All posts by ashleyphames

Bare Ash. Finally, and Again.

I haven’t written in a long time. You know, the name of this blog is “Bare Ash”, but I don’t think I’ve been very Bare. I think I’ve covered myself up with many things. Most of what I’ve written here has been about some concept outside of myself. Fertility charting, political issues, religious issues. All of those things are good things to be talking about, sure. But if I’m being really honest with myself, writing about things OUTSIDE is easier than writing about what’s going on INSIDE. And writing about things OUTSIDE is not why I started writing in the first place.

Outside is easy. I can point my finger so easily at you. And you. And you. I can look out and see all of you hypocrites messing up. I can look out and criticize racism and bad religion.

But this past week, my insides came pouring out. And I want to tell you about it. I want to be bare.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that so much happened in my insides during Holy Week, the week leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Last week, Palm Sunday, I was refreshed by a really great church service where the pastor talked about spring cleaning. It’s a tradition during Holy Week to deep clean your house, in an act of preparing a way for New Life to enter. The act is meant to help us open our hearts to God’s spring cleaning. The pastor explained that we all have racism and bad religion and hypocrisy inside of us. He pointed out, gently (that’s crucial in a pastor), a fact we’ve all known – it’s easier to throw stones than to notice our own sin. But that’s what Jesus asks us to do. I thought, yeah, I want that. Let’s do some spring cleaning.

Wednesday, Eric & I had a fight about who knows what. It was just a normal marriage communication breakdown, but it sent me reeling. I couldn’t go sleep next to him. So, I stayed up and journaled. The only words that came out onto the page were dark, horrible things that I felt about myself. Bad wife. Absent friend. Spiritually blah. Addicted to TV and my phone. Busy. Unkind. Closed off. Isolated. I was so broken inside. So full of death. Worthlessness. Hopelessness. My insides were showing, and they stunk.

I went to my counselor the next day. Maundy Thursday. The day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. I told her about the journaling. And I cried for the full hour session, unable to really explain how horrible I felt. She explained that the death inside of me has a name: depression. She strongly suggested that my struggle can be helped with a physical change. That while the cognitive therapy we’ve done, trying to change some of the thought patterns & beliefs inside of me, will continue to be crucial, the depression may not ever be fully treated without a biological change. She had me call my doctor to set up an appointment to be prescribed with some kind of antidepressant. Making that call seriously took a full year of therapy. I’m the type of person that doesn’t go to the doctor for medicine until I’ve spent 4 sleepless nights coughing up a lung. I’m the type of person that does everything in my own power to fix whatever’s wrong with me, because I caused the problem somehow. If I’m sick, it’s because I didn’t wash my hands enough. If I’m depressed, it’s because I haven’t been exercising, I haven’t been reading good books, I haven’t been healthy enough… I believe I don’t deserve help if I caused the problem. I should fix it myself. I should be able to fix it myself. My counselor says most of the things I believe are actually things that depression has convinced me of. I haven’t had the doctor’s appointment yet. I have about a million apprehensions about being “prescribed”. Maybe I’ll write on that another time. It’s notable to explain, for the purpose of this blog, that the really yucky nasty stuff inside of me is a holistic nastiness. I’m about to tell you about some of the resurrection I experienced this Easter, but it’s important to note (for myself and for those of us struggling with depression) that this disorder is not just an issue that can be solved spiritually. Depression can be treated holistically, with medicine, cognitive therapy & maybe spirituality, whatever that means for each of us. I’m still working on embracing all of those components of treatment. But, for now, I’m going to tell you about the good stuff that happened spiritually, aware that my depression hasn’t been fully treated… yet.

Good Friday, I had a bunch of work to do. So, I felt fine. Busy. Distracted. On Saturday, I had another breakdown. I couldn’t function without crying. Eric & I sat down to make some videos for a client, and he noted that I looked miserable. I screamed and cried and finally calmed down enough to explain that I FEEL MISERABLE. I feel like a bad wife… a bad musician… I felt like everything I do is bad. I told him to tell me it wasn’t true. To remind me who he fell in love with. Because I’ve forgotten. In the course of this breakdown, and him telling me more about who I am and why he loves me, I realized something really important… I REALLY don’t remember the good parts of who I am. I could only think of terrible things to write in my journal and terrible things to think about myself because that’s all I’ve really noticed for a while. Depression does that. But life circumstances do that, too. The choices I’ve made in response to hurt has done that. And I started to ask, “Why are my walls so high? Why is my heart so hard?

The last couple of years have been a little tricky. After graduating college 3 years ago, I decided to stay in Worcester and dedicate myself to a church community that I really, really loved. It turned out (as it always does) that the community was much more broken than I thought (as they always are, THEY ARE PEOPLE!!!). After all of my college friends moved to different places, many people in the church community started moving and leaving, too. In the course of 6 months, the closest friends I had all lived in 5 different corners of the world. Some people got really mad at me for dating Eric. Some people got really mad at the church for a million different things. Everyone was pretty upset and broken and hurting, and a lot changed. I walked in with an open and bare heart, and REALLY quickly covered up. Hardened up. Began protecting myself. Building walls. Those years culminated with us leaving the church and the community 6 months ago. In those 6 months, my walls haven’t gotten STRONG and IMPENETRABLE. I have successfully and somewhat purposefully isolated myself, in the hopes that being alone means I’ll never be left, never be disappointed, never be so broken by broken people again.

