This Easter, leave the thorn in place

But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9

It is Day 38 of Lent and I am weak. I tell you this because it’s true. The Apostle Paul tells you the same in the very next words of verse 10, “I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me.”

I’ve read this verse a thousand times, it is a Christian staple. My brain gets in the way though. My thinking, my complication, my resistance to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say. I think I know better, I think I’m smarter. I am not. I am a garbage can of thoughts. I have an agenda. I am a mess of a human. And this, this has led me to fall on my knees in front of the altar of my God. He expects me. He expects me to do this as homage to Him. He knew I would fail. He knew I would be here. Nothing is a surprise to the King of the universe.

In my great anxiety I was exasperated, when God? when will the pain end? The anxiety is too much and I am failing you Lord. Many have told me I have no faith if my anxiety has taken over. That I am lacking. This continued to make me feel less than, a betrayer of the one who saved me. Am I Judas Lord? I questioned myself. And this brought me into an even greater despair. Such is the plot of the enemy.

As I sat in front of the crucifix at mass this morning my anxiety was palpable. It was physiological. I was a mess of nerves and sweat. Things were not going according to plan. But when I fell to my knees, the devil couldn’t penetrate the grasp of the Holy Spirit, He spoke that scripture to me.

I had asked so many times, sometimes from minute to minute for God to take away my anxiety, for God to take away my physiological response when things get tough. But God has refused me. I never saw it as something to give up on- I always believed that someday it would be gone. But today I heard a freeing truth- it will never go away. It can’t be prayed away, anointed or exorcised. It can’t be charasmatically eliminated. It is the very thing that brings me to my knees. It is the very thing that keeps me glued to Christ.

I bowed my head… yes Lord! Yes Lord this is my cross!!! It is not a lack of faith but a gift. Yes Lord it is all grace. And in that moment I accepted all of it- the heart racing, the sweat, the tears, the inability to eat, the rocking back and forth, the pain, the panic. It was all beautiful now. It was all a gift of God.

How could it have taken me this long??? Six years and thirty eight days into Lent I had a massive explosion. God had broken me. And I repeated Stephen Colbert’s quote in my mind,

It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened. 

Our weaknesses are exquisite, they are not demeaning, or false or something to be prayed out. Rather, they are something to be taken in, accepted. They are the cross of Christ, the crown of thorns, the torn body. They are blood on my hands, my human betrayal and my failure to stay just one hour. And they are…everything.

Easter is coming but my anxiety will remain. I will not pull out the thorn in my side. It is a piece of the crown of thorns that keeps me in His arms.

You are not far from the Kingdom of God…

“We accept the love that we think we deserve.”

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It is twenty-two days into Lent and the desert feels hot. As things get more difficult, emotions get more raw, God becomes more real. He is straining me, pressing me like Gethsemane. He wants to get things out. He wants to retain the good. It is painful…

But what makes it more painful is to know the truth. The truth that for so long, I have believed that I had to perform for God in order to get Him to love me. And although I know better, my human family has set these wheels in motion.

I am only as good as my last assignment

So yesterday, He made me look introspectively at this. Why I toil and then lie in pain over and over again. Why I never think that I am enough… for Him. This is what has filled my head for so long, the God that wants more from me. The successful God. The friends that have left me because there love was conditional. The people that have conditioned my success on how much I do for them. The inability to take the day off, or scream or just sit in silence. It is an interior war, not an exterior one. It is me against myself…

What a great struggle it is to realize deep and cutting truths. Having an idea of love that is shaped by those around you rather than the one above you. We befriend the same kind of people, work for the same kind of people, attract the same kind of crowd over and over and over again. This is nothing short of an internal pulse, a signal that we put out that we are unaware of. We believe that we do not deserve better, that we do not deserve more. When we believe that love is conditional, others who believe that seem closer to us rather than farther. We try and surround ourselves with people who love us regardless, but end up pushing those people away. It is too much to know that someone would love me for who I am, not what I can do for them. This thought to me is overwhelming…

And yet, God tells me I deserve better, I deserve more. Not things, or tangibles or praise but love. I deserve to be loved in its most purest form, in its most innocent form. I deserve to be loved the way He loves me.

In seeking Him first, my Father tells me that I am not accepting of this great love. I cry in His arms because He understands. My heart is heavy, but swallowed in the divine love He has for me. 

There are so many of us out there like this. Dancing with exhaustion to gain the approval of others. People leaving our lives because we disappointed them. Trying to be enough when it will never be enough… for them.

We can’t rest, we can’t stop until they love us. And we are exhausted. I needed to be visited by God. I needed to know that He wanted better for me, more for me. I was afraid to go on an adventure. I was scared to follow my dreams…

There are no disappointments in the love of God

So if today you hear HIS voice, harden not your hearts. You are not far…from Him.

 

Let the Land Rest

but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie still, the Lord

Exodus 23:11 (a)

It is hard to lie still, to wait for your dreams to come to fruition. As I lie still, I shake in anticipation of what is to come. But I have always seen the waiting time as something to dread, not something to behold or cherish…that was until this Lent. It is only Day fourteen and God is showing me the fruit of the desert.

