Tag Archives: love

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.

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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. 

I Don’t Have Answers, But I Have Clean Feet

When I was a teenager, I visited a church that (with good intentions) was trying to find a way to encourage young, questioning teenagers like myself to come experience Jesus. They saw that more and more kids were being raised without religion, more and more teenagers were finding their way away from church, fewer and fewer parents were forcing their kids to sit through another boring Sunday morning service that they didn’t understand. They knew that kids, just like me, were curious and cynical. Their answer to this problem was to encourage discussion in church about God and Jesus. At youth group, the young associate pastor would speak to us about some Scripture, and then we would sit at our round tables and discuss what we were taught. At each table, one designated person (usually a member of the pastor’s family, or a long-time friend of the church family) would have a sheet in front of them with the questions, and as I saw when I leaned over their shoulder, the answer to each question.

I never went back.

I knew, as clear as day, I didn’t want to go to a church that advertised “open-table discussion” but carried all the right answers around on a cliff note. I knew immediately that I didn’t fit in. I felt totally alone at the table, because when the time came for me to give my not-familiar-with-church-stuff two cents, I could only respond, “Oh. I’m not actually sure what the Bible means.”

And that was not the correct answer in red on the paper.

I still open my Bible, almost ten years later, and have to slam it shut. This book is the tool that was used to create those answer sheets that left me alone, afraid and very much out. I can still see in my little green pocket Bible a barrier as big as the Great Wall of China keeping me on the outside. I still can’t find all of the answers within it, and so I feel unworthy to pick it up. I still feel like I’m being asked to leave the table.

Jesus … got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” [John 13: 2-9 NLT]

This Advent, as I personally wait in hopeful anticipation for Jesus to show Himself to me in new and surprising ways, I’ve felt led to read John’s Gospel. And let me tell you, I’ve been as surprised as the shepherd’s must’ve been to meet the King of Israel as a tiny, dirty, poor baby in a manger. The thing that surprises me the most about John’s Gospel is the many times he shows confusion surrounding Jesus and his teachings. I’m tempted to cite here every time in John’s retelling of Jesus’s time with us on earth when the people around him sit at a table or on a mountain or at the temple and say, “Uh, Jesus? We don’t really get what you’re trying to say or do here…” [emphasis and sarcasm obviously added]. They argue, they disagree, and again and again Jesus answers them almost less clearly than he does the time before. He talks to them in parables, stories, and poems that they can’t seem to grasp. He is accused and misunderstood by members of his own religion, he is questioned by his own disciples, and John says even his own brothers didn’t understand what he was up to.

As John retells the story of The Last Supper, we see that the minute Simon Peter thought he had Jesus all figured out, Jesus surprises him, telling him he’s getting his feet washed. Saint Peter has been walking around in sandals for days without bathing. He knows that Jesus is blameless, totally clean. Since Peter is a Jew, he reverts back to his old was and remembers that God can only appear in the midst of the temple, a place that has been ceremoniously cleaned and prepared to be entered by the High Priest. Peter was a fisherman, unworthy and unchosen by the Rabbis in his youth, and here God Himself is telling him he’s going to get naked and was his disgusting feet. Obviously Peter rejects him with a sentiment we can all understand: “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.”

Jesus tells him that if he can’t allow himself to be cleaned, he won’t understand who God really is.

Jesus isn’t concerned that Peter has all the right answers. He even excuses it: “I know you don’t get it, Peter, but you will. What I’m doing is more important than understanding what’s right and what’s wrong. Let go of your misconceptions about how God works.” He quickly changes the subject and insists, “Just let me wash your feet. You will experience something profound.” And Peter responds, “Oh, I see it. I feel it. And I want more of what you’re offering me. Don’t stop with my feet!”

I wish I was introduced to this Jesus when I was fifteen and really looking for him. I wanted more, but I was taught I couldn’t get it because I didn’t know the right answers. I was isolated from the table because I didn’t feel like I really understood what was going on. And you know, I think we have solid proof that if Jesus were sitting at that table with me, he would’ve taken me and simply washed my feet. I think that would’ve made me feel even more included than I would’ve had I actually known all the answers on the paper. I would’ve been cleaned, I would’ve been convinced that I wasn’t bad or wrong or isolated. Most importantly, I would’ve been invited into a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus.

I’ll make my point plainly:

The Church is doing an excellent job at creating answer sheets.
The Church is doing a terrible job at washing peoples’ feet.
The Church is doing an excellent job at telling us to follow commandments.
The Church is doing a terrible job at helping us follow Jesus.
The Church is doing an excellent job at telling us we’re wrong.
The Church is doing a terrible job at showing us we’re loved.

When 87% of non-Christian young adults (between 16 and 29) say they’re not interested in Christianity because they perceive Christians as judgmental, something is wrong.

When our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community are told they are bad the second they walk into church (IF they are ever brave enough to walk into a church), and the rest of us gluttons, drunkards, and gossipers are getting off scot-free, there is something seriously wrong. When so many people just like me have been made to feel ashamed, wrong, embarrassed and isolated in a place that claims to be sharing The Gospel, something is really really wrong.

