Wow!

If it weren’t Lent, I’d use the forbidden A-word.  Tonight, maplestar and I led a discussion at church.  As part of the parish’s Lenten series on spiritual disciplines and prayer practices, I led a discussion on the Taizé community, with an eye to how one might integrate Taizé spiritual practices into one’s personal prayer life.  It was about twenty minutes of presentation and discussion, followed by the office of Compline, into which we’d brought three Taizé chants and a beautiful setting of the Nunc Dimittis by someone I know only via the internet.  Maplestar led the music from the keyboard while I led the worship.  It was wonderful.  Compline was beautiful — as Compline already is — and made even more so by integrating the  Taizé songs.

But by far, the most wonderful and beautiful part is that for the very first time, I feel like I’m able to live out my spirituality — this most vital and important part of me — with a partner who is committed to his own spirituality.  Together, we hold each other up, and we support our parish community, our diocese, and really, all of Christendom, with our prayers and our love and our witness.  This is what Christians do, or what we are called to do.

My ex-husband does not understand faith, can not comprehend having faith in anything or anyone but oneself.  He cannot trust people, and he certainly does not trust God.  Any expression of faith from me would send him into spirals of fear, rage, and depression.  I was living an inauthentic life with him.  I could not be who God wants me to be.  And I came to learn — in very difficult and painful ways — that one who truly loves me is one who wants to help me to be me, to grow into me, to live into the life God wants for me.  It is not an act of love to seek to control someone, to make him or her into your image of them.  This is an act of fear and dominance, not of love.  It was a difficult and terrible decision to leave that marriage behind, even with rage and control and emotional abuse.

But now… now I am blessed to live with a partner, with someone who seeks to share and learn, to grow and to help me grow, to love and be loved, to be more than we ever could be apart.  We go to worship together, and we hold each other in prayer.  Each night, before we turn out the light to go to sleep, we kiss each other and make the sign of the cross on the other’s forehead and say God bless you.

It is almost two years now since I told my ex-husband that I was moving out, seeking a divorce, ending the marriage for good.  He didn’t believe me, because I’d tried three times before.  I know it has been a very difficult time for him, and that he’s had to grow in ways that he’d never expected.  Truth be told, I have, too.  And tonight, well, tonight I am basking in the glow of something that I didn’t think I would ever be able to look forward to.  Tonight, I go to bed in the arms of my husband and partner, who prays with me and for me, who comes to church with me and plays the organ and even when it’s completely out of his comfort zone, leads a discussion night for the parish.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so blessed before.

Thanks be to God!

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We Gather Together (lectionary reflection for Thanksgiving, Year A)

Tomorrow is the US holiday of Thanksgiving.  There are many wonderful stories about days of thanksgiving to God, in the early years of the European colonists, and the holiday has been observed in many different ways.  Today, it is primarily observed as a day of thanks for the gifts of our harvest.  Of course, most of us do not harvest grains or vegetables or meats; rather, our harvest is a paycheck or possibly an electronic deposit to the bank account that leaves no tangible trace behind.  But with that money, we partake of a much richer harvest, including not only the food that sustains and nourishes us, but also our homes, our cars, our clothing, and all the many things that fill our surroundings.  Of course, we earn this harvest through our hard work, but we could not even put forth that effort without the gifts, talents, and graces we’ve been given by God.  Thus, on this day, we take the time to intentionally note our harvest and the gifts we’ve received that enable us to reap that harvest, and we take the time for the intentional practice of giving thanks.

The lectionary readings for Thanksgiving Day reflect these observations, this practice of gratitude.  Beginning with the poetic description of the Promised Land in the Old Testament reading, we are reminded by Moses,

Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

In America, we do live in the promised land, in a good land that flows with streams and springs, where we eat bread without scarcity, where we mine iron and copper.  But we did not create this land, though it does take hard work to enjoy the fruits of the land.  These gifts were here long before European colonists were, long before humans were.

Paul’s advice in the epistle reading is the next step, after we recognize that our harvest flows from the gifts God has given us.  We are not expected to hoard our great harvests, to sit on stockpiles of grain – or of money – while others around us go without essential needs.  No, God intended the riches of this promised land for everyone.  What’s more, when we share the gifts we were given, then God pours out yet more and more and more gifts upon us.  The entire point of every grace that is given to us by God, is that it is to be shared.  A harvest does nobody any good when it is locked in an impenetrable silo.  Nor do forgiveness or openness or love or generosity do anyone any good when they are locked within an impenetrable heart.