During this year’s Lent, I think I heard 5 different sermons or talks about forgiveness and soft-heartedness. That was annoying.

Spring cleaning is annoying. I mean, who really wants to get down on their hands and knees and scrape the dirt from the corners of the house? I certainly don’t.

Like I said, the voices inside of me speaking death are the voices of depression. However, I have to admit, I’ve certainly not starved them. I’ve fed them with my isolation. I’ve fed them in their safe, dark place and encouraged them to believe that other people are bad and painful and mean and don’t trust them and stay way and stay alone and stay hurt… I’ve learned that depression gets louder when we are all alone. Depression really likes when we have no other voices getting in. I gave it the stage. I gave it a megaphone and silenced everyone else trying to get in.

This Saturday, I was overwhelmed with death. I stayed up late the night before Easter watching The History Channel’s The Bible miniseries. Right around midnight, a (very white) Jesus was nailed to the cross and screamed at God. I screamed at God. I felt that bloody, deathly cross inside of my own heart. I felt the nails piercing through me, with each horrible belief I’ve held about myself. Bad wife. Horrible friend. Worthless. Hopeless. Jesus was nailed to the cross. He felt it. He knew. He knows what it is to be human in this deathly, violent world. And he screamed at God. Why have you forsaken me? Why have you let death win? WHERE ARE YOU?

And then he rose from the dead.

He rose from the dead.

The story wasn’t over.

All day Sunday, I heard again and again that HE IS ALIVE. I felt again and again this LIVING JESUS, full of love and hope and knowing, alive in my heart where the death was overtaking me. Fighting for me. Dwelling deep inside this soft heart that still lies somewhere beneath the walls I’ve built. Reminding me that it was never destroyed, it’s only been covered up. He was inviting me to uncover it. To cry and cry and cry, and bleed and let it hurt and let it be revealed. Showing me that I was made in His image. Generous and open and funny and kind and honest and GOOD. He said, “That’s who you are. That’s who I love. That’s who Eric loves. And YOU are not lost. YOU are just covered up. Come out, come out, come out… Arise, my darling…”

I don’t know why my depression can’t die. I don’t know why there is still pain in the world when Jesus claimed to defeat death. I don’t really get that. I keep believing that if I just believe harder, that he will take it all away. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. At least not for me. And not for 99.9% of people who struggle with depression. So, don’t ever tell someone struggling with depression that they should just pray harder. Believe me, they have. I don’t know why there is a Friday. But somehow, I got to Sunday this weekend.

I felt resurrected this particular Sunday. And I believe in that power. I see that there is death inside of me, but I also believe there is LIFE living in me. I can FEEL it. I can feel the shades being ripped open, and the dust being swept out of this bitter winter. I can feel my heart coming out of its dark hiding, bleeding and beating and wanting to be more honest and open.

Bareness is terribly scary. But there’s this blog, and I called it bare ash. So, I’d like it to be a place where I can be actually bare. I’d like to let my heart bleed and beat here. I think maybe writing about depression and pain and resurrection and the brutiful (as Glennon Doyle Melton, my favorite blogger, calls it) will help me deal with it. I think that’s a really big part of who I am. An honest, open writer and artist. And I think I have to keep remembering that. Writing helps me remember where my soft heart is located, even if it seems and feels so tightly locked away. And I wonder if it will help other people deal with the same things, too. I hope so.

Here I am. Bare Ash. Finally, and again. Thanks be to God.

Pro-ABUNDANT-Life: Weighing in on Abortion

Eric doesn’t do the Facebook thing too much. I, unfortunately, am doing that silly Thing all the time. Oh, yes, I’m one of the millions who click back every 5 seconds to check in with whatever new debate is going on, look at pictures of your babies, read stupid 10-Reasons-Your-Closet-Isn’t-Working listicles, and mostly just fill my brain with mundane mush. More recently, however, I have been proudly NOT partaking in one of my former favorite Facebook pastimes:

ARGUING.

Truthfully, I’m not even reading many posted articles or long status-rants about the Hot Button Issues anymore. You know why? I just realized it’s not really making my life any happier. I think Eric’s onto something good by simply not partaking at all.

So, I told him, “Everyone’s arguing about abortion lately. I’ve stayed out of it.”
“Oh, the abortion argument’s back in? I missed that one.” He joked.
“I’m staying out of it.”
“Really?” He asked, knowingly…

He knows me well! He knew EVENTUALLY, the desire in me to speak up about an issue concerning women, birth and Christianity would eventually well up. He was correct. (Dang). A Facebook post couldn’t completely contain my complex thoughts on the topic, but I’m officially partaking in this one. So, here I am weighing in. Should I? Is it the best idea? I’m not so sure. Here I go anyway.

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I grew up pretty dang liberal. Hold on – that might be an understatement. Listen, I seriously thought Conservative Christianity didn’t actually exist outside of the Bible Belt and Fox News. I remember watching Jon Stewart before I had any clue what he was talking about. I cried MANY happy tears listening to Barack Obama’s first speeches and watching the “Same Love” video. I’ve voted Democrat in local, state and national elections. My mom is a Democratic Selectwoman, my dad grew up in Europe. I went to a liberal arts college in Massachusetts that is famous for its rowdy protests and where Republicans are more of a minority than vegans.

