Tag Archives: faith

Holidays x One: Passover/Easter

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Passover and Easter have evolved into odd civic holidays that celebrate the rites of Spring, fertility, rebirth, seeds spouting, lambs being born (and eaten), eggs being decorated (and eaten), chicks and bunnies soft and squeaking in baskets, or their chocolate equivalents smearing across tiny faces. Why odd?

Well even though at Christmas the birth of Christ and arrival of Santa Claus have no connection, there’s the giving of a gift that affords it some type of universal credence. But the Easter Bunny has no connection whatsoever to slavery, deliverance, death and resurrection.

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish slaves from captivity in Egypt. The story is rich with plagues, a secret prince (Moses), murder and miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the visit of the first-born sons by the angel of death. The key ingredient at the Seder table is unleavened bread representing their hurried departure.
Easter commemorates the betrayal of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, his trials, crucifixion, death, burial. Then his resurrection. The key ingredient is the wine and bread representing the spilt blood and pierced flesh of Christ. No chocolate bunnies in sight.

Digging deeper, both celebrations invite us to remember what is gone and to wait for deliverance.

Remembering can be hard for the person who is alone. I lived for years with a busy houseful of children, step-children, “adopted” children and friends of children. It was expansive and fun within those four walls. The phone rang constantly, events, meals, cars coming and going, birthdays, graduations, new jobs, lost jobs. I used to tell them, “If you have a crisis you have about three weeks to milk it because by then another will come along.”

Remembering and re-living that season of my life is a struggle. I look at pictures and sigh. I wonder how all those folks are doing, grown with their own homes, their own families, work and accomplishments. It’s weird to go all day without a phone call, not to be making a costume, a decoration, a huge dinner or even a dessert. I sometimes look up their Facebook pages even if I’m not a friend, just to see their smiles.

Maybe a better way is to remember with joy and be grateful for having that time of life at all. One that many would have given anything to have had. Think back to your favorite Easter memories–was it hiding eggs as a child – or finding them? Was it brand new patent leather shoes at any age? Spring break in college? Surrounding a church pulpit with dozens of lilies? Cutting off a piece of crusty, salty lamb fat and popping it in your mouth with a juicy sliver of meat?

Waiting for change is an even greater challenge, even if it’s not deliverance from bondage or rising from the dead. The change we think will never get here. The check that’s in the mail. The escrow taking forever to close. The vacation that we’ve been putting off year after year. The retirement that we keep pushing back.

Often it’s the waiting that brings about more change than the actual receiving of what you are waiting to happen. Waiting strengthens us, even when it’s hard. But sometimes what comes after is just plain miraculous.

That’s worth remembering.

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Holidays x One: St. Patrick’s Day

ShamrockWe raise a glass of green beer, or Bailey’s or Irish Whiskey and wear green so we don’t get pinched and think that maybe – just for a day – there are “little people” stealing our pens from our desks, scampering through the kitchen cupboards and hiding pots of gold at the end of rainbows. No other Christian saint has embodied a more eclectic set of myths and legends, both real and imagined, than the young British 16 year-old boy who was captured by Irish pirates and held as a slave for six years.

That ordeal ended when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Your ship is ready,” perhaps an early Gaelic version of “Your ship has come in?”  He escaped, walked 200 miles to a port and spent three days starving on board before finally reaching home. After gaining an education and becoming a clergyman, Patrick was given a new vision to return to Ireland, the land of his abject humiliation and dread. Return he did, spouting redemption in Jesus Christ and becoming a beloved Saint.

Who does that?  Me, I run from pain.  I block off hurtful memories. Why revisit the place of loneliness?

All it takes is courage. And a little faith.

So on this special feast day of March 17, celebrated nearly worldwide on behalf of a saint whom we now associate with druids, snakes, dragons, drinking and corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, why not whip up some resolve and think back. Drive out the snakes and behead the dragons that you carry around with you from the past.

