Sunday, July 1, 2018

Coming full circle...

Eight years ago, June 30, 2010, my grandfather, Joseph M. Kremer breathed his last. My grandpa was my hero, an idol, one of the greats...and I couldn't imagine life without him. ...and without knowing it, eight years ago, I entered into this tug-of-war in my heart - this niggling question of doubt: how can God be good if we die?

I didn't realize it at the time because I knew the answer. I knew the right answer based on my years of study and attentiveness: God is good. Period. End of statement. What is there to question?

Because, up until that point in my life I had known no other reality than goodness. I hadn't really endured suffering or hardship. Nor had I experienced love, really. I mean, yes, I knew the unconditional love of my parents and family; I knew phileo love - the constancy of friends... but not the depth of love that causes you to realize that you can't imagine a moment where you didn't love this person...where your soul knew a level of completion that it hadn't before.

When Grandpa Joe (affectionately known as Grandpa McGillicuddy to his grandkids) died...his was the first loss that I really felt. My grandpa had been sick for a while; his kidneys first started to fail three years earlier. For three years, his body battled the slow process of shutting down - and my grandmother, the angel that she is, allowed no one else to care for him. (eventually of course there were nurses that had to come in, but up until the last few weeks, she was adamant that he would be home)

He had a stroke (I think; now the details are becoming fuzzy to me) a few weeks before he died. At that point, he moved into a nursing home. I visited him with my aunt Mary, cousin Amy, and Grandma, after my cousin Cynthia's wedding. He was alert and attentive. Like he was. ...and I think it was that week that the reality of losing him started to sink in for me. I remember sobbing in Dan's basement as the reality that a man like this was a gem; a rare treasure; and that this earth would lose something profound when we lost him.

To live such a life, right?

To live such a life that the world notices.
...that a void is left not only in the lives of those that loved you - but in the world itself.
...that a space is created asking another to take up the cross of courage and compassion, to step into this life of truly living and serving and loving others.

I wouldn't say that he loved with abandon - but rather, with reason. He considered. He contemplated. He sorted through a complex issue with logic - and compassion. He then communicated through wit and humor, endearing those to his side - or, at least to listen and to consider. His faith was the foundation of his life, creating an ordered discipline and understanding of the world. His love of family was placed securely upon that foundation: ordering his choices and tempering justice with compassion.

It is through reflecting on his life that I start to see the lesson he modeled to me: love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) I think of his last letter to me where he said, "we were put into this world to help one another." He taught me to not only believe in the good of the other person, but more importantly to be the good.

.....

So, yes, his loss was profound, but at the time, I didn't realize the question planted in my heart. For as he left this world, then Dan left Iowa for Arizona - and my life speed started to ramp up. I decided to join the Catholic church, and during that year of formation sensed my grandpa's pleasure at this new path I was embarking on my mountainous journey toward God.

During RCIA, I remember doing a visioning prayer exercise where we were envisioning a wall around a palace...and the palace was supposed to be heaven and what we were picturing was where we were, in our hearts/belief, at that moment in relation to God/our understanding of death, etc. (I obviously am not remembering all the details perfectly) BUT - I do remember that for me, it was like a bright, autumn day, the fields surrounding the place were golden, ready for harvest...but there was no entrance. I was on the outside of that wall, with no way to get in.

For right-understanding-Jessica-who-believes-in-God-and-has-made-a-good-confession-of-faith-and-therefore-is-not-afraid-of-dying...like-any-good-Christian-and-of-course-she-is-a-good-Christian; if-she-is-anything-she-is-a-good-Christian - that was a really startling revelation. And, like any good respondent, upon realizing this, I promptly threw it away - paying it no mind - it wasn't in line with the truth. ...and I am in line with the truth.

So, I went on with my life. Joining the church. Getting married. Moving to Arizona. Starting my married life. Moving forward.

...but that seed...that fear of death...that separation...continued to grow/fester.

...and then Dan was diagnosed with cancer.

In a way, the diagnosis amplified the fear, yes. ...but, it also steeled my resistance to believing that cancer would win. The barrier that fear had created was melting in my heart with every Rosary that I prayed - as I focused on the truth of who Jesus is, and focused on His works. I am sure that Mary was fervently praying for me to not only know, but to fully love her son not only through this trial, but beyond.

I have said it before that I never thought Dan could die. I mean it. I was afraid, of course, that he would - but I truly believed that if God was good, Dan would not die. How could he? How could He? How could He bring me to this man, and cause him to love me, and give us this life together - only for it to be snatched away? How could that be good? How, in a thousand lifetimes, could that be considered good?



It would seem, of course, that God had more lessons to teach me.

A lesson that, I think, both my grandpa and Dan knew to be true, through their years of suffering in the body: God's goodness is bigger - than death - than life - than our present circumstance (no matter how good or bad). God's goodness is more than we can even start to comprehend. His goodness is LIFE. His goodness is LOVE.  His goodness is the very reality of His presence to us - even in our present suffering.


In those weeks after Dan's death, as I attended Mass and prayed the Rosary, God so simply laid it out there: our dying defeats death. It completes the one circle, while starting another.

Most authors/grief counselors will impress upon the truth that grief is not linear. You do not progress in stages - like ascending or descending stairs: instead, it is a spiral. You are experiencing many things as you progress upward (or downward depending on whether you are healing or festering) - and you will circle back to different stages and emotions - and even memories - as you progress. ...and, I think this is also true of our life: we are spiral. Moving upward or downward...and our dying is not the end of our spiral, but a gateway to the next.

Now, let me say this: Jesus' death is the ultimate dying that has defeated death. I am not saying that we are mini-Christs or anything like that. His death is what defeated sin, and therefore eternal death - while opening up the gateway to eternal life. Only Jesus. Likewise, through Him, through our living of this life and carrying our cross: doing the right, loving goodness, and walking humbly with our God, does our dying defeat the cycle of sin/death.