I’ve always found this particular gospel passage a bit disquieting.  Ten lepers approach Jesus and beg for healing, so he sends them to the priests in the temple – who are the only people who can declare these men to be ritually clean, so that they can once again take part in society – but only one of the ten comes back to Jesus to thank him for this amazing gift of healing.  The others just kind of say, “Huh, whaddayaknow.  Didn’t think that was going to work!” and go on their way.  Jesus lifts up this man who returned to show gratitude, and praises his faith.  But then, the evangelist Luke throws a wrench into the whole thing.  This one man, the one who was healed of his disease and returned to thank Jesus?  He’s a Samaritan, a member of a race despised by the Jews.  It would be like telling this same story today, but making the one man a pedophile or a rapist or the CEO of an American automaker.  The other nine men, probably all observant Jews despite their ritual uncleanness and exclusion, likely accepted the healing as their due, their entitlement.  “Of course he healed me; I’m not a terrible sinner like those awful, dirty Samaritans!”  But this one man, who could not take part in Jewish society anyway, he prostrates himself at the feet of Jesus, shouts praises to God, and gives his personal thanks to the man who healed him.

So on this holiday, this Thanksgiving Day, we are reminded how important it is to give thanks.  Of course, just like forgiveness and openness and love and generosity, our gratitude does nobody any good when it is locked up within our hearts and minds.  My challenge to myself, and to everyone else, is to pour out this gift of gratitude upon God and upon the people in our lives.  I’ve said before that we must love extravagantly, and my challenge today is to thank extravagantly.  Thank your parents, your siblings, your children for what they’ve added to your life.  Thank your boss and your coworkers – yes, even that annoying guy in accounting – and thank the lady who empties the garbage can in your office every day.  Thank the cashier in the grocery store for her hard work, and thank the girl in the drive-through window at Burger King.  Thank your bank teller.  And for God’s sake, if you go shopping to celebrate Black Friday, thank every single person you encounter.

Then we can pray together, in the words of tomorrow’s collect,

Almighty and gracious Father,
we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season
and for the labors of those who harvest them.
Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty,
for the provision of our necessities
and the relief of all who are in need,
to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

And thank you, my beloved friend, for taking the time to read these words.  I’m glad you stopped by, and I hope you’ll visit again.  And I hope that your life overflows with blessings, always.

Expressing Gratitude

I stumbled on a blog this morning that I hadn’t read before – Marketing for Good (not Evil), which is now in my blogroll.  I found there a short post on Hire a Hero‘s effort to send one million thank-you emails to soldiers/sailors/airmen who are serving or have served.  The collection of thank-yous started on July 4th and will last until Veteran’s Day, but as of last week, they had only gotten 936 emails.

Please stop by Marketing for Good (not Evil) or directly to Hire a Hero to send an email to a servicemember to let them know that their work is appreciated.  Even if you disagree with our reasons for being in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, remember that for the most part, the servicemembers serving overseas are there on orders, and may feel exactly as you do.  Feel free to pass this message along, because our military folks deserve to know that we are thinking about them, praying for them, and wishing the very best for them.

Update: There is now a group on Facebook for those who have or plan to send a thank-you.  It’s called “One Thank-You of a Million” and I hope that if you’re on Facebook, you’ll consider joining!

An amazing gift

Yesterday morning was my first time serving the chalice at my parish.  I had served in this ministry for years at my previous two parishes, but had let a year go by before signing up for it here.  That part is kind of weird, because I signed right up to take communion to those who can’t make it to church, but I knew I wasn’t ready to serve the chalice at Sunday worship again yet.  Of course, yesterday, I couldn’t remember why I’d waited so long.  It is so wonderful to serve all of God’s children, my brothers and sisters in faith.

When I got to church yesterday, I picked up a bulletin and then headed to the choir room to put on my black cassock and white cotta.  I flipped to the “worship leader” section and went “Huh” because my name wasn’t there.  I was sure it was my week to serve; I’d gotten the reminder phone call; it was on my calendar.  So I headed to the office wing to look for a ministry schedule to confirm.  I didn’t find one, but I did bump into our clergy.  Our priest said, “Oh!  I’m glad to see you!  Which side of the altar are you going to stand on today?  Could you stand on the right?”  I smiled and showed her the bulletin, explaining my confusion, and we quickly agreed that yes, it was my week to serve, and the names there were from last Sunday.  And she explained the situation to me.  There is a family in our parish who has two twin boys, about a year and a half old, and their mom wanted them to receive the elements in both kinds.  Our priest had arranged for a small spoon to be at the altar, and asked me to dip the spoon into the wine to pick up a drop – not an entire spoonful! – and dip it into each child’s mouth, wiping the spoon on the purificator between boys (much to the horror of our altar guild chair).