Have you been imprisoned by abuse, by poverty, by others’ expectations? Have your own choices been like chains at your ankles and were you once a slave to your addictions or desires, hoping for rescue? And then you became your own white knight, escaped and trod the 200-mile road of recovery?

Here’s to you.

Did you receive a vision to set yourself apart from the crowd and become inspired to get out of debt? Step away from keeping up with your neighbors, buying that fancier car, going on that exotic vacation to feel better than others? And how did that feel? And how long did that feeling last? Are you done with all of that?

Here’s to you.

Have you heard the voice of God calling you to be loved by him, to trust his grace to meet your needs and guide your future? Do you know that he is for you and is as close as the next breath you take? That God is in you and around you, above you and lifting you up and has been there all along. And, regardless of the circumstances, loves you like a favorite child.

Can you look at your life and see that you were not alone? Never alone.

Maybe it’s not so bad, once a year, to step back from the parades and crowds and go back to those hard places that we’ve survived. The dragons we’ve conquered. The beliefs we stand on. We may not be saints, but we’re making progress with faith and courage.

Here’s to us.

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I’m not impressed

When you read the breathless, impatient, earthy story of Jesus in the earliest gospel, the book of Mark, you see Jesus toss the economy of society on its head. Back then there were religious leaders who wore fancy robes, who dissected the law into hundreds of rules, who figured they were better – far better – than the rough and tumble fishermen that Jesus chose to learn about the Kingdom of God. The economy worked pretty much like this:

rich = powerful = favored by God.

The formula also worked the other way:

Favored by God = powerful = rich.

And 2,000 years later, most of the population of planet earth still think that’s how it works. Are you rich, powerful and think you are favored by God?  There’s a good chance you’re going straight to hell. 

Jesus stunned his disciples by shattering this equation. 

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

The disciples were astounded.

Who, then, in all the world, can be saved?” (Mark 10:25-26)

The disciples thought that being rich meant being in God’s good favor.  And the rich kind of thought that, too.

Again and again Jesus chipped away at this backward thinking.

“Blessed are the poor,”

“Whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.”

“Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with the whips and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

Ouch. 

Becoming a follower of Jesus may mean surrendering your fine robes, stepping back from your place of honor in the church, losing your home, your job, not having enough to eat and learning to accept the charity of others. It may mean you will be gossiped about and mocked. It may mean being beaten and killed. 

And the new equation looks like this:

Surrendered = powerful faith = favored by God

It’s not rocket science. The more you depend on God, the more your faith has a chance to grow strong; the stronger your faith, the more God is pleased. It actually makes sense if you can get past the beaten and killed part. Which you should, since past that is the rise up part. 

You, too, will rise. And it won’t be your riches or your power or your status or your poverty or your martyrdom that gets you there.It is not something that you can buy or earn. It’s not that you deserve it.  It will be because of your faith that this world has been doing it backwards and Jesus split open the curtain on eternity so we can follow him through it into a kingdom of justice and mercy and righteousness. Forever.  

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Things I Wish I Had Told My Husband

Mike Journal1

We were busy, you see. A blended family. Even though we had dated for almost two years, dating while turning 40 was mostly made up of running through life, loading laundry, driving kids to sports, being team mom and coach. Our dates involved hot dogs and corn nuts in the bleachers. A fancy date included peanut butter cups for dessert. Our arguments (pre-email) consisted of faxes at midnight.

When Mike became my husband it amped up the distance between us, weirdly, since we now lived together, had a mortgage and added a new baby. Yes, seven kids. It was hard to have each other’s backs through that, which we managed to do. But we didn’t have much face time. Time to talk.  The marriage was function-based. It could have been more. But he never knew.

The things I wish I had told Mike are not the sloppy and sentimental Hallmark hindsight sighs. I wish I had told him more about me. About the real me.  I wish I had told him, for instance, that I dreamed of reading out loud to each other once in a while. I loved books and wanted to share my favorite passages and then actually see what he thought of them. Especially passages that I wrote. Somehow he never read any of my nine books. He never knew.

