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 -
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:


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

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 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 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:


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.

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!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas Past

There was something else I wanted to write about today. ...but Feelings gotta feel. So, I'm going down this tunnel looking for some light.

Has anyone else felt the heaviness of the season lately? The heaviness of expectation.

It makes sense when you think about it. Advent: the coming. The preparation for the birth. The month that seems to last 1,331 days instead of the typical 30-31. ...except that with this particular time, it seems to go too fast for one to be adequately prepared, which just adds to the heaviness of expectation.

I have felt that heaviness...it feels like dread. Like this weight that you want to shake, but you can't. It's coming for you; it's here; the time is upon you and you're.just.not.ready. You're not ready, and here it is. ...like a thief in the night.

I've heard the passages about Christ coming "like a thief in the night" many times. ...but until writing the above paragraph...I didn't really realize that's exactly what grief is like. That's exactly what Dan's death felt like to me: a thief in the night. I wasn't ready...but it came anyway.

...it came anyway.

The last 24 hours, I've been quite sad. I was reminded that December 11, 2008 was a pretty significant date in the story of Dan and Jessica. A year ago, I wrote about the start of our relationship.

December 11, 2008: Dan and I attended Esmerelda, a Christmas production put on by my church. Because of this amazing work that God did in my heart from the time we broke up on October 6 (when I was too afraid of losing a potential relationship to invite him to something that was really important to me: afraid) to November 30 (when I wasn't concerned about a relationship, but just wanted to spend time with him), he was attending. For at least the month prior, I had been praying that God would do a miracle in Dan's heart. ...and I thought that night would be the night of the miraculous.

Prior to attending, Dan came over for dinner. Whatever I had made really didn't turn out well. We ate it anyway. The wine, Matchbox from Fireside Winery, was good - and the conversation was excellent. We talked about our families and traditions...and for some reason, I think we talked about Ohio...and it felt so natural, so much like home.

Then, we went to play. It was great. ...then, we went out for dessert at Perkins and I had triple berry pie. We talked a long time; I remember we talked about how Dan had been baptized twice...how his very life (existence) was a miracle.

It was...magical. It was perfect.

December 12, 2008: I was working on two, take-home finals at a local coffee shop (Cafe Diem). ...and, I talked to my dad about the evening...and I realized that I had no other reason to see Dan. I had just had this wonderful night, and now, I realized, I didn't know when I would see him again. The ball was in his court, and I could only wait.

...and I cried. I sat in my car and cried actual tears as I cried out to God in prayer. What my dad had said 2 months earlier when he said that I loved Dan - was right. I loved him and I didn't even know if he liked me back. I had put it all out there...and...what would be next?

I sobbed and sobbed as I asked God to make a way.

I came in to the coffee shop and opened up my email. There was an email from Dan...stating that he had a really nice time and that he would like to see me again. Would I be interested in going to a movie that weekend?

Of course.

That movie was Four Christmases, one of the many Christmas movies in our repertoire.

A couple of days later, we met for a drink to celebrate the end of finals. ...I finally worked up enough courage to invite him to my family Christmas (per my mother's urging). His response was, "...um.....well...." (which is like an eternity) "Well, to be honest, I was kind of hoping for a better offer."
Me: "A better offer? Seriously? Do you know how much courage that took for me to invite you? ...and you said you were waiting for a better offer?"
Dan: "Well, I mean - a closer offer. I mean, you live like an hour and a half away...and that's a long way to go..."
(I agree. It is - which is the whole reason I didn't want to invite him in the first place, Mom.) Instead, I just sit there.
Dan: "I'll go. I'll go."
Me: "ok...."

So, on Christmas Day, Dan drove an hour and a half (one way) to have dinner with the Rohrigs. I was so nervous. I'd never - NEVER - had a boy join me for a family anything - let alone Christmas dinner. It was just my parents, brother and girlfriend and me...but I'm not sure if that means more or less pressure.

It was a lovely dinner. We exchanged some small gifts. My dad gave Dan a hammer. (which we still have) We played A Christmas Story monopoly in couple-pairs which morphed into It's a Wonderful Life monopoly when my dad became the banker with all the money (Mr. Potter) and my brother the staunch hold-out against his take-over (George Bailey).

