Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Way Home, Part VIII ~ First Confession

For the rest of the series, click here.

There are plenty of Bible verses that talk about confessing our sins.  In the churches I was a part of growing up, there was a strong emphasis on holiness, but the confession part was watered down just a bit, typically to a trusted friend who became an "accountability partner".   Mostly, we confessed our sins directly -- and silently -- to God, which was much less embarrassing.

The rest of our family had not yet been baptized, so they got to start with a clean slate.  I, on the other hand, had a few decades worth of sin to confess.

I spent several days before the confession in an examination of conscience.  The mortal sins were pretty straight forward, taken from the ten commandments.  I had not kept the sabbath as a holy day of rest, for example.  Some of the venial sins came down to habit patterns and attitudes -- ungratefulness, impatience.   I knew the prayers and had actually been praying them often with the kidlets.

A few months ago, our beloved assistant pastor was assigned to a different parish, and we had a new priest, Padre G.  He is from South America, which was one of the things that made me interested to hear him speak, but it worked out that I had only heard him once, and then very briefly.  He gave the homily on Ash Wednesday, all about hope.  Our pastor, Father D, is excellent, and I both like and respect him.  But something connected with me when I first heard Padre G, and I had the strongest impression that God brought him here specifically for me at this time of our first Lenten season and Easter.  There were three priests available for confession the day that we went, and it happened that I got Padre G.

There are few occasions when I have felt so many emotions crowded into one single moment.  Thankfulness.  Nervousness.  Shame.  Hope.  Joy.  Fear.  Peace.

I brought a cheat sheet in case I forgot anything.  There was a kneeler with a screen if we preferred anonymity, or a chair if we preferred to be face to face.  I chose the chair.  I went through my list, voice cracking.  Padre G listened and then spoke to me.  He didn't embarrass me or shame or reproach me.  Instead he looked with the same kind of love I feel from God, and told me how beautiful this time was.  He kept repeating grace, grace, grace over and over.  He said that although our brokenness means that sin often entangles us, that there is always forgiveness.  He gave me my penance and absolution.

Free.  Clean.  Fresh.

I have always loved God and tried to obey Him.  Whenever I mess up, I have asked for forgiveness.  I have always tried to follow God's commandments.  I know that feelings aren't everything.  BUT.

The sense of lightness and freshness afterwards.

Image credit: Thomas Wiborg on Flickr


Several years ago, I had a vision.  It was during a time of tremendous pressure and stress.  The weather outside had been suffocatingly hot and humid, that sticky kind of heat that makes you feel sweaty just seconds after stepping outside.  I felt that same clinging heaviness from all the tasks weighing me down.  Then, in my mind, I saw an emerald pool of water.  It looked like a Mayan cenote, all peacock shades of blue and green and turquoise.  And I could feel the sensation of diving into the clearest, coolest water.  Perfect refreshing.  All the muggy residue rinsed away.  Cold, clear water taking away a thirst you didn't know you felt.

That.  That is what it felt like after confession.  It still hasn't worn off yet.  The peace and joy and freshness of that moment.       

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Way Home, Part VII ~ Holy Mary, Mother of God

"We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son."
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort

Although we were praying the Hail Mary, for someone who grew up Evangelical, there were still some big issues.  The Immaculate Conception? Perpetual virginity? The Assumption?  Why would any Christian believe those things, and why would they matter?

Somewhat to my surprise, I learned that the early Christians did believe all of those things.  And I had to admit that they were probably in a better position to know, having actually known Mary and Jesus and the apostles.  Before the Creeds and the New Testament were put together, and by the same believers who formed those writings, the Marian doctrines were pretty standard, and they were commonly held by all Christians up until a few hundred years ago.  Even many of the Protestant reformers believed them!
Image credit: Brian Jeffrey Beggerly

So, first of all, the Immaculate Conception (which refers to Mary being without the stain of sin).   There have been some twisted things done with the idea of Original Sin.  However, to say that the stain of sin has seeped into all of us seems fairly obvious.  We all have that pull towards sin.  The Immaculate Conception is the idea that Mary, like Eve and Adam and the angels, was created without that stain.  And, full of the grace of God, with a supernatural calling on her life, she continued to say yes to God.  However, unlike Jesus who was sinless in Himself, her holiness comes from and through Him, not herself.

