Sunday Offerings: The Key to Re-Encountering My Faith

My Sundays typically involve church.  Growing up Roman Catholic, church was a big part of my life. I felt God in the liturgy of the mass, the rituals of incense, candles, and music. As an adult I have found that going to church regularly refreshes my soul and keeps me connected to God, my community and my family. For the past several months, I have not been feeling quite the same about church. I have been struggling with feeling my connection to the Divine.  I know a lot of my struggle with my faith is due to the challenges I have been dealing with in my family life. The liturgy of the mass offers little comfort. I don’t know if it’s a chicken or egg thing. Perhaps because I have been struggling in my family life, my church attendance has been spotty, or perhaps because my church attendance has spotty, I have been struggling in my family life.

My Buddhist friend, who knows my struggle, and feels my despair, invited me a lay Buddhist meeting.  She talks to me enthusiastically about how her life and her children’s lives have turned around since they started chanting. We went to lunch one day and I met with one of her Buddhist leaders.  It was an inspiring and insightful conversation. I have no doubt that the Buddhist faith is working in their lives. I accepted the invitation to the Buddhist meeting.  At first I was a bit self-conscious about chanting words I wasn’t even sure I was pronouncing correctly.  But, as the sound washed over me in community with the other women in the room I felt peace.  It was a very positive experience that was both familiar and strange.  It was strange in the sense, that the language was foreign and I struggled to find meaning in the words we chanted.  It was familiar in the sense that the ritual of the prayer beads, the gong and chanting seemed a lot like the rituals I had grown up with and which gave me comfort.

This morning Juan and Diego had to go to soccer practice.  The other kids were sleeping in. I didn’t want to go to church by myself, so I decided I would take Molly on a walk to the big outdoor church. Nature. It’s the other place I feel God. I don’t get outdoors nearly enough, but today the air was crisp, the sun was bright and I needed to move my body.  I announced to my kids that we weren’t going to church this morning.  I think they were a bit relieved they would have a leisurely Sunday morning.

I  drove to nearby Eaton Canyon, took my car key off the ring and stuck it in my iPhone case.  As Molly and I hiked the canyon I listened to a talk given by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran preacher who had visited my church a couple of weeks ago.  At one point during the talk she explained how she had grown up in the fundamentalist Church of Christ, and then decided to become a Lutheran when she experienced and fell in love with the liturgy.  She said liturgy feels like “choreographed sacredness” and that it was like a “stream that flowed long before us and will continue long after us so that we… can be immersed in the language of truth and promise and Grace.” Her words rang so true for me.

I listened and worshipped the nature around me, trying to feel the presence of God.  It was challenging because Molly kept pulling on her leash and the canyon was filled with hikers, joggers, and a lot of dogs.  By the time we had hiked over a mile, we were  she was tired and we turned around to make our way back to the car.  I took my phone out from its case and took this picture of me communing with nature.  I definitely look more sweaty than full of Grace.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

About halfway back to the car it occurred to me that the key I had placed in my iPhone case was no longer there. You know the key?  The one with the computer chip in it that costs hundreds of dollars to replace? I panicked. Whatever sense of peace and Grace I felt during my hike evaporated.  Molly and I sprinted back to the spot where I took the picture.  Along the way, I kept dodging hikers, dogs and the occasional horse and dog poop, all the while looking, hoping, praying to find the key.

I have lost a lot of things before. I have found them too, in odd, unexpected places. My mom is the same way. She has taught me to pray to St. Anthony whenever I lose things.  Along the trail I prayed to St. Anthony again.  I laughed at myself at the absurdity of me losing the key and the even greater absurdity of finding it along the well-traveled trail covered with leaves, dirt and rocks.

I arrived at the spot where I had taken the picture. I looked among the shrubs, under leaves and turned over rocks. It wasn’t there. I made the walk back to the car my eyes downcast, searching for the key, missing the beauty of nature and ignoring the presence of God around me. I thought of the irony in losing the key in my quest to find God.  By the time I reached my car, I still hadn’t found the key and felt resigned that it was probably gone.  I called Juan and told him the bad news, and ask that he bring me the one spare key we had left.

Juan and Nico arrived, prepared to do one more sweep through the canyon. I refused to go, saying it was a lost cause.  Before we left, I decided I’d go into the ranger station to see if the key had been turned in. The ranger told me that no one had turned in any keys and asked me for my name and the key description.  Just then another ranger walked into the office. The second ranger asked, “You lost a key?” Then she pulled out my key from her shirt pocket. She said someone along the trail had just turned it in.