It was fabulous. ...and suddenly it was 6pm and Dan needed to drive an hour and a half back to Ames and do chores along the way for the Ritter family.

I still wasn't sure how Dan felt about me, but I was pretty sure he liked me. A few days later, we watched the.longest.movie.ever (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) - but he held my hand for the first time. ...and it was magical. Seriously. It was electric - just like the say in Sleepless in Seattle.

That was my December 2008; nine years ago now. It was magical. It was everything those blasted Hallmark movies portray.

Our subsequent Decembers together were equally as beautiful - and dramatic. (like that one where he proposed) :)

...and that is what makes the present December hard.

I don't really remember what last year was like. I probably was very adament to not let grief ruin the season. I don't know. ...but as I think about when I will do all.the.things, I feel a bit like ghost of our Christmas past is tapping on my shoulder:
remember when Dan proposed? 
remember how Christmas cards were SO your thing?
remember when you received SO many cards the year you moved to Michigan? 
remember when you had someone to spend the day with - regardless of where you were?
remember when you could get a hug any time you wanted? 

The Ghost of Christmas Past is going to come anyway. Grief is going to come anyway. We have a choice: we can let them come or we can try to shut the curtains of our 4-post bed - but, they will still sit there. Conversely, we can sit with the memory - and though it pierces our present - our hearts are being made more tender in the process.

The present is bitter because the past was so sweet. ...and the fear is wondering how it's even possible for someone to experience magic again. Like, is that even fair? Is it fair for someone to get magic twice?

I don't know. What I do know is that this time of Advent is a time where I can allow myself to empty the pain and burden I carry...because a time is coming when the valley will be filled. If I choose to be emptied, I can be filled. I believe that God who promises is a God who does - and that his promise is Emmanuel: God with us. God present-to us. The God who fills us with His very presence. The God of the Impossible, the Inconceivable, the Incarnate.

I will wait for him. I welcome him. ...and though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I will not fear - for He is with me.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ubi caritas Deus ibi est

Well, folks - I'm officially in the new house. Yesterday was a rough day for me: little sleep, my parents headed home, and I was an emotional mess. I didn't get much sleep because my dad, selfless man that he is, was pounding away on some reducer and quarter-round at 1 am - so that the floors were officially done ... when he and Mom hit the road just 5.5 hours later.

When I woke up at 1am to my dad hammering away, the Holy Spirit had queued up this song to play: Ubi Caritas.
Ubi caritas et amor
Ubi caritas Deus ibi est.

Where true charity and love exist, God is there.

This photo, take on Saturday night, is my dad figuring out how vinyl plank flooring fits together and installs. Six hours later, he came back to the apartment: flooring fully installed...at 4am...just so that I could move my stuff into my new house 6 hours later.

Where true charity and love dwell...

When I awoke yesterday morning after a very fitful few hours, that song continued to fill my mind and my heart. Ubi caritas et amor...Deus ibi est.

I wanted to recount just some of the ways that people have showered me with love and charity in this move:

When I realized that Home Depot couldn't install flooring with 2 weeks notice, I texted my friend whose brother does drywall - and he learned how to install floors (he did the first floor and started the second floor);
When I painted and had some amazing helpers who even brought lunch: Trevor & Dustin, Leslie, Brian & Kim and the kids;
When I Chad tore out the carpet on the first floor and carted it away for me;
When Williamston Glass came and gave me an estimate to reglaze my windows and when scheduling the appointment, she said, "You must have made an impression. He came back and told his me, "We need to take care of her;"
When Uncle Fred painted the second coat on my kitchen on a Monday night;
When Linda packed up my kitchen over 2 days and came back to clean;
When Mom & Dad drove 22 hours to spend 72 hours with me - finishing packing, learning how to and then installing a floor, unpacking, purging...
When Kimmi, Nate, Charles, Tim, Chastin, Jordan, Scott, Lonnie, Fred, Alex, Karen, Chad, Grant, and Brian helped move all the stuff out and into the house in less than 3 hours from a 3rd floor apartment, 
When Dean cooked us all a delicious meal to cap off the in and out of moving day,
When Mom, Linda, Polly, Karen, Karen, Kim and Brenna helped with the unpacking....

