On prayer, vocation, mission, purpose, faith, friendship, and faithfulness

On prayer, vocation, mission, purpose, faith, friendship, and faithfulness

Edited from a letter to a friend, originally written on three different days. Footnotes with explanations to give context for certain comments are indicated and referenced at the end of the letter (among them the explanation of what is keeping me stuck out of school) — VKS

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I always count myself blessed to be able not only to worship our great God, but to be able to worship him in the company of those who are both dear friends and beloved saints. I am always so bewildered when people who claim to love God get “dutiful” about churchgoing such that their worship becomes unworshipful. Who is their god anyway? Worship isn’t a “got to,” it’s a “get to.” I am sometimes tired and come to God very empty, but in those dark times when I seemingly have nothing left of myself to give, that God can work beautiful and wonderful things from even the crumbs of my broken soul if I fully offer all of those crumbs to him for his glory and his use? That’s an amazing grace indeed.
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And I am praying, for so many things and for so many reasons I am praying. I usually pray lastly for myself, but I assure you that I no longer ever come to God with my laundry list. I could be classed as “terrible” at prayer because I am not eloquent at public prayer. I am beautifully eloquent in written prayer because I can wait until the words come and just turn them over meditatively before I ever write a thing. My prayers are simple, they have become simple. I have said I am praying for my own situation — and I am — but I very much hesitate to say too much about what I am praying for. I certainly am somewhat discouraged by some of the stuff people report they are praying for my sake. Actually, no, I am very discouraged. I got a detailed laundry list from one of my most frustrating friends this morning. She means well, but she often gets me so worked up drilling down on all the hypothetical details. As detail-oriented as I may be, there is great wisdom in running life like an admin. assistant’s “To Do” list. Write down everything that needs doing and when it’s due, reassess and amend throughout the day, the next day look at the previous day and create a new list based on what was done and undone the day before. It does no good to try to make a “To Do” list in great detail for weeks and months ahead, only to be mindful of the short-term vs. long-term and chip away at the long-term. I’ve honestly never found a better way.

It does no good to obsess over things beyond one’s control, but why it is that people think they need to co-opt and micro-manage my worrying because I’m not doing it enough I can’t tell you. My long-time friends aren’t breaking a sweat over this one — they know God is great and his providence is amazing. I have no idea how this will turn out, but it will work out somehow. As my best friend from college mentioned in a message this morning, I always land on my feet.

And God-be-praised, she is right.

But there are two questions no one is asking that maybe someone should:

1.) Why am I crying?

2.) What am I praying?

As for the former, certainly the toxic reality of my present living situation is certainly part of it*. The fact that I’ve lost contact with Annie and Wentworth is definitely part of it,** but I’ve never stopped knowing that I am a girl on a mission. It is not my job to save anyone, this I know, but I also know that it is my job to love (and love deeply I do!). My heart is breaking over the coming transition. Maybe I’m n supposed to worry, but even though I turn it to prayer, I can’t help a fierce love paired with a feeling of total helplessness.

I can’t save anyone, I can only pray, but in the face of spiritual poverty I feel like prayer is a completely inadequate response to the incredible need. I can’t save anyone — neither body nor soul; I can’t help beyond love and prayer. Is that enough?
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I know not to fight whatever is happening with my life, though I find it all very bewildering. Technically, I could go to school in the fall if I can fund it.*** I need my taxes to be done first so I can get all my financial aid information to figure out what the numbers are. It is a big long-shot, but I have to at least explore this. The plan is to work, but if the door opened to school, you know I would take it.

I really just don’t have enough information to know for certain where I am going or what I will be doing with my life. The part that most people don’t “get” (but I hope you can appreciate) is that I am actually generally pretty okay with not knowing all the details of what is next.

Which comes to the bit about what I am praying…

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola has this line that is both challenging and convicting:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

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That’s a hard word, but it’s also one I take very seriously. The longer I live, the more firmly I’m convinced that what this life is about is responding to the various vocations in various seasons of life, and paying attention to keeping my divine appointments (I had several transit-related ones today).

That’s really it, life isn’t really much deeper/harder than that. Now, I won’t say that is necessarily EASY by any means, but it really is just that simple. If I really believe all I say I believe and truly confess that most basic and primary creed — Jesus Christ is Lord — then it is “Lord” he must be.

I’m sure you have some idea of what a terribly hard sell that is. Francis Chan has an extended bit in Crazy Love about the profound wrongness of giving lip-service to loving God while living our lives as if he doesn’t exist. To say: “Jesus Christ is Lord” are simple enough words, but by no means is it simple to do. But I think — for the weight of the measure of what is at-stake in terms of eternity — we at least owe it to God to try and give him our best as a gratitude response.

