Category Archives: Faith

The false, glittering promise of Christian conferences

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I’m done with Christian conferences. I’ve really tried, you guys. I’ve attended and listened and smiled and wept and sang my way through conference after conference. I’ve attended an “exclusive” leadership conference and been asked to provide feedback. And there was that one time when I actually spoke at a conference.

But something just isn’t working anymore. At this point I’m not sure if it’s just me or the whole system of Christian Conferences. I’m guessing it’s probably a bit of both. Maybe I just need to stop attending evangelical conferences? Maybe I need to start going to silent retreats at monasteries?

I mean, maybe if I had a How to Fall In Love With Jesus book to sell or a charity to promote or a cause to rally around–then maybe evangelical Christian Conferences would make more sense for me. You know, in a network-y, bussiness-y kind of way.

But as it is, I’m just a blunt-spoken and prickly personality With Baggage. Which is to say, I’m a former fundamentalist turned evangelical turned Catholic. Christian leaders don’t know how to categorize me. So, usually they don’t. Oh, but they’re very polite about it.

They all tell me: “Elizabeth, we just love your passion and your voice and your honesty but…there’s not a space for you in our conference/speakers list/leadership group.” Or perhaps it’s: “Elizabeth, we love you! We love you SO MUCH!” And then silence.

There is no action to back up those words. I’m supposed to believe they Love Me So Much because….they said so. And here it is: Christian Conferences are all about words, words and  more words. Speeches. Talks. Sessions. Break-out groups.

But then everyone goes home.

And reality bites. Hard.

I call it the Post-Conference Crash. For me, it feels like falling off a cliff into depression. For one thing, I’m physically exhausted. But I don’t really mind that part because BECAUSE! I’ve made all these heart-connections! And I BELIEVE something wonderful is just on the horizon! God! Is! Moving! And! I’m! PART OF IT!

And then I hit the Second Crash. This one is more painful. This is when I realize that all those sincere heart-connections I made? I’ll probably never see any of those people again. There is no follow-up. Even if there IS follow-up, it’s just not the same. After tasting IN-REAL-LIFE community, going back to Internet chatter feels almost like a betrayal.

Then I begin to wonder if all those connections I made were even real. Slowly, a dreadful realization dawns on me: I begin to realize that at a Christian Conference things were set up to whip me into an emotional frenzy. There was the heady, Jesus-Is-My-Lover worship sessions, the inspirational speeches and all kinds of weeping. Everyone was going around saying: “God is really HERE!” and “The Holy Spirit is just MOVING!” And I thought I felt it, too.

So, I fell for it. I believed it. I believed the false, glittering promise of Christian Conferences: that this was a new beginning, that God was Doing Something New, that the Holy Spirit was busting down walls, TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM! TO FIGHT THE UNBEATABLE FOE! TO REEEEEACH THE UNREACHABLE STARRRRRRR!

Oops, sorry. My Man of La Mancha is showing.

The point is, I felt it. And it felt so real.

But as the days turn into weeks following a Christian Conference, I can’t help but wonder if I’d swallowed a false promise. I mean, I didn’t really KNOW the people I fell in love with. I only FELT like I did because, well, the music. The giddy worship music. The weeping. The Weeping For the Poor African Orphans!

I mean, you don’t just weep with people over poverty and then…nothing happens, right? You weep together and you’re bonded for life and you go OUT AND CHANGE THE WORLD! Right? RIGHT?! 

Wrong.

Most likely you go home to piles of dirty dishes, backed up laundry and neighbors who are more interested in you maintaining your lawn than in bonding with you over Jesus-y worship songs.

I know of people who are pretty much Professional Conference Goers. They go to Christian Conferences like it’s their drug of choice. It’s like they’re inspiration addicts. I get it. I really do. Heck, if I had a ton of disposable income, I’d probably be jetting off to every conference just so I could get that high. Just so I could feel that hit one more time.

And I guess that’s where the problem is all mine. I want to feel something. And I want that feeling to last. I always dream too big and hope too much and have such wild, impossible expectations that of course, the Post Conference Crash is bound to happen.

But you know what? The Post Conference Crash isn’t worth it anymore. I’ve woken up on too many Morning Afters and felt the sickening, deepening chasm of emptiness open up inside me. I’ve waited for too many days, weeks and months after a Christian Conference for something to materialize, some glittering promise to come true.