For most of my life, I had been pro-choice for the same reasons I eat Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwiches. I was never really certain it was the best, but… it’s what’s available. It’s on every corner and who am I to say whether or not they’re real eggs…

(I have to say, I’m pretty impressed by that analogy).

When I stepped into a relationship with Jesus, He didn’t seem to ask me to leave my “liberal agenda” behind. No, I didn’t think God would necessarily want me to get an abortion if I got pregnant, and He probably doesn’t love it. But I also wasn’t really experiencing Jesus to be this pushy guy who tells people what to do. So I stayed out of it. A lot of the people around me, especially in college, seemed pretty sure about abortion, and I think that was just the stance I figured I’d take. I didn’t really consider or think about whether or not a fetus (especially before a certain point in pregnancy) was really a life.

My thoughts and views on abortion have grown and changed over time. Now, I’m fully willing to accept that an embryo or a fetus is some form of life, or creative energy at least, and the earliest bit of creation inside of a woman’s body is a really tremendous and remarkable thing. It makes me incredibly sad to hear of miscarriages, even very early in a pregnancy. I wrestle with the thought of an early-term abortion and wonder about the life that was being created. I am certainly sad considering later-term abortions, and feel fearful for the pain that it could cause the fetus. I am so in awe of all the insane stuff that happens from conception to birth that I don’t take that for granted any more.

Do I wish abortion didn’t exist?? Heck yeah.

HOWEVER.

Do I think it’s a good idea to OUTLAW abortion? No. Taking away the regulations from abortion means people are gonna do it anyway, and die of complications and shotty equipment and facilities.

I’m not gonna defend Planned Parenthood here. I never watched the videos that surfaced, and I won’t. I do absolutely believe that doctors or professionals that offer and administer abortions can potentially be callous and cold, or they can even be bad people. Certainly! Just like you and me can be pretty awful to each other too! It’s the worst!

All I’m saying is that outlawing abortion is unsafe for women.

Let’s talk about the bigger issue at hand. Here is my point, and it is what I believe wholeheartedly about this issue, and why I’m here weighing in:

We cannot be simply pro-life and anti-abortion without seeing and caring about the reasons why abortion exists.

Abortion doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s not malicious, callous people killing their babies. Nor is it all  malicious, callous doctors killing babies. This procedure has been birthed out of societies that do not care well enough for their women and children.

Let me say that again.

ABORTION is a PRODUCT of a society in which both men & women are NOT WELL-EDUCATED in the areas of REPRODUCTION, SEX,  BIRTH CONTROL, and PARENTING, and are not being given RESOURCES for FINANCIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, EMOTIONAL, RELATIONAL or PARENTAL success.

A middle school girl needs to be taught about contraception, thus reducing her chance of getting pregnant DRAMATICALLY.
A middle school boy needs to be taught about contraception, thus reducing HIS chance of getting someone pregnant DRAMATICALLY.
Teens AND adults MUST be given FREE ACCESS to all forms of contraception and PLENTY of sex education, thus reducing their chances greatly of getting pregnant.
Teens AND adults MUST have access to safe environments to discuss sex, its consequences (both physical & emotional) and parenting.
Pregnant women, and their families, MUST be given advice on adoption and the chance to decide NOT to raise children.
We must END RAPE and sexual violence/assault/harrassment.
In order to stop rape (and unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape), we must educate our children on EMPATHY and PERSONAL BOUNDARIES, give them safe home environments, and END rape culture in the media.
We must provide families & women FINANCIAL SUPPORT in the form of: affordable HEALTH CARE and PAID MATERNITY LEAVES and free/inexpensive CHILDCARE.

DON’T YOU SEE HOW MUCH WORK THERE IS LEFT TO DO????????

And do you know what almost makes me cry with rage?

Many people who are “pro-life” are against helping those most likely to turn to abortion. Many people who want these babies to be born are missing the fact that many will be born into dire circumstances. Unsupportive families, financial desperation, abuse, neglect. Some will simply be born to men and women who weren’t at all ready to have children. Many people can share photos of fetuses being aborted on Facebook, but deny that sexual education in teens can greatly reduce their chance at having to deal with pregnancy or abortion at all. I don’t get it!

How can we be “pro-life” and not pro-Abundant Life? The road to Abundant Life is much narrower, we know this. I see so many wonderful Christians in outrage over dying fetuses, but calling those who are nearly starving, supporting children on welfare “leaches of the system”. If we want these babies to be born, we need to work harder at ensuring they’ll be born into better circumstances.

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I always said I’d know what I would do.

But what if I was raped? I wouldn’t know what to do.
What if I was 15 and poor? I wouldn’t know what to do.
What if my parents were abusive and I knew I would be horribly beaten if I told them? I wouldn’t know what to do.
What if I was working 3 jobs to feed my 4 kids and would lose my job if I was out for 2 weeks to give birth? Or even take a day off to tend to my swollen feet and constant nausea. I wouldn’t know what to do.
What if I had no health insurance, and no way to get any? I wouldn’t know what to do.

I’m sad that abortion is an option. I am. I wish it wasn’t. I wish everyone had such amazing access to birth control that NO ONE got pregnant until they were ready. I wish everyone had such incredible job security and maternity leave that it really wouldn’t matter if they got pregnant. I wish there weren’t rapists. I wish Kingdom would just Come already.