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So what am I praying for? To be sent out somewhere else where I can offer my best to bless others for God’s service where I am needed to love and bless others. And the part that my long-time friends get well — the crux of why I am totally not freaked out right now — is that God has a really big imagination and takes my assignments as seriously as I do. Someone made the cheeky sarcastic remark a few months back to the effect that it isn’t like we go out into the world telling people: “I’m on a mission from God.”

It was a general remark to no one in particular, but I got even more quiet than usual. Because, actually, that pretty much is EXACTLY what I do say. There really, actually, is no other possible explanation for my life. People believe its truth, and most somehow find something positive in it.
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Visionary leadership isn’t my deal, but nurturing leadership is. You’ll never find me at the helm of an international NGO, but if you need someone to walk you through a mess, I might be your girl. I can’t ever imagine myself as a foreign missionary, for example. Folks have been bugging me about international short-term mission trips since 2001. I don’t feel a call in that direction and never have. That said, God does like to send me places because I just GO without asking a lot of detailed questions about “Why?” or “What’s in it for me?” So instead of a laundry list of prayers wishing a bunch of stuff for myself, I’m begging God to find me a place to go where I can somehow bless others.

By the standards of just about everyone I know, this puts me on the spectrum somewhere between “odd” and “insane.” And yet “send me” and “use me” really are among some of the best prayers that can be prayed. But maybe you already know that?

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Cleaning, sorting, packing, and caring for my sweet baby guinea pigs (still at my sister’s) has eclipsed my life in the past week-and-a-half, but you have been much in-mind and in-prayer my friend. I’m ever mindful that giving a person room and space to be my friend as they wish is better. Maybe that’s how God sees things too — being undeniably present in our lives, but ultimately leaving it up to us how we respond to that? So often I wish I could just stop time to give those I love the ear and attention they need and deserve as my friends. Because it really is possible to die of loneliness somewhere in “How are you?”/”Fine.”
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And I know as well as you do that you are nowhere near “Fine,” but I am also mindful that re-hashing stuff can be exhausting and even harmful. Sunday mornings are my own life’s sacred space where I bring those broken crumbs of myself before God, where I gather enough strength to (almost always) make it through the next week as “Fine” enough to be able to love and serve others. There are weeks — and this one might be one of them — where I hit “done” with my life long before Sunday morning. I’m pretty much always “done” with my life these days actually, but press on to keep going because so many find strength in what is of God within me. That’s hard too. But now, maybe more than ever, I have to keep on — I’ve got a baby guinea pig in trouble: Benwick needs me.**** Lots of people need me actually.

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The incomparably adorable charmer, baby Benwick Wigglewhiskers at five days old

I wish I had an answer to your own questions of what God is doing in your life life. All I have is an ear, a thinking mind, and a loving heart. Is that enough? You have my love; you have whatever of my friendship you will accept; you have my ear to listen for whatever you wish. I love the Thomas Merton quotation from The Seven Storey Mountain:

It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint. For God is greatly magnified marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one. There are no two saints alike: but all of them are like God, like Him in a different and special way. In-fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity as the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality.

If, since the fall, this plan will never be realized in millions of souls, and millions will frustrate that glorious destiny of theirs, and hide their personality in an eternal corruption of disfigurement nevertheless, in re-forming His image in souls distorted and half destroyed by evil and disorder, God makes the work of His wisdom and love all the more strikingly beautiful by reason of the contrast with the surroundings in which He does not disdain to operate.

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Merton is right, and there is a power of truth in his wise words. You are a beautiful saint and a child of God. He who has begun a good work in you will what? (see Philippians 1:6) You are a quietly delightful person with a beautiful soul. I am wrestling right now with a life that doesn’t seem to have room for me in it, but what keeps me faithful and getting up in the morning is that – though it is very hard for me to find God’s path out in this mess of a life that no longer seems to have any room for me in it – I know that God IS in this somewhere, and he loves me and – no matter how bad things get – he is with me at all times and in all things (whether I can feel it or see it or know it or not).

That same level of faithfulness applies to you my friend.
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I wish I could fix this, all of it. Can you forgive me a little, however, for being slightly distracted from my total and uninterrupted sympathy for your situation because I am curious in wonder for what amazing new thing God may have in-store for you in your life? Because the truth about ANYTHING in this life is that if you are in alignment with God, he will be glorified through your life no matter what. As you are such an amazing person anyway, do forgive me for wondering how God will be glorified in all this.

