Painful Grace

We close the covers of the beautiful book, and sit and look at each other. She sighs contentedly, the deep and satisfied sigh of a 10-year-old who has just heard the story of Beauty and the Beast translated from its original French. She sighs the fairytale sigh, the one that says, “They were good, but flawed. They hoped. They experienced hardship and suffering. Evil was defeated. Beautiful lessons were learned. They lived happily ever after.”

 

I close my eyes. Fairytales annoy me. When I was her age, I believed the plot lines. I wasn’t at all enamored of the magic, but I held steadfastly to the belief that the good girl heroine would triumph over trials and tribulations and, sometime in her late teens or early 20s, a prince on a white horse would whisk her to ever-after. And my life went according to script. After a not-all-that-happy childhood, I married my prince when I was 21. My father gave me a fine porcelain statue of Cinderella as a wedding gift. 

The following year, we welcomed a fair-haired, blue-eyed firstborn son. But of course. It’s in the script.

The year after that, I was diagnosed with cancer.

Did not see that sequel coming. Not at all. 

This time, I needed more than a fairytale horse to navigate the turbulence. I needed a lifeboat. I climbed aboard a giant one with “Religion” emblazoned on her bow. She carried me well through various storms of the cancer years and then the storms of the recovery years, the ones during which I was bearing children. I thought her a sturdy and dependable ship. 

The ship crashed headlong right around the time our ninth child was born. Like a young girl who learns that magic isn’t really a thing and that the horse will grow old and lame, I learned that even if the church is God’s perfect vehicle of grace, the people who comprise it are not. I can only compare this chapter in the story to the one where the heroine wanders in the woods at night and every familiar, comforting figure in the shadows shows itself to be something else entirely and hisses or bares fangs, or both. No one was to be trusted. 

The ship no longer seaworthy, the heroine is shipwrecked, and one after another, bottles wash up bearing bad news from home. And this time, the heroine is neither young, nor fair. She is neither idealistic, nor romantic. She is tired. She wonders if this is a trilogy.

Probably not. It’s unlikely that a tidy ending is in the script of the third installment. Instead it is an intermission marked with an asterisk, most certainly a point of reflection. This time, there is no white horse, no sturdy boat. This time, there is only faith in the grace of God. 

For so long, grace was a gentle word, the one that captured the nuanced breath of a nearly fairytale God. Now, I see that grace can be severe. I believed that the goal was to be transported from the suffering. Grace, I thought, was the intercession of a benevolent God who swept the heroine away from heartbreak. The whole point of the plot, I thought, was to get beyond the pain to the promised happiness. I learned that by the time one gets to the third episode, one is weary from the effort of pushing through to the happy ending.

Now, I see that grace is in the struggle itself. And I have been resisting grace in favor of fairytales. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

Vigorously resisting grace. Fighting against the suffering instead of leaning into it. Cursing the circumstances instead of confidently resting in the faith that God will use them to change me. Resisting grace. 

Even still, grace found me. It was there all along. In the fairytale moments, to be sure. But also in the dark woods moments. I see it now, in hindsight, because I recognize the moments of change.

 

Bible Catholics

“Mom,” my eight-year-old says as she come in the door, “Andrea says we’re not Bible Christians because we’re Catholic.”

I look up from my computer and smile at the irony. For the last nine months, I’ve been writing Scripture studies nearly fulltime. At least this matter will be easier to explain than when my little boy came in from the backyard and wanted to know why our neighbor child was insisting that there are seven gods and none of them was named Jesus.

I told Sarah that Catholics are Christians who definitely believe in the Bible. Her friend believes that the Bible is the only authority for a Christian. We differ there. I asked her to think about Jesus’ friends after He died, to imagine Saint Paul as he wrote his letters from prison. Way back before people identified themselves by the names of many different denominations. Were those people of the early Church Christians?

She agreed that of course they were. “But they didn’t even have a Bible,” I reminded her. “Those letters Saint Paul was writing became a part of the Bible.” Her eyes grew wide with understanding and then they twinkled a little mischievously. “I can tell Andrea that.” I nodded.

“Also, in the Bible it doesn’t say that we have to only believe in the Bible. Jesus gave us the Church, too. So, you could tell her that Christians didn’t always have a Bible, but still they were Christian, and you can tell her that we have the Bible and read the Bible and pray with the Bible at every Mass. You can tell her that you love the Bible and you are Christian and you belong to a Church teaches the truth of the Bible.”

