the words that dwell among us

good gifts for the new year

This Christmas I was given the gift of words.

Between a New York Times subscription, Kindle Unlimited and a handful of paperbacks I have enough to keep me going happily for all of 2020.

Even the mass readings were a gift: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Very explicit, courtesy of John, followed up with, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1, 4-5).”

That last bit I had carried in my heart through this year; light was the word of the season as the darker parts of my heart were illuminated and the dusty corners of my soul cleaned out. A year of open windows, fresh air, therapy, journals, night skies, starlight and the first pinks of dawn. A year of refusing to be overcome, and then, beyond simply defying defeat, a year of resilience that overflowed into life.

What word, of all the words, will speak to the season ahead?


I was out last week with my cousins and we walked by a bar, all cheerfully buzzed on G&Ts and the cold December air. A bouncer stopped us, begged us to come into the hazy-blue bar with it’s empty dance floor. I’m sure we were an impressive bunch; a gaggle of tall, red-lipped, long-haired twenty-somethings. We walked past, intent on our destination (pizza), and continued to ignore the calls of the boy behind us. I trailed behind and heard him plead, one last time, “Come on, come in! You’re pretty too!”

I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and marched on to more important things (pizza). A couple slices and an uber ride later we were safely in our beds, bouncers all but forgotten.

The next morning, though, I found traces of annoyance lingering.

Was this boy used to having girls do his bidding just by calling them pretty?

Why had I even turned around at all?

And, by the way, aren’t I more than just pretty?

Such a small word, but enough to throw intelligent women off their axis at the mercy of smaller boys.


Which is the word I want? If I got to pick something better than pretty, what would be enough to catch my attention and hold it?

Which is the one that I am?

Which is the one God says I am?

Another Christmas Scripture nudges my heart and settles in like the last puzzle piece: “No more shall people call you ‘forsaken,’ or your land ‘desolate’ but you shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused’ (Isaiah 62:4).”

I wouldn’t mind being a delight. I’d definitely like to move away from those old characters Forsaken and Desolate.

I think back to a few weeks ago when I felt Jesus whisper “let me take you to France.” A small, almost silly, thing, but a thing that meant something to me. I went home that day and booked a trip to visit the land of my dearest Saint friends. That day felt like the beginning of this- a journey where I am no longer espoused to the little earthly man who hated travel, but rather to the man who died for me.

Another whisper takes shape: This year is the year I am beloved.


Beloved:

adjective

be•loved /bəˈləvəd/

dearly loved


Thank God the open windows of last year let in the holy breezes of this one.

I am seen. I am known. I will learn to live out of a place where I am anchored, deeply set in who I am and who I belong to. Beyond pretty, but beautiful.

A lot of words packed into one little word.

I’ll take it.

after the flood

step in

She’s alert at the bow, gripping the ledge, bright eyes squinting through sheets of wild rain. Wails lost in the wind, the spray, the haze of salt and mist; she rolls in a wave. 

Again and again, merciless, until, exhale, it ends. The waves slow. She tucks low, surrenders to the sea, heavy eyes under a heavier sky. 

Hours pass, she rolls to her back, sore from the stillness. Black has poured over the sky; she floats, an island in oceans of darkness. The stars glitter, diamonds spilled from a jar, there is so much of the sky; she can breathe. She rocks with the boat, onward, onward; she sleeps.

A bird flutters to perch, to herald a golden glow, it melts over the sky, the sea, her skin – she blinks silent greeting and thanks. 

They pass the day together, blues and grays roll by. She tilts to the sky, eyelashes eskimo kissing the breeze. Breathing. Basking.

And then land.

She leaps overboard, splashes into the sea. A welcome sound.

She is everything and nothing in the pull of the ocean; she is lost in the power of what was long before her and what moves after. She is salt and water and life, she is death and birth and baptism and eternity. She swims and soaks and delights. 

She wades ashore, guiding the boat by hand. Two-handed now, through the thickest surf, moving steadily towards the final grind of wood on sand. 

She turns, hands on hips, faces what’s before her. Lush and green, every shade of green- the hint of honeydew and the depth of pine, the radiance of emerald, the richest of moss- it is here. It is life.

She steps in.

a prayer for frostbite

the annulment process begins and stings

What do we do when the Church feels cold?

When it starts to feel like no, after no, after no?

No sex outside marriage. No birth control. No same-sex relationships. No IVF. No surrogacy. 

Even in the smaller things- no meat on Fridays, no food before mass. No getting high, drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much.

In some circles, the more ridiculous things- no bikinis, no shorts, no working mothers.

It can all start to feel a little heartless.

I won’t pretend to understand the struggle of those in the world sorting through heavier things, but recently I’ve been faced with my own small ‘no’ and I’m a bit at odds.

See, according to my Church, I’m supposed to avoid new romantic relationships until my annulment has been finalized. 

For those unaware, an annulment is basically the Church’s way of confirming that a marriage was, at the time of the vows, not sacramental- not a free, total, faithful, fruitful, holy union at it’s inception.

In ‘guilty until proven otherwise’ fashion, we are meant to assume the marriage was sacramental until Step One: The divorce is legally finalized and Step Two: An official Church tribunal reviews the case (comprised of documents, testimonies, questionnaires, and supporting accounts from outside observers).

In the in-between state of a marriage dissolved by law and not by faith, involved parties are advised to “remain faithful to the wedding vows” until an annulment is, or is not, granted. 

This process, tacked on top of my already never-ending divorce, promises to be another lengthy, involved, and emotional one. 

In reality, holding off on dating is probably for the best, as I’m not really interested in exploring vulnerability with men. And to be completely honest, I’m enjoying this space for myself.