Because he will, and he will use you to do it. In the truest and most literal sense of the word: that’s awesome.
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I wish I could give you a hug my friend. I wish I could carve a safe place of rest out for you in the world. I wish I could give you peace. I wish I could fix all that is broken in your life right now. Of that list, all I can offer is the hug, but the good news is that God can give you the rest of it. All I have to offer you is myself – my love and my friendship. It is (and always was) an offering, what you do with it is entirely up to you. I will love you no matter what though.

My heart and tears are with you my friend. I hope and pray you are well. I look forward to seeing you soon. I count myself blessed to know you dear friend. Please hang in there and take gentle care. God’s blessings to you in all things – Christ’s grace and peace be with you my dear friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

*A reference to post-fumigation clean-up — literally toxic — and an experience I do not recommend!

**All the guinea pigs had to be shifted to my sister’s house related to the fumigation and clean-up; they are still there.

***It’s complicated, but because I’ve spent the last eight years paying down $20K debt — and I don’t care who knows that, because I’ve worked insanely hard and sacrificed much to do the honorable thing and am down to the last partial payment of $80!!! I was living within my means, not using credit I couldn’t afford — so what happened? My credit score is amazing — or was before the accident — but is too clean; school is almost totally paid for, but I don’t qualify to take out the small bit of private student loans above and beyond the Stafford and institutional loans and grant money from the school and the government to cover my living expenses. Bottom line: unless I find a cosigner or stay out of school 3-5 more years working and building credit, I’m stuck out of school because they can’t prove I’ll honor the debt because I’ve spent the last eight years honoring my debt (even when the bank that acquired the account “lost” the original note on the repayment plan from the first bank and refused to honor the agreement…adding THREE MORE YEARS of payments and setting me back three years). Honors student, amazing transcripts, amazing ministry resume…I’ve now waited thirteen years to go back to school, and this sets me back still further. If you know anyone who might want to help, let me know. I’m a Theological Studies major working to complete undergrad to prepare for seminary to go into ministry. As Pedro Arrupe’s phrase was: “to become a…woman for others.” (the full phrase is “men and women for others,” but I am just a woman). I have to move in August anyway. All of this nightmare could go away — literally — with one signature; references available.

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At six days old a typical view of Benwick: at the milk bar.

****I was worried about little Benwick, he was socially and developmentally “behind” his siblings, and wouldn’t play with them or eat “big pig” food, but only wanted to nurse and hide under Annie 24/7. I was very disturbed on 15 May 2013 when I put him and his brothers in with Wentworth and he was too terrified to interact with any of them and just stood in the corner screaming while the other three played and tried to console him. He was doing much better on 16 May 2013.

Blessings for your Tuesday

Blessings for your Tuesday

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To the same friend as  yesterday’s post…

Oh, right, and yeah, for a long time I was aiming at being a math professor. Most of the teaching I have done in my life? Math. Very gifted at math, science, history, literature, AND theology????? Um, I love art and music too. #RenaissanceWoman, #loveHildegardvonBingen

Oh, right…and if you named one of your pets after Hildegard von Bingen that automatically makes you cool enough to be my friend!!!!

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My Dear Friend,

It has been my experience over many years of studying mathematics (still a love, but one I had to leave in a box quietly by the side of the road) that there are basically two temperaments in math professors: the ones who know and understand that math is a great game and a puzzle…and the ones for whom it becomes a religion. I am in the former camp — Calculus proofs are FAR more elegant and fun than, say, crossword puzzles.

My former Calculus professor for all three terms was of a similar mind, and just neat people. Professor, former missionary in Thailand, a pastor’s wife who sometimes preaches herself. She has a radio ministry, she’s mother of three grown sons, she’s grandma. She’s exactly the type of person you can imagine me falling in with because she is both “real” and interesting (I have no use for pretense, and narrowly conventional people generally can’t stand ME, nevermind that shallowness bores me to tears).

She has a great sense of humor, but maybe not as quick and wicked as mine. She is the professor, of course, but in proofs that take 3-5 boards to write out, sometimes minor mistakes are made along the way that get you stuck and backing up later (and you learn as much from the backing up, so it’s a good thing). The funny thing was that she would always have a stock-answer ready-made silly excuse for the mistake. My favorite habitual excuse was: “Because it’s Tuesday” — she never blamed any other day of the week but Tuesdays.
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If you’re reading this, good morning to you my friend — it’s Tuesday. Blessings and love to you my friend because it’s Tuesday. We don’t ever need any other reason to celebrate a day besides the fact that God made it and we’re living it (both of those being very good things to celebrate). The verse goes: “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS,” no conditional qualifiers. I pray you can find joy and peace in this day, come what may, no matter what, and even…because it’s Tuesday. I love you my friend, and you are in my prayers. Know that you are loved — treasured by God and by many. No matter what else this day brings, I pray you find joy, peace, and rest in that love my friend.

