Thoughts on The Journey So Far

•July 13, 2012 • 3 Comments

Earlier this week (Wednesday), my Benedictine brother-in-blogging, Bryan Sherwood, posted about the Feast Day of St. Benedict – the day in which the church (at least, churches that follow the traditional liturgical calendar) historically commemorate St. Benedict and remember his example and all he contributed to our faith (such as, the foundation for all of Western monasticism, among other things!).   In his blog post, Bro. Bryan briefly mentions his own journey into this fascinating life of what he terms “lay monasticism” – i.e., those of us ordinary, regular folk who are seeking to incorporate monastic principals and practices out here in ‘the real world’ outside of monastery walls.  I strongly encourage you to read the whole post in its entirety HERE (go on… I’ll wait. It’s not too long, so it won’t take you but a minute. Done? Great, I’ll continue)

 At the end of his post, Bro. Bryan writes,

 “…I’m interested in hearing about others who have experience in living the monastic life…Share your thoughts…”

 So I did, and thus, quite by accident, this blog post was born. 🙂 It has been well over a year now since I first learned of and began informally inquiring/studying about living life as a Benedictine out here in the rough and tumble ‘secular’ world.  It has been the better part of a year now since I officially started my journey on this path, and at the end of March, I was formally received into the Company of Jesus and took my initial vows. (Just realized that I never did blog about that…was a pretty intense, but amazing, experience…will have to write about that soon! And I have pics…lots of pics!)  So, I can’t say I’ve been at this a long time…but it’s been a minute or two and I wanted to share my thoughts on how this decision has impacted and deeply enriched my life and my faith, even though I’m still pretty much a “baby Benedictine” – haha!

 It has been and continues to be a learning process to incorporate the daily, set times of prayer (morning and evening) into my life (particularly in the mornings! I’m sooooo NOT a morning person). But I find this practice becoming more and more ingrained into my life and into my being… into my heart. If I miss a time of prayer, boy howdy, do I notice a difference! 😮 I’ve been known to do my “morning prayers” (Lauds, to call it by the proper monastic term) on my lunch break, simply because I do not want to miss out on reading the psalms that were set for that morning’s reading. (Hey, given various time zones and whatnot, it’s gotta be morning SOMEWHERE, right?! Even at noon? LOL!). I think God just kinda chuckles and doesn’t care so much about “getting it exactly right” so much as, “is this truly sinking into my heart & life”? 🙂  Of course, as always, I keep a running conversation going with the Lord all day long…tossing my random thoughts skyward, praying for friends and strangers as I am led, and so forth, as I’ve always done.  But I’m finding (to my surprise, honestly) that the scheduled, more liturgical forms of prayer are also deeply enriching.  After all, what is it that we are praying?  The Psalms.  In one month’s time (depending on which prayer book you are using), we literally pray all 150 Psalms.  And what on earth could possibly be cooler, and better for our hearts, than speaking and meditating on His word??  These times of scheduled prayer and reading form the framework around which my day is built (well, in theory…it doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s sure enough the goal I strive for!).

 At times when it’s been a terrible day…when it’s been one of those days I know I’ve not acted, spoken, or even thought in ways that are pleasing to God, it’s tempting to skip a time of prayer, to skip a time of Scripture reading, from shame or embarrassment. But it’s slowly dawning on me that’s where part of LEARNING humility comes in (definitely learning…can’t say I’ve got it yet as I should…that’ll be a life-long thing there, for sure, LOL)… praying even knowing I’m not worthy, knowing I’ve screwed up, knowing that even though I’m sitting there feeling like some kind of hypocrite, the chief of sinners indeed….that with a truly contrite and repentant heart, God hears and accepts my prayers…my heart, my life… and works on changing me.

 One of the biggest things that God has been doing lately is working with me on this whole thing of “dying to self” and preferring His will above my own. OUCH. I see more and more each day, the literally thousands of choices we face daily, and how easy it is to go our own ways and not His. The seemingly “little things,” add up to big things in the long run. (Even the other day, I was chatting with someone on Facebook, they said something like, “Hey, I heard you say such and such, so how does that square with what you are saying now?” Such a casual comment I’d made, meant in completely in jest weeks prior… but no, it most certainly did NOT reflect Christ or His character at all.  And thus, my witness for Him was compromised. OUCH. Did I mention…OUCH!?! Hand smacked by the Holy Spirit, message received, duly noted, thank you very much.)