I have spoken in previous posts about the idea of Heaven being outside of time--that time is a created and (forgive me) temporal thing, not an eternal thing, if that makes sense.   Most of us would look at people like Moses and Abraham and Hannah and Deborah and other servants of God and agree that they are in Heaven.  Hebrews certainly seems to imply that pretty strongly.  As Christians, we don't think that they didn't need Jesus.  His death and resurrection were for them, too!  It is still through Jesus work on the Cross, His resurrection and His grace that they are saved, even if the sequence seems off to our human understanding.  In the same way, Mary still was saved by Jesus.  The sequence was a bit different than for the rest of us, though.

Could Jesus have been born of a sinful woman?  Does it matter if she was a virgin?  What difference does it make?  To me, one of the most beautiful things of the Bible is the symmetry and the weaving of so many insignificant details to create the true story.  Why should it matter that Jesus rode a donkey to Jerusalem?  Couldn't the children have Israel been saved without the blood of a lamb on the doorway?  Perhaps, but God used all of the details to reveal a picture that would not have as much depth or clarity otherwise.

Just as the repeated symbols of the lamb give us a richer understanding of the Lamb of God, there are so many images of Mary throughout the Bible that give us insight into God's plan, both for her and for us.  Two of my favorite articles on Mary are: 4 Biblical Reasons Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant and 6 Biblical Reasons Mary is the New Eve.  Mary is also shown as the Queen Mother.

I am not a theologian, and I am sure that my grasp of Marian doctrine is rudimentary at best.  I have a lot to learn.  More than that, I can't prove that all of these views are correct.   In looking at the Bible, I don't see that these teachings go against it in any way, and they cause the Scripture to make better sense to me.   I also see good fruit from them in my life.   The more I discover about Mary, the greater my understanding of our relationship to Jesus is.  After all, she was in many ways the first Christian.  She is one who said yes to God's impossible plan without hesitation.  She stayed with Him through the cross and resurrection.  She bore witness of Him.

In Christ, all of us are called to be a new creation, just as she is the new Eve.  All of us are called to have Jesus inside our hearts, she held Him inside her very body.  All of us are called to be free from sin, to rise again with Him, to defeat the dragon, to participate in His miracles as she did with His very first miracle, and ultimately to reign with Him in heaven.   She is an example of the kind of believer I want to be, and always, always, she causes me to love and worship Jesus more.

For the rest of the series, click here.
One of my favorite books on Mary is Hail, Holy Queen, by Scott Hahn, a Protestant pastor who became Catholic.



Monday, March 24, 2014

My Way Home, Part VI ~ Patron Saint of Gentle Discipline

For the rest of the series, click here.

I was studying the Catechism, soaking up our RCIA classes, and finding such depth, joy and life in the prayers and the Mass.  I was also struggling.  The Marian doctrines (more on those in a future post), prayers to the saints and purgatory had been explained to my satisfaction.  My heart has pretty much always been Catholic in terms of the Eucharist, eschatology and most other issues.  But what about papal infallibility? Women's issues? Gay marriage?  My previous experiences had caused me to vow that never again would I accept something just because someone in authority believed it.

And then there was also the issue that I wasn't always sure what was truly Catholic dogma and what was simply the opinion of some Catholics.  I came across one site that basically said that anything between a married couple other than kissing and insert tab A into slot B was a mortal sin.  I fired off a rather disrespectful email to Emiliani (the phrase "this is what comes of letting a bunch of old guys who never had sex make the rules" may have been mentioned :shifty).  Thankfully, she was able to set me straight.