But when Jesus was here, He brought the Kingdom to those he encountered. He loved those who he saw in front of Him. So, can’t we take a break from posting about fetuses, and go out and do some good to prevent those babies from dying in the first place?

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I think that may be all the weighing in I have on this one. If you want to weigh in, please do so on the comments below. Disrespectful or unhelpful comments will be deleted.

To The Very End of the Age…

My Grandmamum, Mother Pat Hames, gave her final sermon before retirement at St. Mark’s New Britain this last Sunday. I tried recounting all of the memories I have in that church, and in the beautiful home St. Mark’s provided my grandparents during her time as their rector, and there are enough for a full memoir.

My childhood was deeply impacted by my time in New Britain, Connecticut. As my mom put it, the time my grandparents gave me make up so much of who I am. I followed Grandmamum around the church offices during school vacations, and asked my first questions about Jesus. I heard her mention “calling” from the pulpit, and felt God’s whisper in my heart for the first time. You were made for something like this…

She baptized my sister & me. She welcomed us into the Body of Christ. She placed the communion wafer into my cupped hands countless times. She was the first person to feed me with the Spirit. Grandad was the first to feed me spicy Bisquick sausage balls, and boy-I-tell-you-what… nobody makes ’em like that man.

I’m forever grateful for what Grandmamum & Grandad gave me.

One of the main gifts I received through Grandmamum was her writing. Below is her final sermon to St. Mark’s New Britain, ending with the words she gave me on a German metal cross that hung in each of her and Grandad’s homes: “Ich bin alle Tage bei euch.”

“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV).

Final Sermon at St. Mark’s
Mark 5:21-43
Reverend Patricia M. Hames

So I wonder – standing in this pulpit that has absorbed thousands of my words over the last twenty years, should the final sermon be extra long because there is much that I want to say or very short because that would be popular and there is good food waiting to be served?

Now trust me I had actually written that before I read the newspaper article that said I usually preach for about an hour. The question put to me was how long does your service last?? So I’m sure we scared a lot of people from coming today. But here goes with my sermon and who knows how long it will last.

And then for goodness sake – on this day – what can I possibly say?

Of course it’s a no brainer really – hear the gospel – share its story. It’s what I have always attempted to be about.

And today’s story is both familiar and ever new with its anticipation and interruptions and distressing news and joyful ending – a plethora of feelings – what more could I want?

It begins with a distraught father seeking healing for his daughter from Jesus. And Jesus responds – he begins the journey with Jairus towards the beloved daughter who is dying. But then comes the interruption from the woman who also puts her hopes in Jesus healing powers. And once Jesus discovers who she is, she is no longer identified by her disease, but she becomes the other ‘daughter’ whose faith has made her well. But even as Jesus is in mid sentence with his blessing upon her, folks from Jairus’ house come with the terrible news that his daughter is dead. Too late – they say – no need to bother Jesus any longer. But Jesus responds. Do not fear, only believe. And some are invited to continue to go with Jesus anyway in anticipation of new life. Surely this story captures many of the feelings we might be sharing today.

So let’s start at the beginning. For today I think I’m not the only one sharing the anxious feelings of Jairus as he approaches Jesus. We too are anxious and afraid that something we love is dying. And to a certain extent it is true. And as we join with Jairus journeying to Jesus let us acknowledging our fears and concerns.

With my leaving something is coming to an end. And we wonder – What will happen to this parish in these times that are changing so rapidly both within these walls and in the church and in the world beyond them? What will happen if we need a priest – will someone come?
What will happen about the baptism that I’m planning for All Saints Day? What will happen when I need a priest to talk to, when I’m in the hospital and so on?

Be assured that you will continue to be cared for pastorally and spiritually. For the summer months my good friend and yours– The Reverend Hope Eakins will be here.

And your vestry has met with the Canon for Transition and is already making plans for the future. This is not your old process of a long interim time followed by a call to a rector. No in this process the search is already in progress to find a Priest in Charge for this parish. It may take a little time, but your lay leaders will continue to work with our diocese to ensure that
St. Mark’s will have new clergy leadership as soon as possible.

And certainly I bring my own fears before Jesus this day. I don’t know what the future holds. Yes this is my final Sunday standing here in this pulpit and at this altar. Where will I next stand at God’s altar and have the unique privilege of offering God’s gifts to God’s people? Where will I proclaim the gospel from another Pulpit? I really don’t have answers yet. But I trust that God is far from finished with me yet, just as God is far from done with you and this parish of Saint Mark’s.

So in spite of our anxieties and fears, we are to go on walking with Jesus, with great hope and expectation of newness of life.

But wait – sometimes the path gets busy and things don’t happen quite like we expect. For in Luke’s gospel story this morning there was a major interruption – a delay that appeared to stop Jesus getting to Jairus’ daughter on time. This must have been a moment of great frustration, disappointment and anger.

There may be some frustrations in the days ahead. Do not let your worries or emotions make you impatient – but remember who is walking with you.

My interruption, the delay before my move and new journey takes root will be the next few months spent in the rectory organizing and consolidating a very large household to fit into a tiny cottage in Niantic. I am sure that even with my daughter and sister’s help I shall experience a great deal of frustration and angst.