 The opportunities to compromise are countless. Sometimes I do well; sometimes – all too often — not, as noted above. But in all of it, I try to repeat to myself (especially here lately) – “Let them prefer *nothing whatsoever* above Christ…” and strive to purposefully remember that it is not MY will I’m seeking, but HIS (though I very much want my own will and own way, on one level, as do we all). And choosing His will over ours… that can be hard. I’ve lost a relationship or two, or potential relationship(s) along the way (really now, think about it – what guy would want to date a MONK for crying out loud?!? hahaha!) and even friends think I’m just a bit looney sometimes.  Or they make a point of letting me know they are SO *not* impressed with this whole Benedictine thing; it’s “just another churchy religious thing” in their eyes that amounts to just religious blustering & pomp.  I get called, jokingly, “The Holy One” (though I’m so NOT…lol… and more and more I’m aware of how short I fall and how far I have to go!) Well…OK then, that’s fine… I’m not doing this to flaunt it before people or be thought of as holy or anything for anyone else… this is, quite simply, an *intensely personal*, deeply transformative, long-term path. On the other hand… I’m not going to “hide” it either… I don’t want to draw attention to myself in the slightest…but neither will I hide this… it’s becoming too much a part of who I am, and it’s becoming the very foundation of my life, these rhythms of daily prayer, the accountability, stability, community… the whole way of life that is geared towards teaching us to truly and simply love Jesus and love others…genuinely.

 I am not a very self-disciplined person by nature…I’m more the “flexible, make-it-up-as-I-go-along-and-I’ll-get-around-to-it-eventually” type.  I thrive on variety and change. Yet the very stability of the Benedictine way of life, and the routineness of the prayers, has become a balm to my soul… an oasis of peace in an ocean of chaos that is life in this hectic world. Lately, I find myself intentionally slowing down as I read the psalms/prayers… trying to soak in each word. Slowly, I’m starting to build in more time (by “more time,” I mean maybe 5-10 minutes more…especially in the mornings when I’m always running late anyway!) in which to do this… so that it’s not just “rushed through” to get it out of the way (though sometimes life is hectic and I have to just “GIT-ER-DUN” real quick…. not ideal, but it’s better than missing altogether, I’ve found). I have a variety of prayer books I’ve collected over the past year… if I know in advance that my day is going to be very time-challenged, I’ll opt to use one of the books that offers a briefer office for whichever hour I’m praying. There are ways to work it in… I think it’s all about intentionally bringing God into our ordinary, ho-hum daily existence, and building our lives around Him…rather than the other way around.

 One neat thing that has been happening of late is that my 11-year-old (who is enamored of all things monastic) has been praying with me at night. Not always, but often, she’ll read the psalms and prayers right along with me, word-for-word. Or sometimes, just listen as I read them. Either way, it’s good for her, and me. 🙂

 And so, my journey is just beginning. It’s not “all shiny and brand new” at this point, but I don’t I don’t have the perspective of one who has lived this way of life for many years, either. However, I can tell a difference in my life now vs. my life a year ago. I can’t say definitively that I’ve “changed” – but I can most assuredly say that I “am changing,” slowly, bit by bit.  And along the way, loving every minute of this life… even when it’s been deeply painful.

 Thanks be to God!


Lead Me To The Cross – Hillsong

•July 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

[Matthew 16:24 Amplified Bible] “Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to be My disciple, let him deny himself [disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests] and take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].”

Crosses can hurt. Splinters dig deep… the nails are sharp and pointy. Dying to self-will sux and is no fun at all. But in His will, in His way…there is LIFE. It’s not “giving up” something, so much as CHOOSING HIM over whatever it is we want that is contrary to His will and His way. When we lose our life and surrender it to Him..really, truly… we FIND it. And in choosing Him…we gain so much more than we can imagine. So His Word says, and so I trust…even on days when I’m feeling more “splinters” than “blessings.”

Blessed be His Name, now and always.

A Rambling Jumble of Thoughts In No Particular Coherent Order

•June 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

There have been a LOT of thoughts tumbling around in my head lately…thoughts about service, about surrender, about what it really means to “die to self” and follow Christ – for real, not in lip service only – out here in the messy, chaotic ‘real world.’  Thoughts about “my will” versus “His will” and “my ways” versus “His ways.” 