Every time that I got discouraged and confused, something would happen to center my heart and reassure me that this, indeed, is where I am supposed to be.  One of those things was a meme from The Daily Catholic Crunch.  I knew that we were supposed to choose a patron saint, and I had been looking through hundreds.  I started off with names of people that I really love, tried more systematic approaches, and signed up for daily saint emails.

I really knew nothing of the saints.  I liked the things I had seen of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick and a couple of other famous saints, but I didn't feel a profound connection.  Dh had almost immediately found his, St. Athanasius.  I read countless stories (and pretty much ruled out the Middle Ages, whose saints frequently suffered incredibly gruesome mortification of the flesh), and found many whom I admired deeply, but none that gave that deep inner ring of certainty.  Then I saw the meme, a quote from St. John Bosco: "To strike a child in any way...and other similar punishments must be absolutely avoided."

To say I was intrigued would be an understatement.  I started looking for everything I could find about Don Bosco.  He is the patron saint for Mexican young people, school children, and many more.  He dedicated his life to rescuing homeless kids and helping them to get an education.  He founded the Salesian schools.  He navigated a shark pool of politics without falling in.  He was a prolific writer.  But what captured my heart was his stand for gentle discipline.


When John Bosco himself was only nine years old, he began having remarkable dreams.  In one that inspired the rest of his life, he dreamed that he was in a field with a bunch of rowdy, misbehaving boys.  He started to punish them, but was stopped and told, "You will have to win these friends of yours, not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness." 

St. John Bosco forbade corporal punishment, not only in his own work, but also when he found apprenticeships for the boys in his care.  He made the employers agree to only correct the boys verbally, and also to give the children time off and holidays.  



Although St. Bosco was winning the hearts and minds of the children for Christ, he also made sure that they had plenty of play.  The boys were not vandals or troublemakers, but they were noisy, and the neighbors filed complaints.  He did circus tricks and magic tricks, all kinds of acrobatics, and delighted in the fun and laughter of the children.

Some of my favorite quotes of his:  

"Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God's mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart."

Another, when he was asked about how he maintained discipline with so many boys:
"Let them play and enjoy themselves as much as they want, as long as God is not offended.  But if I have a philosophy of education, it consists in discovering a boy's best qualities and then exploiting them to his advantage.  You must admit, sir, that any person is at his best when he is doing what he likes and does best...children are the same.  Promote their positive qualities and they will thrive.  As for discipline, love and respect for the young is the answer.  In the 46 years I have worked among children, never once have I had to resort to corporal punishment, which by the way is very much in vogue.  And I may say so, all those children who have come under my care have always continued to show me love and respect."

"What I recommend is hard, I know, especially for young adults whose first inclination towards obtaining discipline is to act on the spur of the moment and inflict punishments. But I assure you; real success can only be the result of patience. Impatience merely disgusts the children and spreads discontent among the best of them.
Long experience has taught me that patience is the only remedy for even the worst cases of disobedience and irresponsiveness. Sometimes, after making many patient efforts without obtaining success, I deemed it necessary to resort to severe measures. Yet these never achieved anything, and in the end I always found that charity finally triumphed where severity had met with failure. Charity is the cure-all though it may be slow in affecting its cure." 

This, this was a saint that I felt a shared heart with, one that it was natural to ask for prayers, and one whose virtues, wisdom and patience I could seek from the foundation of who I am.

A few articles that you might enjoy:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bosco
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02689d.htm
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2013/07/catholic-bishops-weigh-in-on-corporal-punishment/

Image credit

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Way Home, Part V ~ Hail, Mary, Full of Grace

For the whole series, click here.
One of the things that has caused me to rest in the Catholic Church is her beautiful sense of balance.  So many things that cause some groups of Protestants to veer off into crazyland were identified and dealt with hundreds of years ago in the Church.  Time and tradition have brought about a refreshing stability.  Take for example the Catholic approach to the works of the Holy Spirit.  There is openness to and belief in the supernatural and spiritual gifts, but without some of the unhealthy extremes that the Charismatic movement sometimes embraces, such as condemning people who don't receive a supernatural healing or those who don't speak in tongues.