Off she went to set the record straight.

The reality is that her friend’s perception of Catholics is not so different from many Catholics’ perception of Catholics. My cousin Ellie writes about her own childhood growing up in a big Italian family, “A bible the size of Utah sat upon a marble table in our living room but no one was allowed to touch it...There was an awareness of the existence of God—but not the experience of God. Religion came up from time to time—ours was right and everyone else’s was wrong.”  It is not unusual to find a Catholic who doesn’t read the Bible personally on a regular basis.

That never seemed quite right to me. I’ve always deeply believed that having a relationship with God that only exists in the physical—just showing up at Mass and consuming the Eucharist—is like being married and skipping conversation. Jesus wants to have words with us. He wants to engage in dialogue. He gave us this richness of conversation and if we never open the Book, it’s like ignoring our spouses when they try to talk to us. 

Catholic liturgy is steeped in scripture, but a lot of Catholics don’t really listen carefully to it when they hear it. 

And many Catholic women don’t know how to get started, and they don’t know where to find resources to keep them going. We need to change that scenario. We need for our children to be so familiar with the Bibles open in their homes that when someone tells them they aren’t Bible Christians they know that can’t possibly be right. We need to take to heart the story of St. Augustine, who was indisputably Catholic. In Confessions, he describes how powerfully he was impacted by the Word of God. He was sitting in the yard one day, totally at the end of himself, in utter despair. He flung himself to the ground and wept —he describes sobs in big, gushing wails— and he asked God how long he’d be alienated by His anger.

Suddenly, Augustine heard voices chanting “take up and read’ over and over again. So, he went to the Bible and read the first passage it fell open to. It was Romans 13:13—all about turning away from a life of sin. And His whole life changed in that moment.

Ours can, too. Today is a really good day for Catholics to take up and read.

Please join us at Take Up and Read to begin a beautiful new community for the purpose of reading the Bible. 

 

The Very Last First Communion

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(Please bear with me as a I catch up our family journal with some older "news.")

My youngest daughter and I sat in the pew before confirmation, trying to spread ourselves out a bit in order to save seats for the rest of our family. It dawned on me that we needed far fewer seats than usual. Two of our children were sitting with the confirmandi, and two others were sitting with the sponsors. Our eldest lives in Los Angeles. So, we were down to four out of nine with us in the pew. No grandparents would be here this time. I briefly remembered the firstborn’s confirmation. I was beyond nauseated with all-day-morning-sickness. It was late and so hard to keep all those little ones awake and calm through the long liturgy. Now, the baby I was anticipating that time was being confirmed and everyone in the pew could be counted on to behave well. But there were far fewer of us there. Please read the rest here.  

Something New and Beautiful

 All photos are the kindness of  Allison McGinley .

All photos are the kindness of Allison McGinley.

Judging by the dates before this post, it looks like I've pretty much stopped blogging.

But if you asked my family, I'm sure they'd tell you I've been blogging 24/7 for about two months now. They'd tell you I've been obsessed with blogging. They'd tell you that I--who is nothing if not an inconsistent blogger--has 42 straight days of blogging all written and queued up. 

Just not here.

You see, the thing is, I wrote a book with some friends of mine, and then I had to give the book a home. So, I did a thing way outside my comfort zone: I created a website. I know, right? Me, the person who really detests the tech side of blogging. Me, the person who wants nothing more than less time in front of screen. Me, who was finally going to get around to achieving my sewing goals, set three summers ago. I began the summer completely invested in piecing together a website instead of a quilt. Then I strategically designed a plan for myself that required talking to a lot of people for a lot of time about the site and the book. How in the world did I wander so far outside my comfort zone? 

Honestly, the book came first. I’ve had it on my heart for probably a decade that I wanted to share with Catholic women the fruitful time that I’ve enjoyed every day in the word of God. I don’t even really remember where my habit of daily digging deep started, but it’s been the sustaining source of grace for my entire adulthood. I really do love to read the Bible. Maybe it’s because I’m a word person and I understand the world through language. I don’t know. 

