That feeling of gut-dropping panic – and then its abeyance

I’ve always heard to “wait on the Lord.”  That those who do will run but not faint.  They will rise up on wings like eagles.  I never understood any of it.  But then I heard this story about how mother eagles teach their young to fly.  Eagles nest way up there in the mountains, on cliffs and crags.  You can’t just throw the babies over the edge and hope they learn on the way down.  Except, that is exactly what mother eagles do.

Then, something amazing happens.

No, the babies don’t magically fly on the first try.  Because, like everything in life, you can only learn by doing.  What does happen is even more cool:  the mothers catch them.  On their backs.  They fly up under their young and catch them.  Then they fly them back to the nest until the next series of flying lessons.  (I’m not crying – YOU’RE crying!)

In this scenario, we are the baby eagles.  Falling and terrified.  Because how is this possibly going to end well?  I’m dying.  Right now.  I’m falling and dying and no one cares.  My own mother pushed me out of the nest to fall to my death.

And then: a swoop and a save.  A gentle catch.  And I’m rising again, impossibly alive.

That’s what happened to me today.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve been pretty suicidal these last few days.  I felt the ground rushing up to meet me.  Financial stress, loneliness, the divorce, living in a rental with lots of mold, not much mental bandwidth to focus on a larger purpose, not knowing what to do with my life or where to live or even if it’s all worth the effort.

Things have happened today to make me think that all these problems are conquerable.  As I was on my knees thanking God for His Providence, I realized that this is exactly what we are waiting on when we wait on the Lord:  his awesome Providence.  His swoop and catch.

It has been so tempting the last few days to rage and demand.  To try to force things to work.  My car is in the shop.  I’m low on groceries.  Low on funds (less than a dollar in the account yesterday evening with the electric bill due today).  The trash needs to be taken to the collection point.

I told my friend Quinn, “I need to take my trash out, but I don’t have my car!”  He said, “So just wait until you get your car back.”  As a person of action, I found this answer annoying.  I mean, I could call and impose on my neighbors, couldn’t I?  Shouldn’t I?  But I decided to wait.

And now today, I got an offer not only from the Honda dealer of  a loaner car, but also an offer from my mom of a ride to take me to the Honda dealer (which is over an hour away from me, two and half from her) to pick up said loaner car.

It’s not just that.  Plans for the future are taking shape and coalescing out of the swirling darkness of nothing that I thought was my future.  Ways of making them happen financially are kind of becoming clear, too.

I feel like God let me fall an exceptionally long way this time.  But I also feel like I had the most practice at learning to fly.  I mean, I can’t fly.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not over.  I may be on God’s back right now, hanging out, enjoying the ride, gaining a little altitude.  But I know I’ll be dropped – over and over and over.  And it’s going to suck each time.  The ground will rush up to meet me, and I will probably panic every freaking time until this life is over.  Except.  Maybe?  Maybe I won’t.

The Ugly Suffering of Christina the Astonishing

I just read an incredible article by Kristin Valdez Quade about Christina the Astonishing: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/31/christina-the-astonishing-1150-1224

I have bipolar depression and found Christina’s name in an internet search for patron saints of mental illness.  I’m not exactly sure why we call them patron saints “of” mental illness.  I’m not sure it even matters, and Christina is not a saint anyway.  Not really.  She was never canonized and I’m pretty sure her cause isn’t up for consideration by the Vatican.

She was more considered a holy woman.  She could smell the sin on people and tended to avoid them.  Aggressively.  She is not an easy person to get behind or to have fuzzy feelings for, which Quade’s New Yorker piece highlights well.

I’ve spent much of my time studying what makes the supernatural world tick, and how it interacts with this world.  Why exactly do people get possessed?  What does it look like?  Do we even recognize it when it happens?  More often, people suffer from demon “oppression,” and that is certainly not easy to recognize.

It occurred to me that Christina the Astonishing was oppressed or possessed by a demon or demons.  But the part that really intrigues me is that the story goes that when she died that first time, she was given the choice by God to come back to earth to offer up her earthly suffering for the souls in purgatory.  She took God up on that offer.

She did suffer in her life.  But it was an ugly suffering.  She usually attacked the people who tried to help her, throwing their food offerings back at them, yelling their sins at them.  Demons can cause some nasty suffering.  It’s pretty characteristic, in fact.  They are mean and cause their victims to last out at the people around them.  Kind of like Christina did.

The Catholic Church has the idea of redemptive suffering.  That your suffering can be offered up to help others.  I’m fascinated by the idea that this suffering could possibly be demonic in nature.

What about you, gentle readers?  Have you ever suffered something that had a demonic edge to it?  If you’re Catholic, did you offer your suffering up as a sacrifice?  The answer to both of those questions for me is “yes.”

