Seeing God in a Pub

I was in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by wild, rugged snowcapped mountains. The quaint pub I was in, near Loch Ness, was located in the town of Fort William, not too far from Inverness. As I sat there sipping my ridiculously priced (and ridiculously good) glass of scotch, letting the warmth of the drink flow through me, and felt the warmth of the wood fire beside me in our booth, I couldn’t help but think it was one of the most contented moments of my twenty some years on earth. I simply basked in the moment, in the feeling of finally having arrived somewhere I always hoped I would end up.

The feeling was probably enhanced by being the only relatively quiet moment of a break-neck paced two week journey through Ireland and Scotland. As much as we had enjoyed our fellow tour companions, traveling around for days on end with two dozen heavy drinking, karaoke loving, cheery Australians was not as relaxing as one might guess. So, as it was, that glowing, crackling fire beside me and the soft hum of conversation by the bartender and a local across the room felt like the quiet, but still active moments before mass begins. As I neared the end of my glass, my husband returned and sat down with my second glass and his own locally made beer. I looked up at him to offer a blissful smile of gratitude for finally agreeing to accompany me on this trip, but I was caught off guard by the utterly new expression on his usually carefully guarded face. It was wonder I saw.

He had spent his childhood following baseball wherever it called, and it had taken him to different locations across the South. When in a new city or town, however, the entire time was spent playing ball, so he ended up having experienced very little even though he had travelled quite a bit in the United States. There was nothing inherently wrong with his upbringing- he genuinely loved baseball, and doesn’t regret a moment he dedicated to it. Traveling hadn’t been on his radar, though, just like exercise still isn’t on mine. His laser focus on his goal of becoming a professional baseball player had made it difficult for much of anything else to get his attention. I was just thankful I had been able to grab his attention long enough to convince him to walk down the aisle a short four months before this delayed honeymoon. Trying to convince my single-minded, college baseball playing husband that his two weeks of rest over winter break, before the spring season began, would be well spent gallivanting across the British Isles was an understandably hard sell. Plus, the price tag seemed awfully high for something he didn’t actively want to do. I have been known to wear people down, however, and out of sheer desperation to have me shut up, he agreed to go. I think he initially thought of the trip as something he had to simply get through, maybe with a little help of Jameson and Glenfiddich along the way. But somewhere along that way, he had accidentally become an active participant. Somehow, God had used every new thing he had experienced to bring him to a new awareness not just of the world, but of God himself.

I was prepared to recognize this new awareness in him, because I had experienced it myself at fourteen. I was on my first trip out of the United States to Spain and Portugal with my grandfather, who had graciously allowed my mom and me to tag along for a conference. Having grown up Protestant, I had never been exposed to Catholic art and architecture and the ornate cathedrals we visited left me feeling elated. They left me feeling as though I hadn’t just encountered priceless art, but God himself. Little did I know at that time,  as I would discover six years later, Jesus was actually uniquely present in those churches, in the tabernacle, beside a hanging lit candle I didn’t know the purpose behind. As I discovered on my first trip, and as I knew my husband was discovering in that very moment in the pub, travel doesn’t just give us a way to conquer a bucket list and impressive photos to post on social media. Travel, as we have experienced it, expands our sense of geography, of time, of the human experience, and of our connectedness with everything on earth, and even in heaven. Ultimately, and even ideally, travel expands our sense of God. Every new food, every conversation, every sight, but especially every person, is an opportunity to experience and encounter God in a new way.

Somehow, travels gives us the ability to become more aware-of ourselves, of others, and of our surroundings. As my husband realized that night, he wasn’t on that trip to simply experience what there was to experience. He was there to realize God was chasing him through every experience. Every sight, taste, and encounter was a new opportunity, an invitation even, to see God. The truth is, when my husband and I travel, and let a place seep into us as we did that night, we can’t help but be changed. Our sense of awe points us to God and our sense of the largeness of the world, humbles us. The more we travel, the more we find to marvel at. Natural beauty, magnificent man-made cathedrals, and even smaller things, like drinking scotch in a cozy pub, are sign posts, directing our attention to a greater reality.

We stayed there soaking up the warmth of the fire, enjoying our drinks, and talking for several hours. We could have stayed longer, but our travel companions decided to come in as well, and the spell was broken. But the awareness stayed. And as we hiked up a mountain on the Isle of Skye the next day, and I watched my husband take in the stunning views at the top, I knew he wasn’t just seeing a pretty sight, he was seeing God.