I just know that I'm my best version of myself when I've spent a good chunk of time listening to God in scripture first thing in the morning. And I have enjoyed Protestant resources geared to making that happen for the last several years. But I've wished that I didn't have to read with a filter to be sure it was in accordance with my faith persuasion. And I've always felt a little like an outsider in every online scripture conversation.

At first, I wanted to write about Bible study—like why to have quiet time every morning and how much fruit it bears in my life. And I’ve done some of that. But then, I wanted to actually write the studies. I had a chance to do that with Blessed is She for Advent last year and Lent this year. Both times, the writing was a joy. I love this kind of writing. 

With Blessed is She, I discovered that having people read it was pretty cool too. And with a small group of women in the Restore group last Lent, I learned what a blessing community reading the same scripture together can be for me personally. They wanted more. I wanted more.

So, I wrote another book--this time with a small collective a other writers—and we needed a home for it. 

This is where I’d always gotten stuck in the past. Every time I've dreamed the dream of continuous Catholic scripture study journals, I'd stop when I got to the part where they'd need a website and a marketing plan and "network." I'm not tech savvy.  I didn’t want to create “a thing” on the web. I don’t enjoy web design or platform strategizing. But God truly propelled me out of that stuck place this time ,and we created Take Up and Read because the study needed a home.

Y'all, I sat at my dining room table for hours and hours and made a thing with links that work. I'd look up and say, "OK, God, here's this thing. But it really needs good pictures. What about that?"

Ginny.

Ginny is one of my best friends in the world and we've wanted to do something together for a long time. She'd already written essays for the book and the book is called Consider the Lilies. Ginny has flower pictures! Lots of them. And she has shared them with us.

I didn't want to ask people to read and promote the book. God gave me Mary. Mary has a gift for connecting. And boy has she worked to connect this book to the people God wants to have it!

Over the next few weeks, in different venues and at different times, I hope to tell you about all the other people who brought this grand experiment to life in a way I could have never imagined.

But right, in this space--which has always been all about them--let me tell you that there is no member of my family who hasn't touched this book in a really important way. Even the littlest, Sarah, contributed creative efforts. Turns out she's a really good photographer with a camera that weighs almost as much as she does. Sarah was also responsible for the first draft of the Take Up and Read logo, sketched out on scrap paper in a hotel bed and sent to Kristin. Karoline can edit (yes, she can), and she has drafted the first version of the children's companion to go with the next book. Katie created photo graphic of quotes from 42 different essays. They're beautiful and I can't wait for you to see them.

Stephen and Nick proofread every last comma and dot in all the scripture passages--3 times. And if my books intended for reviewers ever arrive from the printer, they will become my shipping department.

Mary Beth has talked through concepts, proofread copy, and proofread design. Her opinion has weighed heavily in nearly every decision from mugs to font colors. And she casted the video. She's also done an awful lot of driving people here and there so that I could sit at the dining room table and learn more than I ever wanted to know about code and servers.

Patrick is Patrick. He's been insisting I do this for well over a year. He's a big picture guy and he keeps on keeping the dream big. Patrick has a knack for making me think I can do things--whether it's running or writing. He also suggested Lexi to take over the social media component. Good call, dude. Very good call.

Christian has listened--he's good at that. Beside me every single step, he's heard about every hurdle, every disappointment, every small victory. And then, he shot and produced this amazing video. He understands the emotional toll this much extroversion takes on me, and he has insight for which I am very grateful.

Michael is a continent away, but Michael speaks into this project in two ways. He's here if I want to bounce a thought. And he's there (in California) making incredible sacrifices so that I can have Kristin as a partner in this venture. He's actually kind of between here and there because he's moving back east this week, but that crazy story is for a different time. (Watch for it. It's a good one.)

For now, though, when it became apparent that the books would need a home (and covers and designs and logos and pretty much everything except the words), the first thing my sweet husband did was make it so Kristin and her girls could come to Virginia for ten days to focus on launching this project. Kristin created a logo and painted the cover before she ever got on a plane. They have two toddlers y'all. I know that doesn't happen without my big boy, who understands the unique needs of creative mamas with babies better than anyone I know. He's lived this equation his entire life. I could not have made this happen without Kristin. And Kristin couldn't have done it well without Michael. 

So, that's my kids. 