In letting land lie, we trust in God’s ultimate providence, seeing that our labor of love for Him can be just as fruitful in rest. In listening to that still small voice, I hear God calling me to put down the tiller, drop it in fact. Rest my child, He says, the harvest is coming soon.

I cry out to God in wonder. I cannot see the fruit of my labor, or His, but He does. I do not see trees or plants or corn stalks. I do not see anything at all. But He tells me it is there and I believe Him, because He is God and I am not.

I stare into the wide open empty field, it looks abandoned, but it radiates with divine light. I have prayed over this field many times without realizing it. I have prayed and leaned into trusting God’s will- the great- big- open -empty field. I saw it as abandoned, he saw the fruit. I can now see the underground, the roots, the soil, all of it. Grace is the water, the new growth. But God’s hand is no mystery. God’s hand created that field and I am only a tenant of His Will (great credit to Matthew Poole’s commentary).

“Thou shall let it rest and lie still. By this kind of quit-rent they might be admonished that God alone was the Lord and Proprietary of the land, and they were only tenants of his will.” Matthew Poole’s Bible Commentary

And if I see myself as a tenant and not as the owner, I am free to trust in the work of His hands, in His great providence, in the great I AM. I am free to float on the earth, above the earth. I am simply…free.

And I feel myself floating above and looking down on this abandoned, empty field- and I am flying. There are souls buried deep within the land that do not know it. But I am praying for them alongside the Blessed Mother- Mary who cries next to me from the skies imploring me to pray her precious rosary. There are people’s souls at stake, we are at war.

It is Lent, a time to attend to Holy rest, a time to let the land sit and lie still. But we are in active rest- contemplation. We are engaged in a war against the devil for souls. Jesus in fact went into the desert led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. There was great purpose in his preparation. This is the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Prepare me Lord, for I am weak. 

And as I hunger in each growing day of Lent, I see flowers in places where they shouldn’t be. They are not an imaginary oasis, they are faith buds that will bloom on the 41st day. God is preparing me for what is to come…

And so the land is not dormant, it is spiritually active. To the naked eye it is nothing, but to the one who sees with the divine eye it is an earthquake of activity. Can you see the dirt that has been cultivated beyond the surface?

Is that field the harvest of your soul?

In order to become great in God’s kingdom, you have to become a servant of the land. It is great divine work to cultivate that soil; denying self, forgiving those that don’t deserve it. Standing up for justice and righteousness; turning the other cheek. Shedding tears for the crown of thorns you sometimes must wear; knowing that blood must be shed for an undying. We rage for the unborn, for our marriages, for hungry children. We hate lawlessness. We are completely imperfect in our execution of it all. But this, this is our co-laboring in His majesty. This is our calling. This is His glory.

The land is untilled and fallow, but soon it will be rich and bountiful. The empty field is the face of God. The empty field is your destiny. The empty field is your down -on -your- knees -praying and feeling the soil.

Stay there and don’t move. The fruit will abound. Scream if you have to, but don’t move; and the angels will come to your side and minister to you. Child, this is just the beginning…

 

90 Seconds

How do you live one moment at a time? You cannot. This concept is wholly secular. Moments are increments of time that pass in movement from once frame to the next. They are snippets. They are still frames that can only be entered once the “moment” has passed. And, we move on to the next moment…

There is a lot of pressure to live “in” the moment. But moments are passing shadows. The movement of a shadow on a sundial covered 40 moments in a solar hour. On average, a moment corresponds to 90 seconds. And moments, (for all that they are not these days), were marked by a call to prayer at various intervals throughout the day. They were not a random “creation” of moments, they were an intentional calling on God, a movement towards Him. Even the earliest reference to the moment was defined by a Saint (St. Bede the Venerable).

When taken out of context, the moment becomes distorted, like other concepts extracted from out of their holy boxes. The world takes them and twists them to fit their own relativism, where one is in control of who and what they are. The God-man is lost in self-help books and do-it-yourselfers. And the moment? The moment fades away (how very cliche).

But if we return to mark our own moments, good and bad, can God change them? Can He use them? Or does the passage of 90 seconds define our whole lives? Each bead of the rosary marks a moment that I can change, a prayer, defining me. The now is the now I ask for Mary to pray for me, in this very moment, fifty times.

So the decades of the rosary are made up of moments, are marked by intentional prayer, are graces I give away after consecrating myself to our Holy Mother. And in those moments that have passed me without prayer, can I strive to make them holy by praying over them, especially the ones that stop me from enjoying life, the ones that rob me of my joy?

I say, contradict the world.

LET THE MOMENT PASS. DON’T HOLD ONTO IT. Jesus said as much to Mary Magdalene…

 

Enough

I’m saying sorry over and over again- but it is not good enough for you. Man made perfect, you are perfect. I am apologizing for things that I did’t even do.

I hate you in my mind for making me feel this way. That I’ll never be good enough, brave enough, I’ll never be anything enough for you. Because that goal of what is enough is impossible to attain. You yourself are not even aware of it. What is your enough?