The family was one of the last to come forward to receive, and the boys are little darlings.  The father came up to me, holding one child in his arms.  I dipped the little silver spoon and offered the drop of wine to the boy, who opened his mouth without any question and accepted the wine.  He didn’t make a face or cry or scream, just accepted the gift of Christ’s blood with that wonderful infant solemnity.  He knew he was being fed, even if he didn’t know exactly with what.  But you know what?  How many of us really know what we are being fed with at the eucharist?  And if it is always the same thing, week after week, year after year?  I certainly don’t want to limit God by assuming that this meal at God’s Table must feed me the same way now that it did two years ago or five or ten or twenty.

So I served the wine to the boy’s father, who moved down the aisle with him.  The mother came to me, holding the other boy.  Again, I dipped the spoon and offered him the drop of wine.  Again, he opened his mouth in acceptance, and swallowed it.  I smiled at him, and he smiled back at me.  Then his mom took his hand and showed him how to cross himself, and he grinned and giggled in delight.  This boy, too, was fed with the Body and Blood.  I served the mother as he watched, knowing he had partaken of the same meal.

After the last few people partook of the Feast, I returned to the altar with my chalice and purificator, smiling widely at the blessing and gift I had just been given.  These tiny boys – they are just as much part of the Body of Christ as I am, as you are, as our priest is – and they are every bit as precious and unique and wonderful and scandalously beloved by God as anyone else here.  And yesterday morning, they knew this, too.

May God bless you today, you beloved child of God.  May you approach the Table with wide-eyed, solemn openness as these two boys do.  May you willingly receive the gifts that God gives us, even when they have to be spooned into your mouth as droplets of wine.  And may you know how completely, perfectly, scandalously you are loved.

Woohoo! First post at the new digs!

Good morning, dear friends!  I’m glad you managed to find me here.  I’ve been remiss in blogging lately.  The month of January has just been FULL.  I had pneumonia to end the twelve days of Christmas, and then there have been complications from my transfer to a new job at work – having to finish this month’s work really quickly so that I could train my replacement, and while I was trying to finish it earlier than usual, also having to document the procedure as I went, so that my replacement would have a reference – traveling for work for a few days, starting to get my home-based business off the ground (it’s real now, because I have a tax id number from the IRS), moving this blog, bidding farewell to Angel the Half-Blind Hedgehog Extraordinaire, and oh yeah, buying a house.

Well, that’s not set in stone YET… I made an offer on a house yesterday, and we’re hoping to hear back tonight.  It’s been on the market since September, so I asked for a little more than I might have otherwise, figuring they can’t afford to reject the offer out of hand and would be more likely to make a counter-offer.   But this will be the house that my fiance and I make our home.  It’s got a formal living room that will be a music studio – I could hear my love’s breathing stop when I told him the room was large enough for a baby grand.  I think he’s already been shopping on the Yamaha site.  So anyway, if I hear back tonight, then on February 29, I should be a homeowner again.  My mortgage is already approved, so really, only the home inspection and the appraisal can cause issues, once my offer is accepted.

And those of you who’ve been with me since near the beginning of this blog – if you had told me one year ago that by this time, I’d be separated from my husband for seven months now, engaged to someone I met online (ten years ago, but still!), singing in the church choir, composing music again for the first time in more than 15 years, planning to move for the second time since June, writing poetry, starting a small business, preparing a discussion series on creativity and spirituality, and putting an offer on a house that will be the home for me and a man I hadn’t even met face-to-face yet… well, I’d ask for some of what you’d been smoking!  But I am profoundly grateful to be here, and my friends in the blogosphere and in other internet communities (you know who you are!) have played a big part in helping me see myself for who I am rather than for the distorted reflection I’d come to accept.

The last year has been an amazing journey.  It hasn’t always been fun – journeys never are – but it has been incredibly fruitful.  I am looking forward to the next leg of my journey, preparing for marriage with the kind of man I’d never expected to meet: the kind who will be a partner.   I still have work to do to close out the last leg of my journey, before I’m ready to embark on that new partnership, that new life together.  But it is good.  God is good.  God is with us, and God loves us more than we can ever imagine.

Be at peace, my dear friends, and know that I’m thinking about you and praying for you, even when the busyness sweeps me away from reading and commenting on your blogs.