Early on after Dan's death, I remember coming to Mass with the question: "but why death, Lord?" As I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary that day, the 4th mystery - where Mary is assumed into heaven (thereby not dying), I knew why we, though Christians and thus "saved" from death, experienced death. Because of sin. Although, we have been washed in the waters of baptism, as we walk through this life, we are still battling sin and temptation. Though we are safe in the grasp of our Father, the enemy is still prowling about like a roaring lion trying to ensnare us, to entrap us, to get us to throw up our hands and not do the right, love goodness, or walk humbly with our God - anything to get us to be ineffective and not bear fruit.  ...and our death is actually like a final thrust of the sword into his heart. A reminder to him that he cannot - and will not - win...and though a void be left, by the grace of God, more will be coming to fill our place.


If you have never read the Book of Wisdom, I highly encourage you to set aside some time and read the first 5 chapters. You will be blest.

Reading 1WISDOM 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 3:1-4

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; 
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.



Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Power of Yes

The greatest story of my life began with a fairly simply response: "Sure, why not?"

Or, in the words of the great Molly Reel/Jessica Rohrig Costa Rica Spring Break Study Abroad theme: Porque no?

About a week-ish prior to April 29, 2008, my favorite student from my student teaching experience sent me a Facebook chat: was I interested in coming to his graduation party? 

Um...sure! Why not? 

He was graduating from Iowa State now and a member of the Alpha Gamma Ro fraternity. The brothers were having their graduation party at Outlaws, the country bar of Ames. I knew a couple of the guys from student teaching, and it's true - they were my favorites. 

Only I had never been to a college graduation party. Really. For whatever reason, I had never been to one when I was an undergrad...and hadn't since. Besides wanting to see Matt Ramaeker, I was excited to go spend some time with my brother's girlfriend, Jessica. (Yes, there are 2 Jessicas in this story and also 2 Matts. Try to keep up.) In fact, knowing that I could go with Jessica and that she was a popular person made me feel comfortable with going to my first graduation party, first fraternity graduation party - as a 28-year-old.

As the days came closer, it became clear that another reason for attending the party was that I could finally meet this guy that Jessica wanted to set me up with. This friend of my brother's had befriended me on Facebook a few months earlier, and since that point, he became the go-to "well, we could see what this guy is up to tonight" if ever I lamented my singleness. A bit exasperated with the teasing, I reached the, "I haven't even met the guy!" point - and we decided this party could be the opportune time. Kyle was a fraternity brother, a first-year grad student, and would no doubt be at the party. 

Great. Let's finally get this over with.

The night of the party, Jessica contacted me to find out if I really wanted to go. "Yes!" 
She had started to come down with a bit of a cold...but was willing to go if I really wanted. I said, "Yes!" and compromised with a "we can go early and leave early - so you won't be out late - plus I have a campus visit tomorrow, so I can't be out late anyway." After all, I was 28 and had a real job now for 5 years. 

I conveniently lived within walking distance of Outlaws and the two Jessicas set out. As we neared Outlaws, Jessica turned to me and asked if I had the invites. 

Invites? 

Yeah, we need invites to get it.

Well, Matt invited me. 

But, do you have invites? 

...no...it'll be fine, I said with this air of confidence that had I possessed 7 years earlier this wouldn't have been my first college-graduation party. 

We walked right up to those "bouncers" who checked IDs and asked for our invites, and I smiled and said, "We don't have invites, but Matt Ramaeker invited me. I'm his former teacher," and we just walked on by. Jedi-mind trick complete. 

The first "Fiat" of this story has been locked into place. Eternal thanks to Jessica for being willing to go out on a Tuesday night with a bit of a cold and to Matt Ramaeker for that invitation, and thinking me cool enough to keep me updated on his life.

Since we were early, the party hadn't really gotten into full swing - which may have helped that Jedi-mind trick thing. Matt was nowhere to be seen, so now is where Jessica as wing-woman became helpful because girl knew people. I got to stand around near her and jump into conversation.

Cue Dan Kiesling's entrance. 

About 10 pm, a guy walks up to Jessica (not me) and starts chatting. This Jessica (me) listens and chimes in with a clever anecdote. Dan Kiesling turns to me, initiates a handshake, and says, "I'm sorry; have we met?" 

Only in one of your better dreams.

No, I obviously didn't say that - girlfriend is not that clever. I introduced myself - Dan discovered I was Matt Rohrig's sister - then that I was Matt Rohrig's older sister - and then kept pressing to discover when I graduated high school (like I wasn't already conscious of being 6 years older than most of these "kids") - and when I finally admitted my age ("her ladyship can hardly expect me to own it what with three younger sisters all out in society") - he responded with, "I graduated in 2000! You're 28! I'm 26." 

Oh. Someone my age. Okay...

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Dan had come to the party that night with the friend Jessica had wanted me to meet. I never met him that night. When we learned that Dan had come with Kyle, Jessica suggested that Dan go get him and bring him over. Dan, not one to share the spotlight, or lose the chance to stop talking with this girl with a pretty smile (me), said, "If you want to talk to him, go get him!" (SO Dan)





Ten years ago tonight. Ten years ago tonight at this very hour. Ten years ago tonight at this very hour I was engaged in one of my favorite conversations of my life. I remembered every detail, every word for days - months - years. I loved talking to him. I didn't want to our conversation to end...and neither did he - since he asked me out on a date that very night. The first time that a guy had asked me out that immediately. 


I love to live in the light of possibility. That is what I think is so beautiful in the "Fiat" - Mary's yes - the yes of faith. "Let it be done to be according to your Word" indicates not just a trust but a firm belief in the creative, life-giving, loving kindness, purpose-fulfilling power that infuses God's will. This belief that God is for us. That God's intention for us is the discovery of our full-self, fully infused with himself - is our best life. 