Jesus washed the feet of a man who didn’t yet understand the full promise that Jesus was making him.
Jesus ate dinner that night with his betrayer, Judas. He gave him communion. He washed his feet, too.

We took Jesus’s prayers for us to be one in Him and one in the Father and created 41,000 different denominations of Christianity. Why? Because we can’t bear to sit at the table with those we believe to see things differently than us.

If we continue to call ourselves followers of Jesus, we need to learn to stop asking our friends who are sitting around our dinner table to agree with everything we believe. If we want to follow Jesus, we must wash the feet of those who we don’t understand. We have to wash the feet of those who hurt, misunderstand and betray us. Jesus is washing their feet – and ours – every single day.

I sincerely believe we need to let go of the fact that we don’t understand each other and, you know, sometimes we probably don’t really understand Jesus. His disciples were sitting right next to him and couldn’t grasp what he was getting at, but we expect ourselves to?

It doesn’t matter anyway. Let’s agree to disagree, and have dinner together. Welcome each and every person to this glorious table, beautifully decorated and abundantly stocked with all the wine and bread you could wish for. And when things get a little hairy, how about we let it go and I can wash your feet. I can’t understand your opinions, but I love you like God does. And let me tell you, He loves you in a way that is irrelevant to your interpretations, your background and your beliefs.

God isn’t waiting at the table with an answer sheet.
He is waiting beside the table, on his knees, half-naked, with a basin of fresh water.

Divorce on Earth, as it is in Heaven

I come from a family of “second chances”. My parents are divorced and are both remarried to people who have been divorced. 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are divorced from other people and remarried to each other. I’ve learned throughout the years spent at Christmases full of step-cousins, step-grandparents and step-nephews that the second go-around isn’t always so bad. Our melting pot family today is seemingly healthy and functional. Well, I’d say we aren’t any more dysfunctional than the “typical” family units I’ve come across. Things are working out A-OK. Nobody fights anymore, and nobody was all that awkward at my wedding rehearsal dinner when we sat all together for one of those rare life-occasion moments.

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I met and knew Eric first as a married man. I’ll never deny the truth that I knew his wife very well. In fact, we were friends. We went to the bar together, we had breakfasts at the diner on my campus once in a while, I came to their apartment and watched Friends with both of them. It’s not easy to explain the journey from Point A to Point B (that’s probably another post… or a memoir) but a few years later, I became Eric’s second wife.

I felt well-equipped to be a second wife, based on my lineage. Despite the statistics, I knew that second chances can actually work out pretty well. I think the growth and the pain and the feelings of intense failure and fear that stem from experiencing divorce can actually determine a person to make it work the next time, or else they’ll never risk it again. In my case, Eric was ready and eager to instate open-communication, honesty, and healthy habits into a new relationship right from the start. And after seeing many family members live through the pain of splits, I was too. We both felt, as we started dating, we had what it took to build a solid foundation that our marriage could stand upon.

Maybe I was well-equipped or knowledgeable, but not necessarily prepared for what was to come.

As much as I thought I knew about divorce, I don’t think I had the whole story. In my life before Eric, everyone I knew who had been divorced and/or remarried had gotten through the brunt of it without involving me. I was a child through most of it, and everyone protected me from the smack-talking and tension and awkwardness pretty effectively. I felt pretty sure that divorce just happens, and then life moves on.

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But this time I was in the center of all of it. Neither one of us had kids to have to counsel through the process (thank God, really, I don’t know how people do it), but we did have family and friends that were reeling from the brokenness of Eric’s divorce and we all lived in a world of tension. My friendship with Eric’s ex-wife obviously ended when we started dating, and it seemed like others began drawing their battle lines. This was bad in ways, good in others, and confusing and painful on all accounts, for everyone involved.

Friends and family who chose “my side” of the issue were rarely helpful. Nine times out of ten the person who would come to me and smacktalk “the ex” were a. misinformed, b. unsympathetic, and c. very awkward and confused when she and I and they would all end up at the same party.  Its an ugly part of me that has to admit I enjoyed when these people appeared to be “taking my side”, but I didn’t actually appreciate it. My ego tried to convince me it felt really good to have someone validate me and my relationship, but my heart couldn’t trust the opinion of someone who, somehow, so easily talked so badly about someone they were once really close to.

The most enriching and helpful experiences I had were with those around me who were the ones that went through the confusing process with us very honestly. Today I am still close friends with a woman who said, “You know what? I’m friends with her, I know her story. I’m friends with you, I know your story. I’m friends with Eric, too. And I’m not taking sides.” It made for a few uncomfortable barbeques, but ultimately, I appreciated and felt very loved by the way she chose to live in that awkwardness for all of us. I also had people say straightforwardly, “I’m really mad at you right now, and I’m really confused about all that’s happened.” The honesty behind that statement was, at the time, so hard to take, but it was the beginning of a (long) journey towards understanding and healing, and a deeper trust was born between myself and those who expressed themselves so transparently that way.