May the peace of Christ be with you in all things this day, and may the Holy Spirit bring you strength. Hugs to you my dear friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

Love and blessings for your day my friend

Love and blessings for your day my friend

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Photo source and image copyright Curly Girl Designs http://www.curlygirldesign.com

Originally sent as an e-mail to a dear friend; it occurred to me it would make a good post as well.  The human soul is a fragile thing indeed, but that is one of the things that makes it most beautiful and precious. For it is, as Thomas Merton wrote, like a crystal: it is the light without — God’s light– shining through a soul that brings it to life. May you find hope and blessings this day. — VKS

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My Dear Friend,

Blessings for your morning — I love you, and God does too (know that on both counts).  Come what may (come all that may), if you are reading this, you are alive on a day and in a life that holds so much beauty and love.  Know that — take time to notice it.  There is no joy or beauty too small not to praise the Lord.

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“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in he wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world

There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child’s prayer uttered, that does not sing praises to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces.

How does it happen that in the thousands of generations of murderers since Cain, our bloodthirsty ancestor, that some if us can still be saints? The quietness and hiddenness and placidity of the truly good people in the world all proclaim the glory of God.

All these things, all creatures, all graceful movement, every ordered act of the human will, all are sent to us as prophets from God.”
— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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I love you my friend, bless you. I remembered you and your family fiercely in my prayers this morning. I only wish I could give you a hug in-person to give you my love beyond mere words. I am currently reading The Ascent to Truth, which is Merton on St. John of the Cross (phenomenal book even as I am barely into it). I got into what — on my end — was a very interesting argument AGAINST “prosperity gospel” nonsense with G—– last week; she couldn’t wrap her head around the premise of The Dark Night of the Soul and I think thinks I’m completely nuts (and possibly evil or dangerous) for raising the question in the first place. I was also talking about that premise [with K—–] on the way home from church yesterday, that, no — this is not the place where you know things are bad but you know God loves you, this is the place where things are SO BAD you can’t see or feel God anywhere in those darkest of dark moments. And if your life with God includes NO blessings, is who God is ENOUGH to love him, praise him, serve him?

G—– cited that as a weird question. I was also speaking against one of Job’s friends who equated “lack of apparent blessings” with “secret sin” or perhaps some other deficiency of love or faith (as many today would accuse in similar circumstances). I reminded her that it is also the question raised by Job — if all life is without blessings, is who God is ENOUGH? That was dismissed too. I remain convinced, however, that it is a good litmus test for faith — do I love God because I LOVE God, or do I say I love God because he is “the god who gets me stuff”? Obviously my answer is the former (spiritually-shallow people do not take up with Carmelite mystics for “a little light reading,” and then take up with a Trappist monk for deeper reflection!!!!!).

You are loved, dear sister — by God, by me, and by so very many. May that sustain you this day, come what may. The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you my friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

On meme culture and the Patriot’s Day 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

On meme culture and the Patriot’s Day 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

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Taken Saturday, 16 April, 2011 in Danvers, Massachusetts

My mother’s family is from Boston, we have deep roots there.  Two years ago this weekend we were all celebrating my sister’s wedding.  My Facebook feed — full of news organizations, ministries, and many Massachusetts friends and relatives — started lighting up like a Christmas tree early this afternoon with news of the Patriot’s Day bombing at the Boston Marathon.

And the entire media and social media world followed with the typical array of stories, memes, condolances, love, and prayers — posted from all over the world.  In the face of disasters and tragedies, our society now creates the digital virtual equivalent of an on-site memorial shrine.  It’s quite striking actually.
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I don’t know if the first “digital disaster” in American consciousness was the World Trade Center bombings of September 11, 2001 or not.  It was the first major American disaster in quite some time, and both captivated and horrified the world in a way I’ve not seen since.  By 2001, e-mail and internet was something most people had, and those were the first event-oriented memes I remember seeing in e-mail forwards.  Meme culture has been a common tribute response to disasters ever since, and like I said, it’s quite striking.

Now, I definitely collect memes — mostly for use in blog posts or as a source of encouragement to others — but I question their value somewhat.  I reject the use of memes by people who use them as a soapbox to run off at the mouth with hatred, vitriol, disrespect about some perceived injustice to one’s sense of entitlement in the world.  Okay, you keep polluting my eyes with disturbing and toxic images and rhetoric, who — exactly — is served by that anger?  What makes me most angry are people who expend a lot of energy on vitriol and outrage against a certain issue, but do absolutely nothing to affect positive change in the world to make any meaningful impact toward righting that apparent wrong.  I have no love for people who do nothing but stand on street corners holding signs and shouting either, but meme culture is far lazier.  If the beginning and end of your campaign for social and political justice is to vomit memes all over your social media feed?  I promise you, pictures of sleeping kittens would bring EXACTLY the same level of effectiveness…but would be ever so much more pleasant than ire, fire, anger, vitriol, and hatred.
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But I think memes do have their place in our culture.