At the moment in my life when I met Dan, I was entering that place. Walking in faith - knowing that God created me for a purpose and that the desire of my heart was a good desire - one He'd placed in me - and that the One who calls me is faithful, that he would do it. This "knowing" gave me that confidence to "Jedi mind trick" the bouncers...not that I knew that I'd meet my husband that night..but I knew that eventually I would. ...and I knew there was potential for something that night.

Ten years have passed since I met Dan Kiesling and my life is far different that I would have imagined it to be. ...and I am glad. I am SO. GLAD. that I met Dan Kiesling that night. I am so glad that I said, "sure why not?" I am so glad that he, too, had to give a fiat - to step out in faith to enter into a committed relationship with a girl like me. Different from any girl he'd dated before, and the fulfillment of prayers. Just like he was for me. 

To me, Dan was the embodiment of the willingness to say yes. Sure, why not? Yes, get the shoes, honey. :) 

The song, "So Will I" (Hillsong United) has been on repeat in my mind/heart's playlist lately. This song is the essence of "Fiat" - as you speak, if creation sings your praises: so will I. I love how each stanza emphasizes the importance of God speaking life into being, His purpose in each aspect of creation, and our natural response to this wonder and awe. So will I - echoes a thought of "who am I to not?" 

I am writing this memory today not to rehash old memories nor to cling to the past...but to honor this moment that changed my life - to honor the God who willed it to existence. 

If you left the grave behind you, so will I
I can see your heart in everything you've done,
Every part designed in a work of art called love,
If you gladly chose surrender, so will I.


I don't know what my future holds, but I know that I live in the light of possibilities - because I choose to surrender to the God of the Universe who fills all things in every way. Life lived in Him is full of the infinite in every ordinary moment. If Mary lived in Fiat, so will I. 

...and so today, on the tenth anniversary of meeting Dan Kiesling, we celebrated the next generation of Kiesling Fiats: Henry's first communion. 

Tim (Dan's brother), Henry and me


Remember: at the heart of every Fiat is love. 
Let us live in love, walk in love, and be in love. 

If we can learn anything from Dan Kiesling, it is this: life is worth living each moment. So say Yes! Do the thing you long to do. Do the thing you don't normally do. Go out on a weeknight. Go to the graduation party. Ask the girl out. Kiss her. You don't know the outcome? Who cares? Do the thing! Live in this moment - because this is what you have, right now! Stay in the castle. Buy the shoes. Starch your jeans. Go to work. Do your best job. Eat the dessert. Lick the beaters. Enjoy the whiskey.

Clear eyes; full hearts; can't lose.





Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Healing a Wounded Heart: the lie of less than

A week ago, God brought about an awesome healing in my heart. He brought up a wound that I have been sheltering for years - and brought me through the steps to finally forgive.

I've always been "a bigger kid." For those of you that don't know the code, that means overweight. I've pretty much always been overweight. The first time that someone called me "fat" was in first grade (two times, actually) - once by Todd Killion who said that "I needed to lose my baby fat," and once by Sarah Reidel, who was fat herself, so when she said, "You're fat, you know that?" I thought, "So are you - so, what's your point?" (I think I was more indignant than wounded - like what kind of logic is that?)

Unfortunately, I never did grow out of my baby fat. I guess it goes back to that prophecy I uttered to my aunt Barbara at the age of 3.5: "My mom doesn't make me eat broccoli. My mom lets me eat peanut butter."
(please read that with every ounce of dramatic emphasis you know 3-year-old - and yes, 38-year-old Jessica would have announced that decree. More emphasis on the My than the mom - like my mom is better than yours)

Anyway...fast forward to those ever-formative middle school years. Those years when we girls so desperately need words of Truth spoken over us...when we seek our identities more in what our peers think of us than the rest of the world...when "nobody knows anything" except our peers - who in reality don't know anything. :)

In middle school, there was one person in particular who made it his mission to let me know just how undesirable I was. ...and I believed him. I distinctly remember the first time he called me "Fat Ass." We were in line at the lunchroom, and I think we'd actually just the weekend before been at this county-wide dance and for the first time had a fun time together (the group of us)...so it's like that moment where you have this glimmer of hope that, like, things can be different now. We can be friends. ...and then, he looked at me, and said, "You're a real fat ass, you know that?"

Um....

No?
Yes?
No? I don't know. Am I? I mean, I'm afraid that I am and if you're saying that I am, then I guess so.
...and it continued. That wasn't the only time he called me that.

...and then there was the time that he made fun of my jeans being too short in 8th grade - but they were my only pair of black jeans and I knew when I put them on that they were really short, but I didn't have any other jeans to wear, so I had to wear them, and maybe no one would notice anyway.
...nope. not the case. of course the person who knows right where to sling those flaming arrows wasn't going to miss this opportunity for ridicule.

(and of course, I wore those jeans again. and of course, I got the arrow again)

And I've never liked that person since.


Until last Wednesday, I didn't really think this was an issue. I thought I'd "gotten over it." Over the years, I've really grown to be grounded in my worth in Christ, and in who I am. ...I thought.... :)


...but what I didn't realize was how much I ingested those words and took them to heart. I bought the lie that I was "less than." Less than desirable. Less than pretty. Less than popular. Less than him - and all the people in his circle.

And for 25 years that wound has been festering: This "less than" mindset causing me to feel a need to prove myself "better than" in those realms that I could control. If I can't be pretty, then I can be smart. If I can't be popular, then I can be involved. If I can't be in the circle, then I can create my own. If I was ever to be desirable, then a man would have to tell me - because I just wasn't - and I couldn't be...


...and until last Wednesday, I didn't even realize the full extent of the poison. I knew I struggled with my body image. I knew I struggled with loving myself - even when I did "lose all my weight" three years ago. I could never see myself differently, even 50 pounds lighter. I knew that I can a bit judge-y. I didn't know why; I just thought something was wrong with me.

Something was wrong with me. I was entangled by a lie. A lie that I was, and would forever be, "less than."

Wednesday morning, God just tapped me on my heart - asking, remember that time? That's where this started. Let's go back there.