One area where the Protestant Church in general seems to have slipped off the beam is Mary.  Usually she is ignored entirely except for a token acknowledgement at Christmas, and perhaps at Easter.  Even then, there is often an underlying sense of antagonism and a focus on ways that she was just an ordinary person.  This is just my opinion, but I suspect that the intense patriarchy leanings of some Protestant groups resent the attention and honor given to a woman that would come with giving Mary her rightful place.

When my kidlets began bringing home lessons from church we started going through the prayers together.  Praying the Lord's prayer was something we were very comfortable doing and they already knew it.  The Glory Be was also very easy, although we still had to learn the sign of the cross together.  But the Hail Mary?  The first few times felt soooo awkward.  Part of me was secretly expecting a lightening blot to strike every time we stumbled through it.

Then Advent began.  As we read through the Scriptures, I realized that nearly every word of the Hail Mary came from the Bible.




Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.   (The greeting that Gabriel made to Mary ~ Luke 1:28.) 
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.(Elizabeth's greetingLuke 1:42  And notice that the focus here is really on Jesus, as it always turns out to be with the Marian devotions.)
Holy Mary,
(Surely she is a Christian, and Protestants also consider Christians to be saints/holy ones.) 
Mother of God
(Not older than God, but she is the Mother of Jesus, who is fully God as well as fully human.) 
Pray for us sinnersNow and in the hour of our death .  (If the saints in Revelation are praying for us, why would we not ask for her prayers?) 

Throughout Advent, we prayed the Hail Mary, the Lord's Prayer and the Glory Be every night, and the kids reminded me if I ever skipped one.  The Hail Mary felt so much more natural to me now.  With both curiosity and trepidation, I began looking at the Rosary.  My first thought was that there was too much emphasis on the Hail Mary.  Then I realized that the true focus during every decade of Hail Marys is meditation on Jesus!   It is always about His life, death and resurrection as recorded in the Gospels.

So, I was becoming more comfortable with the prayers, but what about some of the teachings about Mary?  What about the idea that she stayed a virgin? That she didn't sin? That she went straight to Heaven?  Those things had to be wrong.  And kind of silly, even.  I mean, why would it matter, anyway, if she had other children?  Turns out that I had barely scratched the surface of who Mary is.

Image credit

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Way Home, Part IV ~ Clearing Up the Misconceptions

Part I
Part II

Part III

Most of the churches I have attended as an adult focus their energies on the Sunday morning service.   My parents, though, grew up attending Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday midweek meetings, another weekly prayer meeting and maybe a Royal Rangers/Missionettes/youth meeting or something like that if it wasn't part of the Wednesday night service.  Unless there was a revival or camp meeting, when they would go every single night for a couple of weeks--and revivals were frequent.  

Our church didn't have that many meetings when I was a kid, but my grandma's seemed to have a lot.  I went when I had to, but my attention wandered.  My sister and I played every pen and paper game known to man.  I would often amuse myself by combining hymn titles to make funny phrases.  My mom generally confiscated my Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books, but in my search for reading material, I came across Chick tracts.  They gave me nightmares.  Nearly all of the ones that I remember featured the gruesome death of a child.  And some were virulently anti-Catholic.

I am not sure if that is where I got some of my ideas about Catholicism, or if I just heard bits and pieces of conversations from other non-Catholics.  They may well have gotten scrambled in my head.  But somehow, I had the idea that Catholics worshiped the saints, that they totally idolized Mary, and that they had purgatory where could suffer enough to pay for your sins and make it into Heaven if you hadn't become a Christian before you died.   I was wrong on all three counts.

