Survival Kits and Treasure Chests

Two years ago this month, I was busy making survival kits. My twin boys were in their sophomore year of college, and news of the Covid-19 virus was everywhere. It had fully arrived in the Northeast and cases were spreading like wildfire in nursing homes, hospitals, and other community settings. No one knew what would happen. (In early March of that year I never could have dreamed that most colleges would close their doors and send everyone home!) All I knew was that my boys were away at school and at risk of catching a dangerous virus. And so I put together boxes of everything they might need—if they got sick, if they were locked down in their dorm rooms, or if they were quarantined somewhere else on campus. I was determined that they would be ready to face any possible scenario. Cold medicine, digital thermometers, cough drops, snacks, and bottled water. I wanted them to be prepared for anything. It made me feel like I had control of a situation that was huge and scary and unprecedented. I truly believed that my proactive measures were the only thing that could hold back my panic.

Two years later, with many ups and downs throughout this pandemic, I still think about those survival kits. They essentially went unused.  My boys were lucky enough not to get Covid, and they never faced any kind of dorm lockdowns or quarantines. While it’s true that any of those things could have happened (and in fact did happen to many students), it made me stop and think: how much of my time do I spend “running the scenarios”—preparing for every possible negative outcome—when oftentimes, the worst case scenario never happens? 

How much time do you spend living in the future, in the land of “What if?” or “Just in case?” Always trying to figure out what’s coming next. Spending your time and energy trying to be prepared for it. We do this because we don’t want to be caught off guard. Sometimes this approach to life makes sense. When we know a hurricane is bearing down on us, we prepare for it by stocking up on groceries, batteries, and bottled water. But constantly living in this survival mode—even for the smaller, less perilous situations—begins to reveal a lack of trust. A need to control one’s environment is almost always linked with fear. Not just fear that bad things will happen, but fear that if they do, we won’t be able to handle it.

During this Lenten season, can we experiment with letting go of this “survival” attitude? What would it feel like to just live in the now? To experience what’s happening without analyzing the moment, trying to predict what will come next? This letting go may feel scary at first. It requires a level of trust that seems difficult. The ability to let go doesn’t come easy and takes practice. But it will quickly become incredibly freeing. 

Imagine leaning into God. Letting go and trusting that whatever comes, you will not be alone. You don’t need to go through life filling a metaphorical survival kit. Empty it out, and let it be filled with confidence. Confidence that God will provide what you need… in this moment… in every moment.  No matter how fierce the storm is, God will be there with you. You can relax and experience the present moment with a sense of peace.

My boys eventually admitted to me that when I dropped off their survival kits, the first thing they did was immediately eat all the snacks. What a funny and wonderful example of living in the now! 

I encourage you to follow this example, putting away your survival kit and replacing it with a treasure chest. Whereas a survival kit is filled with things you need to control all the bad things that may (or may not!) happen in your life, a treasure chest is full of life, hope, and possibility. It helps you do so much more than survive. It allows you to thrive!  This Lenten season, I invite you to accept the treasure chest that God has filled for you.  Discover the treasures inside: love, acts of kindness, gratitude, present moment awareness, hope, faith, and trust. Carry that treasure with you always.

Meeting Jesus Somewhere Along the Way

I’ve been thinking about how often I use the word “perfect.” When I experience a day where everything goes just exactly right, I describe it as a “perfect” day. If I’m throwing a dinner party (remember when we used to do that?) every last detail has to be “perfect.” If I’m writing a blog post or a spiritual reflection, I have to find the “perfect” way to get my message across. In each of these examples, I’m placing incredibly high expectations on whatever I’m doing or experiencing. My standards are impossibly high, and if anything goes wrong, it tarnishes the entire thing.

I wonder if this type of thinking is more harmful than good. The human condition is that we are not perfect. In fact, we were never meant to achieve perfection. It’s our flaws and our brokenness that make us children of God. 

God loves us… 

in spite of… 
because of… 
regardless of… 

our brokenness.

More than that, our brokenness is actually critical to a deepening relationship with God. We need our cracks and broken places. As it’s so beautifully stated by playwright Heather McDonald: 

“It is said that grace enters the soul through a wound.”