I knelt down on my knees (which I never do at home), and God took me back to that time in the lunchroom hallway. I heard those words again, piercing my heart. ...and in that moment frozen in time, I said to God, "I don't know what to say here. I don't know how to make this better. I don't know what the Truth is. You have to tell me. I don't know it."

And I began to hear God describe me, my body - "you know, those are your Grandma Georgia's hips and thighs...your Grandma Ellen's short-waist.... I know you love your heritage; these I gave to you. If I gave these to you, who are you - who is anyone? - to say that they are not good. I gave them to you. ...and I have set my Spirit upon you; I have chosen this body as my temple. Your body, I have chosen as a temple. My temple. You are my temple. I chose you. I chose you. You are enough. You. are. enough."

I just let those words wash over me; my tears washing over that wounded heart.

...and as I allowed that wound to be bound up by the Spirit of God, the only Healer...I realized that wound kept me from being a true friend to some people...that I had felt "less than" a number of people from high school, and I needed to confess that spirit of insecurity that kept me in a battle of less than/better than comparison.

I also didn't realize how much I hated him. ...and I mean it; I hated him. The way he made me feel...I let that wound poison my heart and mind.
...and suddenly, I could forgive him. I don't hate him, anymore. I forgive him. I forgive him. I forgive him for all of the words he spoke and the way he made me feel. I don't want to be bound by those things anymore.



I just....I had no idea how much that incident had wounded me - and how much that wound tainted the way I viewed myself and others. ...that I was keeping this silent tally of "the pretty people" vs. me. ...that I had accepted somewhere deep down that one of my defining characteristics is being fat.

One of the things I feel freed from is that now I can actually choose to be healthy. I can actually choose to do what is best for my body. I think that somewhere, deep down, I felt bound to be destined to self-loathing forever...always keeping that tally sheet of "less than/better than" columns - hoping I come out ahead in the better than - finally proving my worth.

...and that's just it. "finally proving my worth" has been driving me for a long time. Won't it be interesting if I can allow myself to live in my God-given dignity and realize it's not about proving anything? What sort of freedom might I find myself in, then?

What if I can allow people to just be people - not "pretty people" or "my people"? Just people? Who have a God-given dignity - and that in his column there's no less than/better than columns? What sort of freedom might I find myself in, then?

I don't know - but I sure look forward to finding out!


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What healing looks like: honest questions

This Lent, I decided to get back to basics: back to simply immersing myself in the Word of God, my first love. Looking longingly, lovingly into the words of Jesus to return to his heart, my heart. It has been such a gift. I can get so fixated on the doing of life that I mistakenly think that it's the doing that God cares about most. I forget the gift in being in His presence and adoring who He is...and somehow, reading & writing is how I meditate best, cultivating thoughts on Him - and me - and life springs up inside me.

I've been reading through the book of John - slowly, chewing, cherishing each section. I've wanted to share some thoughts I've had - and it just so happens that yesterday's Gospel reading and today's reading fit right in with what I was meditating on last week. (...and this one was a hard one for me, took a couple of days of honest prayer)

Without further ado, my thoughts on John 4:43-54, the healing of the Royal Official's son.

What isn't said that is necessary for understanding?


The Royal Official comes to Jesus in Cana:

Sir, I hear that at your word, water becomes wine.
Sir, I hear that you have performed many signs and wonders -
my son, my son whom I love...
he is sick - near death - please come and heal him.

I wonder, I picture him, bowed low, cap in hand,
humbling himself in spite of his position -
out of respect for authority and deep love for his son -

How could Jesus' heart be indifferent?
unmoved to compassion?
He is not like me. He does not grow tired or weary.
He will.

...but my heart has experienced this loss.
My heart cried out; I humbled myself - didn't I?
Didn't I?
Was it not enough?
Surely if not me, then his own parents -
was it not enough?
Were we not enough?
Was our faith too small for healing?
Did we accept that dying is just part of life?
That you, God, didn't will it for Dan?

I don't understand, to be honest. Why did you heal this man's son - and not Dan?
God, forgive me for my unbelief - for my questions,
but I need you to show me.
It feels too much like indifference, sometimes.
Forgive me for thinking your ways are mine, but I ask you -
with a contrite heart, please come into this part of my heart
and heal my hurt. Help me know how much you delight in healing -
in our wholeness.


...
There are no notes on John 4:45-54.
a son healed and not one word...
Jesus knew that the generation needed to believe;
this man believed that Jesus alone could heal his son.
he did.
~only say the Word~
He did: you may go; your son will live.
he believed -
and then -
he heard; he saw: at the very hour He spoke -
healing.
and a household believed.

Your words are LIFE.
You give Life.
You are Life.
You are more than a teacher.
You are God.

In February 2016, Jesus told me that Dan would be healed. Clearly, as Father Mark prayed for him and I prayed, begging for his healing: I knew it. I felt it. I "heard" it.

It can be hard to explain this - because 6 months later, he died. But Jesus told me something about healing that day:
Healing is about wholeness - 
and a person is only whole in Jesus.

Miraculous healings - these are signs to accompany faith -
to produce, affirm, confirm, strengthen faith...
so that a person may experience greater wholeness with Jesus.
or even a community of people.

The thing is - this Royal Official's Son, he still died...eventually.
For me, that is what I must accept:
that in the goodness of God,
in His providence -
Dan's death, leading to ultimate unity: wholeness with Jesus -
this could lead more to faith in Jesus than his life could.
It seems impossible -
but with God all things are possible -
even life from death.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Searching for my heart's love

Today, I am sharing with you one of the most significant moments of my pilgrimage to Ireland. This was the Saturday of our trip; our second-to-last day in the Emerald Isle. Our pilgrimage included daily Mass, and the members of the pilgrimage took turns sharing the duties of reader. I read the first day (Sunday)...and was asked to read prior to Saturday's Mass. Nearly every other day, I read the readings ahead of time - so that I'd be ready, just in case. I didn't on this day. If I had, I probably would've said no. :) 

...without further ado, my story:

7/22/17

Today, I read.
I'm not in prison; just reading behind the bars separating the chapel from the Benedictine sisters.