In our high-speed, 4G, data saturated, sound-byte culture of speeding through life at a furious clip with a 24-hour news cycle chirping along in the background as we tweet and text our way through the day, memes invite us to take a breath: memes invite us to take a breath, hold a thought in our heads, have a simple mental and emotional response to a graphic, and then resume our day. They make us laugh, they make us smile, they make us angry, they make us nostalgic, they make us reflective, they make us think…

Memes make us reach out and touch our own humanity in a collective response with others. And while they may or may not be the most effective or productive response to any given situation, they are a response. May our thoughtfulness, our love, our compassion, our joy, and our hope not begin and end with mere memes. My background is steeped heavily in the study of history, and the notion is very often raised “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” That’s true enough, but in our high-speed, search-engine-driven, wiki-culture, what does “remember” even mean anymore? I pray it does not mean the fleeting graphic equivalent of a sound-byte without genuine depth of thought or care.

Do you remember the 26 January 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India? I happened to be stuck home in bed and seriously ill that month with what ended up as pneumonia. The house where I was renting a room at the time was located at the base of the foothills of my city, at the mouth of a cañon. I had no television, and radio reception was dodgy. I did, however, have internet. I quickly found a passion for the BBC World Service, for when the NPR stations switched to music overnight, the events and stories of life around the world still went on — and were reported — as North America slept on through the night. I remember the extensive coverage of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake clearly, as it was the main story for weeks on the BBC World Service. I remember one interview with a local Gujarati man who was thoughtful and mused that it was good that the world was taking note of Gujarat, but would the world still remember Gujarat in a year?

I don’t think the world did, but I have never forgotten it.

We say our love, our hearts, our prayers are with the people of Boston. I hope that is really true. For me it is true because — on some level — there is an aspect of ancestral “home” to Boston (though that particular city has never been my own home). I hope it is true that our love, our hearts, our prayers are with the people of Boston in a lasting and meaningful way…not merely as the latest selection in the *Disaster of the Month Club* meme-fest. May our words to each other encourage, uplift, inspire, and bring hope — and may they do so in a lasting and meaningful way.

And of all the thoughts, prayers, memes, and tributes to mark this shocking and tragic day, the following one (posted by my friend Linda) gave me the most pause. Thank you and bless you Mr. Rogers, yes — “remember the helpers.”
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Another friend remarked:

“Numb….just plain numb….this tragedy in Boston….it’s not going to end, is it”

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To that, my reply will take us to Flanders, to France, and to Gallipoli in the years that followed the great battles of the Great War. To read the story of the origins of the Flanders Fields Remembrance Day Poppies in more depth, click here, but the gist of it is that the poppies that grew alongside the fields of grain in the beautiful farmlands that became ravaged wastelands in the battles of the Great war grew best in the churned-up and turned-over soils created by the battles that raged. Beginning in 1915, the battlefields began to bloom with poppies. It was this story in my mind when I replied to my friend:

“Life is beautiful my friend, but sometimes it takes awhile for the wildflowers to carpet the battlefield.”

Life is beautiful, and though some days all you can see is the mud before the poppies, there is hope…and God is still on the throne. — VKS

Perfect storm, stormy night

Perfect storm, stormy night

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So my touch of a stupid cold has turned into pharyngitis, which I’m praying won’t turn into bronchitis.  Coughing up chunks of *magically disgusting* is not my favorite way to pass the time.

Monday was fifteen hours there and back to Ventura, Tuesday was twelve hours there and back to university.  Yesterday I decided to stay local and work on the new-to-me bike I picked up last week that will eventually be my pretty sweet ride.  It is amazing how what looked like “really clean” after removing a thick layer of dust an hour before sunset now looks “really dirty” in direct sunlight.  I’m the kind of person who *does it right* — not merely a quick wash, but scouring with 00 steel wool to get off the rust (employing borax as needed), and then a good synthetic car polish clearcoat over it all.

Yesterday I got the handlebars done, installed the new (very lovely!) synthetic leather grips, and installed a larger saddle that almost matches perfectly; the cupholder gave me fits, but the two new replacement reflectors were easy (the original owner pulled the originals off to install lights).  Didn’t have time to do the bell (KA-CHING!), but since I’m not going anywhere until I fix the wobbly back wheel, that doesn’t matter much.