Jesus knew that God’s time isn’t always our time. And in this story another daughter needed to be acknowledged and heard and healed. And in the moment of renewed fear Jesus said “Stop being afraid. Go on living with faith.” These are good words for us all to live by.

For while we don’t always get to see instant results in our time line, we can trust that Jesus is always about restoring us to God and to each other, and to the world around us and God is always about bringing new life.

We have walked together deepening our faith in our spiritual journeys. I have learned much from you. Words are inadequate to express the thanksgiving I feel and offer to each of you for your love and faithfulness to Jesus, to this parish, to each other and to me. You have blessed me richly – I thank you.

You have been those who have accompanied me, surrounded me with your care and love especially in the times of my sorrow and grief. Yes you have cried with me as I with you, but you have also laughed and rejoiced at the new life that has come in so many ways.

So where are we today? We can acknowledge our fears and tears and share our accomplishments and our joys. We can offer great thanksgiving to the God who has given us life and to Jesus who gives us new life each and every day and to the Spirit who awakens that awareness in us. We can rejoice in where we have been together and now share in hope for the rest of the journey.
For not all of the crowd went with Jesus for the rest of the way. And today is when you and I part company. We are saying farewell to a special ministry that together – by the grace of God – we have created.

Your journey will continue and I pray that you will grow in love, knowledge and wisdom so that your lives will be transformed more and more into God’s vision for them, and so that you will be the people who transform your corner of the world into the place God means it to be. And I pray that you would help the young and the newcomer know the joys and values of your fellowship in this life in Christ.

This is a hard parting of the way for me because my love for you has grown stronger over every passing year. I will miss you dearly. We have shared so much, our joys, our tears, our praises and our prayers. Nothing could be more precious than that God has called me to serve you and that you have trusted me with your heartaches, your wounds, your love and your victories. I pray that I have honoured that trust.

God continues to promise abundant life to us. That life often comes in surprising and creative ways. And we all need to have our hearts and minds open to the possibilities that are sometimes present and sometimes just around the corner or over the horizon.

As I say goodbye I am saying it with its original meaning “God be with ye”—God be with you. I believe that God will truly be alive here among you. And when you say goodbye to me, you can truly trust that God’s spirit accompanies me.

Goodbye – ‘God be with you’ is a word of hope and blessing, a prayer for those we love. We will end this service with a Litany of Farewell – another ending word that also encompasses what I pray for you. Fare thee well an ancient wish of well being when parting. God be with you and Fare thee well are the two prayers that I leave you with.

And Jesus has the final words to us all “Stop being afraid. Go on living with faith.” “I am with you always – to the end of the age.”

Amen and amen.

For the Love of L’Esperance

Life has this determined way of dragging us forward, kicking and screaming. Every time I feel like I can take in a breath of fresh peace, something interrupts it more quickly than it came. Like a brand new punch to the gut.

Just two days ago, my husband & I stood over the lowering casket of the fourth person in the L’Esperance family to die in 11 months. Eric’s cousin was only 26 when he passed away tragically and unexpectedly. I nervously avoided his eyes after I hung up the phone with his hysterical mother, who just lost a nephew for the second time in a year. I held him in my arms as he collapsed in tears, when I told him the dark-haired boy who has the same eyebrows as him was gone. He was gone. Those are the only words my mother-in-law could muster, and I’ll never forget hearing them. “He’s gone.” Those words were all I heard. And I never want to say them to Eric again.

In a situation so completely devoid of answers or closure, we discovered a strange and profound peace as we took a flower from the top of the wood. And it wasn’t that kind of peace that comes with a cliche. No, this didn’t happen for a reason. Everything probably wasn’t going to be okay, especially not right now. It doesn’t help that God has another “angel in heaven.” And it doesn’t bring back your cousin, son, brother, and friend to know that he’s now “at peace with the Lord.”

These are just the things people say. But the things people say don’t bring the peace that passes all understanding. The things people say are trying to grasp for understanding, and no matter how hard we try to grapple with death, I don’t really think we can fully get it. But then there’s God. One of my favorite things about God, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to Him, is this physical, life-changing manifestation of His peace. As our brains, and the people around us, keep chatting-chatting-chatting, coming up with reasons, justifying, excusing… God is ever so quiet. His love physically surrounds us as holy water falls from our eyes. When we shake our heads and say, “I don’t understand,” He so rarely says, “Let me explain,” but instead holds us and whispers, “I know.” God’s peace doesn’t always make us feel better. Often, it allows the walls to come crumbling down, and lets us feel deeper. It doesn’t always help and I find it so rarely explains a single thing. God’s peace is quiet and tender. It is only and always Love.

I had such a strong sense of that love and peace surrounding my husband and our family this weekend. If you have a large, spiritual family (but let me assure you, there’s no way it’s as large or as spiritual as the L’Esperances), you know the true meaning of communion. God lives in and moves through the hearts of every cousin, every aunt and uncle, every little child running for a basketball. He feeds you with more food than you can handle, as He asks you again through your mom’s voice, “DID YOU GET ENOUGH TO EAT!?” There is laughter, and there is peace that passes this attempt at understanding exactly how we got here, and our why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-why’s are hushed hiccups in our hearts, as we experience the joy of the people who look and feel and talk like us.