Or, I wish I had let him know that it was very, very important to me to decorate the Christmas tree and wrap presents together. We learned quickly that he valued getting the tree, I valued trimming the tree. So decade after decade I spent holiday nights putting on lovely ornaments by myself in tears while he was out in the garage with the boys, fulfilled once the tree had plopped into the stand and didn’t topple over. But I didn’t want to be seen as needy.  In the same way, I bought gifts carefully and thoughtfully and sequestered them away all year.  He saw them but never offered to help wrap. So when the tree was surrounded with gifts wrapped and ready, he would run out on Christmas Eve and buy his gifts for everyone. I hated that. He never knew.

I hardly ever talked about my failures so he put me on a pedestal. I didn’t really want him to know that I’d flipped off a car that cut me off, hung up on telemarketers with snarky comments, or gossiped about the too-sexy woman at work. I was the godly one, you see, with appearances to keep up. So I hid my real self from my husband so many times. He never knew.

As a result, in 18 years we never had that cycle of confession, repentance, forgiveness that could have made our relationship so much deeper, so much more authentic. I never was fully convinced that he loved ME.  I was afraid to be my ugly, real self. Kind of like we do with God so many times. As if he doesn’t know.

And now I see that it all could have been much richer, much freer. We could have become completely and truly one if I had dropped my defenses just a little more. Instead, a sudden brain disease created a relationship where my functionality became a matter of life and death. He had the mental capacity of a pre-teen and vulnerability would kill him. And by then I was even more afraid of him dying than I had been of him living to know the real me.

After he died, though, I found a journal.  In the sprawling print of a child, he recorded his thoughts when I was going through pneumonia. One entry said:

“When I get up I am going to ask God to make tomorrow a great day for Fran. She was coughing all afternoon and getting well is taking her a long time. Today was a good day because, most important, I took care of Fran. It made me feel loved. That may not seem normal but it is with me. God is with us. Tears are coming down in joy. Good night and bless you all!  – Mike.”

All that time, it turned out taking care of me would have made him feel loved.

I never knew.

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Why do we put seashells in bathrooms?

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I live in a cottage that is more than 100 years-old. It qualifies for the name “cottage” because it is tiny, has no insulation, is beadboard from floor to (and including) ceiling with double-hung windows that look into the 1945 added-on rooms behind them.  The outside stair rails are galvanized pipe. The attic is high enough to stand up in. There are gas jets in most rooms sticking up from the floor. The floors are Douglas fir and there is the burned imprint of an iron in the floor by the front door where a doorstop would be. From a time when irons were heated on wood stoves.

The bathroom was redone when I bought the house in 1984 with a cottage/Victorian look. Two-inch shiny black tiles with grey grout go halfway up the wall. Grey beadboard rises above. Stained-glass windows flank a matching mirror, showing wear and cracks behind the glass front. A deeply carved blanket cabinet holds a sink. Aged brass shelves, scrolled and embellished, hang above the toilet holding incense sticks.

And sea shells.

Mother of pearl adorns the light fixture, a clock, a picture frame, and tissue holder, bringing together the shells on display that include the blue pearlish lining of a giant abalone shell, Interesting prickly spines contrast with the smooth, pink lining of two conch shells. A small curl of driftwood completes the look. It’s a tasteful and interesting tableau. Take a glance at any Pottery Barn catalog, Coast magazine or even time-worn wallpaper from the ’50s with seahorses and bubbles and you’ll see the formula.

Bathroom=beach. What is that?

Some might say that it stems from our primordial origins. That once our race crawled out of the sea with gill-gaping necks and shiny scales. Others might relate it to back-to-the-womb longings – safe from bumps and bruises. Buoyant. Protected.

My take on the whole phenom is infinitely more philosophical while being plainly crass.

As human beings we have the gift of being able to look at the shit surrounding us and see where it’s going.  Today’s turds are tomorrow’s sandy shores, sparkling waves and sunshine. We know how it all ends up. We have hope.

No one decorates their bathroom like a barnyard.

So the next time that you feel stuck. That you are surrounded by crap. That you’ll never get that flush.