The only thing that materializes, the only thing that comes true is a credit card bill. Beauty for ashes, indeed.

What I know about marriage (after 16 years)

January 10, 1998

January 10, 1998

What I know is that I don’t know much. After sixteen years I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of this mysterious, magical, wild thing called marriage. Still, I have learned some lessons (most of them the hard way–ARE WE SURPRISED?! Nope!) and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first thing I learned is that our culture gives really bad relationship advice. Here are a few examples of things I heard that turned out to be totally and completely false:

1. “You’re too young to get married–you need time to Find Yourself!” One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is the honor of bearing intimate witness to my spouse’s life journey–and he to mine. It is precisely because we married young (he was 24, I was 20) that we were granted this privilege of watching each other grow up and into the people we were meant to become. He is not only my husband, he is my best friend and I have “found myself” in the context of committed relationship. My deepest happiness has sprung from Finding Myself by serving and loving my husband and children.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

2. “Don’t have too many children!” My experience has taught me there is such no such thing as “too many children.” The happy clamor, fullness of daily experience and countless opportunities for growth, sacrifice and intimate relationship are among the most priceless blessings of my life. As Mother Teresa once said, “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” Initially, I only “wanted” one or two children. I’m incredibly grateful God didn’t give me what I “wanted”–He gave me something far better!

Summer 2003

Summer 2003

3. “You should wait to have children.” Again, this hasn’t proved true to my experience. By all societal measures, we ‘shouldn’t’ have had children when we did. We were young, financially limited and living inside an oppressive religious environment. We weren’t “ready” to have children. But we had them anyway. And having all five babies by the time I was 30 was, quite possibly, the best decision we ever made. Having our babies while we were very young (and with limited financial resources) meant our options were limited–in a good way. It meant we spent more time at home doing simple things. We ate meals at home together, played board games, took walks to the park, spread blankets in the shared yard of our duplex and read books together. I couldn’t afford to send my first children to fancy preschools or buy them lots of new clothes from fancy children’s stores, but I could give them the gift of my time. I don’t regret one minute of “giving away my 20′s” to my children. It was the best investment I ever made.

And despite the bad advice our culture gave me, I did receive some good advice–mostly from people of faith. Here’s the good advice I received that has proven true to my sixteen years of marriage:

1. “Easy does it:” I learned the hard way that there’s just no good reason to stay up until 2am arguing. It’s much better to wash your face, brush your teeth, kiss your spouse and go to sleep. You can solve the problem in the morning when you’re rested. Give yourself some space. Give your spouse some space. Be gentle and easeful with each other. There’s no need to nag, prod, argue or debate (don’t ask me how I know–har-har). Let the other person be who they are and let them have their own process on this journey together. I’ve found greater results in simply maintaining my OWN side of the marriage without worrying about what my husband is or isn’t doing.

Winter 2009

Winter 2009

2. “Love, honor, cherish and forgive. Rinse. Repeat.” When I was single I used to say things like: “If my husband EVER did _______(fill in the blank), I’d leave!” How precious of me. What I’ve learned is that we have BOTH given each other ample reason to leave the marriage. But instead of leaving, we have BOTH done the work. We’ve stayed. We keep recommitting to staying and working. And then, seasons change. There were hard years of bearing and raising very small children. There were sick years where it seemed we caught every single flu and virus known to man. There were poor years where we had to scrimp and make do. I’ve learned not to make big, life-altering decisions during difficult years. In other words, I didn’t need to decide whether we should get divorced when our preemie-twins were only three months old and we were sleep deprived, exhausted and stressed out of our minds, ya know? I could wash my face, take a nap, kiss my spouse and forgive.

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

3. “Speak well of your spouse:” I’m a talker. This we know. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes with my words. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s very important to speak graciously about my spouse and to my spouse. I’ve also learned to avoid correcting, nagging or complaining. Do I really need to be right? About everything?? No. Sarcasm, teasing, crude jokes and words that cause hurt or fear really have no place in a loving relationship. I’ve learned (and am learning) to use my words to bind up the wounds, heal, restore and inspire. As Buddha once said, “When words are both true and kind they can change the world.” Or my marriage. :)

4. “Forgive and begin again:” My husband has literally forgotten all my mistakes. It’s weird. Sometimes I’ll remind him of something unkind I’ve done and he’ll be like: “What? I don’t remember that.” My husband teaches me how to see the best and believe the best. This is love. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. My husband sees me through the eyes of love and it is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. This is what it means to live without resentment. It means we don’t give safe harbor to wrongs done against us. We let them go. We forgive. And as we do, like the springtime, love is renewed again and again and again.