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For anyone who has been broken by this issue directly or indirectly, or whose family or community has been torn apart because of divorce, I’m deeply sorry. I understand your pain. I truly believe, though, that a heart bent toward reconciliation will help in the journey out of bitterness. One day, whether it is on Earth or in Heaven I don’t know, I pray the separate bits and pieces of my family will be One. I pray the friendship I had with Eric’s ex-wife will be restored. I pray we, our siblings, our parents, and our step-cousins can hang out and all watch Friends together.

This love and reconciliation is more than our human brains can comprehend, so we choose instead to take the “easy” way out and pledge “loyalty”. We talk badly about the ex, or about the new girlfriend, or about the step-kids and think that will help us along. We believe that if we could only chose a side, this will all be a lot less messy. But when you know divorce and remarriage, you know well that black is never just black and white is never just white. Our families and our pasts and our futures all bleed into one fascinating gray where our loyalty is muddled and our hearts are utterly torn. But in that gray, and in those open spaces, if we are just willing to sit there, we can really experience something beautiful. If we can open ourselves up enough to the awkward-ness and the yucky-ness and the I-wish-this-wasn’t-happening-ness that is divorce and/or remarriage, and just say, “I’m really mad,” or “I’m really sad,” or “I’m really confused,” instead of “Well, he/she was bad for him/her, and you are good!” I think we’ll find something really great in that. When we don’t draw battle lines so clearly, but address our hurt and confusion directly instead, we give ourselves up to the process of grieving and healing. We allow ourselves to experience great tension, which resolves in great relief, eventually.

Eventually, not just in Heaven, but here on Earth, you’ll be able to sit at your rehearsal dinner with your divorced fiancee, and see your dad commend your step-dad’s role in your life, see your mom holding your brand new step-daughter, and get a glimpse of the Kingdom Come.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Sorta Always Forget

I want to start over. I want to stop, breathe. Be still. And know.
Or stop knowing, actually.
I wish I could burn every Huffington Post article that gets posted to our walls. I wish I could throw out every opinion Buzzfeed list on “24 Reasons Why I’m A Feminist” that prods, urks, annoys, and fires us up. I wish I could scrap all of my own opinions and promise that I’d never have a strong one again.

I wish, above all else, that I had a strong sense that I am loved, am approved of, and accepted. Regardless of my opinions, regardless of where I am right, where I am wrong, that I am totally and completely Beloved.

I wish I could just cry more, and feel the real pain of how it is when my world is upside down. I wish I could accept that I just don’t know all the time, but still, I am so loved. Love is here for me to experience now, no matter how upside down everything else is. I wish I could stop trying to turn everything right-side-up all the time, and just see the sky from this different vantage point, and experience how beautiful and terrifying it is when you can’t tell if you’re swimming up or down. Toward the sky or toward the rocks. It’s still all blue.

What if I could actually know that God loves me? What if that were it?
Could that be the end of justifying, defending, opinionating?

Could that be the end of isolation, fear, and separation?

If I could only know that I was truly loved by He who made me and made everything good, good, good, then would I stop hiding away from those who I don’t feel approve of me? Would I stop fighting so hard in the comment section? Would I stop begging my fellow man to please, just understand me. Love me. Accept me. Approve of me.
Would I be gentler with those who don’t agree?
Would I be closer to those who don’t understand?

Could I understand better that they, too, are loved beyond understanding?

I believe the Good News is that yes, I could and would do all of these things so much better if I could just begin to understand that God loves me, and that’s that.

I’d throw out all of the doctrine I hold out as a shield. I’d climb down off of the hills I’m willing to die on. I’d release myself from the trapeze I’m hanging on, and just experience the great fun in floating in the in-between.

No more anti- this or pro- that. No more, how could you not see it my way?

I’d be left with the truth that is beauty, and pain, and this chaos that is the human existence.

I’d be left with Oneness, and camaraderie, and empathy, and jointness, and the Body. Whole.

Just God. And love. And that’s it.

But instead I build my walls around myself. Unable to believe that anyone, especially not The Perfect One, could possibly accept, understand, and love all of the ugly, wrong, sinful parts of me.

So, I tell myself I’m right. I tell the world I’m right. And I stand in my walled-in isolation of rightness, and let nothing in, nothing out. And when some walk by and start banging the bricks in, they say I should just grow up, rebuild. Build higher, build stronger. Get ahold of yourself and strengthen that which you believe. You shouldn’t be crushed by brick every time someone comes through and tries to knock you over. Grow up.

What if I could grow down? What if I could grow so small that I could fit in the Hands of my Maker? What if He were my defense? What if I could believe that?

Peace. Joy. Purity.

I believe, if my walls were knocked down, if I were shrunk down, the Spirit would come and make His promise true that these are truly His gifts.

Open up your heart. Let down your walls. Let me in.