I took the key and in a moment of evangelizing told the ranger about St. Anthony. She said I should go buy a lottery ticket.  I replied that I was going to light a candle instead. Nico drove home with me and along the way we laughed and talked about the miracle.  In my best Southern evangelical preacher voice I shouted, “Allelulia!”  I asked him “Can I have an Amen?”  Getting into the spirit of it, Nico shouted “Amen!”  I enthused, “See? You just need to have faith.”  Nico asked,  “Well, what’s the lesson here?”  I paused and thought about it.  Then, I replied, I guess the lesson is that I just need to have faith that what has been lost will be found.

Joy Cometh in the Writing

 

Notes On Wood 4  This is a long post. I hope you’ll stick with me, even if  my writing is kind of all over the place. It comes back full circle.

I struggle with finding Joy in my life. Lately, it has become an even bigger challenge. Ocassionally, I will encounter Joy in a fleeting moment, and then she’s gone, leaving me to feel like I will never find her again. 

Today I read one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton from Momastery.  Much of what she writes is positive, and uplifting, and difficult and challenging. It’s what she calls, Brutiful. (Brutal and beautiful.) Today she wrote how we often forget what brings us Joy.  She said that we need to be still to listen and remember what brings us Joy.  One way to do that is to think back to when we were 12 and remember what made us joyful. 

I totally get this idea. I  have been blogging consisitently for 22 days. I am remembering  what brings me Joy.  I keep forgetting.  Well, maybe I don’t forget, as much as I don’t make important the practice of encountering Joy.

What follows is a blog post I wrote over a year ago. At the time I wrote it Joy was not even a visitor to my life. I remember feeling so uplifted that day, after writing this post . Then, I got sidetracked with my life, and I didn’t finish writing it.  I forgot about the Joy I found.  Today, after reading Glennon’s post, it reminded me that I had the same thought a year ago.  I remembered what brought me Joy when I was 12. It still brings me Joy at 50. . . .

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I started writing when I was just a girl. I used to write and (badly) illustrate children’s stories.  I won a poetry writing contest in 5th grade. I was inspired to write more, and throughout my grade school days I continued writing. I wrote poetry, short stories and essays, plays. I wrote whenever I felt inspired and I didn’t think too much about grammar, punctuation, syntax or even spelling. By the time I graduated 8th grade I established that I was a writer, and I won another writing award.  Then I entered high school—a bigger pond with a lot more fish.

There were a lot of kids who liked to write.  All of a sudden I realized there was a lot more to learn about the craft of writing and my confidence waned. Being the competitive self that I am I started to compare my writing to others’ around me. When my poetry didn’t make it into the high school’s poetry journal and I started getting B’s in English, I began to doubt myself.

Once, in a high school literature course, I wrote an inspired essay about Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. The words just flowed out of me. When I was done writing, I knew it was a well-written essay. I eagerly awaited the teacher’s comments.  The teacher agreed it was a  well-written essay.  In fact, it was so well-written that he questioned me about its authenticity. Did I even write it?  Perhaps I was “inspired” from another source?  Ouch.

 I put away my notebooks and decided to turn my attention to other interests.  No more writing for me, but then, it would call to me. During those moments in my life of sadness, confusion or Joy, I would be inspired to write it all down. In an assortment of notebooks I jotted poetry, prose, whatever came to me. One day, and I don’t know when or why, I stashed it all away so that I couldn’t even remember where to find it. 

 About three years ago, I became a blogger, and in that way I became a writer. I write. It’s not always good, it’s not always inspired, but I do it because I enJOY it.  Sometimes I remember the sting of my high school teacher’s comment. I wonder, is my writing any good? Is anyone out there reading?  I write mainly for myself, but it’s so affirming when I get a comment or a word of encouragement.  Recently, I received this comment from a reader named Jill.

” Hi, I happened upon your page because i was google-ing for an image of things tapped to the inside of kitchen cabinets for my https://www.facebook.com/sTuCkInThEtees?ref=stream
facebook page (memories of the 70s 80s 90s)
As I was raised by my grandparents after both my parents passed away when i was 7 yrs old, and my grandmother had Dear Abby clippings, tv guide covers, recipes etc. tapped inside our cabinets…..
I could NOT leave your LWB page without saying that I was moved to tears! I don’t know you, your grandmother, your family or friends….However i feel blessed and honored that by this story! Your story and memories have given me some “healing” from my youth….”

I wrote the post she’s referring to in an inspired moment. I started writing it in the car, as we left my grandmother’s house.  Somehow, in the random world of  Google Searches this reader found me, and found my grandmother’s story.  Jill’s words let me know that, somehow, my words have given her some healing for her own loss.  Her comment comforted me and motivated me.

It’s comforting to know that my own Grandmother’s life is touching others even after her death, and its due in part to my writing about her.  So I will continue to blog. I will continue to write.

And with that, I will continue to find Joy.

What brings you Joy? What brought you Joy when you were 12?