 

Relaunch into The Inbetween

 

I’m relaunching this blog.  I’m relaunching myself.  I don’t live in Kansas anymore.  My little dog doesn’t either.

No, now I live out in “the cut” in western North Carolina.  I’ve never lived outside a city before.  It’s good though because I’ve always taken comfort in nature, and it’s oozing all over the place here.  I kind of feel like Yoda on Dagobah.  I live on a small lake.  A rivulet runs along the edge of the property into the lake.  AND I have a sink hole up near the road.  Except it may be a vernal pool, because I don’t remember it being there in the winter.  But if it’s a vernal pool, it has incredible staying power as we are on the declining side of summer and the pool is still kind of damp.

I’m betwixt and between right now.  I always have been, so that is really saying something.  I don’t know where this blog is going.  I don’t know where I’m going.  I mean, I’m getting a divorce.  But since I’m Catholic, what does that even mean?  Again, I don’t know.

Nature, The Universe, and God/Everything

I remember the day things started changing for me. I was in an Alanon meeting (a support program for friends and family of alcholics). I had been attending these meetings for some time without much effect, it seemed to me. I was still miserable, and I didn’t really understand why.

Anyway, that day in the group someone said something like, “You know, belief in a Higher Power is really the cornerstone of this program. You can’t really get anywhere without it.”

My heart dropped.  I had become an atheist in college and was still one in graduate school, which is where I was at the time. I knew I was supposed to have a Higher Power, but to be honest, I had been trying to work The Steps (they have those in Alanon, too) without it. Or sometimes I would say my Higher Power was Nature or The Universe or something.

It wasn’t working for me though.  “Nature” can actually be pretty cruel.  Ever see Wild Kingdom? They always show some poor gazelle being eaten by a lion or some poor wildebeest being eaten by a crocodile. And let’s be honest, life for humans can also be short and brutish even without being eaten by a river hippo.

And what about “The Universe?” That was too nebulous and cold. I mean, what did the universe care about me anyway? It didn’t seem to.

I knew deep down that I had no real Higher Power. Nope, just ol’ little me, all on my own.  And it wasn’t working out.

Then came the day that woman said that about absolutely needing a Higher Power. My stomach twisted in knots, and I made my way home in a daze. When I got out of the car, I looked around my front yard with its green grass and pink four o’ clocks spilling out of the garden. It was a beautiful, hopeful day, and I suddenly found myself praying. “God, if You’re there, I need to know the truth. If You’re there, please lead me to the truth.”

For the second time in my life I heard a voice in my head say something very clearly: “Keep a journal.” And I knew what the voice meant. I was to keep a journal of all the ways God worked in my life.

You might ask, “How does that work? You didn’t even believe in God. How could you record the ways He was working in your life?” Good question. But it DID work. First, I started keeping notes about “coincidences” that occured. After that, I kept notes about answered prayers, mine and other people’s.

Amazing things started happening. The more I wrote these things down, the more they happened. It was truly incredible. I began to believe in prayer! In fact, I thought it was the new superpower in the universe!

In those early days when I was keeping the journal, small miracles started happening to me all the freaking time. And I started noticing them happening to others. Although frequently these other people didn’t recognize them as such. “Wow, what a coincidence,” they would say. Or, “that sure was lucky.”

But I started not to believe in coincidence and happenstance.  I mean, what was up with that oddly reassuring voice that told me to keep a journal?  And what about all this answered prayer I was recording?  My beliefs shifted to a living God, one who cared about me and about everyone.

As I said, that was when things started changing for me.  If you have a loved one who has or if you yourself have big doubts in God, try asking him to show you what you need to see in order to find the truth.  But remember that this is a powerful prayer.  My life changed radically after that.  And it wasn’t butterflies and smiley faces all the time.  I went through some huge changes and, let’s be honest, change hurts.  It was so worth it, though, and I would never consider going  back.

What about you?  Do you feel you are on a spiritual journey?  What are some things that have helped you along?

The Woman Who Jesus Called a Dog

Remember when Jesus called that woman a dog? When I heard it, I was horrified!

Here’s the passage from Matthew 15:21-28:

Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

I always felt bad for this woman. Jesus called her a dog, and yet she continued to beg him for help. Shouldn’t she have told him where to go and then huffed off? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? I mean, he blew her off three times! I think I would have left after saying a few choice words. My pride would have been too great and too injured. I would have wanted to leave with at least a shred of dignity, especially since it seemed he wasn’t going to help me anyway.

But not this woman. She cared more for her daughter than for her own pride, her own “dignity.” That is just not how we do things here in the world. We are supposed to rant, get righteous, demand to speak to Jesus’ manager. We don’t want to look like fools when we tell this story to our family and friends, do we? “So then after this man and his friends had ignored me and told me to go away and called me a dog, I begged him some more.” That just doesn’t sound good in the retelling. Makes me look bad.