It was a very hard reading, especially given the dream I had the night before I left for Ireland. In a soap-opera-like turn of events, Dan had been discovered as not dead, but I'd believed that he was - and had been in the process of "living my life" - when this announcement was made. So, I went to where he was (this strange hospital/school) - but I couldn't get to him. I could hear him, but I couldn't ever get to where he actually was. It was very upsetting.

Today's reading was from the Feast of Mary Magdalene:

A reading from the Song of Songs 3:1-4b: 
The Bride says:
on my bed at night, I sought him whom my heart loves;
I sought him, but I did not find him.
I will rise then and go about the city;
in the streets and crossings I will seek
Him whom my heart loves.
I sought him but I did not find him.
The watchmen came upon me, as they made their rounds of the city:
"Have you seen him whom my heart loves?"
I had hardly left them
when I found him whom my heart loves.

I feel like I have a choice of two things to write about: the deep sorrow in my soul ... or the fact that only in the heart of Jesus do I have any solace or hope of comfort. Our Mass today was said in a Benedictine Priory dedicated to the Perpetual Adoration of the Sacred of Heart of Jesus (Cobh, Ireland).


The Gospel reading was Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. "Don't cling to me, for I have yet to return to my Father; but, go - and tell my disciples to go on ahead of me - to wait and to pray till I come to them."

Father said Mary, devastated by the loss of the One who had restored her to wholeness, was probably rejoicing that things would be back as they were. As she embraces Jesus, he seems to know that her heart longs for the way things were - and yet, "Behold, He is making all things new." Always.
(it's not a one-and-done, but a constant converstion to the newness.)

So, he gently tells her. He speaks to her heart - and then sends her out with the gospel - "Behold, you (even you) will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." Go - tell my brothers what you have seen and heard and touched. Go.

So, Mary does.

She does exactly the opposite of Moses (whom we've been hearing about all week). She doesn't question, "Who am I to go?" Mary Magdalene has been transformed by love - and she knows the One who has made her new. She knows she is loved, and she loves him in return.

She doesn't question, "What will I say? Who will I tell them who sent me?" Jesus tells her exactly waht to say and to whom to go. She knows the One who sent her - and she trusts him because He has loved her in a way no one ever has.

I had a moment last night where I think God came to me... I had this vision brighter than I'd ever seen - my eyes were closed, and these images of green and gold - like sunlight through trees - brighter than anything I'd ever seen, passed before me - and I felt like I was in the presence of holiness.

I just wanted to stay in that place; bask in that presence...but I felt prompted to ask for what I wanted.
But I had no idea what to ask for.
I had no idea what my heart wants most.
I didn't fell like I could ask for it - instead just a "I don't know; what do you want for me?
What will you do for me? Do you want me to hope for the things I have before? for motherhood, for marriage? Will you do that for me?"

...and then it was dark and I felt like I'd lost it - like maybe I don't really know His heart for me.


After Mass, three different people told me that the face that I read this particular reading is a sign. But a sign of what? I don't know.

Have I found the One whom my heart loves?

I feel like I'm a "yabbit" here. Yes...but.

Yes, in an amazing, miraculous way I have found more of Jesus in my heartbreak. I am in love with him more now than I was with Dan here. I have a much stronger, more profound, deep knowledge that I am loved - and I trust his heart more for me now than when Dan lived.

I do. I love Jesus more now than a year ago - and I want to love him more. I want more of him. I am no longer afraid of the Holy Spirit living in me - I want that. I want more of Him. More. More. MORE.

But, I still want to love a person. I want to be married. I want a family. I still want those things. I do.

The hardest part of grief is feeling you straddle two worlds. Two lives.
One that feels broken, desolate, a promise dashed.
One that hopes breathes, that lives, that laughs.

Two hearts.

Like today's words: Don't. Go.

I don't know how to live in two worlds. I don't know what my "don't" is...but my soul clings to Hope. My heart has been buoyed by Hope - and my Hope has a name: Jesus.

A view from the backside of the Priory




Now that it's been over 6 months since I penned these words, I see how the Holy Spirit has continued gently leading me through this process of voicing my heart. I can't speak for all Christians, but for me, I have often felt a need for permission to want what I want. Like, it is somehow holier to be all "whatever God, have your way" - when there are desires he's pressed upon us - when he wants to hear us articulate what is on our hearts.

Of course this doesn't mean that I dictate my will to God and expect him to "Magic 8-ball" my requests; but what I am invited to do is to share my hopes and dreams - and ask the One who has loved me with an everlasting love, who has created me, who knows me to have his way in me...while trusting that what he's laid on my heart is good - and that the One who calls me is faithful - and He will do it.

So, what's all that mean, anyway, Jessica? Gah, you've figured me out, self. You know how I like to couch my thoughts. 

What does it mean? Well, I want to be a mom, and I want to be married. I want to be part of a family; I want a family. I do. Those are still desires of my heart...and I want to trust God to provide for me, believing that He will...in His way and His time. It took me awhile to be brave enough to voice it. 

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I will rise

Today I'm sharing with you "My Moment" from my pilgrimage to Ireland this past summer. There is a lot on my heart as Dan's birthday approaches tomorrow. The last few days have been plagued by the heaviness of grief...and I have need to "hear" from Dan (but haven't). Reading this reminded me of the hope to which I cling...that hope which is a buoy to my soul.

My moment...at Mass today (7/20/17)

Today was the first time I saw Dan's resemblance in someone else.

Today during the Gospel reading, I looked up at Father David - and I saw Dan. His hairline, his nose, his eyes - his resemblance. Now, I've looked at Father for 4 days so far and not once seen him [Dan]...until today. ...and to have the first person you see resemble Dan be a priest? His "dream" job? ...how do you handle that?