The fender struts are going to be a nighmare (there really is no way to “rush” scrubbing rust with steel wool), and those are the worst because of how much I have to take apart to do it right.

Eventually this will get done and it will be a beautiful thing, but for now the “what’s clean” just makes everything else look that much more dirty.

And even though I tried to work in the shade, the UV index was crazy high and I ended up with sunstroke and sunburned.

I also, for various reasons, ended up with a screaming migraine such that I wasn’t sure I could make it home.

I did, but I passed the night in screaming pain, blind in my right eye, running a low-grade fever plus a sunburn…unable to sleep, tormented by the nightly battle to keep the bugs away, basically just wishing death and unable to focus or hold a thought in my head.  Is that dramatic?  No…there are some places of pain and illness that can take you to a place where that pain or illness is the only thing that can be processed.  A broken shoulder is certainly one, and migraines can sometimes be severe enough to be another.

I was there last night.

Still found enough energy for a few short messages to a couple dear friends.

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The night was mostly sleepless, but eventually the meds kicked in and I was granted the mercy of a few hours of the sleep I so desperately begged for.

For in the case of pain and suffering, restful sleep is a great mercy.

To be fair, I still feel like I was hit by a truck (just no longer like I was also dragged by one). I had much to do today, and I am supposed to watch all three kids tomorrow (ages 5, 3½, and 2). I’ve canceled physical therapy to be quiet and rest (I’m not good at this).

I’ve been so constantly ill and recovering for so many months, I honestly thought I was “safe” and would stay well this time. It’s a hard thing to wonder when this season will pass, and how long it will take to truly fully recover enough to face the rigors of a life spent doing “normal” things — working, family, enjoying life…living. It’s hard to feel left behind. It was especially hard to trek out to university on Tuesday, to be in that place, to know I have every right to be there — and someday I will — but also know (and feel) how far this beautiful place was from my own present-tense reality.
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So much of my own journey always makes me think of Rudy: click here for the best link I could find for the conversation with Fr. Cavanaugh when Rudy first arrives in South Bend.

It’s hard to know that what you want is also where you are supposed to be, but that for some reason the timing is wrong. God? I’m still here, you’re still here…but where? I have no answers, though I remember all the weeping for joy…and then for sorrow. It’s a lot to deal with, especially with zero real prospects of what to do with myself until the timing is right.

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Double rainbow near Pine Mountain Club, Kern County, CA. Taken 30 September 2010.

Today I’m just too tired to care.

I’ve been reading a lot in recent months, and much on suffering. I think there really is something to the idea that chronic illness can bring a person closer to Christ. Now, certainly, there are sometimes some pretty wild explanations given for that, and the motives for that bring us to that place are sometimes selfish-from-desperation, but close is close. It’s easy to gloss over the “encounter” gospel accounts, but the longer I live, the more people I meet who have lives that perfectly square with some of the darkly broken lives in the gospel accounts (knowing the woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years — watching how that is destroying her life — is hardest).

My own life, spirit, and health are broken in many ways, but through that I can see (with a very different view) the deeper truth of the hope — a desperate hope — of all who sought this man, Jesus.

There is great humility required to ask for mercy.

There is great faith required to receive it.

Should I spill my secret that some of the best and most wise things I say or write in personal correspondence are not of myself but are inspired? It’s true, and I rarely remember any of it once I enter into a deeply prayerful place while writing. Often the words which touch others deeply were some small aside thing on the way to a greater point. Don’t think that God doesn’t hear our prayers, because he does. It is the absolute weirdest thing in the world to be used by God to answer someone else’s prayer, not know you’re doing it, and then be told later about some inspiring thing you never remember saying or writing. I have been keeping copies of my own correspondence for years, and to have a reference for so much I never remember writing is part of the reason why.
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One of these things came up on Monday, when I was visiting with a friend in my day’s travels. She said that words of mine — spoken or written to her in a time when she was in the midst of a very dark time and so was I — that really stuck with her were: “Life is beautiful.”

I never remember saying or writing this, but God-be-praised because it is the truth of his glory. Yes, we discussed it: that life is beautiful, life is always beautiful…but sometimes you have to look really, really, really hard to find that. I hold that life is only worth living if you can find God in all things. But I’ll also be the first to admit that there is a level of pain and suffering where I am so distracted and consumed by the pain that God is impossible to find.

That doesn’t mean he’s not there, it just means our focus is distracted in a way such that we cannot find him: that which obstructs our view to God by no means removes God from our reality, it merely removes God from our limited perception of apparent reality.

There is a difference, and the difference is a huge one.

There is the greatest hope that can be hoped in the promise of that difference.