Love never fails.

16 Years!

16 Years!

In 2014, I resolve to fail more

I beeliieeeve I can fly! Or, at least, jump on this here trampoline.

I beeliieeeve I can fly! Or, at least, jump on this here trampoline.

I learn nothing from my successes except how disappointing they are and how they rarely live up to my expectations. I learn far more from my mistakes because they give me the opportunity to learn something about myself and about reality. Thing is, if I’m not learning anything, I’m not failing enough. Or failing big enough. This is why, in 2014, I resolve to Fail More, Fail Boldly and Fail Better.

Fail More

Reality doesn’t work the way I want it to work. My plans–mwah-ha-ha–MY PLANS–are futile attempts at pretending I have control over reality. I am Master of my Destiny! I haz the controoollllll! Yeah, no. I have no control. This is what failing more teaches me. Failing more gives me an opportunity to come face-to-face with my profound frailty, my inability to bend reality to my liking. As William Blake once wrote, “A fool who persists in his folly becomes wise.” I intend on failing so hard and so often this year that my only option is total dependence on grace.

Fail Boldly

Remember when i was gonna blog every day? HA HA HA. Remember my 31 Days of the Little Way that was more like A Few Days Before I Got Bored and Moved On? And then there were the failed drafts of my book. Honestly, I lost track of how many Final Drafts I turned in. Probably something like eight. Or ten. But all these failures taught me how to better manage my limitations. I have limitations and as much as I’d like to pretend I can Do All The Things, I really can’t. Failing boldly teaches me to slow down. It’s OK to take my time, apparently.

Fail Better

Failing better simply means failing differently. I don’t have to over-commit to blogging because I already failed at that last year. This whole Philosophy of Failing More means learning to fail in a different direction. PROGRESS! At least I’m failing in new ways and not repeating the insanity of failing in all the old ways.

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I’m kinda stoked about my book release (“Girl at The End of the World” releases March 18, 2014!) because I can’t wait to see how hugely it fails to sell. I wrote a real good book (if I do say so myself) and I’m very proud of it (it only took me about 80 billion failures to get it written). But even industry insiders don’t know how well my book will sell. Do you know why this doesn’t bother me? Because even if my book doesn’t sell, I did my absolute best and THAT counts as an Awesome Fail Better.

I call that progress. A life fail lived.

I like Dave Ramsey’s ideas but I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey

A few years ago, the recession had taken almost everything: 40% of my husband’s income, 100% of our retirement, 100% of our savings. As a one-income family, we were staring down the barrel of mounting credit card debt and a house rapidly decreasing in value. Our home was still above water and so we decided to sell it and use the profit to pay off our debts and start over with a clean slate. Then we found Dave Ramsey. We went to a cash-only/envelope system, made huge cuts to our family budget and within a year, our financial situation improved. Most importantly, we were able to stay in our home.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t really know he was a Christian until after we’d been using his system. I didn’t really care whether he was a Christian. His little cash-envelope system worked and THAT’S what mattered to me.

Maybe I’m clueless but I never once thought Ramsey was teaching a get-rich plan. His advice was practical and accessible and for someone who hates all things money-related, Ramsey’s system was easy-to-follow.

I’ve had family members and friends in desperate financial straits for whom Ramsey’s system worked wonders. All this to say, I’m really grateful for Dave Ramsey and honestly, I find the criticism against him baffling.

A recent list of “20 Things the Rich Do Everyday” that was posted to his website has stirred up a bunch of controversy. I dunno. I read it and was like: huh, makes sense to me. Sure, I wondered where he got his stats. But for the most part, I didn’t see what was so crazy-awful about it. Reading books and exercising—these are good things, right? There are reasons successful people are successful and I’m not entirely sure I understand why stating these things is Horrible, Awful, Prejudicial and Shaming?

I did find Rachel’s piece on CNN helpful inasmuch as she pointed out that “Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.” Good point!

