Having your kids in church with you every Sunday is challenging. There is no way around it…it is exhausting when you have a 3.5-year-old daughter, an almost-2-year-old son, and are 38 weeks pregnant.
I know such a practice is not for everyone, but here are some things that I have experienced in the past few weeks that make me remember the perks to having my kids in a liturgical setting, week in and week out.
Today at the park, my almost-2-year-old dipped his hand in the fountain, touched his head in his version of making the sign of the cross on himself, and said, “Holy Spirit.”
A few weeks ago, when the priest genuflected (kneeled) before the blessed Sacrament during communion and disappeared briefly behind the altar, my 3-year-old said loudly, “Where did he go?”
Any time we see a statue of Mary, my kids want to take a closer look at it and touch it.
My 3-year-old has the Lord’s prayer written on her heart already and joins in when the congregation prays it.
My son loves to pass the peace during Mass. If anyone mentions the word ‘peace,’ he turns to every member of our family, extends his hand for a shake, and says, “Peace.” Repeatedly. And now my kids give each other peace across the back seat in the car.
My daughter heard the bells from our church while we were playing at the city park last week and recognized them.
Our new priest, a native of Northern Ireland, made a joke about not being told that East Texas was full of dry counties, prompting laughter from the whole congregation. My daughter laughed along and continued to laugh loudly.
Most touching to me, though, was something that happened about two months ago. I was having a horrible day. I was exhausted from parenting and incubating a baby human. I had just finished a glass of water and it was sitting on the coffee table. My daughter picked it up and brought it to me, made the sign of the cross on my head, and had me take a pretend sip. As she offered the cup, she said, “The Body of Christ.” And then she walked over to the kitchen and said, “Mommy, come here!” And I approached her and she gave me the cup again and offered the words, “The Body of Christ.” She invited her little brother to come and she blessed him by making the sign of the cross on his forehead and offering the cup of salvation.
I cried. My heart was softened to the presence of Jesus in my daughter. And I knew that the exhausting journey of parenting is not in vain, though sometimes it feels that way. My children are learning, absorbing the drama of the Cross and the Resurrection. They are learning to respect the Holy Scriptures when we stand to read them weekly. They are learning to pray with their brothers and sisters. They are passing the peace of Christ. They are laughing with their community. They are feasting on the presence of Christ, even though they are too young to partake of His Body and Blood through the Eucharist.
These little ones, the weak ones in the eyes of the world, are shaming the strong ones around them. And through their testimony, their humor, and their natural humility, I am invited to be a weak and small child in faith once more, running to sit on Jesus’s lap because I know He won’t turn me away.
It is worth the struggle. Press on.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If you know me in person or on Facebook, you are probably aware that I am pro-life, like super pro-life.
You may not know that I am also a recent convert to Catholicism, or that one of the main reasons I was attracted to the Catholic Church was her consistent emphasis on the importance of speaking out for and protecting the weakest and most vulnerable of our human society—the unborn, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. I love the Catholic Church for many reasons, but very much so because she takes the call of Jesus to love the least of our brethren with utmost seriousness.
As an American Catholic, I have looked forward to Pope Francis’s visit, particularly his unprecedented address to the joint session of the United States Congress, which took place on the morning of Thursday, September 24. I had watched the warm reception by the first family of the Holy Father the day before, and I had listened to his words about protecting the environment. I know that in Laudato Si, Pope Francis ties the care for the environment with care and protection of the unborn, but I wanted to hear him make that explicit connection in his words to the American people.
Now, this is a man who makes a lot of Americans uncomfortable. On one hand, he is met with a lot of suspicion by virtue of being the leader of the Catholic Church. He has made comments that seem hostile to American tradition, calling for limits and regulation of the free enterprise and the capitalism our country has been built upon. And he talks a lot about environmental concerns and world peace. Unsurprisingly, he has been labeled by many as a liberal.
On the other hand, Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Church’s position that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that its purpose is to create a new generation of beloved children. Prior to his visit to the United States, he has affirmed the need for protection of the unborn, and although he has emphasized the value and utmost importance of woman in the Church, he is firm on teaching that men alone are eligible for the priesthood. Unsurprisingly, he has been labeled by many as a conservative.
Pope Francis doesn’t fit. He doesn’t fit in our American political system. He is neither liberal nor conservative, Democrat or Republican.
But Jesus didn’t fit in his time either. For me, it is actually an encouraging thing that the Pope has resisted categorization, whether intentionally or not. It means I can trust even more that he is listening for the voice of the Lord to lead him and lead the Christians of the world.
As I watched his address to Congress, my heart was in my throat.
Was he going to affirm the need for our elected officials to end the slaughter of innocents in our land? Was he going to condemn the barbaric practices of dismembering children in and out of the womb and then selling their body parts?