There are a lot of ways God has surprised me with this project. I've never "felt" His guidance and provision the way I have in the last two months. At every turn, every time I have questioned or wondered or wavered, He's said, "No, not that way, this way." And I'm really good with that. But one thing in particular makes me know this is His: my husband has been 100% onboard and has been the answer to absolutely everything I've needed to fill in the gaps where I've come up short. He's the perfect provision. 

I have so much more to tell you. 

About the book.

About our plans.

But you all are my peeps. I know you. You've journeyed with me to here. I trust you'll click and read at the new site.

But this site isn't going away. Heck, I got so carried away with web design that I started de-cluttering and re-painting around here. I've learned a thing or two, and I hope to polish and shine some more. Also, I have a renewed energy for blogging. I suspect I'll be here more than recently, not less. 

Thanks for hanging with me during these hard seasons. Truly, they gave birth to a book. Go see what that's all about. 

The beautiful Bible pictured above was painted by Lindsay at Just Love Prints.

What is to become of the survivors?

 Photo credit: Kristin Foss

Photo credit: Kristin Foss

I watched from a respectful distance, tears pooling in my eyes as the ritual unfolded. Into the box went all the contents of her desk, all the pictures that inspired her, all the instruments that brought her craft to life. A respected journalist, a seasoned author, a gifted observer of life, she was leaving this job because she was caught in a wave of layoffs that seemed to sweep away the veterans in favor of young, but agile, purveyors of digital thought.

I wonder about the loss.

Industry moves at the speed of light, multiplied by the speed of sound. All communication speeds along these days. Everything is quick and getting quicker. And it’s all young and getting younger. The rewards and the riches seem to go to those who can process information internet-fast and make a mark in fewer than 140 characters, the ones who intuit the internet. They are fresh-faced and unscarred. What is to become of a society where everything is new and moves too quickly to listen to the wisdom of experience?

What is to become of the survivors? Life has a way of teaching all of us. That’s not a bad thing. During the slower days, before the lightning fast communication superhighway, people learned things. They worked hard at their jobs, to be sure, but they also worked hard at learning about how people work. They built businesses and grew families, made friends and mended fences. They bumped up against one another, tested new theories against old ones and gathered valuable information about human nature. There was time, at that slower pace, to make mistakes and learn valuable lessons from them. The lessons were enduring ones, ones that left their marks — deep and wide scars that glisten white now, faded with the passage of years.

Almost daily, I talk with people who have the scars and they shake their heads in dismayed wonder. We have a new class of elderly, a generation dismissed by young adults because they aren’t as agile online. They are not old. They are middle-aged, an age at which previous generations found themselves managing younger people. They are moms whose children are nearly grown and gone, looking to take on the awesome and beautiful responsibility of Titus 2, but finding themselves cast aside because in this carefully curated, photo-shopped new world, there is no value in scars or age spots or gray hair. Instead of mentoring and wisdom-sharing, valuable human resources at precisely the place where experience meets expertise in terms of almost every human interaction are being cast aside for the quickness of action that is the future.

Quick carelessness. Quick dismissiveness. Discarding wisdom, even disdaining it, in favor of slick images and the rapid repartee of Twitter.

Here’s the thing: the scars are wounds that have healed, the age spots come from days turned toward the Son, the gray hairs are countless sleepless nights spent learning hard lessons that come with bumping up against human brokenness again and again. Together, these are the things that make us real to one another. These are the experiences that sensitize us to the humanity of one another. They are the wisdom intended to be passed down in order to preserve and protect mankind.

With those scars, comes humility. It is the learned understanding that we don’t know what we don’t know, that the world is vast and the human soul bottomless and we’re all still learning, changing, and, hopefully, growing. Humility says, you’ve been here before me, please share what you learned. Ironically, humility is often learned in the trenches of experience. It’s the veteran who knows the value of asking honest questions and seeking hard-earned wisdom.

Maybe lift your hands from a keyboard. Maybe look someone in the eyes. Maybe instead of FaceTime or Google Hangout, you opt to sit down together at a table. Break bread. Share space. Real, actual space that is full of nuance and breath and human warmth.

We were made for slow communication with one another.

Don’t be too quick to discard the people who remember a time when time didn’t move so quickly. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the valuable things they know about people — the things they learned before every face was illuminated by a handheld computer that both connects us and disembodies us.