The thing I have learned…OK, am still learning and likely will be learning for the rest of my natural life on this planet… is that following Jesus, this whole gig of being a Christian and “giving my heart and life to the Lord”…well, it’s not a one-time deal.  Sure, it all starts with that initial prayer of surrender…that first time we say, “Come into my life, take my life, I GIVE IT ALL TO YOU!”  That’s the starting point.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Nope.   A thousand times a day, we are confronted by situations, thoughts, decisions and people that challenge us and put us on the spot.  And right there in that moment… that’s where the rubber meets the road.  That right there is when we live it out…or not.  That’s when we have to choose…am I going to obey God? Or am I going to go off on my own way again?  Am I going to react to or handle this situation in a way that is pleasing to him? Or maybe not so much? If I follow and obey God…wow, that can have some consequences… people will not understand.  May be ridiculed.  Or thought to be a phony, or holier-than-thou by those who know how vastly imperfect I really am and how terribly far I have to go before becoming what God wants me to be….and misunderstood.  If we live it out here in the nitty gritty details of daily life… yes, it might will cost us, somehow.  (That’s where the “dying to self” thing comes in).  Mostly, it costs us…pride (the unhealthy kind, the kind that keeps us from depending fully on God and lets us think we can do it without His help).  A thousand times a day we have the choice to follow Him.  Many Most Nearly every day, 999 times, I fail.  (Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.) 

But… God is full of grace and mercy.  Absolutely overflowing with it, in fact.  As we seek to know Him, and strive to walk in His ways… He doesn’t leave us alone and helpless. 🙂 Never would He do such a thing…He walks alongside us, ever step of the way.  Because, you see….it’s not about us “trying to be good enough” to “win God’s approval” or any such silly thing.  Nope.  That right there is impossible.  None of us, on our own can ever be “good enough”…it just ain’t happening.  When the standard is “absolute holiness” – us flawed humans will fall short every time (that’s back to where the whole “grace and mercy” thing comes in… *whew*!).  

Nope…it’s not about trying to be “good enough.” What it boils down to? Simply, one word: Love.  Yep.  that’s it.  Love.  We seek after God, we follow Him…because we love Him.  And more than that… HE LOVES US.  I saw a quote once that said, “I can never brag about my love for God, because I fail Him daily.  But I can brag about His love for me, because He gives it freely and never stops loving, no matter what.” So true.  He does love us…  Genuinely.  Deeply.  Truly.  He loves us and delights in us.  (really, he does…read THIS.)  And in response to His love… we love Him back.  Imperfectly, yes…but we seek to know Him more and more… because to know Him, is to love Him.  And to love Him is to have your whole world changed…one step at a time. 

It’s a beautiful dance with our Beloved, this thing called life.  He catches us when we stumble, gracefully transforms our missteps into a useful part of the choreography and leads us onward.  🙂

~On Serving God~

•June 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

During my morning prayers yesterday, one of the readings was a rather lengthy quote from St. Irenaaeus (who I had never, ever heard of until yesterday; apparently yesterday was the day of the church year commemorating his life and service to God, hence why one of the readings was something he’d written. 🙂 ).  Running late in the morning as usual, I did not have time to read it until my lunch break yesterday.  And I am SO thankful that (a) I actually somehow managed to remember to go back and read it, and (b) that I actually took the time to read it carefully, rather than glancing over it quickly so I could get back to eating my soup.  The passage given for the day contained a true gem… something that really resonated with me and I felt compelled to share. Check it out:

[It is not] because He *needed* our service that He commanded us to follow Him, but simply in order to save us. To follow the Savior is to share in His salvation, just as to follow the light is to share in the light. Those who are in the light do not cause it to shine and be radiant, but are themselves shone on and made radiant by the light. They add nothing to it but receive the whole benefit themselves thru the illumination it gives…

The same is true of service given to God.  God gains no advantage from it; God has no need of our service.  Yet to those who follow and serve God is given life, incorruptibility and eternal glory.  God rewards the servants for their service and the followers for their loyalty, but God derives no benefit from them, for God is perfect and in need of nothing. [See Psalm 50…it pretty much says the same thing and is well worth your perusal.  Go ahead…I’ll wait. :)]

God seeks the service of human beings because God is good and merciful and desires to bless those who persevere in serving God.  God is in need of nothing, but we are in need of communion with God.