I didn’t grow up with a huge family. Fortunately, that means we attend fewer funerals for my side. Unfortunately, though, I think I missed out on a lot. At Steve’s funeral, his sister Laura delivered the eulogy. Like most perfect eulogies, hers made us all sob and crack up in the same shortened breath. Laura remembered well, as did my sniffling husband next to me, all of the skateboarding, dress-up, and sleepovers they shared as kids. Sometimes, there were so many people in the swimming pool, it lost half its water. Sometimes, they had to put kids in sleeping bags in the kitchen and the hallways. Sometimes, they fit 14 people into a camper, sleeping the little ones vertically like sardines.

Mary-Ann and Paul L’Esperance, Eric’s grandparents, had 15 children. Devout French Catholics. This meant he and his 3 siblings grew up with 28 aunts & uncles, and 55 cousins. Now many of his first cousins have their own kids, so the L’Esperance family is easily pushing (or has passed?) 100 members these days. I think if anyone stopped and tried to count, they’d be overwhelmed. There are at least 3 pregnant women at every event, 5 brand new blue-eyed babies, a few people engaged or newly married, and a few that are over-the-moon proud to be new aunts, uncles, or grandparents. I’ve never in my entire life known love to multiply… and multiply… and multiply some more… the way it does in my new life with them.

When we found out Steve died, we went straight to his parents’ house. We drove so nervously through the town Eric and all of his aunts & uncles grew up in, thinking we’d be alone with his grieving aunt & uncle and really have no idea what to say. Next time I’m afraid of being alone in that family, I need to remember to talk my only-child self off the ledge, and say, “Are you kidding? You couldn’t be alone if you tried. Not even if you wanted to be.” We arrived at the house next to the church, the same house Eric spent many summer nights, and heard sobbing from the street. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. Weeping. Laughing. Talking. Apologizing. Explaining. Listening. Praying. Communing.

If you are doubtful about God, or His love for you, you should spend a day with the L’Esperance family. You may find, for the first time in your life, that love and peace can somehow abound in tragedy and misunderstanding. You may find that in all of your questions, you are not met with answers, but you are given a place to rest. You may just find that God won’t explain Himself with justifications and cliches, but He feeds you and gives you a place to call Home. You may find yourself baptized, or married, into a Family. And you may understand that in a whole new way, like I have.

I pray we’d all discover God’s heart in the same way my new family has introduced me to it. I’m learning through them that God is not always easy. Life will not stop punching us in the gut, but somehow, we can come and experience that peace that we just can’t explain. As we’re crumpled up on the floor with all of our questions and grief, love can come surround us in the form of 100 hugs from people with your husband’s eyebrows.

Mom Blogs, Psalms, and Unspeakable Joy

I happened upon two blog posts this morning. They were both written in the last few days. They were both about puking kids.

Here they are:
Sarah Bessey: “[Love Looks Like] 2:07 a.m.”
Leah Archibald: “Ignore My Previous Parenting Advice”.

I’m not really sure why I clicked them, to be honest. In my newly wedded, childless bliss, I’ve been less and less thrilled about Mom Blogs. I used to really look forward to being a  Mom, and thought I’d have a hard time with Eric’s “let’s wait 3-5 years” proposal. I’d read lots of these posts, loved talking to my friends about their kids’ milestones, and I’ve seen The Business of Being Born three times. But as I settle into married life, It’s nearly impossible to imagine being one of those puke-picker-uppers myself. I can’t begin to fathom the way our cozy, romantic life will be interrupted by kids.

So I only clicked on these links because I love both writers, and I thought I could learn something from some great writers and mentors to file away in my “Kids One Day, But Not Today” drawer. But as I read them, I found much more.

Both of these women were grudgingly working the thankless job of “puke manager” over the past few weeks, and lived to write about it. Within their stories about whining and sick kids, they asked a Big Universal Life Question that I’ve been asking a lot lately: WHERE is the joy in this?!

Early this morning, before making my rounds of the blogosphere, I was led early to Psalm 37 (today’s Responsorial Psalm in the Catholic liturgical calendar, which–by the way–has provided me a new daily discipline I’ve taken up and really enjoyed. You can find them and follow along here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings).

Psalm 37 is all about finding joy in the everyday. It’s not just about us finding joy, but totally exclaiming that God will bring us great joy every day! In the last week, the Catholic readings have reiterated the covenant God has made with us. I’ve been reading reminders from the Apostle Paul to the Jewish Hebrew Christians about God’s new promise of freedom over their lives. I’ve been reading psalms that are praising the coming covenant, reconciling God and His People.

I read the daily readings that tell me some kind of promise is over my life. I’m only here reading because I’ve won a small battle against a wintertime depression that has been heavily keeping me emotionally isolated for the last few weeks. I sit here reading, as the dread creeps up as the time passes, bringing me closer to another long day at a grueling job I really don’t love. I read, and I ask God those very same Big Questions Sarah & Leah are asking. **(SIDENOTE! I just realized! Sarah & Leah are two incredible self-sacrificing women of the Bible, too! They can be found in Genesis in pretty grueling situations, trusting God to come through on his promises for their life when they are barren and hopeless. Spoiler alert: He does and they become the matriarchs of the Jewish nation, and integral to the story of our faith. MIND BLOWN!!!! Anyway…)**

I keep asking:

“What EXACTLY does this promise mean for me? My situation sucks! WHERE is the promise? WHERE is my joy? WHERE are You, God?”