Still, I’m not entirely convinced this means Ramsey is “wrong about poverty” as a whole. What am I missing? Someone explain it to me? (Long comments OK! Just don’t call me ignorant or immature, k? :) )

Speaking of name-calling, that’s when I started feeling uncomfortable with Ramsey. When he  started calling his critics immature, doctrinally shallow and ignorant and then failed to provide answers to honest questions about where he got his stats for that post (at least, I haven’t seen them anywhere), I suddenly felt queasy. Then he took on the martyr mantle by claiming he was receiving “abusive” criticism. Does he really not understand how social media works? 

To be honest, I couldn’t understand why he was so defensive. If he stands behind what he teaches, why stoop to name-calling? As someone who often gets criticized for her blog content, I understand how difficult it is to respond to criticism. The attacks often feel personal. I’ve made mistakes in how I respond and I’ve learned the hard way that responding with personal attacks; ie. name-calling, getting overly defensive, etc. only makes one problem into two.

I mean, I like Dave Ramsey’s system but now I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey. His debt-elimination plan is awesome but he’s kinda acting like a jerk online. And these days, business is just as much social-media savvy as it is IRL practical advice.

I mean, if Dave Ramsey acts like this online, I’ve gotta guess he might be a meanie IRL, too. Something just smells fishy, is all I’m saying. What is going on, here???

Still, I like my little cash-envelope system. Excuse me while I go check my emergency cash fund.

UPDATED AT 12:20PM PST: I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio this morning. And it’s just really sad. His posture is prideful. He’s refusing to engage the actual substance of those who have questioned him. He’s mocking. He’s mean. He’s only taking calls from people who agree with him. Just whoa. WHOA. Very telling.

Giving thanks for messy family relationships

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get is: “How is your relationship with your parents?” Blog readers ask me this. People who knew my family when I was a kid often ask me this. Even Michael Pearl asked me this after I confronted him on Anderson Cooper’s TV show. And I’m sure this is a question I’ll receive repeatedly after my book is published this coming March.

 

Here is the short answer: It’s messy.

Unlike many people who left my childhood church never to see its leaders again, I didn’t have that option. My parents WERE church leadership. I could leave the church but how exactly does one leave family? 

All I can say is that for the past ten years, it’s been an imperfect process. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had our times of silence, we’ve had to cobble together a kind of uneasy truce, we’ve had to draw and redraw boundaries. Sometimes we agree not to discuss Certain Topics. Other times we dive in headfirst. Mistakes have been made on both sides.

But here’s the thing: we keep trying.

To be quite honest, I’ve had enough of schism, division, fighting and theological wars. I’ve discovered that if we can meet on neutral ground, we find common ground.

I’m not worried about my parents reading my book. They already know everything that happened–ha ha. There aren’t going to be any surprises. The only surprise, perhaps, will be for them to see the experiences through my eyes.

I’ve already given them permission not to read it. I’ve said: “If you think reading my book will cause you unnecessary suffering, by all means, don’t read it.”

It really no longer matters to me whether my parents ever truly understand or DON’T understand what my life was like inside fundamentalism. Because I’ve dealt with my sh*t, ya know? I’ve hashed it out in years of therapy, journaling and twenty jars of Cookie Butter. Give or take.

I didn’t write the book so other people would understand me, I wrote the book so others would understand they are not alone. I wrote the book for you. I wrote the book because if I know one thing it’s that many, many people undergo harmful church experiences and even if their stories are not the same as mine, those who read my book will find themselves. Or someone they know. Or maybe–perhaps–see the ways they unwittingly perpetuated harm.

I believe in reconciliation begins with mutual respect and understanding. My parents have changed so much over the past ten years. I have, too. Over the past ten years, we’ve been involved in the sometimes difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes triggering work of reconciliation. I have to take lots of breaks. Lots of naps. But ultimately, I keep coming back and this is what I’ve learned:

I accept the things I cannot change.
I cannot change my past.

But I can be serene.
I can be kind.
can be courageous enough to change the things within my power–mainly, myself.

This is why I keep doing the work of reconciliation. Because when both parties are willing to come to the table peacefully, leaving space for God–that is when the healing begins. 

I guess that would be my answer: “My relationship with my parents is healing.”