Even still, it feels rather harsh to encourage me to “stay faithful to my vows” when the male half of this situation was not faithful to any vows on any level. Not in dating, not in marriage, and absolutely not now. 

So what am I staying faithful to? Lies? Deception? Cover ups? A sham of a marriage and a liar of a husband? And why am I the punished party? If anyone needs a little churching here, I think it might be him. 

So I’m annoyed. 

And I’m tired. 

I’d like to feel free to move and make decisions of my own volition, not as a slave to an abusive husband, the inefficiency of the Californian legal system or the intricacy of an annulment process. I’m tired of being manipulated and under control and out of control, financially and emotionally and spiritually and physically.

On top of that, I feel like I’m grieving again. I’m just starting to realize that- surprise!- I’m really, really, single. A mental spiral triggered by the settlement submitted last week for final legal processing.

I’m relieved, but a little more broken than I thought I’d be. 

I feel abandoned. 

I keep thinking, over and over,

but what if he’d loved me?


There’s a voice that follows, whispering is this it

Is it?

Am I going to be alone? Forever?

I suppose I was alone before. Loneliness in a marriage was certainly painful in its own special way, leaving me by myself at church, with family, in prayer, in thought.

One of those last summer nights found me alone in my home, again, calling him over and over at three am, wondering where he was, again. I tossed and turned, coming to terms with a truth I’d been avoiding: I’d rather be alone forever than live like this. 

So what if this really is forever?

I don’t want to hear that God has a plan or it’s all going to be okay. 

This might be the plan. 

Is it ok?


I try to look beyond the rules.

I put it all away, and I try to look to Jesus.

I try to sit in mass, sit in adoration, sit in prayer.

I try to get beyond the sterility of rule-following to the heart of it.

I sit, and sit, and sit, and stare into the face of God until as much as I wrestle, I can’t help but rest.

There’s something undeniable; it’s tangible, concrete peace. It’s grace.

There is a real encounter with a real God, and real love, so maybe- maybe- singleness is not synonymous with loneliness. 

Maybe these rules aren’t the iron-cold bars of a cage, but the warm walls of a home within which I encounter love in the most healthy, human way possible. 

Maybe here, in this home, there is a life of abundance waiting around the corner.

Or maybe that life is right here, waiting for me to live it.

promises

for abundance

“Will He lead you out? Yes, eventually. But first, there might be a time that He is simply with you there.”

A reflection printed in my Blessed is She journal three years ago, meant to be an encouragement for those of us in a season of waiting as we counted down to Christmas.

How little I knew then about how prophetic those words would be. At that point, all I knew was the conflict heavy in my own home; that month’s journal was page after page of notes on neglect, silence, anger, and anxiety. So much anxiety. My body was in panic mode and my heart was in turmoil. I was waiting. Waiting for something to give, something to change, some hope to enter into the drama of my marriage.

My response to that day’s prompt:

“When the desires of my heart don’t line up with reality or the desires of my husband’s heart or even the timing of Your heart- it’s okay to be sad. You hear my prayers- someday there will be a fulfillment of the prayer for a joyful, holy family and a holy husband who knows You. In the meantime You will wait with me here…When my heart feels separate from my husband, my world, You are there. You see me and You know me… Even in suffering and sadness, You are gentle and patient, waiting for me to see You and love You and let You love me. You are with me.”

Christmas morning came that year without my miracle. Without magic. Not the slightest glimmer of hope or sign God saw my waiting and matched it with grace. I was miserable.

“I feel misunderstood and lonely and hurt and very sad that this is my life. After all this, I’m exhausted and suffering. Why? Why do I feel so alone?”

Instead of rejoicing, I was begging. 

“A savior is born. Save me.”

Another year goes by. Another journal fills up.

I am more confused. 

“I need to step away from the part of my heart that wonders, ‘should I have married him or not?’ I need to let that go and fully embrace this and where I am…I need to trust You- I did when You brought me here, now I have to trust where You lead me.”

I used to think I was bad for questioning the solidity of my marriage. I used to think it was holy and good to trudge along alone, trusting, trusting, trusting. 

I heard the passage from Luke, “Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promise to her” and knew it was for me. I had been promised a life of joy and abundance. I had been promised satisfaction. I had been promised life, and life to the full. God would fix it so I could have it, and He would do it here.

Obviously, He had other plans.

My husband didn’t start going to church. He didn’t start paying better attention to me. We didn’t have a home full of joy. We didn’t start building a family.

However. 

I had asked Him to lead me, and He was faithful to those prayers. He led me – straight out of my marriage.

But what of my promises? I was convinced! Convicted! Trusting! I believed! 

Instead of getting what I’d dreamed of, I was alone, wondering what does God actually promise me?

His faithfulness.

Had He been faithful? Had I been comforted? Had I been strengthened? Was I bold enough to change my life? Yes.

His love.

Had He shown me that love? Had I been blessed by His presence? Wisdom? The love of some seriously solid friends and a wildly generous family? Yes.

His abundance.

Had I flourished? Found new confidence? Found healing and hope and permission to be myself in a bigger, more beautiful way? Yes.

God Himself walked through the valley of death. Someday there will be life without suffering, but why should my journey on earth look any different than His? In the meantime, there is daily mercy. Daily grace.

I do believe that someday I’ll have what my heart longs for. I’ll have a love where I’m known and thriving and a way to share my heart as a mother. Whatever that looks like, however those desires are answered, I know I am already seen. Already loved. Already full.

A new prayer for today:

Lord, I trust in Your promises. 

I believe You promised life, and I still believe, even here, even when Your answer broke my heart. Thank You for seeing me. Thank You for saving me. 

Today, I hear again “Blessed is she who believed” and respond the way Your mother did:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

You are a keeper of promises. 

My soul rejoices, and I believe.


And blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill his promise to her.

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:45-55