My heart - overcome with grief...all I could see and think was how much I missed him. How much I love him...and I was so, so sad. And I cried. and my nose ran. And then, they came with the offering basket...and my purse completely spilled. And, I was so distracted from my grief that I laughed, and that was Dan.

During the Eucharistic Liturgy, I just felt so sad...all the tears. I remember feeling so sad looking out at the beauty behind the altar, wondering how I could long for heaven when my heart hurt so much here - when this pain feels so much more real...and I just invited the Holy Spirit to come, come.


Then I noticed a cow grazing at the foot of the cross. Honestly, it just made me feel sadder.
After receiving Jesus, as I prayed I looked back out at the cross and the sun was lighting up the field with the cattle, and I heard the song, "I Will Rise."

I will rise on eagle's wings, before my God fall on my knees - and rise...
No more sorrow, no more pain - I will rise. I will rise.

No more sorrow. No more pain.

In that moment, I knew. I knew that God was reassuring me Dan was in a far better place. There is a peace that he has come to know - his faith is now his eyes. He will rise.


Photo credit: Emily Holman

As Mass ended, I headed to the pasture to capture this beautiful scene and to worship.

There's a peace I've come to know though my heart and flesh may fail.
There's an anchor for my soul, I can say, "It is well."

Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. 
Victory is won - He is risen from the dead.

I will rise when He calls my name, 
No more sorrow; no more pain. 
I will rise on eagle's wings, 
Before my God fall on my knees - and rise, I will Rise.

There's a day that's drawing near when this darkness breaks to light; 
and the shadows disappear and my faith shall be my eyes.

And I hear the voice of many angels say, "Worthy is the Lamb!"

And I hear the cry of every longing heart, "Worthy is the Lamb!"


 
 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

FWIW: my thoughts...

No doubt, the readership of my blog is well aware of the s-storm that has enveloped East Lansing, specifically Michigan State University. ...and it turns out a few of you are curious to know my thoughts. ...and, if there was ever a more difficult thing to put into a coherent chain of words, it is this.

However, what I have settled upon in reflection and prayer and conversation was articulated by my friend, mentor, colleague, and Spartan 3x over + a 20-year career at MSU, Dr. Karen Waite:

When an institution attempts to protect both the abused and the accused, they lose.

There is no need to add words to this. She encapsulated our crisis perfectly. However, I think it is quite important to note that simply because Michigan State is in the spotlight right now, we would be naive to think this line of thinking and mode of operating is isolated to this one institution. This is pervasive. This is likely happening on every campus, even your beloved institution.

For me, the question that has started to emerge is that of justice. I have for too long thought that if I was concerned with my own life, kept my nose clean, did the right things, then I had done what I could do. But, the stirring that I am noting is that for change to truly come about, it is necessary to speak Truth to power.

The injustice we are observing is because there has been a lack of Truth checking power. The injustice we are observing is because we have tried to walk a line protecting both the abused and the accused. While sitting in Mass today, it became very clear to me that the abused are the oppressed. Of all our charges as people of God, whether in the Old or New Testament, the charge is to protect the oppressed. To be a voice for the voiceless, to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

For me, the call today is to be mindful of the oppressed. To be on the lookout to relieve oppression in this world. It does not have to be a grand gesture or a mighty act, but simply to use my voice to speak up for those who are afraid, who cannot, who are minimized, who are at-risk. ...to speak truth to power. to walk humbly with God.

 The Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen


Also, this has been ruminating: when you wonder why now; why so many...this is the moment of speaking truth to power. It took an entire movement of women for anyone to listen. Individual victims had come forward and the system in place favored the abuser - it is so easy to be duped by power. We want to trust people that we hired; we want to trust people we admire; we want to trust that people are not doing that - we can miss the facts, gloss them over, find a justification. But, unfortunately, we silence the voice of the victim. Think about what this communicates to the victim. They are simply not worth as much as this other person. Their pain is not as important as this one's potential.  and passively, we communicate to them they should quell their stories...and then it takes a few brave souls to refuse to be silenced to embolden the others.


To my fellow Spartans - whether students or staff, alumni or administrators - we are our way forward. We are the path that will lead us toward reconciliation, hope, and a future. and, as we know, Spartans will. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Strengths! Excitement!

It's been a while since I posted, and while there are things that weigh on my heart, I don't always want to write about heavy stuff. In that vein, I want to share with you something I am REALLY EXCITED about: Strengths Coach training.

In 8 days, I will be boarding a plane for sunny Irvine, California to spend some time healing in the sunshine at my favorite place of respite & repose: Casa de Colando - while simultaneously having my cup filled and mind sharpened through Gallup Strengths coaching seminar.

I. AM. SO. EXCITED.

I love trainings.

I love them.

Well, should I say that I love trainings where you are actually being trained to do something? Because that's what I mean. I'm not talking about a seminar in the guise of a training. Trainings that are for your professional development that feeds your personal growth.

and I haven't been to one in years.

I AM SO EXCITED.


I have been a BIG FAN of the Gallup/Clifton Strengths since I was introduced to them in 2007. (How is that eleven years ago? Ridiculous) My friend Stephanie who is also a lover of all things "type" introduced us. Reading my insight report of my top 5 was an awakening.

Discovering my top 5 strengths both then and now are incredible doses of validation. I struggle with knowing my purpose and feeling like I'm living my calling and up to my highest potential. I question whether or not I have settled with a position. I want to hear the voice saying, "This is the way walk in it" - and I crave a confirmation that I am on the right path.

While my top 5 haven't actually answered those questions directly, they are a confirmation that I am on the right path...that I'm making progress toward the goal...and most importantly, that I am valued. My strengths matter. My talents matter. I matter. I was made in a fearfully and wonderfully way with a unique combination of talents and abilities to be strengthened, developed, and put to good use.

I don't know about you, but I need this reminder.