One of the most powerful and comforting things I know of is the prayers of my fellow believers.  When my children get sick, when we are facing some big challenge, one of the first things I do is ask for prayers.  That doesn't mean that I worship my fellow Christians or that I think that they have magical powers to grant my desires.  But I have seen first hand that "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."  

Once when I was a little girl, I asked my dad about prayer being outside of time.  In my mind, it was clear that Heaven and God existed outside of time and that time was just a created force, like gravity.  So as a child, it seemed logical that we could pray for the dead and that people in Heaven could pray for us.  I didn't quite follow his answer, but I could tell that the question made him a little uncomfortable and so I stopped talking about it.  

Now when I think about the great cloud of witnesses from Hebrews, and all the prayers of the saints that the Revelations speaks of, it makes sense to me to ask them to pray for me and my loved ones, too.  Sure, I still pray directly to God myself, but just as I find praying in the spirit helps me when my mind is too limited to pray the way I want, I also ask my brothers and sisters in Christ who no longer are bound by the constraints of time and physical life to pray for me.



I am working on a specific post just about Mary and the Marian doctrines that I am learning, but although she is greatly honored (and after all, do we really think Jesus would disobey the command to honor His mother, or that He would be displeased that we honor her?), she is still a person, created by God, redeemed by God.  She is not God herself, nor is she worshiped.  She is an example of what we want to be--someone who fully said yes to God, who experienced the indwelling of God in the most remarkable of ways.  


For those of us who believe that salvation comes from grace, through Christ and His death and resurrection, the idea that someone could suffer enough to earn Heaven is repugnant for many reasons.  It is also NOT taught by the Catholic Church.  In the Catholic understanding, salvation comes from Christ's work on the cross and His resurrection.  Purgatory is an intermediate state for Christians who have died.  There are many different ideas about what happens there.  Some do consider it as a place of temporal punishment and suffering.  Others, however, simply see it as a place where any remnants of temporal things fall away, which for believers is something longed for and a source of joy (theEastern tradition seems much more positive to me).  The Treaty of Brest agrees not to quibble over the details of purgatory, which I think is wise.  

So, I was able to work through those issues to my satisfaction.  My view of Mary, though, has definitely undergone a change, and there are some other issues that I still struggle with.

Image credit

      

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Way Home, Part III ~ RCIA

Part I
Part II

After the first few Sundays of attending Mass, our family knew that this was where we were supposed to be.  The older kidlets were settling into their classes.  The first Sunday we attended happened to be the very week that their sacramental prep classes started.  We didn't realize at the time that that is what they were, but we were very glad once we found out.

We were ready for the next step: RCIA.  RCIA is the Rite of Christian Initiation, a process of several months of intensive study and commitment from those seeking to join the Catholic Church and their sponsors.  There was a problem, however.  I worked on the nights when RCIA met, and we didn't have a sponsor.  That kicked off another series of "little things".

I happened to comment on a post on St. Peter's List.  My comment was actually pretty ranty, because although I love that site for resources on Catholicism, I lean far more left politically than some of the other posters there, but I mentioned that dh and I were being drawn to Catholicism.  Soon afterwards, I got a message from an old friend.

Several years ago, Ambrose had been our student on a trip to Mexico.  He and dh played countless chess games on the trip and enjoyed several talks on theology.  At the time, Ambrose was also in the journey of becoming Catholic.  Besides being an ideal student, he stood out for his attitude when we visited the cathedrals.  Most of the students treated them like any other tourist site, but he always showed a reverence that I appreciated.

In the years since we had seen him, he had completed a theology degree from the university where dh teaches, joined the Church, earned another theology degree from a Catholic university, married a lovely woman with a passion for helping poor children, and moved back to our city.  He also happened to teach the RCIA classes for our church.  When he heard our dilemma, he generously offered to meet with us every week to teach us.