Firsts

It’s Monday, the 18th day of NaNloPoMo, and I am feeling a bit uninspired.  I looked at today’s writing prompt to get me going.  The prompt is to blog about a post you didn’t publish. I have a couple of those, but not many. Actually, I have many more unwritten posts that I probably won’t be able to publish, for the same reasons I haven’t written them.  The subject is too raw, and the stories are personal not just to me, but to others in my family.

I looked through my blog posts marked “private” and I found this one. When I wrote it my heart ached for my step-daughter.  I felt so helpless, like most parents feel when they see their child sick or sad. At the time, I wrote the post for myself and yet I knew that I would not be able to hit “publish” because like my other unwritten, unpublished blog posts, the subject matter was still too fresh.

Now, after reading this post, I feel enough time has passed that I can finally hit “publish.”

 

As parents, we’ve experienced many “firsts.” We had a first in our house last night. Our first daughter, with her first love, experienced her first broken heart. As parents, it was one of those times watching your child hurt and realizing you can do little about it, except offer some comforting words and the comforting food of a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake.We’ve all been there.  But, somehow seeing your child go through it makes it so much more painful. As we talked about her heartbreak, I found myself amazed at her level of maturity, insight and sensitivity.  The tears rolled down her face and she sobbed, feeling bad for being the one to break the news and knowing that in doing so, she may have broken a heart and ended a friendship.I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and in my opinion it is worse to be the one hearing the message, than the one delivering the message.  Maybe that’s because when I was the messenger I wasn’t as attached to the person, or maybe I just wasn’t as sensitive as our 14 year old daughter. I was also amazed, stunned actually, that we were talking about it. She doesn’t share her feelings easily, so perhaps it’s a testament to the amount of pain she felt that she was able to share it with her dad and I. Or maybe she just has a more open relationship about these things than I ever did with my parents. It could also be when I was a teen, I under-estimated my parents and didn’t think they would understand.

As much as it hurt to see her suffer, I also felt gratitude. I felt grateful that we have such an insightful, loving daughter.  Grateful that I felt close to her in sharing such heartache. Grateful that she confided in me, her mom and her dad. Most of all I felt grateful in knowing that this too shall pass and as beautiful and wonderful as she is, she will experience love again. This is one thing I know to be true. I am grateful to her for reminding me of that too.

 

Throwback Thursday

Today’s Throwback Thursday is inspired by yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

I am sorry the picture is so grainy but I couldn’t find the original and I had to use a copy of the photo. Besides, the photo was taken in early Spring 2002, long before I had a digital camera.  Juan and I were dating and things were getting serious. We were spending more and more time together and on those weekends that we had custody of the kids, we would take them to the zoo, the park, or other outings.  In this photo we were driving home from our very first camping trip with the kids. I use the term “camping” very loosely.  Juan never really camped before, while I grew up camping with my family, and had great memories of spending time outdoors.  I wanted our kids to experience the fun and adventure of the great outdoors, so I convinced Juan that we should take the kids camping one weekend.  As an introduction to “roughing it” I chose a campground about 2 hours north of us, in Solvang.

When we arrived I discovered that the “campground” was really an open meadow located a few blocks out of town.  The campground was accessible to restaurants and grocery stores.  It wasn’t quite the getaway I envisioned, but the campground had flush toilets, and showers, and with three young kids, I figured it would be a pretty safe introduction to camping.  The campground accommodated tent campers like us, and RV’s like everyone else there that weekend.

Instead of the wild call of nature, we heard the hum of generators.  Instead of campfires and marshmallows, our neighbors listened to their radios and watched their portable TV’s.  Even though it was not the camping experience I wanted for our kids, they thought it was a great adventure.  They ran around the meadow, dodging RV’s and trailers, while Juan and I struggled to pitch our tent.  After a take out pizza dinner we roasted marshmallows.  We tried to sleep but the noise of all the other campers did not make for a very restful night.  The next day we packed it all up drove to a nearby beach.  Between the sleepless night and a day at the beach, the kids were wiped out.  They slept all the way home and I took this picture.

Do you have any camping memories?

 

Sunday Offerings: Children of Light

Today is Children’s Advocacy Sunday in our church. The prayers, songs and homily reflected the idea that we all have a responsibility to nurture the world’s children. I especially liked the prayer offered during the Prayers of the People:

Eternal source of love and justice, we give you thanks for the richness of our diversity and the treasured uniqueness of every person.  We give you thanks for planting in each of us a heart that cares for your most vulnerable children and a passion for justice so that every child may grow and flourish.  We give you thanks for our shared concern and commitment.  Use us now, we pray, to create change for your children so that each will know the hope of a better tomorrow.

The children’s choirs all sang today too. Their faces and their words were inspiring:

You were sometimes darkness,

But now are light in the Lord.

Walk as children of light.

– Words: Based on Ephesians 5:8, Music: Valerie Ann Webdell; edited by Ruth Dwyer (2003)

Click here to see the the choir singing this anthem. Happy Sunday!