Wait for it…wait for it…wait for it.  There it goes.

So, have faith.  Put a little beach into your bathroom – just a small shell or two.  So you can remember that we get to imagine beyond the now and even, at times, see where it’s all going to end.

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Mike at Sea

He sailed through life.

Careful preparation was his secret.

Checklists.

Survival was given every opportunity to prevail over

being a helpless speck on a wide, wild ocean.

He was careful.

But once underway, he sailed into the headwind,

preferring the sail to the rudder.

He didn’t like to tack.

Straight ahead.

Confident.

Capturing the wisps of air and current

and channeling them into power.

Powerful.

Until…

a rogue wave, strange and rare,

sucked the bottom out from under him,

pounded relentlessly,

overwhelming,

coming out of nowhere.

Slammed and tossed.

Powerless…

but still afloat.

And he navigated the strategy of letting go of the rigging.

Forsaking the sail after all.

No option to come about.

Allowing himself to float.

His buoyancy maintained

by being positive, cheerful, accepting and loving.

And loving.

It turned out he had a savior.

Jesus.

Yes, that Jesus.

“Even the wind and the sea obey him.”

He survived tumultuous seas on faith, 

forsaking sail and rudder altogether,

and discovered that he had an Anchor.

Now he sails again on glassy seas, the wind at his back.

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Giving Nine a Ten

Maybe it’s because I’m Italian.  Maybe it’s because I saw 8 1/2 in college and some other Fellini movies, or Scenes from a Marriage by Bergman. Or loved All That Jazz about Bob Fosse. (“It’s Showtime!”) Maybe it’s because I miss Rome.  Not sure why, but I liked Nine.

And want to see it again.

The previews were intriguing and the hype on Oprah! was compelling. All those pretty stars in sexy outfits. Fergie. Nicole. Kate. Penelope. Marion. Sophia. And Dame Judith Dench. All that cleavage.  That’s when I realized that this was a man’s movie, not a chick flick.  A guy’s movie without action and guns and killing and sports and political intrigue.  What?

The audience is drawn into the head of a movie maker, Guido Contini (played by an unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis) as he hallucinates, dreams, pretends, lies, and places blame. The musical numbers are way over the top – because they come from his head, not reality. The way we all have the worst boss in the world, the most stubborn husband/wife, the meanest brother, the stupidest priest, the most forgiving dead mother…

And what a dead mother. Sophia Loren. What better icon can there be of Italy, home of the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that makes it O.K. for wives to be neglected and mistresses to be abused. Her part is perfection.

In turn, the failing Guido looks to the women in his life to inspire and rescue him. The triumph of the movie is that they all fail him. The affair turns into despair, the prostitute from his childhood grows up to be crude and sleazy, the seduction of the American fails to intrigue him, the movie star refuses to play the part of a rescuer, and the wife refuses to play the part of a fool. Marion Cotillard’s song excusing his behavior, “My husband makes movies…” takes the kind of dopey lyrics and turns them into the lament of every woman who believes the dopey lies of unfaithful husbands. The dopey excuses that we tell ourselves.

As Guido spins toward meltdown, he calls upon his mother and she says the truest line in the movie – “You have to figure it out for yourself.”

The scriptures say it another way – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

I thought for years that it seemed to be saying that we could save ourselves. That salvation was something we accomplished. Guido fakes an 8×10 glossy photo autograph and kiss for the Cardinal who loves his movies, yet bans them. The perfect metaphor for taking salvation into our own hands.

It took a long time for me to figure out that if we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to be saved in the first place.

Now I know salvation to be personal, individual, humbling, and my only hope.

Fame, sex, money, beauty, love; Guido destroys those muses one by one with the kiss/slap precision of a man racing away from the paparazzi in a convertible.  He fails.  And no chirping forest animals come skipping to the rescue. Snow White is dead. There is no prince.

Like I said, it’s a guy movie. A complete fantasy that puts into sharp perspective the fact that real life is fantastically incomplete.

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