Honestly, if I had been asked to design the perfect RCIA leaders for us, I probably would have left out many of the attributes that Ambrose and Emiliani have, but since God did it, they have been the most incredible sponsors ever.  Having known him years ago helped us feel comfortable.  His theological background is amazing, because he fully understands both our charismatic evangelical background along with Catholicism.  Emiliani is passionate about social justice, women's issues, and caring for children, especially those in third world countries.  Along with being the kind of person whose character I admire, she has a gift for making people feel valued and understood, and is just plain fun.  And because we were meeting at our home, we could afford to delve into topics and bunny trail in ways that would have been impossible in a large group.  (They also showed incredible patience with our kidlets and the general chaos around here, not to mention my discomfort with authority and lack of a filter).

Of course, we also met with our parish pastor.  It just so happened that our meeting was almost one year to the day that God had spoken to me about placing us in a church.  Our pastor zeroed in on a very specific theme during our meeting: community.  Every time he said it, I remembered what God had spoken to me the year before and got chills.

Goosebumps, coincidences and warm fuzzies are all well and delightful, but what about doctrinal issues? What about Mary and praying to saints and purgatory? What about women in the Church?  What about oral sex and my liberal views on many topics? What about family members who fear that we are endangering our souls (or the souls of our children)?  That is coming up.

Image credit
  

My Way Home, Part II ~ First Mass

If you missed Part I, you can read it here

There were many, many little things that had nudged me toward Catholicism over the months.  During Pope Benedict's papacy, I really had no interest in the Catholic Church.  But I started to pay attention to Pope Francis, first because he was from Latin America, but quickly because of himself.  I was so tired of identifying myself as "a Christian, but..." followed with a long list of disclaimers.  In the US it seems as if Protestant Christianity is known by politics instead of Christ (and the politics often seem diametrically opposed to Christ!).  The humility, joy and compassion that characterize Pope Francis are what I think of when I think of Jesus, and that is the kind of person that I want to be. 

When my husband first asked me what I thought about visiting a Catholic church, I was stunned, and overjoyed.  I think he was a little surprised at my enthusiasm.  For God to tell both of us the same thing individually was reasssuring and humbling.  It also made me feel so much closer to dh!  He looked up Catholic churches in our area and picked one because he liked the name.

Neither of us had ever attended Mass before, and I was sure that I was going to make a mistake.  I didn't know any of the gestures or when to kneel or anything else.  However, it didn't matter, because that first Sunday the little two had a meltdown just before the service started.  Thankfully, there was a lovely park just across the street, so I took them there to calm down while dh and the older ones went to Mass.

I was so bummed.  It was such a letdown to have been so excited, to get ready and go, and then not even attend the service!  I griped about it quite a bit to God as I watched the babies slide and swing.   And then I felt peace.  Passages of Scripture came to mind, and I concentrated on them and prayed.  By the time the rest of the family came out of the service, I was calmer.  I asked what the service was like, and they shared the exact same verses I had been meditating on!  It felt like a squeeze from the Holy Spirit that we were on the same wave length.

All of us wanted to go back the next Sunday.  This time, dh went to the early Mass and he and the kidlets had a class, and then I went to the Mass by myself.  All of my nervousness about not doing the right thing disappeared in the beauty of that service.



I have spent time in all kinds of church buildings, but most of them looked like a converted gymnasium.  The pastors usually dressed informally and acted informally.  I had been proud of that when I was younger.  "Look, God meets us however we are and wherever we are, and we don't have to dress up."  It is true, but the brilliant colors, the engagement of all of the senses, the order of the liturgy--every detail of this Mass seemed to reflect beauty and truth.

Tears blurred my eyes through the whole thing.  The sense that this was exactly where I needed to be, and that I was in the very presence of God was so strong.

My earliest recollection of church is of people dancing.  My grandma's church sang old hymns that bored me to tears, but most of the worship services I went to growing up were full of life.  Some were more along the lines of a rock concert.  I reveled in the freedom and exuberance of using all of my body to praise God.  I didn't expect to enjoy the music of Mass.