And for that, I’m thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

So, a Catholic walks into a LifeWay store…

Recently, a new LifeWay store opened in my neighborhood. I’d never been in a LifeWay store before but knew they advertised themselves on Twitter as “one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services.” Well, this week I needed some supplies for my 2nd grade faith formation class, so I decided to check it out. I mean, Catholics are Christians too, right?

I walked into the store and saw aisles of KJV Bibles, devotional study Bibles, picture story Bibles for kids, Bibles for teenagers, Bibles For Divorced Men Who Drive Chevy Trucks. OK, I’m kidding about that last one. But you get the point: there were Bibles for every kind of Christian demographic except….Catholics.

And while there wasn’t one Crucifix or Rosary or prayer book or baptism candle to be found in the entire store, there WAS a huge section dedicated to Duck Dynasty. Huh?? 

When I asked a very friendly employee where I might find a Catholic Bible (for lack of a better word) he told me: “We don’t keep those in stock.”

“You don’t keep them in stock?” I repeated, puzzled.

“Well, we can order it for you!” he offered, with a huge smile.

“Um. OK, well. I was hoping to have it by this Sunday for my catechism class,” I said.

His brow furrowed. “Hmm. Not sure we can get it to you by then.”

Disappointed, I browsed the kids’ section for some Bible storybooks while my twins watched a Veggie Tales movie that was playing.

“Mommy, what’s this?” Jasiel asked, holding up a stuffed, red tomato.

“Bob the Tomato,” I answered.

Who?”

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. The absurdity of it all, you know? A vegetable named Bob. A cucumber named Larry. Indeed, an entire RACK of vegetable-themed Bible story movies. But not ONE kid’s book about The Lord’s Prayer.

I did end up purchasing two Bible story books and one discount-priced kids’ praise music CD. I also signed up for the store emails and coupons.

But just as I was ready to pay, the cashier asked if I’d like to donate to their “Thomas Project”–a mission effort to provide Bibles to people in South Asia. “These people don’t have Scripture in their own language,” she explained.

I stared, the irony of it rendering me just totally speechless.

LifeWay cares about accessibility to Scripture so much that they’ll provide Bibles to people living in South Asia…but not to Catholics living right in their own hometown.

It honestly felt humiliating. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of my fellow Catholics have felt so slighted and dismissed when shopping at LifeWay. But then I remembered how, as a fundamentalist, I often said Catholics weren’t Christians. Standing there in front of the cashier, I could feel myself beginning to blush. I had done to Catholics what LifeWay was now doing to me.

Tears came to my eyes. All I felt now was sorrow. Sorrow for all the division, sorrow for all the misunderstanding, sorrow for all the unnecessary fighting between brothers and sisters in Christ.

The twins were clamoring for my attention so I quickly paid and turned away.

As I was leaving the store, another customer held the door for me and then–in a lowered voice–said: “If you’re looking for a Catholic Bible, I know of a store about 20 minutes away from here.”

Her lowered voice, her clandestine gestures–it was like we were underground Catholics afraid of being exposed to the Big, Bad Protestants. She shrugged, sorta sheepish: “I overheard your conversation at the cash register,” she said.

I looked at her. Smiled. And then we both laughed.

Because whoa. Christians are weird, man. No wonder “the world” thinks we’re nuts.

Modesty doesn’t live in a multi-million dollar mansion

My three older kids are working through their second year of faith formation in our Catholic parish. Last week, they came home with a packet about physical, symbolic and internal boundaries. As I flipped through the worksheets, I saw the word MODESTY and my heart froze. I could feel those old purity culture ideas rearing their shame-y, blame-y heads. But then I read the definition. And I got all happy because here, read it for yourselves:

Modesty: The virtue that respects, honors and protects privacy:
the quality of avoiding 
extremes of emotion, action, dress and language.
Modesty respects my boundaries 
and the boundaries of others.

What a well-rounded, WHOLE-PERSON approach to understanding the virtue of modesty! This is a perfect example of why I love Catholicism–the theology isn’t compartmentalized; meaning, modesty isn’t exclusively about manner of dress but about the WHOLE WAY we live our lives.

The Catholic understanding of modesty is that it encompasses ALL we do.

In purity culture, modesty was exclusively about sexuality; more specifically, female sexuality.