A toast to new chapters and Dan Kiesling: Clear eyes, full hearts: can't lose.

When it came time for my parents to drive the eleven hours west, I could hold back tears no longer. My heart is full to bursting with such love and true charity shown toward me. As I reflected on this and the song continued to play, I realized this is the theme of my house.

Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est.

Where true charity and love dwell, God is there.

Abide. Abode.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Wave Pool

For those of you who are not my Facebook friends, here's a piece of news for you: I bought a house! It's a quaint little 1900 house in my favorite Michigan hometown. It's hard to believe I signed almost two weeks ago - and will be fully moved in less than a week.

The day of the signing, I posted on Facebook that I was feeling very overwhelmed. People kept asking me if I was excited, and honestly, I felt anything but excitement. I felt mostly overwhelmed. Like you've taken me to the edge of the sand, shown me the ocean, told me that something exciting is just beyond that horizon...but, I don't believe you because all I see are the waves.

My Facebook memory that day had pulled up a quote a friend had shared from 1 Peter: May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus abound as you grasp more and more the hope of our call. Two years ago, while we were going through Dan's treatment - I saw those words as a prayer we should pray for all those when we are tempted to say trite, worthless lies like: God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Stop saying that - and start saying, "I will pray for you that even in this overwhelming circumstance that the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus will abound for you that you will come to know with more assurance the hope of our call, of his firm love for us and our security in that love" - because that is the only thing worth meaning.

I digress. I posted that asking for my friends to pray for me as I prepared to sign for my house. ...and all the stress I had felt gripping me for the previous two days melted away - and I felt overwhelming peace before, during, and after the signing. SUCH PEACE. Amen. God is good.

So, now it is crunch time. It is get the shit in the boxes time. Moving starts at 1:30 pm on Sunday (if you're looking for a fun time for a couple hours. I promise I'll make it worth your while).

...and tonight, while I started packing the bathroom closet, I got bowled over by this:

Those are beach towels - which for any of our Tucson friends might look familiar. For those new to our story, our Tucson home had a pool. (which was impossibly to keep blue. IM.possible.) We loved hosting our friends and family when they visited in the pool - and kept towels on hand for those in need. 

I pulled seven beach towels from the top shelf and placed them in the box...thinking about Tucson. ...and then thought, "when will I ever need this many beach towels in Michigan?" ...and that thought began a spiral into the what was, and what will not ever be wave pool. 

Wave Pool. If you've been to a water park, you've ventured into the wave pool. It's tolerable - a little constant motion of the waves moving you back and forth...and then, as you get a little deeper, it gathers force pushing you back and pulling you deeper, water breaking against your body.

I mentioned via text to my friend Leslie that I felt a little weepy. I tried to explain why...and then the tears came. Once they started, it became a sob. ...and then gasping sobs, holding onto the door frame while your whole body grieves for what has been lost - both what was, and what will not be. 

I hadn't experienced that level of grieving for a while. ...not since returning from Ireland - so (exactly) three months ago. 

Beach towels.
and curtains. 

"They" say that you don't know what will trigger you...and I guess that's true. ...and there's no need to try to figure it out. What is needed is that you let yourself enter into and endure the wave pool. Because you know what happens in the wave pool? It subsides. It stills. It is not constant. It is not forever. ...but, you have to let yourself feel it or you will not reach the stillness of healing.

Yesterday's Gospel reading (Luke 12:13-21) is the parable of a man with an abundant harvest who decides that he will build bins and storehouses, as a way to ensure that he will never be in want - and will never have to rely on God again - because he has provided for himself and ensured his provision for years to come. The warning to him comes: "You fool, don't you know that this very night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared - to whom will they belong? So it will be for all who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich in what matters to God."  

That reading, especially that line sat with me. As my grief wave began to still, I remembered, "for one's life does not consist in possessions." ...I don't need 7 beach towels. I don't. There are people who do; these are nice towels. They should be shared - and used - and not stored in boxes growing musty and dusty. 

One's life does not consist in possessions. 

Use your possessions to make memories with people. People. 
Be rich in what matters to God: people. 

My people, may grace and peace abound to you through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.