The short answer is “no.” The Pope’s speech was beautiful and elegant, so well-written and well-delivered that I was in awe of the thought, passion, and compassion that went into it. But he didn’t mention the unborn once. He didn’t take a stand on Planned Parenthood.
And so, I was disappointed. This Pope that I love, this man whom I trust as my spiritual leader, he didn’t support my cause explicitly.
Yes, there were many instances where he mentioned things that can be interpreted as a call to protect the unborn. (The Pope spoke of “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” and said, “I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.”) It is undoubtedly true that protecting the unborn is part of Catholic social teaching to advocate for the least of these. But it was also so subtle that it could have been easily overlooked or ignored (as it has been by a lot of Americans).
And so, as the Holy Father leaves my beloved country and resumes his regular pontifical duties at the Vatican, I am left with questions like these: What do I do with my disappointment? What do I do with Pope Francis and his speech before Congress?
Disappointment. It is a real feeling. It can be devastating. To have something I have hoped for—to be supported by my spiritual father in something so close to my heart—not come to pass exactly like I wanted it has brought me disappointment. But I have to remind myself of the words of Scripture where the prophet Isaiah says that “those who trust in the Lord will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23 NIV). Such disappointment can be a case of misplaced trust. Pope Francis is not the Lord; he is a man who has dedicated himself to the Kingdom of God as a priest and a shepherd, but he is still a man, whose perspective on the world and experiences of the world are very different than the ones I bring to the table. It is natural for discomfort and disappointment to arise when expectations aren’t met, when worldviews bump into each other, and when my cultural assumptions are challenged.
So when I find myself disappointed by this person whom I respect so much, I am forced to press into the Lord and ask, “What do I do with my disappointment? What do I do with Pope Francis?”
First, I hear the Lord asking me to forgive the Holy Father for any perceived injustice towards me, or the American people, or the unborn citizens of our country. From watching Francis interact with others and from hearing him speak before, I know that he is full of compassion and boldness and good will and love for Christ, His Church, and all the people of the world. So I know his intent was well placed. I can give him the benefit of the doubt. I can ask the Lord to help me move past the pain and discomfort that this disappointment has caused me and truly forgive him for any perceived injustice.
Second, I hear the Lord saying, “Listen to him.” Have you seen the meme that says, “Many people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”? It’s a quote from Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Well, I am guilty as charged. Far too often, I search the statements and stories and arguments of the people in my life primarily so that I may bring forward my own ideas and opinions by picking apart what they have said. This is not charitable or loving. It is self-seeking and arrogant, even when my motivation is to help others see the truth that I have discovered. This is not to say that I shouldn’t engage in serious discussion about challenging concepts or difficult truths. Rather, I have to orient myself first to listen, second to learn and think, and third to respond with thoughtful feedback and experience.
Had Pope Francis echoed my sentiments and convictions in his speech to Congress, I have to confess that I would have posted as many memes as possible showing others how right I have been and how important my agenda is. I may not have been in a place to listen or to engage in thoughtful dialogue.
As I wrote in a previous post, the Christian family on earth desperately needs to learn the art of conversation. We are so quick to judge our brothers and sisters for what we hear them saying or doing without sitting down, talking it through, and truly listening with a heart of love.
Where do I go from here?
Because I so greatly respect Pope Francis and his position in the Church and the testimony of what he has done and is doing to bring the Kingdom of God, I need to listen and prayerfully consider what he is saying. I am going to print off transcripts of his speeches—all of them from this US trip—and read them with a heart of listening and understanding, asking the Holy Spirit for help. Even though it will make me uncomfortable, I have to do this. I want to extend the same charity to the Holy Father that I know he would extend to me if we were to sit down and have a conversation.
And then I will ask the Lord to help me sort out where to go from here. I still believe that abortion is a great evil and needs to be addressed politically and socially. But maybe my approach needs to change? If I am not willing to ask this question, then I have to admit that my agenda is more important to me than listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Church worldwide. Which is something I don’t want to be true.
In the Psalms, David proclaims of the Lord, “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6 NASB). Because God desires truth in my deepest part, I can trust that when I ask Him to show it to me, He will do it.
And that is what I am asking. How about you?
O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
Psalm 42:6 NKJV
It’s just really hard to be in a low place.
Do you know what I mean? It’s lonely. Vision is limited. Feelings are either overwhelmingly present or conspicuously absent.
Psalm 42 has been one of my go-to passages when I have been depressed. Verse 6 speaks so much to me, because the psalmist is being honest with God–the place that we all must start if we are to get out of the darkness.
O my God… It’s either a prayer or a groaning. Let your heart groan.
My soul is downcast within me… Sometimes it is so hard to just be honest with God about how crappy we feel. But there is no shame in being honest with Him. He can handle it. We have to be honest so that we can start a conversation that will change things within us.
