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.

Master Suite or Master’s Suite?

When Juan and I married and blended our families we decided to remodel my two-bedroom, one bath house into a four bedroom house. There would be one office/guest room, one room for the boys and one for the girls to share.  Juan and I would have our own master bedroom, which we have since learned we have to share with our dog Molly, and occasionally Diego, whenever he has a bad dream.  Our house remodel also included a master spa bathroom, which we have since realized is not for our own exclusive use.

Whenever we complained to the kids about them using our bathroom, they protested that we had the good shower, more bath products, and better towels.  True, I did splurge and furnish our bathroom with plush linens. I wanted to create a spa atmosphere.  Maybe if the kids actually hung up their towels instead of leaving them on the floor,  I would be inclined to splurge on their linens too.  Last week I had to replace our bathmat. I splurged again and bought a nice plush one. It had a thick pile and matched the palette of our bathroom’s warm gold color.

This week, our Southern California weather and its endless summer finally turned to Fall. I came home from work and turned on the heater to take the chill out of the air. When I walked into my room, I smelled something musty.  I shrugged it off as the heater firing up.  Later that night, as I was getting ready for bed I went to my bathroom to perform my evening ritual of brushing, exfoliating, moisturizing and all manner of fighting against the aging process.  Again, I smelled something odd. I noticed that the toilet seat was up and looked at Juan accusingly suspiciously. He assured me that his aim was perfect.  We complained to each other that Diego was probably using our bathroom again.  He must have missed the mark. To his credit, Juan cleaned up around the toilet. Better.  At least it smelled like disinfectant.

The next day, after work, I walked into our bedroom and again detected a musty odor. I looked at the pile of shoes on Juan’s side of the bed. Could it be? No, foot odor is distinctly different. That night Diego again used our bathroom for his shower.  After his shower, as I trimmed his nails I smelled it again. I sniffed his hair to make sure he washed it. It was fine, like coconut. I smelled his hands. His nails were still a bit dirty, but his hands smelled fine. As I bent over to trim his toenails I smelled his feet. Musty! I sent him back into the shower since I was sure the feet of a 9 year-old soccer playing boy needed more scrubbing.

That night we fell asleep to the sound of our first Fall rain. In the morning, as I was taking a shower Juan groggily walked in and nearly slipped on our tile floor. He looked down and saw that the floor was damp.  I got out of the shower and stepped onto my new bathmat. My feet felt like they were stepping into a puddle.  The new bath mat felt wet, actually soggy. Hmm, that’s weird. Wet floor, damp mat. Could we have a leak in our roof? Juan and I started inspecting the ceiling to see if we could find the source of the water.  No leak.

Suddenly it occurred to me that maybe the source of the leak wasn’t the ceiling. I looked down at the new bathmat. I remembered that Molly, our fox terrier, had been housebroken on pee pads.  Juan grabbed some paper towels and as he cleaned up the wet floor, we discovered what he was mopping up was not water. It was yellow and had a musty smell.

I guess I will have to buy a new bath mat. Maybe this time I’ll buy one that’s not so plush.

The Master and Diego in my bed.

The Master and Diego in my bed.

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?

Throwback Thursday: Summer 1985

All this talk of travel has me remembering my first real solo travel experience. In the summer of 1985, just before I graduated from college, I went on a self-guided tour of Europe.

It may sound extravagant, but when I think back to how scrimped and saved my money and how I traveled sleeping on trains, and in hostels, I know that I would never want to have that experience again. And yet, I would not trade that experience for anything.

I was 22 years old. I was working as a waitress while attending college. My friend, who was studying French,  wanted to go to Europe that summer and speak with the natives. I thought that sounded great!  I was nursing a broken heart and the thought of traipsing through 11 countries in six weeks sounded a lot more appealing than staying in a Southern California and running the risk of bumping into my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend.

I read the travel books, planned our itinerary, applied for my passport and hostel card and, in a big splurge, bought a First Class Eurail pass. My friend and I planned to save money on accommodations by staying in hostels, and sleeping on trains. We heard how 2nd class cars were crowded with backpack-toting-college-aged cigarette- smoking students so we figured it was worth the extra expense if we could travel in a train car where we didn’t have to sleep standing up, breathing second-hand smoke.

In this photo, from the looks of the clean, roomy train compartment, I would say it was money well spent.

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Traveling this way was a once in a lifetime experience. We had a planned itinerary, but we remained spontaneous along the way. We decided to take an overnight train from Amsterdam to East Berlin after hearing it was a great destination for the budget traveller. We met people along the way who opened up their homes to us. In Rome we spent the night in a convent after a local priest learned we needed a night’s lodging. As we crossed over the English channel from France to catch our flight home out of Heathrow Airport, we met a friendly Englishman and his family who put us up for a night and then drove us to the airport the next day.

At 22 years old, I was trusting and still naive enough to believe that being in another country meant I was free from harm’s way. Sadly, I don’t know that if I traveled this way again I would have the same rich experience filled with random encounters of both hospitality and adventure.

 

Wordless Wednesday

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