What if we stopped looking at our cracks and imperfections as barriers to God, but instead saw them as openings through which God’s love and grace might enter our souls? In other words, just because we’re not totally perfect, it doesn’t mean we’re totally worthless. This “all or nothing” thinking gets us nowhere and leaves us stuck. If I can’t achieve perfection, then why not just give up? Why bother?  

I work at a university, and a professor once told me a story of a bright and talented student who was three weeks late turning in a paper. When he asked her to explain the delay, she revealed a deep fear that the paper wasn’t perfect. She was frozen. She couldn’t bring herself to turn in her paper knowing it had flaws.

Although we routinely use this gauge of perfection to judge ourselves and others, that’s not how God sees us! God wants us to know that this “all or nothing” thinking is not constructive. It doesn’t move us toward wholeness. It doesn’t aid our spiritual growth. We do not need to be perfect. In the words of St. Augustine:

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.”

God’s love has never been dependent on our being perfect. When Jesus lived on earth, he spent his time with the poor, the meek, the sick, and the sinful. None of these could claim to be perfect. Yet Jesus loved them. Just as Jesus loves us. Not because we’re perfect…but because we belong to God. We only need to look at the saints to see the truth in this. They were not perfect either, in fact some of them were deeply flawed. But what sets them apart is that they gave their flaws over to God. They came to God with open wounds…willing to let God’s grace enter.

Our journey of faith is not one that has a finish line. It’s not something we “win” or come in first place. We don’t need to arrive at this mythical place of perfection…in fact we cannot. We remain in the middle of the road or the “somewhere along the way” point. 

  • What does this “middle of the road” look like to you? 
  • Picture meeting Jesus “somewhere along the way.” What might Jesus be saying to you as you continue on this journey together?

During this Lenten season, I pray that you will know and believe that God loves and accepts you exactly as you are! It doesn’t mean God doesn’t want you to strive towards “better.” But you can do this knowing you’ll never reach “best.” And that’s “perfectly” ok!

Let God Lead the Way Through Lent

Do you have an exact date that you consider the “beginning” of the pandemic? For me it was March 15, 2020. That was the day I went to pick up my son at college after he was given 24 hours to pack up his things and leave school for the rest of the semester. My other son was home on spring break and told not to come back. Later that same day, I drove to my office, picked up my computer and files, and set up a home office, where I’ve been working ever since. In 27 days it will be exactly one year since life changed in so many drastic and challenging ways. 

Joy, connection, and hope would be replaced by fear, isolation, and monotony. Day after day, wondering…When would this end? Would all of my loved ones survive? Would I keep my job? When would we get our lives back? And I’m well aware that I’m one of the lucky ones! My family has remained healthy and safe. I still have my job. My boys were able to return to college for a few months in the fall. But still, the impact of the pandemic has been significant. It has changed me in ways I’m only just beginning to discover. I suspect that has happened to all of us.

With this constant feeling of weariness in my bones, I must admit that Ash Wednesday snuck up on me. It’s Lent already?!? I usually go ALL OUT for Lent—creating a schedule of activities I want to do, a list of books to read, a series of daily devotions to pray. I fill the season with so many ways to grow closer to God, to renew my faith, and to challenge myself.

In the past I’ve described Lent as a “sacred struggle”—an opportunity to embrace that which is difficult. To dig deep. To face temptations. To examine our personal failings. To work through barriers and blocks to our faith. But this Lenten season is different, and I don’t think that approach fits our current circumstances. Just getting through a typical day feels like a stretch for so many people. Keeping up with the basic functions of life is all many of us can manage, let alone a list of challenging faith-building activities that only ask (even demand) more of us. For some of us, it’s simply not possible at the moment to stretch ourselves in our faith. With our daily lives filled with so much struggle, our faith should be the one thing that comes easy.

So how can we approach Lent in a season that finds us tired, struggling, and worn out? 