St Irenaeus, Against Heresies

Deserts, Storms & Glory

•April 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Gospel of Mark 6:30-56

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus sent out His disciples to teach, preach and heal.  They were to tell others who Jesus is and spread the message of repentance, taking nothing with them, and trusting God to supply their every need.  They did so, and returned to tell Jesus all about what they had done and taught.  How excited they must have been to tell Him the stories of God’s faithfulness and provision during their journey!  Jesus’ response to all the excitement was: “….‘Come aside by yourselves to a desert[1] place, and rest a while.’ For there were so many coming and going, they did not even have time to eat.” (Mark 6:31)   At that point, there were so many people coming to see Jesus, He and His disciples were working so hard they did not even have time to stop to eat!

It is so easy to get caught up in “serving God” and “ministering to people” (both of which are good and necessary things!) that sometimes we lose sight of the most important thing: taking time to minister to Jesus, to sit quietly at His feet and love Him, to rest in His presence to listen to and talk with Him alone (Luke 10:38-42).  Good balance is so important.  Our ministry to people should be a natural result flowing from our time spent one-on-one with Jesus (see John 15:5).  It is simple to talk about Jesus, to do “good things” for Him…but do we really know Him? As Lord? As Friend?  As the true and intimate “Lover of Our Souls”?

“Desert” experiences – dry and difficult times – often (if we let them) have a way of reminding us Who Jesus is, and causing us to seek Him in a deeper way.

 “They departed to a desert place in the boat by themselves.” (Mark 6:32)  Because Jesus led them to do so, the disciples departed willingly into the desert.  Personally, I would never choose a hot, sticky, dusty, dry desert for a vacation – especially after being overloaded with work and stress! Give me an oasis with a stream, a few palm trees, a hammock, a stack of good books and some sweet iced tea any day!!!  But Jesus knew better.  To bring His disciples into an uncomfortable place would prompt them to seek His wisdom, to seek HIM, more fully than ever before.  Sometimes palm trees and oases are good; but sometimes, they serve only to lull us into an unhealthy comfort and complacency.

“But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all cities.  They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved for compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:33,34)

When the vast crowds of people saw Jesus leaving for the desert, they ran to meet Him there.  So great was their hunger for knowing more of Jesus that they willingly – eagerly! – gave up the comfort of their homes and followed Him.  Jesus saw this hunger, this eagerness, their need, and began to teach them many things.  Right then and there.  While they were in the dry, barren uncomfortable and perhaps even painful place, He was able to teach them many lessons: lessons they would have missed out on if they had stayed comfortably complacent.  Jesus led them to the desert for a purpose.  He knew at all times exactly where they were going and what would happen once they arrived. 

As they day went on, the needs of the people grew more severe (Mark 6:35-38).  There was a shortage of food.  Most had left their homes or camps in such haste to follow Him that they had not brought food.  The disciples were only able to find five loaves of bread and two fish with which to feed people.  The disciples were upset and distressed about this.  However, Jesus was not at all worried; He was in control of the situation. 

Jesus then commanded that the crowds sit down in groups of fifties and hundreds (Mark 6:39-40).  Without yet knowing the purpose behind it, the people obeyed these simple, small, and practical commands of Jesus.  They trusted Him and His leading, even without fully knowing why and even knowing there was inadequate food to meet their needs.  But then something happened… the fish and the loaves multiplied… even there, in the middle of the empty, blazing desert, they ALL ate and were filled! (Mark 6:41-42)

To be led into a harsh desert situation is neither easy nor comfortable.  It’s hot (the heat can be downright oppressive!), the ground is rocky and sand gets in our shoes.  We are so tempted to complain, yearning for refreshment and rest after so much struggle and hard work.  Yet, we are in the desert in the first place because we chose to follow Jesus, to obey Him, regardless of the cost to ourselves and regardless of where He leads.  We have chosen to step out in faith, believing God for something He’s promised us.  Yet…sometimes we see no outward indication that what He promised will ever come to pass – we are in the Desert of Waiting.  Or, we are in the Desert of Stillness:  having done so much work, and having so much more to accomplish, but for various reasons, our hands are tied and we are unable to accomplish any of the goals we have set, or pursue dreams we have.  How frustrating for those of us who like to do, do, do!!!

Yet, even in these hard times, a truly amazing thing happens.  In the seemingly “God-forsaken” desert and times of struggle, we learn that God has NOT forsaken us, after all (everyone else may have, but HE has not and will not!). As we cry to Jesus in desperation and thirst, we begin to grow deeper into a more intimate knowledge of Jesus.  We discover His  refreshing Living Water (the Holy Spirit, His peace, His strength, His encouragement, His power, His grace)  flows FREELY – even in the most barren of deserts.  