Therefore I will remember You… Memory is a powerful tool against staying stuck in despair or depression. When we look back at the times in our lives that God has been faithful, the times when He has filled us with joy, the times we have seen Him provide, it grows our faith. The act of remembering sows seeds of hope. It’s what I call ‘prophetic memory.’
…from the land of the Jordan… The psalmist is talking about a valley, a low, low place. We have to remember Him in the deep, dark places. We have to start that honest conversation with God.
…And from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar… And I have to remember Him when things are good, when I’m on that mountain top and can see the beautiful goodness of God so clearly and profoundly. I have to write down or somehow record the good things I am seeing in the land of the living, so that when I next find myself in the valley, with no vision for my future because of the darkness pressing in, I can revisit them, remember them, take hope from the consistent kindness of the Lord.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:7,8 NKJV
Know this: He has not forgotten you.
Peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ,
The thought of Tuesdays makes my heart beat faster.
Not in a good way. Not in the I’m-going-to-see-the-guy-I-like way. Not in the good-work-out-today way.
In a bad way.
In the I-can’t-do-Tuesdays-please-rescue-me way.
Tuesdays are no joke. For the past three Tuesdays, I have hit about 11:30 and texted my husband something like this:
Why are Tuesdays so hard?
I cannot do Tuesdays.
I am so sorry this is happening [referring to the meltdown I had that required him to watch the kids on his lunch break so I could escape our house and our kids].
I can ‘make it’ through the morning–the part of the day that is normally easiest with my kids–but when afternoon comes, I am DONE.
I ask again, Why are Tuesdays so hard?
My husband’s theory is that I get caught up on my rest and my sanity over the weekend when he is home being super-helpful. (No sarcasm here; he an amazingly helpful dad and husband.) And so Monday hits when I am rested and prepared. He thinks I spend so much energy and focus making Monday great that
hits me when I’m down
the life from me.
It’s an interesting theory, one that actually gives me hope, but cause it means that somehow, in my repertoire of mom skillz, I have the power to change the face of Tuesday.
Now, I warn you, this is just in the experimental stage, but I am going to try to avert Tuesday’s habitual failing and misery (because it’s miserable) by adjusting my expectations for Monday.
Expectations. They kill my soul when I operate with them as my unrecognized or unacknowledged guides.
I call the kind of thinking has ruled my weeks since I transitioned into full-time stay-at-home mom “ATTACK MONDAY MODE.”
It goes like this:
MAKE MONDAY AMAZING and the rest of the week will be amazing, too.
But what that has turned out to look like is this:
DO A BUNCH OF COOL AND ENERGY-REQUIRING THINGS ON MONDAY, THEN CRASH AND BURN ON TUESDAY. SPEND WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY, AND FRIDAY PICKING UP THE PIECES AND REMEMBERING THAT I AM LOVED BY GOD IN MY FAILURES.
“ATTACK MONDAY MODE” has not really been a good plan.
So, I’m taking a breath
and taking inventory of my expectations.
I’m asking myself these questions:
What is the antidote for my addiction to expectations?
How can I lay hold of grace for Tuesday, my hardest day of the week?
Stay tuned for
answers trial-and-error, prayerful considerations to these questions.
Peace out. And PLEASE, if you have ideas or comments, fire away below.
I was sitting in a counseling session my senior year of college. It was way overdue—for years I had suffered quietly through anxiety and depression because I thought they were normal.
I had a lot of relationships that were dysfunctional with people of both sexes. The counselor was helping me sort them out and understand why I was still attached to these people.
I was afraid.
I knew that friendships and romantic relationships could be hard, and I had always been taught that Christians stick things out…tough friendships, tough marriages, tough situations.
But I didn’t realize that the reason I was sticking with these tough relationships wasn’t because I was trying to love these people like Jesus did, although I thought that’s what I was doing. The more I dug into my motivations, the more I discovered just how much fear governed my decisions.
I was afraid to walk away from a relationship because I might not ever date again.
I was afraid to leave a friend behind because I feared the loneliness that might come and the accusation that I didn’t try hard enough.
I was afraid to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter someone I might have to share the gospel with.
In the valley of the shadow
The fear and the resulting anxiety overtook me and reduced me to a college student who once loved to be with people but who now just hid in her room and stayed with relationships that she considered safe, even though they were draining more life from her.
Sometime that first semester of senior year, my mom sent me a note, with this verse written in her beautiful handwriting:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NASB
I would lie in my lofted bed in my crummy college apartment, when the anxiety and the fear overwhelmed me, staring at that verse and repeating in the smallest whisper, “You are the God of hope. You are the God of hope.”
Though counseling from professionals and friends more mature than I helped a great deal, what I really needed was time—time to see that not every little decision I made had a huge life-altering effect. Fear slowly faded, replaced by a sense of knowing that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. There was a tremendous freedom.
