couple days haven't been so great."
You hang your head.  "I know.  I messed up yesterday and the day before."
"I'm not here about you messing up."
"You're not?"
"No, I'm here to talk to you about how to get through it."
"So, I'm not in trouble?"
"What do I need to do?"
"You need to pray."
"I have prayed."
"You have prayed at me.  Try to think of prayer as a normal conversation.  You talk and then you listen so that I can talk.  Just like what we're doing here."
" don't say anything when I pray."
"You make the Sign of the Cross and you're off doing something before I get a chance to talk.  Can I ask you a question?"
"Have you ever been with someone and the conversation lulls and the two of you are so comfortable you just sit there in silence?  And, it's not a weird kind of silence.  It's peaceful, calm."
"Yeah, my best friend and I are like that.  In fact, it happens all the time."
Jesus looks at you intently across the table.  "I want to be your best friend.  I want you to talk to me, bring me all your worries, cares, joys, sorrows, everything.  I want us to be so comfortable together the conversation will naturally move into silence and we enjoy hanging out together."
"So, you're telling me I need to hang with you."
"Yes.  You can call it hanging out; I'll call it prayer."
"Ok...can I ask a question?"
"Absolutely." Jesus says.
"How long do I need to pray?"
"There is no set time limit...but five to ten minutes of us hanging out each day would be nice.  How else are we going to become best friends if you don't spend time with me...and listen to me?  So, the next time you're struggling or something great has happened, just talk to me."
"Got it."  You stand up to get more coffee and turn to ask Jesus if he'd like more tea.  He's gone.  "How does he do that?"

Thursday, March 1, 2012

God, King of Irony

***This is a longer post.  Three years ago I wrote a reflection on today's readings.  This particular entry is a chapter from an (unpublished) book that I wrote after my first child was stillborn.  If anyone out there knows about publishing and wouldn't mind a answering a few questions, please email me.***

After my daughter died I came to know a new title for God, King of Irony.   I wonder if that title was edited out from the list: Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonder Counselor, King of Irony, the Alpha and the Omega.  Did someone proofread the text and say, “Uh, you know that Irony one doesn’t really work.”  

Clearly, God must have a sense of humor, look at the duckbilled platypus, the ostrich, penguins walking.  There are a whole lot of funny things in this world.  Knowing that God has a sense of humor is somewhat comforting; it’s nice to know that God probably has a giggle every now and then.  Yet, I find nothing comforting about God being ironic, in fact, I feel like God is the only one who appreciates the joke.

If we are actually allowed to ask questions when we get to the Pearly Gates the first one I’m going to ask is, “Uh, what was up with me being a Pediatric Chaplain and then my first child dies?  Was that supposed to be funny?  Were you thinking, ‘Oh, this’ll be good!  Get the popcorn and let’s see how she deals with it.’?”  Okay, I probably won’t ask that, or if I do I won’t be that snotty.  But, truly, there were moments after my daughter, Keenan, died when I felt like God was having a laugh at my expense because it seemed, to me at least, I was supposed to know what I was doing.

There is one moment in particular when I really felt like God had a great big belly laugh.  About five months after Keenan died I was asked to write a reflection as a representative from LaSalle Manor Retreat Center for a Lenten booklet for the Christian Brothers.  I said yes without knowing the readings of the day.  A few days later I sat down to look up the readings and write the reflection.  When I was done reading you could have knocked me over with a feather!  

The first reading was Esther C:12, 14-16, 
"Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, likewise had recourse to the Lord.  Then she prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, saying: "My Lord, our King, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand.  As a child I was wont to hear from the people of the land of my forefathers that you, O Lord, chose Israel from among all peoples, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, as a lasting heritage, and that you fulfilled all your promises to them.  Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress and give me courage, King of gods and Ruler of every power.  Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and those who are in league with him may perish.  Save us by your power, and help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord. You know all things."

The Gospel reading was from Matthew 7:7-12
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread,  or a snake when he asks for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.  "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” 
I wanted to slam the Bible shut and throw it across the room.  I didn’t.  I kicked the chair over and yelled, “You have got to be kidding me!”  This is what I wanted to write:

It’s a GREAT BIG LIE!  I was expecting my first baby, a little girl.  I prayed everyday, many times a day for Keenan and I what did I get?  I got a dead baby!  God’s a liar!  The End.

But, being a good theology student I had to take a closer look at the readings and this is what I  wrote: 

Reflection for March 5, 2009
"I don’t like God’s sense of humor.  I gladly volunteered to write this reflection for LaSalle Manor, then I got the readings.  God is not funny.  For the last six months I have struggled with the passage from Matthew, “Ask and it will be given to you...For everyone who asks, receives” Oh really?  How I would love to be able to put God on trial over that verse alone.  

"What has been my struggle?  Why do I think that God is a liar?  My husband and I were expecting our first child last September, a little girl named Keenan Marygrace.  I know firsthand what Queen Esther means by “mortal anguish.”  With only three weeks left until her due date, Keenan died in my womb.  She was stillborn on August 25, 2008.  My husband and I prayed for Keenan’s health every day of my pregnancy.  We asked and what did we get?  My husband and I walked our daughter down the aisle at church, but she was in a white coffin, not a white dress.  I have a case, don’t I?

"There is one small word from the passage of Esther that reminds me that God did not fail.  Recourse - help in a difficult situation.  Stillbirth definitely ranks as a difficult situation.  We had more than help; we were blessed with angelic beings masquerading as nurses and the community at LaSalle Manor did everything they could to support us.  

"The Church is wise in pairing these readings together.  I am sure I am not the only person this Lent wishing to put God on trial.  Yet, Esther reminds me that even if my prayers aren’t answered the way I think they should be answered, God is there supporting me in my pain.  How has God disguised your angels?"
It seemed like God was being ironic, but it turned out to be an opportunity for honesty: me to God and God to me.  There is always recourse.