My first set of 5 were Individualization, Ideation, Adapatability, Positivity & WOO. They explained to me why I loved my job...and also what frustrated me in my position. My new 5 are Communication, Context, Adapatability, Connectedness and Ideation. Communication is the only one I haven't had on a score before, but man-oh-man, does it hit the mark:


Communication

People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

YOUR PERSONALIZED STRENGTHS INSIGHTS
What makes you stand out?
It’s very likely that you are sometimes open and honest about who you are, what you have done, what you can do, and what you cannot do. Maybe your straightforward explanations and stories help listeners see you as you see yourself. You might reveal your strengths and limitations. You might choose to be forthright and plainspoken. This partially explains why various people seek your company and want to work with you. Perhaps your words and examples move them to action.

Instinctively, you welcome opportunities to exchange new theories, innovative thoughts, and intriguing concepts. (YES!) Others’ original thinking probably stimulates your creativity. (YES!) Chances are good that you feel forlorn (if ever there was a word to describe the pit of feelings plaguing me this week, especially yesterday, it is forlorn) — that is, miserable or deprived — when you are separated from someone who is dear to you. (SO MUCH YES!) You yearn to spend time with your friends. Their absence saddens you.

Driven by your talents, you live your life at center stage. (sort of yes) It is risky at times. However, it is the only way you will ever know how much people appreciate and love you. (but also yes) Being a person of prominence and achievement comes naturally to you. You easily capture the attention of others. You sense that you are most alive when you hear thunderous applause or receive accolades from those who realize you are important. (I do like recognition) By nature, you typically fill your time with reading when friends or special support groups are far away. (truer.words) You peruse — that is, studiously examine — fiction or nonfiction, newspaper accounts, correspondence, magazine articles, or research papers. This helps you forget the loneliness you can feel. In the process of pulling together insights or information (i love pulling together insights and information), you broaden your knowledge base.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Gift of Christmas Present

We give up joy when we focus on loss.  (Marie Crews)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the ghosts of Christmas Past can sneak up on this time of year - and we don't have to be grieving to have them find us. I remember a conversation with my mom about ten years ago. My brother was spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his girlfriend's family...and I felt left behind. I remember saying, "I just don't know how to have an 8-year-old's Christmas at 28!"

To me, it felt like Christmas had to be about reliving those past traditions in order for it to be Christmas. ...and how do you relive a tradition without an integral family member?

You don't. ...and that tension of recognizing what has been is not what is can be very hard, frustrating, lonely or painful. For me, I think that Christmas was the first of letting go of the parameters put on Christmas and letting it just be.

Lucky enough for me, I didn't have to endure too many "single" Christmases after that. In fact, the very next year was what Dan and I referred to as the "awkward" Christmas - when he traveled to Orient for Christmas dinner when we were sort-of/almost dating - and it was a really fun day, really fun - one that you want to have again...but afterward, I felt a little more confused. I mean, what were we? Did he like me enough to actually ask me out?  Looking back, a magical 8-ball could've told you all signs point to yes - but cautious Jessica just wasn't quite sure.

One of the gifts of Dan's presence in my life was a feeling of settling. Not like "settling" - where you give up...but a feeling of being...grounded. Whenever we speak of the peace of the Holy Spirit resting upon us - this is what I think of: the feeling of being grounded even when the rest of your life feels out of control.

I had felt, for so many years, that I was running behind everyone (my peers): not yet married, no kids...just me. and my parents. I must have a bit of a competitive nature because I felt like everyone around me was "moving forward" in their life, and here I was, a 28-year-old trying to either live out an 8-year-old's Christmas or live with the emptiness of being single. Dating and then being married to Dan changed that.

The last ten years have really been a lesson in loosening the parameters and allowing the present to be just what it is. However, it took Dan's diagnosis to make this lesson not just a good idea (an ideal), but a necessity. From the second day of the diagnosis, I realized that the best way to get through this was to stay grounded in this moment. That realization helped Dan and I truly live the last year of our lives with peace and joy in the midst of uncertainties.

I don't much remember Christmas last year. Maybe I was too focused on the getting through it...but, this year, though there are moments of heightened loss, I am finding my joy in the gift of Christmas present. My health coach shared this pearl of wisdom with me this past fall:

We give up joy when we focus on loss.

Those of us who have experienced loss realize the gift of today. Today, you have this moment to be with your family and friends: live it. If you feel pain, feel it. If you feel lonely, reach out. If you feel scared, open your heart to God. If you feel joy, laugh. If you feel you are not enough or your validation comes from giving the most presents or the goodness of the day is measured by what you get: then renounce those lies and send them to the pit of hell. Seriously. When you focus on loss, you give up joy. Don't let the joy of what really matters be stolen. You will only get this day once. Live it.

Jessica of ten years ago would be measuring herself by those around her. Has she arrived yet? Is she a wife yet? Is she a mom yet? Jessica today does feel the sting of loss at times. Of course she wants to be with Dan; of course she wants to be married; of course she wants to be a mom. And yet, this moment: this is enough.

It is a gift to be Aunt Jessica. ...and by all rights to be the cool aunt. Instead of spending Christmas Eve sewing last-minute gifts for your kid, it's for your kids (nieces).

It is such a gift to get to be Mom's cool friend to my friends' kids. When a 5-year-old requests that you be the one to put him to bed - and finds delight in your laughter and enjoyment of his presence: that is a gift. When an 8-year-old requests to wait on going home just so she can talk to you about her favorite things: that is a gift. (and when that 8-year-old is explaining how she just doesn't understand the logic behind one of the desserts at her favorite restaurant and she says, "It just doesn't make sense, you know?" You say, "I do know!" because you know that as a first-born, you need the world to make sense!)

...and when you get side-lined by a freak case of the stomach virus - you just come home and rest. Enjoying the chance to relive a bit of Christmas past: sitting in the dark with nothing but Christmas lights and Mannheim Steamroller...and taking a 2-hour nap before the opening of the presents.