By the middle of my second semester, I could honestly say that I knew that God was good and that He loved me—a far cry from where I had been only months before.
I will fear no evil
Fast-forward to my first year in grad school. I was engaged in a thriving church, the same one that had given me so many resources and so much wisdom–through staff and through friends who went there–in my journey through depression and anxiety. I had led a small group. I was growing. My heart was alive. I knew deeply that God was good and that He loved me.
But I sat in the service on Sunday morning, unable to connect with God. It wasn’t the first time.
The music, although beautiful and well produced, didn’t touch me. The message didn’t teach me new things.
“What is wrong with me?” I asked myself as I sat in the large auditorium.
Then I heard the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit say, “Nothing is wrong with you, Amanda. It’s time to move on.”
I shook my head a little to shake away that crazy thought. Why would I want to move on from this place where I had received so much healing? I loved this church. I loved this people.
But again I heard the Lord say to me, “It’s time to move on.”
I argued with myself for a while. And then I realized that I was unwilling to follow the voice of the Lord because I was afraid.
I was afraid that if I left this place where I had found so much healing, that I would regress.
I was afraid that if I left this specific church, I would be missing out on the big plans that God had for me in world missions.
I was afraid that if I left this anchoring place, I would walk away from God.
Once I identified the fear that undergirded all my objections—that I would walk away from God if I left this particular church—I heard the Lord speak to me again, through Psalm 23.
I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
The idea of switching churches may seem like a silly one to strike fear into the heart of an adult Christian, but the fear was all too real to me. I had learned a lot on my journey through depression and anxiety, especially about my absolute need for the presence and companionship of God. And here He was, telling me through His word that I didn’t need to fear any evil, even the evil of falling away from faith in God, because He was with me.
I will fear NO evil, because He is with me.
I cling to this verse these days. Being a stay-at-home mom is a daunting thing for me. I’m an extroverted external processor who thrives in the presence of other people (older than 3). My husband and I are keenly aware that I have to be completely honest with how I am feeling and what my needs are, because I sometimes revert to the practice of stuffing my fears and anxieties into the “be more like Jesus” box. It is a daily challenge to be open and honest.
The thing about fear is that it silences me. I fear failing. I fear vulnerability. I fear screwing up or even being perceived as a failure.
I will fear no evil.
I will not fear the risk of failing.
I will not fear the unpleasant consequences of vulnerability.
I will not fear screwing up.
I will not fear going crazy because I stay at home with my kids.
Because He is with me.
If peace is something you’re seeking in the midst of fear and anxiety, you can also read a previous post of mine, Speaking Peace. I’d also love to hear your story if you’re willing to share. You can email me at paintedwithoutmakeup AT gmail DOT com.
I have found myself in the desert more times that I care to remember.
It is an uncomfortable place where everything about my life seems hard, and I always beg for God to take me out of it, to take me back to the civilized world where there is water on tap and food in nice prepackaged containers.
I have to fight too much when I find myself in the desert.
Over the years of desert experiences, I have learned one really important thing:
The desert is where God leads us because He loves us.
This is not an easy thing to embrace. As a parent, I love to do things that delight my children immediately. I love to see the smiles on their faces as I say, “Let’s have ice cream for dinner!” or, “How about we watch an extra episode of the Octonauts today?”
It’s definitely not as fun to say things like, “Let’s go to bed on time because when you’re rested, you enjoy your whole life more!” or, “I know you’re hungry but dinner is in an hour and you need to learn to wait.”
So as much as I’ve fought this lesson, I really believe it.
The desert is where God leads me because He loves me.
Now, there are a few different reasons we might find ourselves in the desert.
Sometimes He leads us out of slavery into the desert.
The Israelites are the prime example of this. They are set free from the bonds of Pharaoh, but on the other side of the Red Sea is the desert. It’s the nearest freedom for them, even though it seems insurmountable and hard. But God promises to be with them, so it is conquerable.
The Apostle Paul is another example. After he is set free from the slavery of pride and self-conceit that had him murdering Christians and persecuting Jesus, God leads him into the wilderness for 3 years.
Sometimes He leads us out of bondage and the best place for us to go is straight to the desert.
He leads us into the desert because He is pleased with us.
This is a little harder to wrap my mind around, because I was raised with such a punishment mentality about God. “Why would God be pleased with me?” I have asked (and still do). But I am convinced now that He indeed is pleased with me and has good plans for me because He loves me and I love Him, even when I screw up over and over again. (Psalm 91:14-16 is one place where I start when I am feeling crappy about myself.)
“Surely the desert is a punishment,” my heart has told me. “Weren’t the Israelites wandering in the desert because they disappointed God? He rescues them, they rebel, and He punishes them to wander for 40 years.”