In life, as in a literal desert, it often gets much “hotter” before it cools down! We are aware of great, pressing needs that cannot be ignored – yet we are powerless to do anything about it.  The need is so great; we have no means to meet that need, and we feel totally overwhelmed.  Weak, drained, and exhausted from the heat of the day and the dust that blocks our vision, we obey that one simple thing that we know God wants us to do.  Though the haze, we cannot see the “big picture” or the end result; we can only see before you a few very small, practical tasks, seemingly insignificant and unrelated to our pressing needs.  We can’t see, at that moment, how obedience in such little things will help the situation, but we follow through, trusting Jesus nonetheless.

And then, something happens.  In the harsh desert of life, the need that seemed so impossible before is suddenly met – with plenty left over!  We – and those around us! – can clearly see that we have been filled, that the need (be it physical, financial or emotional) was not met through our own efforts or cleverness.  It was JESUS who brought us to that place, JESUS who kept us there, and JESUS who provided for us – even in the barren desert.  Though simple hunger for Jesus and obedience to His Word, the desert (a symbol of barrenness and lack) has actually become a place of blessing!

“[T]hen shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes!” (Isaiah 35:6,7)

In that brutal desert, we learn more of Jesus.  We learn to trust in a deeper way. We learn obedience, even as Jesus, through His suffering, learned and practiced obedience to the Father (Hebrews 5:8).  In the desert, we begin to learn that we can do NOTHING of ourselves in our own strength, and begin to learn total dependence on Jesus.

And in the end, it’s worth it.

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Psalm 119:71

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.  And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:2-10

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,

 for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

[1] Note that some translations refer to a “deserted” place, rather than a “desert” place. I think the principals are the same either way, though.

Post-Birthday Musings…

•February 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, here it is – the week after I turned 39 years old (February 10). I am officially one whole year away from being the dreaded “40”! hahahaha! Truth be told, it really doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  I have joked incessantly about this being the FIRST (but not last) time I’m turning 39, haha – but that’s just me taking an opportunity to make a corny joke.  😉 Nope…anyone who knows me well knows that I’m the last person on the planet to get hung up on age…my own age, or anyone else’s.  I have many treasured friends in the 20s and friends in their 60s, 70s…and everything in between…from ALLLLLL walks of life: from priests to bishops to monks to nuns to bikers to musicians to mechanics to stay-at-home parents to first responders to lawyers to… well, you get the point.  Yep, I’m just diverse like that. 🙂 hahahaha! Perhaps it’s that Benedictine spirit of hospitality? (From Chapter 53 of the Rule of St. Benedict: Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those “of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers.) Or maybe just because I’m a curious sort of person, and genuinely enjoy people from all types of backgrounds & religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs); I enjoy immensely  hearing their stories, their perspectives, finding out who they are, and so on. Fascinating to me, and I love all my amazing friends dearly, no matter where they’ve come from. 🙂

So: what is different about this birthday than all other birthdays? Besides the fact that it’s an almost-milestone one? Well…what’s different about this birthday is… me.  Who I am.  Where I’ve been.  How I’ve changed.  You may know that 2011 was a cataclysmic year of unprecedented upheaval – severe family issues, divorce, job loss and foreclosure, all at once. Fun times! I knew even going through it all, that it was all for the best and that God would bring us through it…and that a wonderful world waited on the other side of all the “yuck.” See, I’ve been through the whole “losing everything” ordeal before.  And then – as now – I learned that even though you lose “everything,” if you still have Jesus, you have truly lost NOTHING.  Because everything we need in life is found wrapped up in HIM.  Peace, love, joy, provision, security…Knowing Him is the root of all of that.  So, while I struggled at times with severe fear of the unknown (OK, outright hysterical terror at times…thanks to my dear friends out there who walked me thru those particularly awful days!), underneath it all was a certain KNOWING that He was with me and always would be. No matter how terrified or sad I was… under the fear, the sorrow, the hard choices… He was right there, holding me up every step of the way.  Just like before. Just like always. Just like now.

 And so, to this 39th year of my life, in the year 2012… what am I?

