Give Me a Word

My great friend, Sam Stephenson, has started Spoken Women, which is a beautiful community for creative women seeking to grow in their calling—professionally and spiritually.

I was able to write an essay for Spoken Women called “Give Me a Word.”

I hope you enjoy, and hope you will check out Spoken Women along the way.

Ancient Christians sought wisdom and direction in the desert. They asked for counsel from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, people of prayer, with this phrase: “Give me a word.”

As I both walk with intention and wander in life, I ask for the same counsel in my prayer to God, “Give me a word.” “Direct me.”

God spoke a word to me in a moment of frustration. I was in grad school, inspired by the beauty of our Catholic faith, and impatient with so many people who just couldn’t see it. Why did I have to be a translator of the faith for them?

What will she say next? Keep reading here.

The Necessity of Beauty

Does beauty ever seem like a privilege to you?

I am not talking about bodily beauty, although a different kind of article could be written on that.

At a time when we are bombarded by stories of tragedy, violence and pandemic, I sometimes feel badly about desiring beauty in my life.

Why should I want a lighted candle or fresh flowers on the table when evil seems to abound? Is creating space for beauty something that only the privileged to get to do? In other words, do I get to think about beauty because I live in a safe area, experience overall financial stability, and don’t experience injustice on a daily basis?

Perhaps.

If I remove myself from the equation for a moment, beauty on its own has power. As Dostoevsky said, “Beauty will change the world.”

How many people over time have marveled at nature, music, art, food, the human figure and falling in love as things of beauty. Beauty seems to speak to the soul of humanity.

However I am feeling before a morning walk with my kids, when that fresh morning air hits my face and fills my lungs, I revive. I look ahead and see the fog lifting and sun lighting ridges on a mountain. A smile of surprise on the face of one of my children; Elizabeth’s unencumbered curly hair tossing and blowing about; the smell of granola baking in the oven making cinnamon waft through the air; bits of unplanned, playful nature in the midst of development. For me, these are things of beauty. They bring joy to my soul.

Listening to music is an experience of the beautiful for my husband. I can picture him laying on the sofa, eyes shut, music on, mind relaxed. 

I think natural, simple beauty brings me joy because it takes me out of myself. I am not worrying about me, ruminating over something that doesn’t actually matter, anxious about who knows what.

Beauty brings me into a space of gratitude. I remember that I am not in total control, I am not the Creator. And that is a good thing. There is a Creator who is deserving of my love, adoration and praise.

When beauty grounds and inspires us toward goodness and truth, I think we might consider it to be necessary for a healthy soul. Every person is worthy of experiencing beauty in their life.

I don’t know how my kids would define beauty, or if they could, but they probably understand it better than I do. Because they ponder, wonder and treasure. Like Mary pondering the treasure of Christ within her womb in her heart (Lk. 2:19). 

I also can’t help but think that Jesus knew how to appreciate the beauty his Father created. Don’t you think he sat on the beach every once in a while, looking out over the sea? Breathing in the salted air deeply, saying, “Thank you, Father.”

If we allow ourselves to be inspired by beauty, I think God will move us farther. He will move us out of ourselves to bring beauty and goodness to others. To reach out to someone lonely, to write a note to someone far away, to make a meal for a family who needs it, to say “I love you” more often, to feed and clothe the hungry and naked.

What more beautiful thing could there be than to experience being loved by the Creator, and move outward into loving others in return.

Just like that mustard seed, perhaps the small seeds of beauty – the lighted candle, the fresh flowers, the praise of God for his creation, the small acts of service – can grow and flourish into something that more closely resembles God’s Kingdom.

 

The Hope of Home

Hope doesn’t work without the cross.

Sometimes we feel like our burdens are heavy, and sometimes light. My guess is that many of us would go with the former at this particular point in history.

If the word burden is unrelatable, how about anxiety, restlessness, fear? Chatting with a girlfriend this weekend, the un-graceful words we had were: “The world is a strange place to be right now.”

When I worked with high schoolers, I sometimes heard the sincere and naive desire for a greater challenge in life: “I can’t be close to God unless I experience something that is really hard, something that makes me really need God.” “Soon enough, sweet girl, soon enough,” we might say.

In a way, she was right. With eyes of faith, we see the unavoidable truth that Good Friday came before Easter Sunday. Death comes before new life.

Look at your life. But don’t look too far; don’t over complicate.

God is tremendous and also simple. Simple, not that we can control God with our intellect. Simple, that we can understand God in an intuitive made-for-you sort of way with our bodily existence.

God became one of us in Jesus so that we could continue to know God through the walking and talking and crying and cooking and changing of our everyday lives for all of history.

The cross of burden and suffering is in other places, but it is also here in our own lives. And so is the hope.