But when I look more closely at the story of God rescuing His people from Egyptian slavery, that’s not the timeline. It’s more like this: God hears them crying out and is moved to deliver them. They get the heck out of Egypt and pass through the harrowing baptism of the Red Sea. They find themselves in the desert and they do grumble and complain, and they even make a golden calf to worship at the very same time God is giving His beautiful law to Moses for their sake. But they are still headed toward the land He has promised them because He loves them. They make it all the way through the desert, to the edge of the Promised Land, and the spies bring back their report, and it scares the crap out of them. What keeps them wandering in the desert for 40 years is rebellion against God that is driven by fear and hard-heartedness. But the desert was always a part of God’s plan to bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey.
Think about Jesus in Luke 3.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (NIV).
Right after that—right after the Father declares how much He loves and how pleased He is with Jesus—the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1).
The desert is where God leads us because He loves us.
In our baptism, we die with Christ and are raised to walk with Him. I can guarantee you that at some point, walking with Jesus means walking through the desert.
But we can take heart for these 3 reasons: In our time walking through the desert, God has a purpose, an appointed time, and a promised land waiting for us.
We read the Scripture to learn the character of God, and we see that He is slow to anger and abounding with lovingkindness. We read as God speaks of His people in Hosea chapter 2,
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”
Hear this: He leads us into the desert to speak tenderly to us.
“Tenderly” is the word the NIV translators use. “Comfortably” is the word the translators of the King James use. The Hebrew word is transliterated “leb” and you can check out the different meanings of it here at blueletterbible.org.
He leads us into the desert to speak tenderly to us because He loves us. In the desert, we learn to hear His voice more clearly. Distraction is forced to fall away because we are desperate to be met by Him or we will perish. His very words are our food and drink, and our hearts slowly become tuned to hear His still small voice.
An Appointed Time
The path from the Red Sea to the Promised Land was indeed through the desert, but it had a definite beginning and ending. It was not indefinite, even after the Israelites rebelled and were disciplined with 40 years of wandering. Jesus was lead into the wilderness for 40 days. For Paul it was 3 years in the desert.
The Lord sets boundaries on our time in the desert, so even when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel (or the civilization at the edge of the wasteland), we can trust that He has not abandoned us to wander in this desert forever.
Consider it a pilgrimage, and there are many miles to cross before you reach the goal. But you are ever travelling, one foot in front of the other.
A Promised Land Waiting
When we find ourselves in the desert, we can trust that God has promises waiting for us on the other side. He promised the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. He promised Jesus a Bride worthy of Him, who would love, honor, and lay down her life for Him.
But there are still battles to be fought, and that is why it is so valuable to learn to hear the voice of the Lord in our desert time.
The Israelites approached the Promised Land after their short desert time, and the reports they heard of the land were twofold: It is indeed beautiful and flowing with milk and honey, but there are many people who will set themselves against us.
The people of Israel rejected the good report and exhortation of Joshua and Caleb (Yes, the land is full of enemies, but with the Lord’s help, we will prevail!) and they listened to the reports of the 10 other spies. They believed the lie that the desert was all for nothing. They failed to learn to hear the voice of God and to trust Him. So they missed out on His promises and their children inherited the land.
Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted and leaning on the word of His Father. I believe that those 40 days filled Him with the vision and direction for all 3 years of His public ministry, as well as the promise that He would encounter and overcome the Cross. There were still battles left to fight—indeed, the greatest battle of all time, at the Cross—but because Jesus knew the voice of His Father, He was ready.
God leads us into the desert because He loves us, because He is pleased with us, and because He wants to speak tenderly to us.
The desert isn’t a punishment; it’s a time of refining our hearing and learning to lean on our Beloved.
The desert prepares us for our God-given life’s mission, starting with the most important tool of all—teaching us to hear the voice of God, and to follow Him.
Maybe you find yourself in the middle of the desert and it feels unbearable. Friend, if you can still your heart for a few minutes, listen to the voice of Jesus speaking to you. He says that He knows what you have done and what you have left undone, but He loves you nonetheless. He says that He loves you, that He is proud of you, and that He loves spending time with you. He says that He has not forgotten you.
This promise from Psalm 84 is for you, personalized:
Blessed is the one whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As she passes through the Valley of Baca,
She makes it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
She goes from strength to strength;
She will appear before God in Zion.
As you walk through the desert, you may meet another on her way. When you have learned to hear and respond to the voice of the Lord, you become a spring of life for this other pilgrim. The Lord will rain down on you, refreshing both of you. You will grow in strength and you will reach the Promised Land, to stand before God in Zion.
And the daughters of Jerusalem, when they see you approaching the edge of the desert will say,
“Who is this coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?”
Song of Solomon 8:5
The alarm went off and I lay in bed, willing myself to get up.