But the true modesty goes far, far beyond that. It’s about how we speak, how we act and it’s about avoiding extremes. Modesty is about moderation, respect for my boundaries and the boundaries of others. It’s about avoiding excess.

Couldn’t we say, then, that all Christians are called to live modestly? I mean, if modesty is a virtue, it’s not just for women. But how often do you ever hear Christians speaking about men being modest?

How often do we speak about modesty in regards to how we eat, how we spend our money, the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we live in?

Oooooh, Elizabeth. Oh, no no no.

Oh, yes. I’m going there. I’m asking the question:

Is it modest for a Christian pastor to own a multi-million dollar home?

As far as I can tell, Pastor Steven Furtick doesn’t answer to any higher authority structure than…himself. This is often the case in independent mega-churches where the senior pastor is The Final Word on everything. But even if Furtick is building his mansion only using earnings from his bestselling books, the question remains: is it modest or is it excessive for a pastor to live in such an expensive home? After all, he is–first and foremost–a pastor.

And to be fair, my own church–The Catholic Church–has this problem, too. Despite the fact that priests are required to take a Vow of Poverty, a German bishop was suspended for overspending on his residence. Then again, that’s my point. The Catholic bishop SHOULD have been suspended and he was! I’m curious to whom Pastor Furtick is accountable?

Furthermore, why don’t we speak more often about the virtue of modesty as it pertains to finances? What do you think?

IF God is love, unity is possible

STQiCqzEQ_tuGFwCMfamK_YA3BaMHo6CB8Fcsy4iA0gI have this habit of throwing myself into things headfirst, no holds barred, all-in. I sound my barbaric yawp, I suck the marrow out of life, I love with all the passion of my fiery, intense soul. The good news: I experience the very fullness of life. The bad news: I get hurt. And yet, somehow I keep going–my relentlessly optimistic spirit believes the best, always. I truly believe love wins. I believe the cost is worth the pain. I believe in doing brave, courageous things.

And courage, perhaps, is the reason why I somehow found myself invited to join a gathering of women–women who long to see change, healing and transformation in our world. At first, I was totally freaked out. Charismatic, worship-y Jesus-women scare me silly. I don’t know their songs. I don’t speak their language. Texas-megachurch-Christianity make me jumpy. I mean, I’m Catholic! Also, I’m the woman who hides out in bathroom stalls during small group Bible Studies! Contemporary worship songs give me hives!

But I decided to go anyway because COURAGE.

And what I discovered was that stepping out from behind our computer screens, joining each other at the feast table, raising our glasses together, praying our prayers and smiling into the REAL, HUMAN eyes of other Christian women—well, our differences melted away and love won.

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It has taken me over a month to process what I experienced among these women. What happened to me at IF was that I was loved. I was embraced. I was welcomed. My voice was affirmed, my questions were considered important.

At the banquet table, our shared love of Jesus united us.

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Best of all, what happened among our small group of women can happen on a larger scale. Like I said, it has taken me more than a month to figure out what God was trying to say to my soul, but here it is:

I believe the next revival in the Church will be led by women.

Because….

We are tired of doctrinal warfare.
We are tired of division.
We believe in love and reconciliation.
We desire inclusion, not exclusion.
We believe in scandalous grace.
We believe love wins.

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I will be joining the IF:Gathering in Austin to help facilitate this developing conversation. The Austin event is already sold out, but I would LOVE to see you, my readers, join us by gathering locally where YOU are. I especially want to invite fellow Catholic & Orthodox women to join us–we need your voices!  If you’re interested, please check out the IF: Local signup.

Blindsided by longing

photoSometimes I am blindsided by deep longing. It has always been this way for me. Growing up, I was often described as “extra sensitive” and “intense.” I felt everything so deeply. Too deeply. In fact, one of the first questions I’ll ask God when we meet is: “Did you HAVE to make me feel everything so intensely? Would it have killed ya to dial me down a notch?” And then God will answer: “No, love. That’s why I created Xanax.”

But this intensity–this fiery longing that sometimes seems like it will burn me up–is one reason why I relate so deeply to St. Therese of Lisieux. She was consumed by this infinite longing and channeled it all into love for God. She accomplished this by small acts done with great love. And she did it from behind the cloistered walls of a convent.