Sharing

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice that I like Diet Dr Pepper. It is, for me, like a security blanket. In mid-afternoon, when I’ve been having a frustrating day, I go to the fridge and grab a DP, and sit back to take that first sip with eyes closed, just savoring it for a moment before returning to the insanity. It makes everything just a little bit better, if only for that one moment. It’s also my source of caffeine, because I’m not much of a coffee-drinker.

In the office, I bring in my own supply. I usually keep the 12-pack at my desk, and put the cans into the refrigerator two at a time. I keep them in a separate part of the fridge from the “soda mess” that started up a year ago, so that they don’t get taken. This has varying degrees of success, depending on how many guests we have in the office. I am more than happy to share what I have with anyone, if they ask. But I do not appreciate it when I go to get that desperately needed DP fix at midday, and find them all gone. I’ve been known to threaten bodily harm to people who mess with my Diet Dr Pepper.

So yesterday, an engineer was visiting from the naval base, and he’s also a Diet DP drinker. He’s also very polite – he always asks, if I’m here, and if I’m not here, he leaves me a note and replaces the soda next time he’s here. When I left for the day, I grabbed one of the two cans in the refrigerator without replacing it, figuring I’d just put one in this morning. And this morning, when I got to my desk, I found a note (written with my purple pen, no less, when there were “normal” black and blue ones right there with it) that said he’d taken a DP and would replace it on his next visit. I laughed, because I’d said he could just take one when I’d seen him in the hallway earlier.

But then came the best part. I went to put two cans in the refrigerator, to replenish my stock, and I found that he had already taken one from my stash and put it in the fridge for me, so it would be cold when I came in. How awesome is that?

It makes me so happy to encounter thoughtful people, because so often we are self-absorbed and don’t pay attention to little details that can really make a big difference to people.

One little detail that I pay a great deal of attention to is intentionally making eye contact and smiling when saying thank you. It doesn’t matter to whom – could be the teenager at the Taco Bell drive-through, the teller at the bank, my boss at the end of a performance review – but you should see what happens in someone’s face when you look him or her in the eyes, smile, and say thank you. It’s incredible.

A major weekend

Well, I did say blogging would be light last week, didn’t I? I spent three days at a program management review in Northern Virginia. This means that most of that time was in a conference room, surrounded by managers (almost all of them men), discussing things like profit & loss statements for organizational groups, and whether to take the strategic or tactical approach to the training budget for design engineers, and managing customer relationships, and utilizing and leveraging and facilitating and all that other manager stuff. 🙂 Despite all that, it was a productive week, and I didn’t get too badly beaten up at my first PMR as a direct participant (rather than as a behind-the-scenes supporter, listening on the phone and quietly sending data to the participants).

Over the weekend, I had a very difficult discussion with my husband, one that has been years coming but that I haven’t had the strength and courage to initiate until now. Because he is choosing not to disclose this discussion to his family (or to our children) yet, I will refrain from going into any detail out of respect for him. But I have been profoundly thankful for the recent Friday Five on Rivers in the Desert, because it helped me take a deep look at my sources of inspiration and support, so that I could get them lined up for me for the days and weeks and months to come. Being an introvert, I’m incredibly wealthy with online support, but rather deficient when it comes to local people I can meet face-to-face.

Despite earlier misgivings about it, I went to the Palm Sunday service yesterday, but not at my home parish. Instead, I went to St. Peter’s, where I’d gone for Ash Wednesday. It was very good, and I was glad to get my fix of “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” for the year. 🙂 I badly needed Eucharist, and I felt very much fed. I know we still have Holy Week ahead of us, but I’m ready to say the A-word again and to sing the Gloria again and to celebrate the Resurrection.

So today, I am thankful for supportive and inspiring people. I am thankful for finding the inner strength and courage to help me make a tough decision. I am thankful for the fun people I work with. I am thankful for the church – made up of flawed and broken humans as it is – and for the feast that is there for me whenever I am able to bring myself to the Table. I am thankful for the prayers and love of my friends. I’m thankful for the blooming cherry trees, and for my yard full of bright yellow dandelions, looking like little balls of sunshine. I’m thankful for the birds at my feeder, even this one really odd-looking one – kind of gray-brown, fuzzy, very acrobatic, with little hands, and a bushy tail. 🙂 I’m thankful for beautiful music and the warm spring sun. I’m always thankful for Diet Dr Pepper. I’m thankful for sleeping with the window open, even when it gets a little chilly, and I’m thankful for thick, warm socks. I’m thankful for being able to go barefoot, and I’m thankful for slipping into a bed newly made with freshly-washed sheets. I’m thankful for grabbing my towel after a hot shower, putting it to my face, and inhaling the fresh scent.

I wish you peace and joy today, and a blessed Holy Week.