Tell me what you want what you really, really want

I have a new computer and noticed at the top center is an icon of a little light bulb that reads, “Tell me what you want to do.”  Maybe it’s because I had a perpetually messy room as a child and watched too many episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie,” but I’ve been looking for a light bulb like that my entire life.

My son drew this picture of Jesus of the Eucharist when he was 11-year old.  It hangs in my hallway.

Haven’t we all?  How much simpler life would be if we could just get what we want, what we think we need, what we know will finally fill that persistent ache of our humanity.  When I look at my life, the things I wished for as a child, the vows of certainty I made as a teenager, the ambitious plans I made as a young adult, and the middle-age accumulation of decades of yearnings, efforts, achievements, and disappointments, I wonder why I long for anything.  It hasn’t been a ‘your wish is my command’ experience, but it has been magical, even if that magic felt black at times.

I know both the joy and vulnerability of childhood, the discoveries and confusion of the teen years, the naivete of young adulthood and the knowledge I learned from my mistakes, the exhilaration and exhaustion of motherhood, and, now, the balance between improving myself and accepting who I am.  I’ve learned every stage has challenges, triumphs, and part of the answer of what God calls us to do.  The sufferings I lamented, resented, and mourned have shaped me into a wiser, stronger, and more resilient person.  They’ve also taught me to surrender, be softer, and stand firm.

I bring the waves of vacillation that shape my life to the altar during the Eucharist as a plea, “Tell me what you want me to do, God.”  I feel more connected to him at this moment than any other.  I feel both surrender and strength.  Sometimes it feels scary like a dare.  Will I do what he asks?  Will I obey?  Other times my plea feels like a brave truth.  l trust in his mercy, have faith in his plan, and feel love so genuine that I know it will bridge the difference between truth and dare.

“Tell me what you want to do” has evolved from being a means to get what I want to a way to give what he wills.  I don’t know what the years ahead hold or if I am promised any.  But I know that the trajectory of my life, with all the roads that sometimes felt too narrow, too fast, too winding, and too dark, led me to him.  It hasn’t been as simple as the light bulb icon on the computer screen promises, but it has illuminated the darkest parts of my life, not by giving into my commands, but by teaching me the right questions to ask.

God, tell me what you want me to do.

 

Read last week’s post here. 

Are you someone who trusts in God’s will?  When you look back at your life can you see the ways he was at work?  

 

 

Spring Christmas

A friend of mine confessed on a recent girls’ night that her Christmas tree was still up.  It was past mid-March. New Year’s resolutions had already been forgotten, Cupid already shot his arrow, leprechauns already spent their pots of gold, and cumulus clouds were already forming April showers in the skies, so I didn’t really know what to say.

She seemed relatively nonchalant about it, and I told her I didn’t know whether she had become fully liberated or if she had simply gone over the edge.   There seems to be a fine line between those things.

She explained that she hasn’t had time between working, chauffeuring children, and the daily demands of life.  She was mortified recently when another couple stopped by unexpectedly.  After all, a fully-decorated Christmas tree isn’t something you can just jam in the closet or under a couch cushion.  But the other couple was more interested in her company than her Christmas décor, and they sat around the tree drinking wine and catching up.  It sounded rather peaceful, like one of those made-for-TV moments that we are too busy to have during the actual Christmas season.

We are told time and again to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long.  But not in our living rooms.  Keeping your heart red and green and glittery gold all year sounds wonderful, but your living room should have delicate hints of spring tucked into the décor by now.  That’s what my Better Homes and Gardens magazine says anyway.

But what my friend’s better way of living suggests is that her priorities are less interested in decor and more aligned with devotion to others. Maybe it’s because of this that she had such ease making her Christmas tree confession.   There was no blaming her husband or kids, no claiming it was going to be one of those seasonal trees, no plans to take it down the following day, no guilt, just a shrug of indifference that she hasn’t had time to get to it.

I thought back to a few weeks earlier when another dear friend passed away unexpectedly.  I had been at the hospital all day hoping, praying, and comforting.  I was with her husband, daughters, and another friend throughout the tragedy.  After everyone left, I stayed behind with my husband to meet the priest and deacon to pray over my friend’s lifeless body.  It was a long, horrible day.  That little baby that was born in a manger on Christmas felt terribly far away.