Doubt on Good Friday

It is one of the most important days on the liturgical calendar, and I couldn’t even convince myself to get off the couch that Friday. Like the clouds gathering in the sky outside my window, as I sat on the couch, spiritual clouds gathered in my soul. It was an unwelcome, but familiar feeling. I am no stranger to doubt and wrestling with my faith. In fact, I have learned to embrace the struggle and appreciate the fruits of the fight. But Good Friday is not the day I wanted to struggle. Like Christmas, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter have always stirred welcome feelings of faith and passion in me. Instead, this year I felt doubtful and numb.

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If I look at a crucifix, I will see a man hanging there, bloody and beaten, leaving no doubt that he suffered. Like the one on the cross, Catholics are meant to embrace suffering. This is something that I found attractive when I first began to study  Catholicism. When answers aren’t found and healing isn’t granted, there is not only a theology of suffering to dive into and give meaning to pain, but a God who experienced pain to lean on. This fall will make three years since I entered the Church, and the phrase “offer it up,” is no longer strange to me. I have found the everyday reality of embracing suffering  is less comforting in the moments most needed, however. Not because it is actually useless, but because in those moments, I don’t think of how this could be beneficial to me later on. And I wonder how I, riddled with doubt, but warm, fed, and loved by my family, should bring my meager suffering to a God hanging on a cross, bleeding and dying?

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I didn’t make it to the church on Good Friday. Doubt or not though, I am sentimental to a fault, and when little else can, tradition motivates me. So on Saturday, our little family dressed up and went to the Easter Vigil mass at 7:00 p.m. We met outside with the other parishioners and after lighting candles, processed into the dark sanctuary, once again filling it with the light that represents Christ. The familiar rituals, the smell of incense, physically set me at ease. I didn’t dwell on my problem in that moment. I just sat there content to be among those who did believe, and I let them believe for me. I watched a baptism and confirmation, and admired the beauty of the words and actions. And just like the little candle I carried into the sanctuary two hours before would not have lit the whole church alone, my soul wasn’t set ablaze again by the little flame that began to burn there. But at that Easter Vigil, a little candle inside was indeed lit. And every Sunday since, I have continued to stand, kneel, sit, cross myself, and recite those beautiful and ancient prayers. And as surely as He rose from the dead, and spring has arrived, belief is once again sprouting in my soul.

Therapy and Sanctity

I sat in the worn, faux leather chair across from her and tried to explain why I felt I needed to be there. I never really had trouble seeking help for my emotional and mental needs from friends and family when I needed it, yet here I was, sitting across from a therapist. I have always had an extreme personality. I used to see things as black and white and gave people little room to mess up in my life. And someone had undeniably messed up, and it had left me anxious and struggling to forgive.

After several sessions, I was given tools to help cope with OCD tendencies. And through those methods, and with the help of my church, I began to see how those tendencies had unfortunately dominated my spiritual life. The rigidity I imposed on myself and others, was not only crippling me emotionally and mentally, but my relationships with people as well. In this particular instance, perhaps it wouldn’t have been the blow it was if I hadn’t expected perfection in the first place. I was justified in my anger at that point, but not in my unforgiving attitude or demands for repentance on my terms.

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My approach to spirituality led to unhealthy tendencies. I became hard-hearted and judgmental to preserve my own sanctity at the cost of those around me. But in what way is the meek, humble Savior I adore like that? God humbled himself to walk on earth with us. He drew in the dirt, he turned over tables, and he cried, feasted, celebrated and mourned. He lived perfectly in an imperfect world and did it embracing human emotions-his own and others- fully. If there’s no room in my journey to holiness for other’s imperfections, is there room for a perfect God?

Infertility: Part 1

Making this latest post was uncomfortable for me. First, the camera intimidated me. Second, I am exposing a part of my life that only a few friends and family know about. But my comfort and complacency must take a back seat if I want to engage with people on a real, authentic level about important topics affecting us all.

Infertility. Along with me and Reece and Rachel and Tyler, infertility touches 1 in 8 couples in the United States according to the CDC. That number is growing. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so I’m not going to speculate about why. Even if I don’t know why, I do know people are hurting. And I believe anything that hurts people and therefore God, must also hurt the people of God. We all need to sit around our fellowship tables and our supper tables and have these conversations. We need to tell these stories so we can better serve the people suffering through this who need help and support. If we can’t find an answer to why, we can find an answer to how. How we show love and compassion matters.