In these multiplied moments at home, I have felt an increase of hope. More moments of lighting candles for the sick, the deceased, the depressed- both known and unknown. More walks with my children and listening to the breeze move through trees, rustling drying-out summer leaves. More honest talks with my spouse; opening up wounds of past, vision for future and gratitude for the passing present. More  moments of seeing my own selfishness and stubbornness, and corresponding opportunities for letting go and handing over.

Hope is not faint; hope is not weak. Hope is experiencing the cross and realizing that what we’ve heard is true. There is new life.

 

 

The Mercy of the Present

I need to turn over the soil. I need to harvest the broccoli. I need to sweep the floors. Lucy is getting fussy; I wonder how long she will last in her bouncer.

And as I was about to move Lucy outside into the garden with me, hoping she could hang on so that I could work, I was gently nudged to instead pick up a children’s book sitting on the coffee table.

“Do you want to read?”

I squatted down.

“One. One English village.” Her face lit up.

“Two. Two rich gentlemen.” She squealed with delight.

“Three. Three houses.” I looked into Lucy’s eyes and remembered. I remembered what I had forgotten about the present while I had kept myself busy with distraction.

There is a Generosity in the present moment whose creativity gently corrects my desire for control. 

As I picked up another book and set aside my plans, which moments before seemed necessary, Lucy’s joy at my presence to her changed time. Time was no longer divided into minutes with tasks to be accomplished before the next child needed me. That sort of time slipped away as we dipped into something eternal.

If I could name why I believe in heaven, moments like these might be it: moments of joy, peace and love that are so marked by timeless beauty that they could not be of this world.

I have been avoiding being in the present moment. It feels too vulnerable right now.

I want to forget that thousands of people are isolated, sick, and dying. I don’t want to be quarantined at home anymore. I don’t want to be looked at skeptically by others when on a walk. I want to go to the grocery store without feeling anxious. I don’t want to be scared of touch. I want to embrace my family and friends.

But today, on Divine Mercy Sunday, God reminded me of His generous love that lives in the present moment. There is contentment in working on a floor puzzle with my two-year-old. There is bright joy in talking with my cooing infant. There is creative energy in listening to my very verbal four-year-old. There is peace in having an afternoon cup of decaf with my husband.

Maybe more than all of these, there is a God who is always present to me. When most of the time, I am not present to Him. And that sort of generous, effusive, patient, forgiving, healing, embracing love — that is Mercy.

Missing Jesus on My Road

What does the everyday-ness of your life look like right now? How close do you actually believe Jesus is to it?

For as much as I desire to live a faithful life, sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine Jesus in the nitty gritty of my road. For as much as I know (in my head) he is with me, I think I miss him where the rubber hits the road.

The road I walk right now includes lots of bouncing, changing diapers, feeding and burping; squatting down to pick up toys or pull down pants for potty. My road is anxious over sickness and heart-charging joyful over smiles. It’s learning to be physically available for cuddling, lap sitting, meal sharing and story telling when I’d rather have personal space. It’s learning how to accept rather than resent the interruptions. The way is learning to open myself to the joy and freedom found in “wasting” time with my children— laying on the floor, reading books, making silly voices for laughs. The way is remembering and nurturing my marriage amidst the pulls, of work, children and the world.

Why the temptation to avoid imagining Jesus in the particularity of this road with me? Everything about the Christian story (and my experience) tells me that Jesus isn’t over there, up there or a figure left in history, but right here.

Maybe we miss Jesus because we fail to imagine (or believe) the greatness of God’s goodness that dwells in simplicity. Maybe we overlook the generosity of God’s presence that seeks to be with us right here. God wants to be with me in the bouncing, changing, kneeling, drawing, laying, crying, talking, and laughing.

I’ve only seen glimpses, but this is what I know— when I open my eyes, mind and heart to see God in these spaces, he transforms them and transforms me.

Lent Check In- What God Calls You

There are some things we always need to hear. Not in a way that condemns, but in a way that opens up our hearts and peaks our curiosity as we listen to the words spoken to us. Henri Nouwen is a master at naming what it is that really matters. No matter the state or season of life I am in, he speaks in a way that helps me hear more clearly the voice of the “First Love.”

As you ride in the car, do laundry, take a walk, or cook dinner today, take 15 minutes to listen to Nouwen. God has a special name for you, and it changes everything.

 

Murmuring Temptations

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When I hear the word “murmur,” I think indistinct but present, not straight communication, sly whispers, that which distracts from what I really want and need to pay attention to.

I’m praying with a Lenten devotional that reflects on the story of Zacchaeus today. The theme that hits my life is not unlike the Gospel at Mass today, which tells the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. That theme is the temptation of voices that murmur in my own heart, and how that murmuring manifests in turning away from Jesus.

When Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree and calls out to Zacchaeus that He wants to come to Zacchaeus’ home, the people watching “murmur” (some translations say “grumble”) about it. They gossip. They look at what Jesus is doing and choose to create stories about Jesus and that sinner. Their murmuring leads them away from Jesus. What a massive bummer— Jesus is right there, and they miss him.

What are the murmurings in your heart that tempt you away from Jesus? The dark murmurings in my heart take on the voices of insecurity, desire for control, fear, and pride. How often have I let these murmurings take me away from encountering Jesus’ presence in my life?

Zacchaeus, though a sinner and full of murmurings himself, has the courage and openness to look straight back at Jesus. Jesus sees him, speaks to him (as He does to us), and Zacchaeus “said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord…’.” Zacchaeus doesn’t shrink away or make up an excuse about why Jesus can’t come over to his (probably unkempt) home, he looks back into Jesus’ eyes, and says, “Yes.”

When Jesus does nothing short of spiritual battle in the desert with Satan and Satan’s murmurings, we learn how to combat our own murmurings. If you read the Scripture (linked up top), Satan tempts Jesus and Jesus responds with Scripture. He invokes the name of God and responds with the Truth of God’s Word. (After all, Jesus is the Word made flesh.)

When we start to hear the murmuring temptations in our own hearts, what can we do? Like Jesus, we can invoke God’s name for help. We can say things (out loud helps me most) like, “Come Holy Spirit;” and “In the name of Jesus, get behind me Satan.” Like Zacchaeus, we can have the courage and humility to raise our eyes to Jesus’ eyes.

For, although we turn away from Love in our life over and again, that Love seeks to make His home in us. Let’s draw strength from what this beautiful Scripture tells us, and say, “Yes, come over Jesus.” He’ll be sitting in the midst of wrinkled and unfolded laundry in my home, but I have feeling that He either won’t care or He’ll offer to help.

Husband’s T, Mary’s Mantle

I once lamented not buying a t-shirt on Etsy that read “Embrace the Chaos, Choose Joy.” The perfect description for life as a mother of young children, I thought! Until I experienced the chaos of my young children being sick with colds for two months, won’t-let-you-catch-a-break sleeplessness, incessant whining from my 2-year-old, defiant boundary pushing from my 4-year-old, and an overnight stay in the hospital with my 8-week-old. Of course there is still joy. Of course there is deep love. But in reality, the chaos is hard.

 

In the chaos, I have learned that one of the most life-giving things I can do is take a shower. It is sometimes a straight up baptismal experience. I step in feeling weary and when I get out, I feel alive again. After a shower one evening this week, I went to put on my comfies and the only t-shirt I wanted was my husband’s. If the waters of my shower are akin to baptism, my husband’s t-shirt is like Mary’s mantle.

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While in the hospital with Lucy for her RSV this week, I talked with Mary a lot. Mary, be with us, guide our car as we drive to the ER. Mary, you held Jesus while he was sick; help me as I hold Lucy. Mary, give me your loving strength. Mary, wrap me in your mantle— let me feel your presence as my mother. 

 

When I put on Ian’s shirt after showering, I felt that sense of comfort that comes with being clothed by the one you love. Ian’s black t-shirt was a physical recall of how Mary cloaks us in her tender love.

 

As I strive to love my kids amidst the chaos, I am grateful for Notre Dame, Our Mother who holds us in her simultaneously tender and fierce love. Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us.

4 Tips for Eating Ethically on a Budget

It’s no secret that the economy and culture of the United States are driven by consumption. We are consumers of pretty much anything that’s put in front of us: clothing, food, home goods, media, and so on. Consuming is not inherently bad. But it can certainly be unhealthy if we buy into the narrative that if I have X or Y or Z, I will be more fulfilled than I am now

 

Unfortunately, this is exactly the narrative that our culture wants us to buy into. Which makes sense. After all, it’s a money-making narrative. But this narrative becomes dangerous for everyone when we lose sight of how we consume — and the ways, as a result, that goods and people become easily expendable, a means to an end. And that goes for food, too: Produce, animal products, and packaged goods — and the systems that bring these things to our tables — are being exploited for profit.

 

But the bright side is that, when it comes to food, many of us want to consume in a way that is ethical and life-giving for ourselves, the environment, and our communities. We know that how we spend our money at the grocery store or farmers’ market can have a real impact on the lives of people and the planet we call home. And we don’t want to take the $72 billion diet industry’s word on how to shop anymore. 

 

So, how do we buy products that are good for us and responsibly sourced, without breaking the bank? Here are a few ideas.

 

Keep reading the full article on Grotto Network.