The familiar feeling of anxiety began to creep up my spine. “Already 6:30?” it whispered. “Your day is wasted because you didn’t get up at 6.”
In my mind’s eye—or maybe I drifted back to sleep and it was a dream—I saw Anne Shirley’s Lake of the Shining Waters, I heard a chorus of fervent hearts singing a new song, and the hope that I could just be weak today filled me. But it didn’t last long.
The kids were a mess this morning. Snot streaming, tears flowing, contrary to the bone. And because I could not easily control them, I started to despair. “The whole day is shot,” I found myself thinking. “It’s only the second day of this stay-at-home-mom thing and I have screwed it up.” I snapped at my daughter and she in turn cried (she has such a tender heart). I eagerly awaited the time when I could be alone so I could text my husband and tell him what a horrible day it was.
Because I “slept in,” time reading the Bible shifted to the mid-morning hour where my children entertain themselves for an hour in their respective rooms. (Worry not, those of you without children—the rooms are childproofed and the kids are well trained to enjoy this hour, too.)
You know how sometimes you randomly come across a verse or a testimony that meets you right where you are, with exactly what you needed to hear, at the exact right moment?
That was today for me. Long before I became Catholic, I was fascinated by the idea that the Church worldwide could be on the same Scripture schedule. I opened the Laudate app that gives me the daily readings from the Lectionary, the schedule of reading the Bible that the Catholic Church worldwide uses. And today, the readings were just about hand-selected for me.
It is a beautiful thing to find one’s self in the story of God.
Today’s Old Testament reading is Judges 6:11-24a. It’s the story of Gideon—are you familiar with it?
Gideon is hiding in the wine press (a big hole in the ground) to thresh his family’s wheat, probably because he is scared. And all of the sudden, the angel of the LORD appears to him out of nowhere and says, “The LORD is with you, O champion!”
I imagine that Gideon might have done a double take, and then turned his head to both sides to see if there was someone else the angel might be addressing down there in the wine press.
Gideon’s answer sounds like me today. I can almost hear him saying what I’m saying, “Oh yeah? If God is with me, why is all this crap happening? I am anxious and the enemy is oppressing me and this day is terrible.”
But the angel of the LORD (who many think is the LORD himself) says, “There is a war to be fought. I’m sending you.”
Gideon replies, “But I’m weak.”
The LORD doesn’t let up. “But I will be with you.”
So Gideon, in true Gideon fashion, asks for a sign. And the meat and unleavened cakes he brings to set before the LORD are consumed by a fire that springs up from the rock where he laid them.
The angel of the LORD disappears and Gideon thinks, “Oh crap. I have just been visited by God and now I have insulted him. I’m gonna die.”
But the LORD speaks to Gideon and answers his fear: “Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”
And the passage tells us that “Gideon built there an altar to the LORD and called it Yahweh-Shalom,” which means “The LORD is peace.”
In the midst of all this anxiety and being 29 weeks pregnant, I desperately need the LORD to be my peace.
As I read the part about the fire, I offered up my own little weak heart to the Lord and asked Him to send His fire to warm my soul. I heard Him say, like He did to Gideon, “Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”
What words of peace these are to me. Of course, logically I know that one bad day does not equal dying. But it can feel like it when I’m in the middle of it, right?
Well, if one direct passage of Scripture isn’t enough encouragement, I went on to read the responsorial psalm of the day, taken from Psalm 85. I could hardly believe the kindness of God when I read verse 8…it is the very verse that I have clung to, in the darkest pits of depression caused by anxiety, when I couldn’t even get out of bed for the fear that pressed in on me.
I will hear what God the LORD will speak,
For He will speak peace
To His people and to His saints…
When all the voices in my head are accusing me, asking me to live under shame—the voice of God is speaking peace. I have learned in the past to tune my ear to hear it, but I’ve gotten out of practice.
He is speaking peace to me today.
He says to me, in this pit I am in, “The LORD is with you, O champion! There is a war to fight. I am with you.”
“I’m weak,” I respond.
And He says, “That’s okay. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. It was never about you being strong.”
So I will listen to what He will say, because it is for my good. Psalm 85 continues in its life-giving flow:
Yes, the LORD will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase.
So I go out today in weakness and confidence, trusting to be led by the One who speaks peace to me.
What is He saying to you?
Today, I share the story of my friend Elisabeth, on her struggle with a failing reproductive system, singleness, and not feeling like she has found a place to fit. She sent it to me after reading To All the Fat Girls, because she knows that there is power in sharing our stories. Last week’s post on vulnerability seems particularly applicable, too. So, listen to her experience and hear what she is learning; maybe it’s just what you need to hear today.
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.
My ovaries are failing.