Give yourself permission to put away your lists and schedules if you simply can’t manage them right now. Open your heart and simply let God in. As bleak as life might seem at the moment—in these dark and cold days of winter—God is still here! Choose one gentle and simple thing you can do to become aware of God’s presence in your life over the next 40 days. Don’t stretch yourself beyond that one thing for now. Just open the door of your heart a tiny crack, and God will enter. You’ll feel the light and warmth of Divine Love slowly seeping in. Let it happen in it’s own time. Don’t worry about forcing or prying that door open. Do what you can and let God do the rest.

My friend and I are trying a new thing for Lent this year. Each day we’re going to send each other a song. Thanks to the treasure trove of Christian and spiritual music on YouTube, this feels like a fun and easy thing to do, especially since an ocean separates us at the moment and digital communication is all we have. We’re going to let God’s love flow into that crack in our hearts through the beauty of music. The only thing we’re asking each other to do is listen. That feels exactly right for this season of weariness. I’m looking forward to seeing how this daily musical dose of God’s love affects us over these next 40 days.

Since God’s sense of timing is always impeccable, I received an email this morning from the Catholic chaplain at the university where I work. He spoke of how many of us are hurting, broken, and feeling “dead as dust” after an almost year-long pandemic. And he linked to this beautiful song, which I immediately sent to my friend. Indeed, God makes beautiful things out of the dust!

As you find your way through the Lenten season this year—in whatever way you can manage at the moment—I offer you this simple prayer:

Dear Lord, during this holy season of Lent
Help me to cast off despair, doubt, boredom, and frustration.
Help me to open my heart to feel your love in all places and spaces.
May I be filled with your love as I discover your promises during these 40 days.
May I return to you again and again when I drift away.
Gently pull me, lead me, and hold me through this season of hope.

AMEN.

Photo Credit: Photo 138620074 © Iwom22 | Dreamstime.com

Sacred Struggle – Journeying through the Desert

desert

My parish choir sang a hymn on Ash Wednesday that described Lent as a “sacred struggle.”  What a beautiful and thought-provoking phrase.  It suggests that Lent is not a time for putting up a front of spiritual tranquility.  It’s not a time for pretending everything is rosy and perfect.

Think of Lent as a pilgrimage—a journey—and not necessarily an easy one.  It’s time to dig deep.  To walk in the desert with Jesus.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the parched wilderness to be tempted, tested and prepared, just as the ancient Israelites wandered the desert so many years before, in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land.  We are called to make this same 40-day journey.  To be tested, prepared, and renewed.  To encounter God in new ways.  And to ultimately be transformed by the experience.

Let us approach this Lenten season as an opportunity to embrace that which is difficult.  To face temptations. To examine our personal failings. To reveal our doubts. To work through blocks and barriers to our faith.

Don’t be afraid to walk through the desert.  You are not alone in the journey.  When you encounter thirst and drought, cry out to God to quench your spirit.  Know, without a doubt, that God will answer.  “They were not thirsty when he led them through the deserts; he divided the rock, and water gushed out for them to drink.” (Isaiah 48:21)

A desert journey is not a time of punishment, but a time of strengthening.  Jesus left his time in the wilderness with a renewed and strengthened spirit to begin preaching the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. (Matthew 4:17)  Your time in the desert will lead you closer to that Kingdom.  To a place of deeper connection to our Divine Creator.  To a greater understanding of the gifts we receive – brought to fruition with the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.

May your Lenten journey be blessed, as you come out of the desert with a renewed spirit. Amen.

A Woman’s Lenten Journey

woman in woods

The season of Lent is a journey.

A journey to the foot of the cross at Calvary…and to the heart of Jesus.

Years of working in retreat ministry has shown me that more than anything, women long for a daily encounter with God. Whatever form that may take, the desire to connect with the Divine is a major driver in a woman’s spiritual journey. A retreat presenter recently urged, “Don’t ever be satisfied with where you are with God at this moment. Always desire something deeper.”

Reaching for that “something deeper” can be a real challenge. Today’s woman is pulled in a million different directions. Always on the go, we are doers and nurturers. This hectic pace can make if very difficult to listen for the voice of God.   Women need TIME! We need quiet. We need a safe, sacred space, free from distraction. We need to stand still long enough to be found.  Only then can we take up our cross once again and resume the journey. Continue reading