 While still a coward at heart, I’ve learned a deeper level of trust (this gets tested constantly…sometimes I do ok, sometimes I fail miserably).  I’ve learned more to trust my gut instinct…but not totally as my gut instinct has been horribly wrong before, LOL! (What’s that verse in Proverbs about the heart being able to deceive even its own self?) I’ve learned – am learning, daily – to lay everything at the feet of God and ask that HIS will be done; and that if my will is contrary to His will…that His will be done anyway, and help me to follow Him regardless of the cost. (Yeah, that’s been a fun one, too…ugh! How many times over the past year,  in TEARS, did I give up my own wants, hopes, wishes and surrender them to Him, knowing I had to for that particular period of time, or in that particular circumstance?  Lots of times…only to have to continually re-surrender as needed.  And surely, this is again a life-long process…HIS will is what I want more than anything; and my will is what I want more than anything. Thus is the nature of the struggle of human will v. divine will sometimes…do I want this because it’s what GOD wants for me? Or am I off on a rabbit trail, darting out of sight of Him yet again? Always, I ask this of myself and God.)  But the biggest thing is, whereas I trust myself less, LOL – I have grown some in my trust for God.  Where there seems to be NO way…He MAKES a way.  Where there seems to be NO provision… He provides.  Where it seems hopeless… He gives HOPE.  Obviously, I have to do better with this…but I’ve re-learned the art of jumping off a cliff in the dead of night when you can’t see what’s below you (metaphorically speaking of course) and discovering that He will catch you, or give you wings with which to fly. HE IS FAITHFUL. NO MATTER WHAT. Always.

And patience. I am SO much more patient now that I was then. Sure, I’m still as super-eager, enthusiastic person; once I’m “in” – by gosh I’m IN:  all or nothing, LOL! Always have been, always will be.  But I’ve learned the value of time. Of waiting. Of praying. And waiting more. Listening….listening for His guidance.  Which kinda ties into…..

I’m more guarded… very much so.  Possibly, probably…even a little too much.  Some mistakes I’ve made, things I’ve messed up on over the years…have left me to struggle with a bit of self-doubt at times.  Oh, I’ve made tremendous progress on this…used to be, years ago, I was so beaten down and destroyed, it was practically impossible for me to make a decision.  Now, I can make a decision.  But I’m so much more careful about decisions than I was…again, both a very good thing, and a possible quirk… you can get so caught up in analyzing all options and angles and pros and cons…that you never get around to making a move of ANY kind at all!!! And that’s certainly NO way to live! That’s not living…that’s staying trapped by fear.   A dear friend said to me yesterday, “The Bible tells us to guard our hearts, but not to close our hearts off!” Truth indeed.  And while I am still the person who says, “Why Not?” way more than “What if..?” I do tend to weigh every angle carefully before getting from the “What if” to the “Why not?”

My love of life is backin spades! I have always loved, loved, LOVED life to the fullest. Again, for so long, that joy, that sense of adventure, was just sucked right out of me till I was barely a shell of a functioning human being.  I don’t mean to say that it died completely; no, never! I continued to find joy, happiness, and adventure in simple things every day.  A hug from one of the kids.  A smile, a text, a prayer from my friends.  The music at church.  A hike up Stone Mountain.  Writing a card or letter to a soldier or veteran.  Nature. And so on.  True…I had to actively search these things out…to almost fight for them, in a sense…but I had to, as it’s such an important part of who I am.  Who I was – who I AM! –  was nearly suffocated for a long time.  Branded as “unworthy.” As a “horrible human being” and “selfish” and so much more.   But…who I am, who God made me to be…thankfully never completely died.  And I’ve been enjoying my own resurrection (if you’ll excuse the phrase) tremendously.  God truly DOES restore and heal and bless, far more than we could imagine!  The process of “coming back to life” happened pretty much right away – before we even moved to our little farmhouse in the country.  Once God freed me to be who I am…oh, how I’ve reveled in it!  And each day is another adventure in discovery… discovering where I am, what I am, who I am – how I have changed (for better or for worse) and what God is doing in my life.  Even during the worst, most horrible times…I can and do say, with utmost sincerity…. God is good – even when life isn’t.  And Life doesn’t have to be perfect, to be WONDERFUL. And my life is, indeed, AMAZING.  Yes, I may be crying at that moment or terrified of some scary unknown or threat or crisis… but that doesn’t mean life isn’t awesome and God isn’t good. I. Love. Life! Every messy, chaotic bit of it.

I truly realize how very blessed I am.  I have an incredible church family who has been there every single step of the way. Every. Step. Of. The. Way. Then, and now.  I have great kids who have settled in to their new life amazingly.  I have food, shelter, laughter, love and fun. I’ve reconnected with old friends that had fallen by the wayside due to the chaos in my life (sorry bout that, y’all!) and made a slew of brand new ones.  I’m back doing the things I love best… and more! God rocks and life is awesome…and I’m very blessed, very thankful.