Something about the Gloria captivated me, though.  It stuck inside me, and even though I had not heard it before that Sunday, I sang it constantly the rest of the week.  I also loved the responsive Psalms.   And during the Eucharist, I knew I was in the presence of God.

I also wanted to laugh when I remembered hearing anti-Catholic warnings that they didn't even know the Bible.  Every single word of the Mass came from Scripture!  I hadn't even realized how thirsty I was until my spirit drank deeply that morning.  I felt like I couldn't wait a whole week for the next Mass.

When I started to write these posts, "my way home" seemed like the corniest title ever.  I kept trying to come up with something else.  Finally, though, I gave up and used it anyway, because that is the best description of how I felt.  There is something deep, deep inside of me that unknots itself and relaxes into joy when I go back to Mexico.  I felt this same thing that first Mass, and every one since.

Image credit

Friday, March 14, 2014

My Way Home ~ Part I

Those of you who follow my posts pretty closely or know me personally have probably at least suspected this, but I am going to go ahead and make it official.  This Easter, I will be joining the Catholic Church.  As with any good story, this is a long one.  I hope that it is also an interactive one--please feel free to ask questions!  (Like any writer, I love it when someone cares enough to engage!)  The ending still isn't written yet, but here is the beginning.



As I have mentioned in previous posts, my parents, grandparents and inlaws were all pastors.  From my earliest memories, God has been real to me, as real as any person.  When I was about seven or eight, my parents got sucked into Gothard and some of the accompanying ick, but the core of their theological beliefs were established on Christ.  From infancy, they encouraged me to seek God, to pray, to love the Bible and to love people.

Part of that hunger for God led me to studying.  When I was in my teens, my dad worked at a Christian university, and he would often bring home textbooks from the theology department that I read for fun.  One of the things that drew me to my husband was the depth of his knowledge of God, both in relationship and in knowing about God (his undergrad degree is in theology).

Having kids of my own brought into focus the conflict between the doctrines of love, grace and redemption and the way so many churches apply (or rather, don't apply) those to the way we treat children.  I finally reached the point where I couldn't just dismiss it and agree to disagree when pastors preached that we had to spank our children.  We began searching for a church that welcomed bleating lambs.

For several years, we essentially stopped attending church.  Every time we visited a new one, the pastor preached on spanking.  No kidding--it was ridiculous, because surely it isn't a topic that they cover that often?!--but at least it saved us from wasting time.  My relationship with God didn't waver, but I was frustrated and lonely.

During fall break of 2012, we were on a road trip and out of the blue, God spoke to me that He was going to put us into a community.  I knew it was His voice and not my own head, and it shook me up.  After we got home, not much happened.  At first I was hopeful, and tried some more new churches, but always left feeling burdened and discouraged.

There had been a few little things, though.  Ed Cyzewski, a fantastic writer who is also part of A Deeper Story, mentioned praying the hours once.  I began to do that and was overwhelmed at the beauty and presence of God.  Here and there I came across posts from Catholics like Guggie Daly and others that shared such loving, healthy pictures of marriage and parenting.  Several posters would comment that they couldn't even imagine their priest telling parents to spank, or discouraging breastfeeding in church.  Little things.

Slowly, the draw toward the Catholic church began to grow.  But I did my best to ignore it.  After all, I grew up reading Chick tracts (the Westboro Baptist of Christian literature).  I am pretty sure that at least a couple of them featured nuns who had been impregnated by priests and then sacrificed the baby to Satan.  Anyway, Catholics worshiped Mary and made idols of saints and what about purgatory and scandals and...

...and part of me winced at how our families would view it.  To be sure, my beliefs on many topics are quite radically different from theirs, but I had an idea that this would seem more like a personal rejection of them.  I didn't even mention any of this to my husband.  Why bring it up?

Then, one Saturday evening, he looked at me significantly, paused and said, "I have been praying a lot about it and I would like to visit a Catholic service tomorrow.  What do you think?"