Both of these bloggers were full of answers for me today. So was Psalm 37.

Leah Archibald asks why it all feels like suffering sometimes, and she wagers that finding joy and gratitude in some really beyond-her-control crappy moments can make life feel a lot better.

Sarah Bessey finds full, meaningful, lasting, lifelong love in the ordinary, mundane and sometimes grueling parts of life. The night may bring puke, but joy comes in the morning.

And in Psalm 37, God makes a lot of promises.

He says we will:

live safely and prosper,
be
fed in security,
be granted our hearts’ true
desire,
be
rescued,
be
saved,
be
helped,
find
refuge,
find
peace,
be given
direction,
never fall,
never be abandoned,

and he will make our righteousness shine like the dawn.

He says, if we commit to him our way, he will come through. He will act, and he will rescue us. This isn’t an ultimatum. This isn’t the prosperity gospel. This isn’t a pastor saying if you just keep coming to church every week and quit smoking, you’ll start making more money. This is the covenant. This is the promise of everything God truly has to offer us. This is the fullness of life. This is the Good News.

This is a promise to those of us stuck in bed, look to me. I will give you refuge.
This is a promise to those of us trapped in our jobs, look to me. I will give you your hearts’ desire.
This is a promise to those of us cleaning up puke, look to me. I will never let you fall.

I think the Good News–the best news— is that in these mundane, boring or downright awful moments, we will know true, unspeakable joy.

————————————————————–
Thanks to Sarah Bessey & Leah Archibald for sharing your love, thoughts, and words with us.
Thanks to my sister-in-law Rachel for having such a cute baby and letting me share her little face that will surely help God bring even more joy into the world.

The Promise is Hope

For all of you who follow my blog here, you may or may not be aware that I am also a musician! My husband and I make up the acoustic-folk duo, The Promise is Hope.

We’ve been chugging away lately, creating lots of cool things. We have two new videos, and are currently wrapping up an album.

To read more about us, and to see those videos, visit us here at our website!

Thanks a million, all you lovely people, you.

Can’t Wait for Wink!

I’ve blogged once or twice about this awesome non-hormonal birth control method called the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), and I’ve also highly recommended the amazing app called Kindara, which helps me out with charting a ton (and is really the only app out there that is really, REALLY using FAM and not just a period/ovulation predicting app, WHICH ARE TOTALLY NOT RELIABLE FOR EFFECTIVE BIRTH CONTROL, FYI!!).

I’ve also been using a run-of-the-mill BBT thermometer for the last 6 months. I have this one. It’s been alright! It beeps sort of loudly, which wakes up my light-sleeper husband, and makes it hard to discreetly use on family vacations in the little camper. But it’s fairly quick and has always seemed really accurate. It’s worked really well for me, but it got lost in the mail once when I left it in Connecticut. When I lost it, I stubbornly ordered a cheaper thermometer, figuring, “Oh, what’s the difference.”

Oh man. Let me tell you.

This thing was the worst. It doesn’t beep, leaving you with no idea whether or not it’s actually working. So, in the FIVE WHOLE MINUTES it takes to find your temperature, you occasionally take it OUT of your mouth thinking, “Am I sure I turned it on?” and completely screwing up your reading. Plus, it has no memory feature. So, you have to grab your chart and write down your temperature right then and there. My bad for not reading the details on Amazon, and for paying way less money for a thermometer. A few times I woke up at 7AM to take my temperature, and ended up wanting to snap the thing in half. So much for quickly recording and sleeping in on a Saturday. We didn’t have any unprotected sex during the time I had the thermometer, because I really didn’t trust a single reading. And the Golden Rule of FAM: When in doubt, DON’T! Lesson learned…

So, I bit the bullet and ordered the first Nexcare thermometer again, and have been happily charting again ever since. In the meantime, though, I pre-ordered Kindara’s amazing new development: Wink! I am so stinkin’ excited for this product to come out. This thermometer will send your temperatures straight to your smart phone’s Kindara app, virtually charting FOR YOU. It also doesn’t beep, but instead it winks at you when it’s done! How clever and charming… and quietly discreet. It is supposed to be fast and incredibly accurate, and basically looks like mascara. While I’m not super stoked about the whole “make sure you hide your feminine products” phenomenon, the thermometer is aesthetically pleasing, and that’s always a plus.

So, whether you’re already charting, or have been charting for a while, let me strongly recommend you download Kindara (if you haven’t already), and pre-order Wink. If you use my referral link here, Kindara will give you $10 off your order, and send me a check for $10, too.

Win-win-win-Wink.

Book Review: A Good & Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker

I typically have two reading speeds. 0 or 160.

After I read the first chapter of a book, I choose my setting. I either put the book down, never pick it back up, and return it to the library before the due date (which my $10 in late fees should tell you I really didn’t care for that book.)

Or I devour the book in two helpings.

My husband will tell you we had to stop trying to read books “as a couple” because I would speed ahead and finish the book in a day, leaving him in the dust, or I’d completely lose interest and come home with a pile of new library books later that afternoon. (Patience isn’t my best virtue. He’ll tell you that, too.)

After reading the first chapter of Amy Julia Becker’s memoir A Good & Perfect Gift, I had immediately set my cruise control to 200. I’m pretty sure I was late back to work on my lunch break because I couldn’t put the thing down.