Happy Friday :)

Happy Friday :)

Wiped all of my downloaded files from my tablet on Wednesday, sometimes creating an interesting problem because I don’t always know what I’m missing (e.g., realizing on one bus yesterday that the schedule for my connecting line was missing).  I’m finding and re-downloading the photos to go with stuff, but it’s FRIDAY today, so a long bus commute awaits (i.e., time to write).  Blessings for your day.  A thought:

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Take the time to find God in all things. — VKS

A letter to a friend

A letter to a friend

A letter to a friend, somewhat edited to remove various contextual details. It occurred to me as I re-read what I wrote that there could be something within edifying to others, for in most things the introspections are specific to me and not to us, per se. Soli Deo Gloria.

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Pine Mountain storm looking over the Lockwood Valley from Pine Mountain Summit, 30 SEP 2010

My Dear Friend,

There is much to be said for a Sunday afternoon nap, but I woke up this afternoon absolutely beside myself in a puddle of tears that seemed to be the collective emotional response of many weeks or months of being far too brave about far too much while being entirely discouraged about everything else.

Everything…else.

I come from very dark places, and there are dark days when those places I won’t let myself go do whisper to me from those dark corners of the world where God’s light is not easily found…I don’t REALLY think I belong in the light, do I?  No, I’m not sure I’m any more comfortable in the light than the roaches that have completely taken over my life, but God says I belong in the light whether I think I do or not.  That is my “Sunday School” answer, but there are six other hellishly in the week NOT Sunday.
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I was going to say that some of what tempts me is a lot darker than envy, which is true, but then I was reminded that envy has it’s grip on me too…just in a completely different area, regarding something I’ve — essentially — been required to give up.

I don’t know if I will ever be trustworthy to be given it back, truly God only knows.

Because cars are easy — no one is going to question your sanity, your humanity, and your wholeness as a human being for lack of a [specific very fun sports car]  (and if they do, question theirs).  [Many in my world] are so materialistic I’ve been all but innoculated against greed for what their greed has cost me in my life.  Truly, whatever it is in this world, whatever “thing” I have, if you can give me a compelling reason why you need it more than I do, it’s yours.  Envy is, of course, in lock-step with setting up idols.  Better your idols be things than relationships.  Because a life lived in battle with God and self over relationships can look a very lot…like mine.

And there is nothing in this world that sounds sane about my extended 2011 conversation with  God over why the answer to  the long-time prayer for a conventional life was not necessarily “no” for always, but is clearly “no” for now.  There is a lot “to” that conversation, and there were certainly conditions and terms on both sides (not an ultimatum per se, but more along the lines of an explanation for why things need to be the way they are as they are, instead of the way I would wish them).  School, actually, is part of it…so there really was no possible sane emotional reaction to the idea that — after wrestling for a year to give up pursuit of the possibility of children of my own issue — any thought of any life BUT solitude was just automatically extended for no good reason by a block to getting to school.  The dream, the plan, the vision was stair-steps.  That’s not a dream deferred, that’s a door resolutely shut and locked.

And [yet I watch one friend] in a place so dark that she’s basically given up on her own life and family.  The darkness of her mental illness and war with God rules (and attempts to destroy) the house and everyone in it.  Watching what this is doing to [her family] is wearing me down.  Only God can fix this.

Echo similar sentiments with what [another person I love dearly] has been given and blessed with…and watching everyone’s mental illness curse that as well.

In all cases prayer seems so inadequate.

I am firmly disquiet in the knowledge that those I love –some already gone…forever — are in separation from God…  And you almost lost me this morning in the same moment you wavered a bit yourself on the question (well, not a question) of eternal condemnation (I notice these things, sorry, and I was among the closest in proximity).  If the question is whether I love people as Christ loves them, yes.  I’m not even sure where God keeps all my prayers and tears…some great otherworldly ocean perhaps.
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The dark side comes that I truly love others FAR more than I love myself.  I am quite certain I do not “deserve” or “merit” any of the grace or mercy that has been given to me.  But I am the girl who jumps in-front of snakes and would happily give away anything to those who need it more.

Grace and mercy are non-transferable.

I have met so many darkly broken and shattered people in my life — many of whom touch my life daily — that maybe you can see how it would be that I would give up everything for the sake of not merely those I love who are close to me, but for the strangers I meet even briefly who so desperately need, want, long for and seek (in all the wrong places) the love and peace I have in Christ.  The dark truth is that lack of peace for the love of these broken people erodes my own peace.  By no means do I hold for a moment  the idea of the intercession of the saints, but you better believe I recognize St. Monica as a kindred spirit in all this mess that is my life: to keep praying forever and NEVER give up on those you love.