The words you say are spears and they’ve made a thousand and one cuts in the core of my heart. They are deep enough to penetrate flesh, they are deep enough to wound. The heart rests on the inside of the body and wounds deep are not visible- on the outside.

If you are not the God-man how can you say that you do not forgive me, even for a thing that I did not do? Because the gift of forgiveness is transcendent, the radiant face of Jesus, the blood of the cross and the Eucharist on my tongue, and you are not sitting next to me… in the pew.

Can it ever be enough, when will I ever be enough? My Heavenly Father seems to think I am enough…already. I am enough, even through all my faults, and spills and messes. Jesus is on the floor with me holding the rag, cleaning up the blood that I did not spill.

And though my heart is broken, His is too- for me and for you. That I am enough for Him and not for you. That my humanness is limiting. That my good is not good enough, for you. That to Him, I am walking towards transfiguration, making change, wanting Holiness, but to you I am defined by the sin that plagues   you..

Love is a choice. You can choose to love me, despite all of my flaws, and faults and irregularities. You can love me when I apologize to you for what you did, when I cover up for you and you blame me, when you tell me I am responsible for your sin and those of your father. And your father’s father.

This is Lent. A working out of my salvation. The voices in my head telling me not to forgive. The pain and the beauty. The little Easters. The desperately seeking Jesus. The seven times seventy-seven times forgiveness- without condition. The transformation inside me. The molding and the aching. The paying for the sins of another. The ugliness of your father’s father. This is the movement towards the cross. This is the cross. These are the rules of engagement.

Forgive, Forgive, Forgive

 

 

Submit to the Plan of God

Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good, Romans 12:21

Solitude, silence, scripture– this is how God speaks to us… how we fight against the devil. And while nobody likes talking about the devil, it must be done. Because evil cannot be combated by pretending it doesn’t exist. Evil, as the scripture, says can only be combated with good.

But what and who is good? Well, there is only one who is good. But it is often hard to imitate our good Jesus, our suffering Jesus as we wade our way across the scorching earth. As I picked up my crucifix today and held it tight while praying my rosary, I saw it for what it was- I saw Jesus resting His tired head on me. And my breath withdrew from inside of me.

It was a tender moment that I thought nobody else would ever see. But sometimes those moments are the very ones that you have to share with others. Because letting people into those holy moments is precisely what God wants, as He experiences intimacy with us.

And I thought, what if I gave away all my prayers to God? All my intentions? Prayed only as He instructs me to pray? This is a movement of soul towards Him with a rush of great joy!

I yield my soul to you Lord!

And the rosary became a ladder towards God, let it all happen organically; let it come in, put in what God asks. Every bead closer to God, to sacred ground, to the freedom of my soul.

Jesus did not fight back. The forward movement He attained was walked through good and bad, accepting everything as from the Father. These are invitations from heaven, this is surrender.

Without Jesus the world is dark. He rests His head in my hand because He wants me to know that He is suffering for the world, He wants me to take notice, He wants me to know that I have been created for a higher purpose, that I am not just taking up space…

And as I got down on my knees in thanksgiving and adoration, I noticed the Alpha and God’s words to me, This is just the beginning. 

Better is one day in His house than a thousand elsewhere

Time does not exist for the King of glory…

The Eucharist is the whole picture, most of which we cannot see. But even in seeing a small slice, I am humbled to my knees. For all the life I’ve lived and bad I’ve done is all the more God loves me and chooses me for things greater than myself.

The deep ridges of my hands were all imprinted by the Master, and He drew every one into the cells of my skin.

He has not forgotten you either…

See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you… (Isaiah 49:16)

 

 

 

 

The Time that I can’t change

I am feeling overwhelmed by the time that I can’t change. As the clocks move forward, I struggle to catch up. The hours and minutes and seconds are in a sprint before me, and I am breathless and desperately chasing… time. In a haze of exhaustion and sorrow, the words in my bible seem to run off the page. Esther’s desperate plea for protection against her enemy, the psalmist’s cry for help. Sometimes I feel as if the words are there but I just can’t seem to catch up… in the same way time is escaping the grasp of my hands. God am I enough?

It is very obviously winter in my soul. Lent does that to me. When I have strained and poured myself into the divine colander, making the Master  tear apart my imperfections, and there are many. God is not cruel, but the truth sometimes is. And I wonder how I ever thought these words in my head, Am I my own Master?

The hiddenness of God is the beauty of God. As I travel, grope ground and dirt along my way, I am drowning. This is the part where I start to get hungry. This is eight days in the desert with no food from the world. It is just me and God.

And the more I sink, I fail, I get dirt on my face is the more I want Him; the more I realize that there is nothing good in this world. And the more the world reaches out to me with all its false temptations, sorrow and madness is the deeper I run into the Lenten desert he has created for me. It is not a retreat or defeat, it is a crown of thorns. It is not fighting back. It is a wanting for holiness. The world has nothing to offer me.

The Kingdom of God will grow upon earth, will be brought to fulfillment, in the same way it was established; by the daily and seemingly hidden lives of those who do always the will of the Father.

Servant of God Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.

Run to the wilderness with me!