Thank you so much to my sweet friend Rachel for doing the hard work of being open and honest. Thank you for having me on your channel!

Here’s Part 1:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut4mifpdFsE&t=25s

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

Bouquet or Not

Daddy walked around the rented, vintage car and opened the door. As he helped me out, I wrapped my arm around his and we turned to face the parted sea of people. As we began to walk, I saw our wedding planner walk up to my side, “you forgot your bouquet,” she whispered. This normally regrettable fact didn’t cause me to miss a step. My mind and heart were focused squarely ahead of me. There was nothing worth stopping for, no worry worth dwelling on. As much as I dislike being in front of people, my steps were sure, steady, and maybe even hurried, as I walked to the front of the close to four hundred people in attendance. My usual inevitable shakiness was not present in my hands as I reached the front and he took them in his own. After eight years, we were finally standing in front of the preacher.

Reece and Bond, have you come..

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Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?

That question seemed more like routine than reality at that moment. Of course we were. Almost three years later, we see that every day we answer this question again in our actions. It is routine and reality now as I chose to stay freely and without reservation, because he does, too.

Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?

We thought this was the easy part. Always was part of our relationship from the beginning. But times, places, and people changed. We changed, too. We forgot about always and focused on our own wants and needs, until we realized again that always isn’t possible apart, only together.

Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of and his Church?

He hesitantly said “yes” to the entirety of that question. Trusting God, loving me, naively believing we would certainly be rocking a baby to sleep roughly nine months from the moment that question was posed. But biology interfered with our certainty when we received devastating news a year later. Biology didn’t have the last say, however. And despite the doctor’s opinion, one of those tests ended up being positive.

The beautiful picture of my forgotten bouquet was taken by Rachel Wells Photography.

No Doors

As I sat in the back row in the church listening to stories about my dear friend, the word “hospitality” kept coming to my mind. Hospitality used to invoke images of a plate of freshly baked cookies, an immaculately organized home, and a hostess wearing an apron and always smiling in welcome. True hospitality, though, can’t be measured in terms of cleanliness, quantity or quality of food, or who can smile the longest without their face hurting. My friend exuded hospitality. And it was expressed in the dried tears on her shirt of people who struggled with addiction, serving meals to the homeless, and letting dirty, less than groomed people enter into what potentially could have been a neat and tidy life.

Hospitality is always having room in my life for the next person God sends my way, regardless of whether he or she can offer me something in return, or whether they hate me or love me. Being truly hospitable means my heart is a revolving door, and everyone gets in. Because if anybody is welcome in, surely God will enter in, too.

“I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.”

Dorothy Day

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She entered through the gate and was momentarily blinded by the brilliance of the road before her. So, it really is paved with gold, she thought. She slowly put one foot in front of the other as her eyes adjusted. When she could see clearly, she saw lush gardens around her and a row of houses made of marble-like stones and rich woods. Something besides the material of these houses was different  than those on earth. These houses, she was startled to realize, had no doors. She could see straight into the heart of every home to the people inside. She could see people dancing in the house to her left, and sharing a meal in the house to her right. As she passed by each house she heard laughing, singing, and lively conversation. And as she passed each house, all the inhabitants would shout through the opening, “Come join us, and welcome to heaven, sister!”

I don’t believe there will be doors there. What will there be to keep out? Love, joy, and peace will flow from the King’s throne down every street, circulating through every building, and live in the hearts of all inhabitants. People will come and go from place to place without calling first, without knocking, without warning, because no one feels shame or has anything to hide. There will be no evil to seek shelter from or lock out.

There, God’s hospitality will reign.

When Christmas Eve is Anything But a Silent Night

As I gazed at the lit snowflakes hanging in my window, I thought about how I’ve never understood people complaining about the holiday season being stressful. Like those snowflakes reflecting light and warmth, Christmas has so easily always accomplished the same in my heart year after year.

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But as I realized this year, Christmas has basically always gone the way I wanted it and how I planned it. Time with family, Christmas Eve service, Christmas Day breakfast, etc. This year, we added not only a ten month old baby to our plans, but a sick one. I had grand plans of traditions we would get to experience with him, but few went as planned. On Christmas Eve the baby wasn’t able to attend our family gathering, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t at church on Christmas Eve. My husband and I had an argument, and our Silent Night was anything but silent or peaceful.