I appreciate and value solitude.  I’ve always been a loner by nature:  partly due to my natural temperament and partly due to the circumstances of my early life…nature AND nurture, both.  An extrovert, I am not.  I am definitely an introvert.  Throw me in a crowd of folks and tell me to “go make friends,” and I’ll immediately retreat to a corner and just watch! (Unless I’m hanging out with someone who is very extroverted, then I am a bit braver, hahaha!) Even in a group of folks I know well…I still tend to be the quiet one, watching, listening, observing.  Except when I’m in a crowd of the folks who know me BEST…they all know I’m crazy and still luv me anyway – hahaha!  Seriously though – it never bothered me, being alone.  In fact, I crave moments of solitude daily to help me recharge.  Quiet time for prayer, for reading, for just…being.  I need those moments like a desert needs rain.  Even the occasional solitary adventure – hiking, exploring a new area, visiting the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers and just…being….

I am learning the value of relationships.  The flip side of being a quiet, solitary creature is that, having connected with real, true friends for the first time in forever – more years than I can count, actually… I do love the people I have in my life, all of you! I don’t make new friends easily…but once I do? I’m die-hard loyal and your biggest cheerleader…no matter what your circumstances in life, no matter what you are facing, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve spoken.  My friends, my closest friends – are like family.  Being the introvert I am, it can be a challenge trying to relate to folks.  For example, I rarely ask questions of others.  I know, I know…the best way to get to know folks is to ask them questions about themselves!  But…that feels so invasive to me, somehow.   I always figure that if folks want me to know stuff, they’ll tell me! Haha! And heck, I ALWAYS want to know EVERYTHING – Kats are Kurious creatures, you know!  But the “don’t be nosy” part of my personality makes it a challenge.  Yes, I’m better than I was at this, but trust me…still LOTS of room for improvement!!! LOTS.  But yep…this loner, who never actually had anyone in her life… actually has real friends and real relationships…and absolutely loves it.  Back to that concept of balance… being happy in who you are, if you are alone…but not being an absolute hermit, and being brave enough to open your heart to others, to the right person or people.  Balance…all about balance.  One needs both sides of the coin for a healthy life… and I have that.  I am SO blessed.  It’s definitely a growth process for me… but I’m loving it.

Every day is an adventure.  Whether that “adventure” is something as simple as reading a good book (mystery/thriller, of course!) cover-to-cover in one sitting, or jumping on a motorcycle and getting lost in the mountains, or spending time in silent prayer at the Monastery, or searching for a well-hidden geocache, or watching DVDs all day, or hanging out with friends, or paying respects to our military/veterans and providing support/encouragement, or cooking an excellent (or at least, edible) meal, baking, successfully completing a cross-stitch project, visiting historical sites, hiking trails at a State Park, running/waddling thru/walking a 5K, camping, watching my musician friends perform wherever they may be (or any music, anytime, anywhere, LOL!) …or, simply surviving the commute home… I love every bit of it.  (Note that my definition of “adventure” does NOT include things like bungee jumping, skydiving, or roller coasters… back to that whole, “I’m a coward” thing…LOL!).  2012 has, thus far, been a fantastic year (all 46 days of it, haha), and I just cannot WAIT to see what God has in store for the other 10 & a half months!  Every day is an unrepeatable adventure. Live it. Love it. Enjoy.


~The Seeker~

Thoughts on Solitude

•January 12, 2012 • 2 Comments

Solitude is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling, as by staying within. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for solitude in the present, you will never find it,”

-Thomas Merton, from the devotional book “A Year With Thomas Merton…Daily Reflections From His Journals

This quote just JUMPED out at me last night, as I was reading one of my daily devotionals (I have two – this one, and Day By Day With St. Benedict).  Anyone who knows me well knows that I adore solitude. I love peace & quiet, time to reflect, and just to be by myself.  Without times of quiet solitude, well, let’s just say…it’s not pretty, what I turn into. Ha! Incorporating times of quietness and solitude into my daily life, into my daily spiritual disciplines, is one of the facets of monastic life that is so very appealing to me.  But, of course, it IS quite a challenge, what with (a) not actually living in a monastery; (b) having a 45-mile one way commute; (c) having three kids at home from ages 8 to 18; (d) all the chores and chaos that come with being a single mom; and (d) those little (or big) surprise crises that pop up along the way.  During seriously high-stress times (and only on weekends when the kids are with dad for visitation), I sometimes escape for five or six hours just to hang out at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, which is just a mere hour’s drive from me.  During nice weather, a walk around the grounds is beautifully serene and tranquil (I recently discovered there’s also a lake there with a prayer walk path, too! And geese. Lots of geese. 🙂 ).  Walk into the Abbey Church, and the quietness and peace is awe-inspiring.  You can almost literally hear a pin drop…you are instantly wrapped a blanket of silent reverence.  It is so easy there to just…be still.