I came home depleted, dreading the many phone calls I still had to make to share the devasting news, having already said over and over again, I’m sorry, to too many people.   It felt like the most apologetic day of my life, and there were still more apologies to make.

I was surprised to see a Styrofoam cooler on my dining room table.  On top of it was a bouquet of long-stemmed sunflowers that suggested the return of sunny days.  Inside was dinner for my family.  I started sobbing, overcome with humility that someone had thought of extending mercy to me. The day had been about my friend, her husband, children, and other friends, and now it had been about me, too.

Marked on top of the cooler were two words: Mercy Matters.

My friend who hasn’t had time to take down her Christmas tree did that for me.  No one knew that there would be a terrible loss that day.   No one had planned for it.  No one ever does.  So how remarkable it is when people show up anyway, rearrange their plans, give their time, are generous and thoughtful and reminiscent of a holiday that for most of us is packed away in boxes in the attic.

As unorthodox as it is for her Christmas tree to still be up, this girl knows what matters.  She lives it.  The red and green and glittery gold of her heart shines year-round.  She reminded me how much mercy matters, and that’s a better gift than anything I’ll ever find under a tree.

Did you ever have anyone do something so unexpected and kind for you?  I was desperate for mercy that day and sure enough, it showed up for me.  I would love to hear how it has shown up for you too.

 

Miss last week’s post? 

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://mercymatters.net/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO 

Prayer and a Prostitute Ministry

I was reminded of the power of prayer by some of the people who need it the most.  I often travel on a portion of highway littered with seedy motels, drug dealers, and prostitutes.  It’s been that way as long as I can remember. My oldest son knows it as the road where we have the drug talk, again.

It’s easy to witness the devastation of drugs on that stretch of highway. Women of all ages, who I could easily portray with vivid and acute adjectives, I describe with only one word: hollow. They are a shell of who they are meant to be. Their eyes are large and blank. Despite their feigned hospitality, their desperation is obvious. The essence of their existence is missing, despite the sway of their bodies. Hollow.

And it feels wrong to just drive by.

But I do, just like everybody else. Well, almost everybody. A few years ago, I wrote an article for the newspaper about an organization called Grace Ministry of Helping Hands, a non-profit that helps women in the grips of drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. Every two weeks volunteers minister to these women, bringing them toiletries, offering them a way out, and if they are not quite ready to leave their brokenness behind, planting an incorruptible seed that is the redemption of Christ.

I love their mission – the grittiness of it, the discipleship, the message of hope, and, more than anything, the mere acknowledgement of these outcast women. Just their willingness to see them as children of God instead of sexual objects, addicts, and throwaways is so incredibly Christ-like and beautiful.

Not far from that highway, I recently saw a woman slouched at the entrance of the post office. She was frail as if pounds were shed along with her dignity, and there wasn’t much left of either. I walked passed her and avoided eye contact. Of course, I didn’t feel like I had much dignity for my cowardly inaction. It bothered me to walk by her and do nothing just as it does to drive by those women on the highway.

It’s hard to know what to do. If I give money, it will likely be spent on drugs. I didn’t have any food to offer her, assuming it even appealed to her in her waif-like state. I couldn’t take her home with me, because my husband would have a fit, and I really wouldn’t know what to do with her when I got her there.

I kept thinking, “What can I do? What can I do?” And then I remembered, prayer. I can always pray. So I did, all the way home.

Later that evening, I got an email that Grace Ministries was helping a former prostitute and drug addict set up her new apartment. They were looking for household items. It felt like such an answer to my prayer. I donated some towels and a gift card to a grocery store. I knew it wouldn’t specifically help the lady I saw at the post office, but it would help someone in a similar situation.  I trust that God will reach that other woman, too.

It was such a gift to be reminded that there is always hope and there are more than addicts, dealers, and prostitutes that walk that stretch of highway.   There are disciples of grace, reminding us that the constancy of God’s mercy is a path available to us all. “Come, follow me” (Mathew 4:19, NRSV).

 

Have you ever felt like you wanted to help someone, but you weren’t sure how?  What do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation?  Please share your experiences in the comment section.  These issues are complicated and there is so much we can learn from each other. This is also about an answered prayer.   To read more on prayer: http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/

To learn more about the work of Grace Ministry of Helping Hands visit their website at http://graceministriesjax.org