I have an autoimmune condition that’s mild enough not to be anything officially. My God-sent rheumatologist labeled it Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disorder, but that’s an awful mouthful that most people don’t understand. So if I need to specify beyond “joint problems,” I say it’s pre-lupus, since lupus is the closest match for the symptoms I do have. Lord willing, it’ll never become full-blown lupus; the version I have is bad enough. The trouble is, such conditions have a tendency to attack the organs as well as the joints… and premature ovarian failure is more common in women with autoimmune diseases.
The earliest perimenopausal symptoms, I now know, began at least ten years ago, and more cropped up during “The Semester from Angband” when massive stress stirred up the latent lupus tendencies—and my doctors couldn’t see beyond my anxiety and depression, which are co-morbid with both lupus and menopause. It took another two years for blood markers to get far enough out of whack that my most excellent rheumatologist was able to give me a diagnosis and actually start treating the root of the problem. That knocked the lupus symptoms down far enough that even though finances have prevented my ability to keep up with regular treatment, I can manage well enough without it. But even then, ovarian failure was still lurking, just off our radar, until about six years ago when I began to discover that menopause really is a form of organ failure.
Some sources say there are thirty-four symptoms of menopause, others thirty-five. I have over twenty of them, many of which are the same ones my mother had when she went through menopause at a more normal age. But because I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t have the most common symptom of all, and because my blood markers are still “normal,” there’s nothing my doctor can do.
None of this would be quite so discouraging if I weren’t still single. I’ve certainly made peace with never being able to have children of my own, since it’s not a subject on which I’ve had strong feelings and my health is such that I don’t currently feel capable of keeping up with a child. I have lots of married friends with growing families and am quite happy to silence scolds by saying that my friends are taking up my slack. On the other hand, I trust that the God Whose miracles have kept me on this earth despite the odds can give me a child and the health to be a mother if He chooses. He equips the called, after all, and there’s plenty of Biblical precedent.
Yet here I am, 34 years old, never been kissed, never even been on a genuine date. I would gladly marry, but the single guys of my acquaintance have all known me somewhere between ten and twenty years and never said boo to me. Wherever my future husband is—and I do feel certain that I have one—he hasn’t crossed my path yet.
So here I am, in the desert on a horse with no name, juggling four part-time jobs (translator, editor, author, English professor), none of which pay very well, to try to keep the lights on while my body tears itself apart, getting by on the grace and provision of God and the love and support of my family and friends. I don’t have the wherewithal to go aggressively promote myself or my writing, and when I’ve tried, doors tend to close.
No, but… Not now, but… I’d like to, but…
So my blog doesn’t get many hits. My books don’t sell many copies. My Goodreads page is sadly short of fans.
And the church doesn’t know what to do with me.
That’s not to say I feel unwelcome at church. Even though I can’t always attend regularly, I know my church family loves me. But I’m a single young professional with a Ph.D., no prospects for marriage, and swiftly diminishing chance of becoming a mother. I write Westerns and fantasies (and what’s a good Christian girl doing writing about Nazi necromancers, anyway?). I’m too broke to contribute much monetarily, and having ties to law enforcement limits the options for outreach ministries with which I could assist. Allergies worsened by menopause have stolen my singing voice; everything else has stolen my ability to commit to anything as regular as teaching Sunday school. I’m too young (under 50); I’m too old (out of college); I’m introverted; I’m overeducated and underemployed; I’m sick and in pain… I don’t fit.
And yet… there’s a library in East Texas, in a town where nobody knew me until this spring, where the patrons have worn out my books because they’re constantly in circulation. And there are a handful of students in Florida and Alabama who are thinking more deeply about the things of God for having taken my class. And that’s just what I know about.
More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife.
I’m not giving up hope of getting married, mind you, or of getting my writing career where I want it to go. But I have to hang on to that promise on the days when, unwillingly like Éowyn, I have to admit the truth to my King:
What do you fear, my lady?
A cage. To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.
Thanks be to God that, like Aragorn, He has the answer:
You are a daughter of kings. I do not think that will be your fate.
In addition to writing beautifully about her experience, Elisabeth is the author of historical fiction (among many other talents). You can check out her latest work at her website, www.https://egwolfephd.wordpress.com, or visit her Facebook author page. Her new book, Loyal Valley: Captives, is the third installment in her fiction series about conspiracy and love in post-Civil War Texas, and comes out next week! You can grab copies of her first two books for only 99 cents with an offer from her website.
If you want to share your story with others, please start with me! You can email me at email@example.com and I would be honored to read it.
What am I ashamed of?
It’s an uncomfortable question, and it’s Brené Brown’s fault that I am asking myself.
If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, her 2010 Tedx talk on vulnerability went viral (over 20 million views to date), and she has fascinating research on vulnerability, authenticity, courage, and shame.