 Of course, as refreshing as such a “mini-retreat” day is, I still have to go home at the end of it.  Back to the noise.  Back to the chaos. Back to kids bickering and being generally uncooperative over “whatever” their issue is that day.  Back to the shrilling calendar alarms on my cell phone reminding me of my prayer times…because without them, I WOULD forget (“OMG…is it 10:00 p.m. already (or whatever time it’s set for)?! Ack! Snooze alarm! Snooze again! One more snooze… OK, just one more thing, get through this hopefully last of ten million interruptions, and….”).  Yet, the chaos is part of my calling, so to speak.  Kids, work, friends, volunteering, baking, writing… just LIFE “on the outside” is my calling, my mission in life, where God wants me.  And I love it.  All of it. I am blessed and thankful.  But the trick is…the trick is to somehow find those moments of solitude in the midst of all the chaos.  Fr. D, my Prior and Director of Benedictine Vocations, once said to me that as third-order monastics (or, in my case, a “gonna-be, wanna-be, getting-there” third-order monastic), we seek to bring the silence and solitude of the monastery into our homes and our daily lives.  To cultivate the silence, the solitude within ourselves even as we go through our chaotic days surrounded by others.  St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, ““The world is my cloister, my body is my cell, and my soul is the hermit within!”  (Yep…another favorite quote of mine that seems to suit me. 🙂 )

The quotation from Thomas Merton above really reinforced this concept for me when I read it last night.  As nice as it is to “get away” from time-to-time…we must cultivate the silence, the moments of solitude, right here, right now in our day-to-day hectic, chaotic, messy and imperfect lives.  If we keep looking for it “in the future,” well… we’ll never get around to finding it more often than not. How many times do we say, “I’m going to do that or go here or there…soon!” and never do? For example, I’ve been “meaning to” and “wanting to” go to this event (or one similar) for well over 15 years at least…but I’ve never gotten around to it.  Can’t get tickets, schedule won’t cooperate, you name it… I’ve never bothered to set about intentionally planning for it, saving for it, and whatnot.   So… I’ve never gone. (And no, that’s NOT a hint given my upcoming 39th (for the first time, honest!) birthday next month… but if anyone wants to chip in for Don Williams tickets… just sayin….. but I digress. LOL! Just kidding.  Kinda. Ha!)

 Anyway….that, I think, is the key… at least for me, anyway: we must intentionally seek out –or create! – moments of solitude for prayer, reflection, and just….being.  If we do not intentionally seek it out… we will miss out on the blessings such moments bring.  A few examples come to mind… moments of solitude can some by surprise, in something as simple as watching the dogs play in the front yard.  Or the cows grazing in the field next to us.  Or stopping in the middle of whatever I’m doing to listen to the rain on our farmhouse’s tin roof for a moment.  Or in the car, going to or from work, listening and singing along to some praise & worship music (9 times out of 10 my radio is on country, but that’s another story, hahaha).  Or here’s a great example related to me by a friend not long ago:  It was a regular day, filled with all sorts of errands, rain/bad weather, and business demands and things going wrong.  Friend and another friend went into a store for something or other, and when they walked out, they were stopped in their tracks by a gorgeous, crystal-clear double rainbow that seemed to come out of nowhere.  After soaking in that view for several minutes…the tone of the entire day was changed – for the better.  See? Solitude – even in the presence of others – can jump up and quietly surprise us… we just need to be on the lookout for it, and recognize it when it appears (in addition to seeking to intentionally create quiet times).   God shows up everywhere…just be on the lookout and you’ll be amazed at what you see. 🙂

See, solitude is not merely “being alone.” In fact, it’s significantly different, actually.  Solitude is more of an attitude of the heart…  “Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.” (Click HERE for the full article from which this quote originates.)

     Here are a few more links that deal with solitude… google it, and you’ll find much more: 🙂

Thanks for patiently reading my ramblings.  Have a fantastic day and be at peace!

Love to all,

~The Seeker~