The Canaanite woman didn’t care about all that. She didn’t care how it looked. She continued to subject herself to Jesus, even after apparent rejection – three times over.

Do you ever feel rejected by God? I do. I remember after my father died. I was so miserable. The misery went on and on and on. For months, then years. I felt rejected and like I was being punished. God must not like me, I thought. Or else he is just too mad to deal with me. I mean, I haven’t led a spotless life. I’ve done things that were so wrong that I’m too ashamed to even mention them here. This crushing pain must be my punishment, I reasoned.

I’m reading the Diary of St. Faustina. She went through crushing mental and spiritual pain – nothing eased it. You know what she said? She said to Jesus, “Even if you kill me, still I will trust in You!” (See Job 13:15.) She continued to be faithful to her vows and the Sacraments. She writes, “…this blind obedience was for me the only path I could follow and my very last hope of survival.”

That’s what the Canaanite woman was like! She continued to be blindly obedient even when ignored, even when she felt rejected. She persisted in her pleas. And she was rewarded for her faithfulness. “O woman great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed that very hour.

God, please help me to be patient, persistent, and obedient. Help me even when I feel rejected to do you homage and say, “Lord, help me.” I want you to be able to say to me, “O woman, great is your faith!”

Doors, the Enemy, and Strongholds

“Any time a door is opened, it allows the enemy to set  up a stronghold in our lives.”

I had heard these words, read them, in many places, but I never understood them.  I mean, what is a “door,” and what is a “stronghold?”  And who, exactly, is the “enemy?”

When I was in middle school, my friend and I pulled out the ol’ Ouija Board for the first time.  We didn’t see any harm in it.  Nobody had ever told us not to do it.  And it was made by Parker Brothers I believe, the company who had made lots of our other games.  It took a long time to work, but finally we were able to talk to a “spirit” who told us to do things, like go down to the crawlspace under the house.  We did, and nothing seemed to come of it at the time.  But it opened a door.

Later, we tried automatic writing, and, again, got to talk to spirits.  Nothing much seemed to happen immediately, but it also apparently opened a door.

Then the nightmares started.  I woke up drenched in sweat at 3 am every night.  I felt like something was in my room, something that I couldn’t see.  It’s difficult to convey in mere words the terror that haunted me nightly.

That, it turns out, is what happens when you open a door into your soul.  Things walk in.  The enemy.

So, a door is just anything that invites the enemy in.  The enemy is Satan and his demons.  And a stronghold is the snuggly little camp they set up inside your soul from which they make their nightly and/or daily forays into your mind and life.

I will try to post more on what doors are out there, how to avoid them, and what the end game is.  In the meantime, let’s all put on the armor of God as found in Ephesians chapter six:  “So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

What about you?  Have you ever opened what may have turned out to be a door?  What happened?

A Voice of One Calling in the Wilderness

As I was doing morning prayer today, a thought occurred to me.  I was saying the Canticle of Zechariah, which can be found in Luke 1:68-79.

Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist.  He was struck mute (made speechless) by an angel of the Lord (Gabriel) for doubting and basically asking for a sign or confirmation that what the angel told him was true.  The angel had told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child in her old age and the child would be special and be named John.  Since he and Elizabeth had not had any children thus far, Zechariah was doubtful.

He remained mute throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and was only allowed to speak after he wrote, in obedience to the angel’s words, “His name is John.”  After that, he began to speak, and filled with the holy spirit, to prophesy.  The words that he spoke are known as the Canticle of Zechariah, and are recited every morning by those who say the Liturgy of the Hours.

One of the sentences that he said goes like this:  “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”  The child spoken to in this passage is his newborn son John, later to be known as John the Baptist.

But as I was reading this today I thought, I wonder if this passage doesn’t just apply to John the Baptist.  Maybe it applies to me, too.

Now, don’t think I’m some megalomaniac that sees herself as “the prophet of the Most High.”  No, I’m thinking mostly of the part that talks about giving people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.  I think we are all called to do that.  I mean, isn’t that the Good News itself?

I don’t know if we are in the end times or not.  But sooner or later Jesus will be coming again, and it is probably our job to make sure that people are ready.  Jesus will be the one to save everyone, but we can make His path easy and straight by preparing people, by telling them that Jesus is the one that can and will forgive their sins.

I find this message very comforting.  My sins will be forgiven, and thereby my soul will be saved.  We can argue, if we want, about whether we all need to go to Confession in order for our sins to be forgiven.  But I think we can all agree that our sins can and will be forgiven by Jesus.  That he is our Savior.

Personally, I like being reminded of this, so I go to Confession.  It is so wonderful to have someone remind me that my sins are forgiven and Jesus is saving me.  I wish I didn’t make so many mistakes and commit so many sins.  I wish I was perfect and didn’t need any more saving.  But there in the confessional, Father blesses me and reminds me that I am a precious child of God.  It makes me feel so good.  Why don’t I go to Confession every week?  I guess I just get too caught up in the world.