I hope it goes without saying that part of my praying forever and NEVER giving up is praying for those you love too…because, I do.

And it was a hellish week that found me standing before God on Friday completely empty (my rather dark take on my dark week to be found here).  I’m still pretty empty, most days I just feel so lost.  Every day I feel very “done,” so completely drained as if I have nothing left to give, while at the same time so achingly desperate to serve God I’m all but inconsolable.  I feel so…useless.  I have so many gifts and so much to give I’ve been cut off from giving and using, it’s horrible.  It’s like the opposite of apathy — please, God, use me…I don’t feel like a blessing to anybody.  All I have right now are words, are my mere words enough?  I won’t lie that I feel good to help people in the world, but I feel good to have been useful to God that he could somehow use me, not because I’m stuck on myself and get off on an ego trip over it.
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I didn’t bless a single person on Friday.

Bless YOU my friend, and bless you for being my friend.  I think maybe you “get” where I come from and how I see the world better than many, but I’ve known that well for the past year.  I do cherish you my friend, know that…but also know that I am desperately ever-mindful to keep perspective to not…over…cherish you (and so many I love).  Because the truth (perhaps unfortunate…perhaps a guised blessing) about loving all we love so dearly in this world, is there is not a single one of us — no matter how close or how intimate the connection, be it friend…relative…spouse…or even child — who truly “belongs” to another: we are only stewards, custodians, and beloved recipients of love for each other in a clouded reflection of Christ’s love for us.  For the unfortunate element is the “not yours” element of it…which is arguably also the blessing in disguise, for “not yours” also absolves us of bearing the full weight of responsibility of and for those we love (though, as I’ve previously mentioned here, I’m crazy enough to think I’d want to sign on that line).  And as for that, the truth is that most days heaven is more than I can handle because my focus isn’t so much on looking forward to promised glory as it is looking around at those I love so desperately without any such hope…to the point that there have been moments of doubt as to whether I can handle heaven at all for the sorrow of those I love so desperately who are “missing” from the roll call of the saints.  If one were to go categorically with respect to mortal sins, I’m as absolutely and unquestionably ( and irredeemably) damned as any can be.  Hence putting down ecumenical roots in Camp Calvin, well part of the reason anyway.  I’ve argued through the argument of how God isn’t God and Christ isn’t Christ if one can fall out of salvation.  But I have no delusions why I deserve grace or mercy any more — or less — than so many I love so dearly.

And it was good to see [your husband] this morning, though it did NOT seem the thing to say: “I don’t really KNOW you, but please know you’re always in my prayers” (it’s true though).

I miss you my friend as I treasure your company.  We should do something sometime, don’t care what, my treat even.  Your call, your terms.  Let me know.  I’m very free.
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Blessings for your week my dear friend.  Yes, valleys are hard, but at the very least know that the crazy and frantically-waving creature of questionable sanity with the Bohemian hair waving down from the far hillside of yours (when she gets a rare break from being in the dark pit of her own) is cheering you on with as much love as any human can give.  Hugs to you sister, hang in there, and know that you’re loved and you’re in my prayers.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

P.S. — Eleanor was a very special little pig, and Wentworth is her only child.  He was always the most special little pig: I was there when he was born, I taught him and Eleanor how to nurse, and I have been almost his whole world since he was three weeks old (when he was separated from Eleanor without a friend or sibling in the world).  Annie is a very special pig because her tiny baby self was trying to get out of the cage at the pet store to get to me when every other guinea pig and rabbit in the place was hiding.  She is not like any other sow I’ve ever had because even though she is within days of having pups (I will be separating her from Wentworth tonight), she is still DESPERATE to be held and touched and cuddled.  Annie has never been alone a day in her life, this may not go well.  I may be quietly and desperately heartbroken on a dark level not easily understood by many for childless solitude (yet immersed in so many beloved children doubly labeled “NOT YOURS!!!”), but you better believe that there are many children in this world less loved and less blessed by the parents in their lives than these already-loved baby pigs already are by me.  That’s a horrible thing to think and say, but my prayer for all children is that they never in their life for a moment doubt that they are loved.  I have not been given children, but if even small guinea pigs are what has been trusted to my love and care, with everything I have to give, I will honor that until death do we part (and Eleanor had the most heartbreakingly beautiful death yet).  And hey, you may or may not be super gifted at visiting folks, but that’s one of the things I love best (and miss terribly), and though it takes me to the razor’s edge of perceived sanity in the minds of many, I don’t draw a line between my commitment to the people and the creatures in my care.  Tonight?  Care is going to be noisy and traumatic.

Bless you my friend, in all things.  I love you. — VKS