A lazy Saturday at my parents’ house led me to peruse the TED channel on Apple TV while my kids were napping. I stumbled across another of Brown’s talks, Listening to Shame (2012). In it, she starts to unpack the power that shame has over women and men, and especially how vulnerability can overcome it. Since it reminded me of things I have said myself on this blog (To All the Fat Girls), and since today is the feast of St. Lawrence, AND since yesterday’s lectionary reading featured Psalm 34, I had to write about it.
The Power of Shame
I greeted yesterday morning with delight at starting a new journal, and I definitely didn’t plan on the soul-searching that followed.
But then Psalm 34 was the psalm for the daily reading…
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
…And I wrote in my journal, “What is this shame that has power over me? What is this shame that I carry?”
Three answers came to mind:
The shame of unbelief that says, “You should have believed your friends.”
The shame of ignorance that says, “You should have known better.”
The shame of failure that says, “You should have tried harder.”
Making peace with the girl in the photos
For as long as I can remember, I have carried the shame of being overweight. That applied then, in the picture above, where I was about 180 lbs and happier than I had ever been. I remember seeing that picture of me shortly after it was taken and thinking, “Ugh.”
That same shame still applies now, when I am 28 weeks pregnant and nearly 100 lbs heavier. I look at pictures like the one on the top and think—“WHAT WAS I THINKING?” How did I not see how beautiful I was and how healthy?
Enter the shame of unbelief.
When I would express to my friends and loved ones how unattractive and unappealing I felt, they would immediately contradict me with words like, “You look great! You are doing good!”
I refused to believe them because the voice of condemnation in my head was louder and more believable. For a while, I wondered, “Why didn’t anyone tell me that I could love myself then?” But I know now, after learning a lot about shame and condemnation, that even if someone had said those exact words to me, I would not have believed them. And so, I carry the weight of the shame of my unbelief. The shame of unbelief keeps saying to me, “You should have listened to the voices of those who loved you—so stupid not to! If only you had, life would be better now.”
And then I think about how little I understood what I was putting in my mouth, taking on a caloric debt that I will be repaying for a long time. I’m an emotional eater—I eat when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am frustrated, when I am excited, when I am depressed, and when I am anxious. I didn’t know how much was going in because I wasn’t paying attention.
Enter the shame of ignorance.
Ignorance is not bliss, like some have said. I carry the weight of the shame of not knowing how, in my life situation, to make better food choices. The shame of ignorance tells me all the time, “You should have known better…you’re a doctor’s daughter. You’re smart. You’re good at math. Calories in, calories out—duh!”
And then I look in the mirror and think about the times I have tried to make healthy choices and how, due to so many circumstances, I have not been able to succeed.
Enter the shame of failure.
My inability to believe, my ignorance of the consequences of my choices—they are part of my failure. I have failed to care for this body adequately, and I carry great shame for that.
Some causes of shame are invisible, but mine is very visible. I carry it around with me, because my very body is what causes me shame.
Typing this is almost too much. The weight of this shame has been nearly debilitating. But I know I’m not alone.
Brené Brown says,
“Shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it — to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other. Very quickly, some research by Mahalik at Boston College. He asked, what do women need to do to conform to female norms? The top answers in this country: nice, thin, modest and use all available resources for appearance. When he asked about men, what do men in this country need to do to conform with male norms, the answers were: always show emotional control, work is first, pursue status and violence” (at 18:03 in Listening to Shame).
I’m not alone, right? Does anyone else carry shame for not meeting cultural norms for men and women? Visible or invisible, this shame can be incapacitating to us in relationships, in work, in every aspect of our life. I have missed out on too much life because of this shame. And I refuse to do it anymore.
Brené Brown says that there is power over shame, and it comes in the form of vulnerability.
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too” (18:54).
Friends, we have to share our stories. We have to connect with others who are hurting. And the best place to start is with where we have been hurt or are currently hurting.
Remember the story of St. Lawrence (225-258 AD), whose feast the Catholic Church celebrates today. Under the emperor Valerian, Roman authorities demanded that Lawrence, a deacon in the church at Rome, gather all the treasures of the church to hand over to the state. So, obediently, Lawrence went and rounded up all the treasures of the church—the lame, the beggars, the blind, the suffering. The weak ones, he knew, were the true treasure of the Church.
Your wounds, your weaknesses—they are your treasure.
Will you open up your treasure chest and share the riches you have? Sharing my struggle with the shame of being overweight in a world that demands physical perfection is where I am starting today.
Hear this: You are not alone. Shame can be a prison, but you have the keys to freedom, and they rest in your story—that you are loved beyond your wildest imagination by the One who created you, that your wounds are precious, and that there is healing for you, no matter where you are right now.
I’ll leave you with Brené Brown’s words that conclude her talk about listening to shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is, that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly” (19:18).
L’chaim, friends. To life!