To be continued.

Image credit

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Muscle Memories




My son has been begging for karate lessons for months, and we agreed that it would be better for him to actually learn than just make up his own moves on his sisters. We got the oldest two kidlets signed up, and it only made sense that my husband or I join too since we would have to wait anyway. My husband elected me.
I was secretly excited. I had earned a blue belt in the same system back in my teens and had loved it. But, hello. That was twenty years ago. I had stopped my second year of college because of schedule conflicts and had never gone back.
As we warmed up, I noticed that the sensei was probably half my age. We stretched in ways that my body had not even attempted in decades. Fifty pounds and four kids had altered my center of gravity. At one point, we stood on one foot to stretch and I toppled over. The poor sensei nearly turned purple holding back a laugh. I was beginning to question if I was just too old for this.

Read the rest over at A Deeper Story.  :)



Image credit

Friday, February 28, 2014

Our King's Cake Celebration

I grew up hearing a lot about meaningless traditions and how dead and stifling they are.  If they are meaningless to you, then they aren't worth much.  This year, though, the kidlets and I have been discovering the richness of the liturgical year.  We celebrated Advent together, and it melted my heart when the kids would remind us to pray with shining eyes.  The eldest and I attended Midnight Mass together for the first time, and all of the kids, even the older ones, thought that our celebration of the Reyes Magos (Epiphany) to be a magical time.  We have some very special Easter plans already, and so this week we have been talking about the time leading up to Lent.

Confession Number 1:  I almost never remember to plan things in advance, and then get stuck having to wing it on the actual day after reading someone else's cool post.  So we cheated and had a preview celebration of Mardi Gras today.  We will do the real thing again, but I thought it would be fun to do a trial run in case any of you, dear readers, also tend to wait until a blog post reminds you.

Confession Number 2:  I just said that to sound good.  The real reason is that I did grocery shopping yesterday and they had cream cheese-filled King's cakes on sale, and it sounded too yummy to resist for elevenses today.
The crumbs and fingerprints are from some impatient little kidlets.  Ahem.

First, we talked about all the ways that God makes our lives rich with His love and how the richness of the cake and the sweetness of the sugar reminds us of how sweet His presence is in our lives.  They wanted to know why the sugar was purple, green and gold, so we looked it up.  The purple stands for justice, the green for faith and the gold for power.  The kidlets were already talking about the Wise Men (and the straw filled shoes for the camels) so I told them that the shape of the cake is because of the way the Wise Men went home in a circular way to evade Herod.  Of course, the fun part is finding the baby Jesus doll.  Without any prompting, the kids told me that that was because finding Jesus is the most important thing in our whole lives.  :happymamatears.

Together we prayed and gave thanks for the sweetness and joy of knowing God.  We prayed that there would be justice for all people, especially the poor and oppressed.  We asked for a vibrant, growing faith, that those who have gold would know that all power belongs to Christ, and that most of all we would always seek Jesus in our hearts.

Confession Number 3:  I think that any great spiritual lesson quickly gave way to seeing who had the biggest slice and who would find the plastic Jesus doll.  It was a beautiful moment, but it was also real life with a bunch of kidlets.  That still doesn't keep me from getting all watery-eyed, though.

For the real Mardi Gras, we will do a repeat of this (although in the morning, we will be having pancakes and pancakes races, and watching the Olney/Kansas races on Youtube--yikes, that is a lot of sugar!).  Then on Ash Wednesday, if my courage doesn't fail me, I will take all four little ones to church.  Gulp.

I know that this is just a little thing, but at the risk of being trite (who am I kidding--I wallow in trite!), our lives are made up of these moments.  I can't say for sure how much meaning the kidlets will find in the traditions we are embracing this year, but so far they have loved them and so have I.  Besides, who doesn't enjoy an excuse to eat a cream cheese filled cinnamon roll covered in pretty sprinkles?