This gives me hope. Mainly because I live behind the cloistered walls of my home. The cloistered walls of my kitchen sink, more precisely. My divine inspirations rarely come during designated Times Of Spiritual Enlightenment. Rather, they happen while my arms are elbow-deep in dirty dish water. Or while I’m feeding the dogs. Today I totally had a spiritual experience while parked in front of a Seven-Eleven. Then again, I was eating Pumpkin Pie frozen yogurt so that probably accounts for the wheeeeeee! epiphany! moment.

But seriously, I think it’s tragic to believe that we must travel and take expensive pilgrimages to find God. It’s a rather privileged view. Most of the world can’t afford to travel. Oh, well. No God for them!

Here’s the thing: the journey is not external. It’s internal. No matter how far you travel, you’re still left with yourself. At 2am, you’re still alone with you. For me, finding God is really about loving the people right in front of me.

When I give of myself, my longing is filled. And I am satisfied.

Today’s Little Way:
I don’t need to travel far to find God.
Today I will look for a small way I can love the person right next to me.

The Little Way

Loneliness & tuna casseroles

photoHere I am elbow-deep in dirty dishwater, all sweaty-pitted and smelling of eau de Cream of Mushroom Soup. I’m scrubbing the last, stubborn bits of tuna casserole off the glass baking dish and feeling very blah. There’s something blah and outdated and unsophisticated about tuna casserole, too. It’s not glamourous. One doesn’t fantasize about serving tuna casserole from paper plates lined up on the kitchen counter, no matching china anywhere to be found.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the kitchen window above my sink and note the gray hairs growing in around my temples. Gray hair and wrinkles. Also not glamorous. Also blah.

But tuna casseroles feed the hungry masses–and with minimal whining at that. Tuna casserole is good enough and maybe that’s exactly what I need right now.

I find myself bled out and exhausted these days. I think writing the book did it to me. I wrote three complete drafts. I’m about to begin final edits but for the last two weeks I’ve been limping around, all burned out and glassy-eyed, comforting myself with baked goods, Cookie Butter and House of Cards on Netflix.

I’ve gained five pounds.

I’ve gone to bed at 7:30pm each night and slept for 10 hours straight.

I do not recommend writing books. Or, at least, not memoirs about religion. As Dave Barry once wrote, “The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people and then they come after you with machetes.”

Sometimes I wake up in a blind panic convinced everyone will hate, hate, hate my book. Or, maybe–which would be worse–they’ll read and be all: meh. whatevs. Apathy gives me nightmares.

So, I’ve been worrying and then comforting myself with casseroles. The only problem with this coping mechanism is that my oven, much like myself, is also Emotionally Unstable. My oven doesn’t LIKE being set at 350° thankyouverymuch, and it will simply TURN OFF unless I set it at 365° but preferably at 375°. And even then it makes no guarantees. Because hot-flashes, apparently?

I’ve been known to stand watch over my oven, talking to it, coaxing it to please not shut off, to please bake my unpretentious, unsophisticated tuna casserole. I make listening noises, mirror my oven’s emotional state and when I lose patience, I snap my oven with a dish-towel.

Here’s a truth I’ve realized as I’ve fretted over my oven: it doesn’t matter whether I write a bestselling book. Or cook gourmet meals. Or have a flock of perfectly reared children. Inside me, deep down, there is a lurching loneliness which can’t be filled up with careers, babies or fancy meals cooked on designer Viking ranges.

I stand over my oven and I realize that I must, at some point, acknowledge the emptiness. I must feel it. I serve slopping spoonfuls of tuna casserole, I wash the dishes and I feel my emptiness.

I’ve heard preachers say we’re born with a God-shaped hole in our souls and nothing can fill it except (you guessed it) God. I find that trite if only because when I sit quietly with myself, this emptiness feels far greater. There are chasms, caverns, entire Grand Canyons of echoing emptiness inside me.

Nothing, nothing, nothing fills it.

I am learning to sit with this discomfort. I am learning to pray. I am learning to accept the things I cannot change and asking for the courage to change the things I can.

And when I pray, I I feel myself coming unstuck, loosening a bit. There are moments. Glimpses of being filled up, like during Mass when the cantor sings the responsorial Psalm. Or when my children fall silent, eagerly spooning tuna casserole into their hungry mouths. God is here, I think.

God in the outdated and ordinary and unglamorous. God turning my loneliness into solitude. God in the common comfort of tuna casseroles.