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For days I felt such a sense of loss, knowing I would never get our baby’s first Christmas back, and a time meant for spiritual reflection and renewal was wasted. But, that’s not true, is it? As children of light we find purpose in imperfection, times of suffering, and seemingly insignificant moments. The babe, the Prince of Peace, was still in the manger, whether I was singing my heart out at midnight mass, or rocking a sick baby and arguing with my spouse. In fact, that’s why the baby is there, swaddled and snug at Mary’ breast, destined to save me and to save you. Still showing us how futile our stubborn plans are, still reconciling spouses, still healing sick children.

I didn’t miss my opportunity, and neither did you.

O Come Let Us Adore Him

Spirituality and Frozen Pizza

Willis walked into his local grocery store and began strolling up and down the aisles searching for inspiration for supper that evening. He was hungry after a long day of class and work and he wanted something he could prepare quickly. He was single, and had recently moved away for college, so he had no one to cook for but himself. He also no longer had to endure his mother insisting he eat his greens and shoving fire and brimstone sermons down his throat about processed foods. “Stay out of the middle aisles, honey. That’s where the temptations are,” her voice echoed in his head. He smiled to himself, remembering, and then defiantly turned and strutted down the frozen food aisle, embracing his independence. He didn’t intend to totally discard all the motherly wisdom he had absorbed over the years, but he also did not share his mother’s belief that gluten was the source of all illness in the world.

He settled on an organic, roasted vegetable pizza, simultaneously appeasing his mother’s voice and his own. The following week he went back after work one evening and was able to walk straight to the frozen food aisle with no lingering hesitation. This time he chose a conventional, meat lovers’ pizza. It was half the price, further justifying the decision in his mind. The next week, he ate frozen pizza two nights. Within a month, every supper Willis ate came from the frozen food aisle or could be cooked in a microwave. When Willis came home for Christmas, six months after leaving home, he had gained a total of fifteen pounds and had suffered from several colds already that winter. By the time Willis left college four years later, he had established a pattern for an unhealthy lifestyle. He gained a total of fifty pounds over four years, and because he lacked energy, he ceased to maintain an active lifestyle. He justified his decisions by appealing to his right to decide how he wanted to live his life.

Eating strictly junk food did not kill Willis. The food he ate contained just enough nutritional value to keep him alive and minimally nourished, but he wasn’t receiving all the nutrients healthy foods potentially offered him. Willis decided to neglect his mother’s restrictive dietary standard and embrace his own standard, based on his own wants. He sorted through foods only selecting the ones he cared for and rejecting the ones he had difficulty stomaching. This resulted in a different, but still radical way of viewing food that was slowly causing Willis’ health to deteriorate.

Organized religion in Christianity plays the role of the sometimes annoyingly restrictive mother in our spiritual life. Religion can be abused, smacked over heads leaving lumps that hurt like hell and need time to heal. Religion requires prudence, but that is not the point of this particular story, because it can also nourish us, in ways only fruits and vegetables can. Picking and choosing what we do and don’t want out of religion amounts to only eating junk food and receiving minimal nourishment.  The less pleasant aspects of organized religion such as sacrifice, repentance, and service, are the vegetables and fruit we need for our faith to remain healthy and sustainable over a lifetime. And, ultimately, it is what is required for salvation. If Willis doesn’t have to listen to anyone else, only his own wants, why they would he chose a quinoa and kale salad over a hamburger and fries? Madness. Religion without spirituality is dead, sure, but spirituality without religion can more often than not be fruitless.

Following his rejection of additional authorities on food, Willis was doomed to make more and more unhealthy decisions. Left to our own devices we will succumb purely to our own wants. We apply this to daily life in other ways like government, but are bound and determined to keep religion from confining us. The “I am spiritual, not religious” mantra of today is ultimately leading society as a whole down an unhealthy path. In the end, the appeal of being able to choose only white bread over wheat bread if we want will prove to be of no nutritional value and leave us in a worse place than when we started. We will settle for unchallenging homilies/sermons, we will trade in computer screens for pastors, and couches for community. We will sacrifice work, responsibility, and effort for entertainment and fancy lighting. We will take all the nourishment out of Christianity until it eventually starves to death.

Heavenly Peace

https://blessedisshe.net/heavenly-peace/

I’m on the Blessed Is She blog today discussing how to experience peace in our lives this Advent.

“The seed of peace was planted when we began our conversion journey, whenever that was and continues to be. This means that as our relationship with Jesus grows, so will the amount of peace we experience. We know from Jesus’ example that this does not mean we will be granted a life free from turmoil and strife. But we will know unshakeable peace as we walk through difficult situations because we know Who we belong to and where we are going.”