Hey, it is 3:30 pm on a Saturday right now!  I think I know where I’m heading…

Hey Jori, it’s Me, God

I always worry that I have an addictive personality.  Alcoholism runs in my biological and adoptive families, so I have a legit reason to worry.  Not to mention, I went through a serious drinking streak in college.

Anyway, the other day I was doing Evening Prayer, which is said around the time of sunset (getting earlier and earlier!), and I started craving brandy.  I mean, really craving it.  I have a big bottle of brandy with plenty left in it, and I suddenly stopped saying my prayers and was mentally going through my refrigerator and cabinets looking for something to which to add the brandy.  (Man, just talking about it now is making my mouth water.)

8544415567_7403735fb3_m

(This is not a picture of MY brandy bottle, needless to say.  My brandy is cheap and run of the mill.  This picture is merely to make you wish you had some brandy right now, so you can understand where I’m coming from.)

I said to myself:  “Maybe I could add it to some tea and lemon, make a hot toddy.”  “Do we have any eggnog left?”  “What other holiday drinks are made with brandy?  Time to pull out the Bittman!”  (“The Bittman” is how my friends reference the cookbook “How To Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman.  They are academicians and complete nerds.)

But then I kind of backtracked and began to wonder if my whole quest for brandy drinks was good and proper.  I mean, it was only 4:30 pm. after all.  Plus, what if I do have an addictive personality and this leads me down a path to a binge?  Moreover, here I am doing Evening Prayer, and I’m thinking about brandy instead of thinking about God??

You see, I was raised Protestant, but converted to Catholicism in 2008.  And growing up in the South, I was surrounded by Baptists, even though I happened to be Methodist.  The Baptist prohibition against drinking sunk in kind of deep.  So even though I do drink alcohol, I feel guilty and conflicted when I do.

Not knowing what to do, I turned to God for an answer.  I sent out a silent plea for a response and waited.

Silence in my soul.  No response.

I sighed and decided that I should just finish Evening Prayer and decide later about the whole brandy thing.  So I found the last sentence I had read, and moved on.  The very next sentence said this:

IMG_0148

The Very. Next. Sentence.

It is from I Peter 5:8, and the whole thing goes like this: “Stay sober and alert.  Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

It was so striking that it put a bit of fear in me.  So I’ve purposed to stay sober and keep alert.  Not that I was a really big drinker before.  Sure I had that little incident when the Royals were winning, but now I’m on the straight and narrow!

I probably won’t be a teetotaler in the future; I don’t think that alcohol is evil.  But I do think my days of drinking to excess are officially over.

Deathbed Litmus Test

I am most interested in the Really Big Questions.  Aren’t you?  I mean, do you ever wonder what you will think about on your deathbed?  That is, if you are lucky enough to have one and don’t just get hit by an out-of-control metro bus?  I think about this often.  The deathbed, not the bus.  Hopefully I’ve got my priorities straight on that one.

*pauses to think about her priorities*

Anyway, I often ask myself when confronted with an issue, “Will this be something I care about when I’m on my deathbed?”  You know what?  The answer is always “No.”  I was wondering why that was, and I think it is because in the course of everyday life, things come up that are often trivial.  They seem important.  But as my husband’s shrink asks, “Are they really important?  Or are they just urgent?”

Almost always the thing that is staring me in the face is screaming, “I’m important, damn it!”  But upon reflection, I realize that it is simply “pressing.”  That is a good word.  Everyday life presses in on me.  It wants me to scramble to accommodate it.

On the other hand, the Really Important Things, the things that I will indeed care about on my deathbed, rarely rear their heads in such an showy fashion.  They like to hide.   And then one day, when giving something the Deathbed Litmus Test, I start to wonder “Well then, what WILL I care about?”

I’m only 43 years old, and yet I can’t sift through everything that has happened to me.  It’s too much.   However, I think I can start to understand the important things when I think back to other people that I know that have passed away.  What did they talk about on their deathbeds?  What did the people around them talk about at that time?  See, this parting of the veil allows all the trivialities to slip away.  The eyes of the dying open onto a different place.   Everyone involved seems to understand at that point what is important.

Unless you can get stuck with a smartass like my husband in the room.   He (and his brothers, too – y’all admit it, now ) asked his dad what the winning lottery numbers were.

I guess they figured that since he was in between the worlds, he would have some kind of supernatural knowledge, and hey, why not use that?

You know what dad said?  This was the day before he died, and he was in and out of consciousness, but he clearly said, “6,2,6,2…”  He kind of trailed off and was smiling  broadly to himself.  We were all kind of surprised.  What in the world just happened?  Were these really the lottery numbers?

It turns out that indeed they were.  For him at least.  They  were the month, day, and year of his wedding.