In the past, I may have felt like if one little detail - or even one program missed - that Christmas would be ruined. For Christmas had been in the doing. Christmas is in the being - the dwelling. If we miss that, then we miss Christmas.

My dear friends, Christmas is about rejoicing: returning to joy in the midst of whatever your circumstances or feelings. JOY. The One who not only dwells in unapproachable Light but is Light itself has put on our flesh to be not only like us, but to be with us. If this is not a cause of wonder and awe, I don't know what is! But this same One has come to fulfill these words in himself: Comfort, comfort My people. Proclaim a day of rejoicing for the blind see, the lame walk, the captives have been set free! By the Lord has this been done and it is wonderful in our sight!

The gift of Christmas present: yesterday, today, and always.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Humanity + Holiness

The wonder of Christmas really is the miracle that the holy can become human...and vice versa, that the human can be reunited with the holy. As humans, I think this combination doesn't feel "seamless" - it often feels more like the tension between the dark and the light. (I just saw The Last Jedi last night, so that imagery is still vivid) Humanness and holiness don't seem to exist on the same plane, for us.

...but that couldn't be farther from the truth, could it?

Our humanity is what makes our holiness accessible. Our humanity makes holiness not seem like an impossible ideal, but instead a glorious place of love, acceptance, mercy, and joy.


What has flagged that for me this Christmas? My mom.

My mom doesn't tend to get the "shout-out" she has earned in my life, probably because of the centrality she plays. You don't notice the importance of breathing - you just do it everyday, every moment...and that's sort of how my mom is. She is SO MUCH of who I am that I don't even know how to recognize and honor her importance.

At Thanksgiving, we had a "discussion" where she said, "Can we just stop making fun of me for my short-comings? It's always funny to bring up the things that I do wrong. Well, it's not funny to me!"

...and it's true. We often have a really good laugh at my mom's antics...like the bumper boats incident. Those moments are inscribed into our shared family experience. ...but, we don't laugh at the them because they highlight her imperfection - I love them because they highlight her accessibility. Her realness. Her willingness to put herself out there...and show her vulnerabilities - and to laugh at the outcome when it wasn't ideal.  

My mom's willingness to be herself, to allow her "imperfections" to be displayed makes me love her more. My mom's immediate reaction to a problem with, "Shit. Shit! Shit! Shit!" makes me love her more. If she responded beatifically to every situation, well, I think we would be the most insufferable people. Completely inaccessible to others. Unrelatable. Untouchable. Separate. Removed. 

Instead, she is the person to whom I can give a gift that combines two seemingly unrelated things:



















because she is my personal reminder that humanity and holiness dwell together. She can laugh at the message of "Sofa King Bueno" while allowing the immutable truth of Jesus Christ present to us to be anchor of her soul through the storms of life.  ...I think people might say the same of me - and that is often why describing her importance in my life is so difficult. She is my first teacher and my best friend.


Humanity and holiness dwelling together. My friends, this is the Christmas Mystery. That the Creator of the Universe, God from God, Light from Light...could even put on our flesh and become human - that is mystery itself. ...but the fact that this God would choose to put on humanity...that is love itself.

Our image of holiness is one that is removed. separate. untouchable. ...because our sin doesn't allow us to encounter holiness. The effect of coming close to the fire of holiness would be to burn away to impurities and the imperfections - and that seems scary. To encounter the fire of holiness in our state would certainly be our undoing, our end.

The idea of God often seems far from us. God is removed from us. Separate. ...unreachable...untouchable...unrelatable.

...which is why the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Light entering the world in the form of a person should bring us to our knees - out of sheer awe and relief and worship and joy.

Jesus, who did not believe equality with God was something which should be grasped,
humbled himself and taking the form of a man,
and finding himself in the form of a man, submitted to death - even death on the cross -
that at his name, every knee should bow on heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim that "Jesus is Lord!"

The miracle of Christmas is humanity and holiness reunited, knit together in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus - the baby in the manger, born in the humblest of places into a working-class family...
Jesus - the teenager who senses his calling, who knows he is meant for more - submits to his parents' desire for him to stay home and near them...growing in grace and favor;
Jesus - the teacher, inspiring and confusing;
Jesus - the miracle worker, loving and noticing and touching and healing - the unlovable, the forgotten, the untouchable, the broken;
Jesus - the prophet, speaking words of truth that divide soul & spirit, right from might;
Jesus - the prince of peace and the stumbling block;

Jesus - in a manger, in his mother's arms.
Jesus - in a temple, sitting among his teachers.
Jesus - in a boat. on a beach. at a well, speaking to individuals, to friends, to the masses.
Jesus - at a dinner with his friends, reclining at table.
Jesus - praying for a miracle. desperate for a resolution. seeking consolation.
Jesus - taking up his cross, and shouldering the mantle of his calling.
Jesus - bearing all the brunt of hatred, power, man's inhumanity to man, our sin and all that has separated us from the holiness of his Father....he took it all upon him. ALL.
Everything that separated us from the presence of holiness himself: God the Father, Jesus destroyed through that cross. Everything. EVERY THING. including death.

For me, the images that evoke Jesus' humanness the most are his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crown of thorns. I see in those two images the very image of what it means to be human - to wrestle with the weight of suffering and death, the vulnerability to be scared and tell God about it, and to find the love and the strength to endure cruelty, pain, and the worst. excruciatingly painful and humiliation - and love and forgive - to do it all willingly and with overflowing love: that is what it means to be holy.

In his humanity and through his holiness, Jesus has been the restoration of our life. He has redeemed our lives through love. In him and through him: holiness and humanity can dwell together in harmony once again. They are not ying-and-yang. It is our true self, our true calling. Humanity and holiness dwelling in harmony.

Only possible through Jesus Christ, the God-Man. This Christmas, let us throw off all that hinders us and coming running into the arms of our Savior and Lord. This reconciliation - this is the greatest gift.



...and it enables us to look at the circumstances of life knowing that it's sofa king bueno because it really is well with our souls.


Merry Christmas!