But then, as I started to notice that my right hand left clutching only a thin section of pages, I halted to a park, and haven’t gotten back in since. 200 to 0.

I just don’t want it to be over.

I don’t want to finish the book. I don’t want to give it back to the library. So, I’m just not reading it anymore. It’s tucked away, perfectly snug, in my little green bag. I take it with me wherever I go, but it hasn’t been touched in over a week. I only have one renew left until the library will force me to return it. I have to finish it in the next 2 weeks, or else it gets sent back to the other side of the state from where it was sent.

My days are filled reading articles and books that argue back and forth over the harshness of the Church. They are hijacked by regret an hour after sharing a post about the LGBT community and Christianity, as I read the thread of angry comments under the post. They are failed attempts at kindness toward the crummy customers at work. My days are a striving effort to be better, kinder and smarter, to do more and succeed, and say and write and be all the right things at all the right times.

And then there’s this book.

This book!

It just had this way of slowing me down.

As Amy Julia Becker describes loving her daughter for everything she is, I can’t help but know and experience the way God loves me for who I am.

As she notes the way her fear and worry over all the things Penny can’t or won’t be able to do begin to dissipate, and her joy over everything Penny is and does and embodies begins to blossom, I feel lighter. I feel better. I feel really, really loved. If parents have the capacity to love their children so thoroughly this way, Our Father in Heaven must be able to love me as perfectly, too.

I guess that explains why I couldn’t put the book down. And why now, I can’t pick it back up. We only get small moments to know, little glimpses to see, just how good the Kingdom is. We only get little tastes of God’s great feast for us. I devoured my latest one in two helpings, and now I don’t want it to end!

Luckily, she wrote a second book.

A Pleasantly Surprising New Year

I think this year can be summed up by a few themes for me: forgiveness, reconciliation, and expansion. Throughout the year, I’ve hurt many people many times, and they’ve hurt me. The thing that makes this year different than all the others in which I’ve hurt and been hurt, is my willingness to face forgiveness. I’ve forgiven those who’ve hurt me, and been forgiven by those I’ve hurt. I’ve forgiven myself for my flaws, and accepted that they exist in the strange cocktail of bad and good that make up me.

I’ve learned what comes after forgiveness. Reconciliation. We’ve talked, struggled, and walked together through those offenses and struggles with as much grace as we could. I was able to laugh and cry over bread and wine with people who I thought would be out of my life permanently. The reconciliation has been amazing, and really brings me joy to note the great difference between where we stood a year ago, and where we are now.

I’ve expanded this year. My heart has expanded to let in those who think differently than me. My family has literally expanded – I’ve gained a husband, a niece and a baby sister. My capacity to love is expanding daily, as I learn to put my husband’s needs before my own. My mind has expanded, letting in the possibility that sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes you’re wrong, but mostly, it doesn’t matter.

I’m truly grateful for this year. These three things that have changed so drastically for me are examples of the miracles I think God has worked in my life. I don’t think, when I was writing my resolutions down last year, I could ever resolve to grow the way I have this year. I think I’ve been awaken and pushed and shoved and pulled in ways I couldn’t have planned, or necessarily could have wanted. But I’m grateful. Utterly grateful for how much more open I feel to possibility, to growth, to change, to forgiveness, and acceptance, and love.

As I look forward to 2015, I’m making many resolutions. I’d like to be more creative, write more music, read more of the Bible, blog more, learn how to grow closer and more honest with Eric. I’m making my lists of wishes and goals, but I’m realizing as I look back on 2014, these goals will most likely not be all God has for me. I’m pleasantly surprised with how pleasantly surprising the last year has been, and I hope for more of the same next year. I still have my list of resolutions, but I know God has one for me, too. My only prayer is that I can accept and embrace all that He might have, and know His love for me more fully. I can’t wait to see the ways in which the Kingdom might grow and evolve in my world, and in the lives of those around me.

So, my resolution is not really my own. It is a promise that is continually and constantly being made to me: that God and His Kingdom will continue to be as forgiving, as expanding, as opening, and as surprising as ever. 

Merry Christmas Eve!

I wrote a really long blog post for today. It’s muddled, trailing, and I deleted the entire thing. I’m not feeling very inspired, or inspiring for that matter.

The only word I’ve had echoing beneath my self-doubt, and discouragement today is, “Rest.”

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

A funny word for a day full of shopping, wrapping, organizing, driving and visiting. My poor little introverted heart is screaming out, “THIS IS NO TIME TO REST! IT’S TIME TO PANIC!”

I’m sure when I brave the mall in an hour, I’ll notice the same expression on many faces.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset“Rest” has been the word singing deep in my heart this whole Advent. Externally, there has been a typical level of unrest. Church stuff is crazy, I keep coming down with different annoying sicknesses, the band is organizing a tour, I’m starting so many projects, I’m so excited for the year coming up, and I really want to get the perfect gift for Eric.

Internally, though. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. Rest.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThis sense that God is with us.
That He came into the world as a vulnerable infant in a dirty barn,
So that He could show us how close He wanted to be to us.
Nestled up against us in our dirty lives.
Silent, sleepy, and just glad to be here.

Rest.

Merry, restful Christmas to you and yours.
I’m grateful for you.