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New-town living with GPS, hate groups, and cats.

catsMoving to a new town and knowing no one is like a cat on a leash. Easier said than done. I soon discovered my daughter’s friend lives approximately two minutes away and is happy to feed my own little beasts on occasion. And thanks to my husband, I met his co-worker’s wife, also new to the area, and we became instant friends.

But otherwise, it’s living in Strangeville. The strangeness isn’t just due to being surrounded by strangers, it’s because I feel as if I’ve entered another country. I call it the Semi-South. A few hours drive towards the equator and you hit a different land.

A land where the friendliness factor rates a ten on a scale of one to ten, where few people really act like strangers. The other day I was out shopping with my daughter who was visiting, and the cashier and I struck up a fun conversation. She ended up calling me her “new boo.”  I looked this term up to be sure what it meant and the Urban Dictionary defines it as your boyfriend or girlfriend. When she checked me out again a couple of weeks later, I reminded her that I was her new boo. She lit right up with a huge smile, “Yes! I remember you!” and it felt like I’d just ran into an old friend.

On the other hand, my experience with the Catholic church was a bit different. I chose the closest one I could find since I am directionally challenged, but I’m not sure it’s the right fit. You’ve heard of the Stepford Wives, right? Well, I couldn’t shake the feeling that these people seem to be like the Stepford Catholics. All dressed up and coifed and praying in their pews immediately upon entering their seats. There were no slackers in this kneel-and-pray entrance. The only bit of unruliness was with a group of Asians whose kids couldn’t stop talking and milling about in their pews. They just made the other parishioners stand out more in their Stepford perfection.

The GPS Factor

Initially, sticking to a church close by made sense due to my anxiety about driving places that are unfamiliar and on super busy roads with multiple lanes of cars. I am not used to driving out of my house and in two minutes hitting that kind of traffic. I never know which way to turn even if I am going back in the direction I just came. The GPS in my phone is a crutch I rely upon for direction, and it is the best invention and antidote for driving anxiety ever made by man.

Although I check Google maps before driving to a new destination, I still need the GPS. When I decided to go to the local animal shelter, where I want to volunteer, I of course turned on my phone and zeroed in on the address. I am sure I will do okay because, after all, it’s only eight minutes away!

It doesn’t take me long on my short journey to encounter The Turn. My GPS did not warn me about The Turn, which involves turning left into the opposing two lanes of high speed cars without a light. This maneuver takes me onto the wrong road. My second try I turn earlier. The Turn is still not the right road, still doesn’t have a light, and still looks like committing suicide. I realize that I am supposed to make The Turn later, not earlier, and it will still involve potentially suicidal left-turn mania without a light. The good news is that on the way back I made another wrong turn and discovered an alternate route which involves a blessed right-hand turn onto a clearly marked road, and at a light. I don’t even need a light to go right! I am destined to travel to this animal shelter without risking my life, it seems.

The Hate Group Factor

On this first trip to the shelter, however, once I managed to get to the road the shelter is on, I see a kennel clearly marked with a sign, but no sign for the shelter. I wondered if it was in the same building, but just to be sure, I keep on driving. I see there is one more building on this road and then the road ends. I arrive at a warehouse-type building. As I turn around, I notice a lot of pick up trucks. They are parked randomly, without any order like you’d expect at a workplace. And there are a lot of them. Then I notice in the rear window of one truck a large Confederate flag emblem, emblazoned for the world to see. Terrified, I couldn’t turn around fast enough, thinking how my husband told me he’d just found out that there’s an active KKK in this town, the same town the shelter is in. Could this be their meeting place? Sure looks like it could be, and leave it to me to discover it.

Best Part: The Cat Factor

I get to the shelter, and it smells like dog. Lots and lots of dogs, all barking like they want to rip your throat out, in kennels and cages on two floors. Most of them are pit bulls. They scare the crap out of me. But I also feel terrible for them and I tear up every time I pass by. The cat room is on the upper floor so I have to pass by these abandoned creatures whenever I visit the cats. There are so many cats in the cat room that I can’t count them. Probably fifty, but maybe fewer. Most of them are very friendly and I wish I was an octopus with more hands to pet them. The last time I felt this way was in the orphanage in China. Nearly all of them have this tape-like tag around their necks with their name on it. There are a lot of names to remember!

On my second visit, I am an official volunteer and I jump right in and clean out the litter boxes. I scooped nine giant litter boxes in the cat room and four smaller ones in the kitten room. While there yesterday, two cats get dropped off, one just dumped by the road. Two more cats’ names to remember.

A young couple arrives to adopt a cat. They are having trouble deciding. They were going to choose *Good Cat (he’s a big black cat and has the most generic name of all of them), but they were falling in love with Caramel, another black cat who kept me company throughout most of my poop-scooping. When they realize Caramel is ten years old, they exchange looks. I show them Patti Cake (probably the most unusual of the names) who is also black and as friendly as Caramel. She was my other poop-scooper company. In the meantime, Bella, a light brown- and gray-striped tabby jumps on the woman’s lap. Bella is a hugger. The woman begins asking questions about the cat on her lap who’s winning in the affection arena, but I have to leave. It’s been nearly four hours and I want to go home to make dinner.

I also volunteered to drive to another town to visit a pet store where the shelter takes cats to get more exposure for adoption. They need volunteers to visit and feed, water, scoop the litter boxes, and give love to the cats. What price to pay to be with the most affectionate cats I have ever known?

The Surprise Neighbor Factor

My week ends with a tiny bit of guilt. While I was in the bedroom I heard singing. As I listened, I thought it sounded like a hymn. So I did what any curious person would do, and I put my ear to the wall where the sound was loudest. It was definitely a hymn, and after singing the person began to read aloud from the bible. I started to feel the guilt creeping up from my eavesdropping. Nothing personal was being said, and I just wanted to confirm that it was truly Jesus-preaching that I was hearing, and it was! I wanted to know for sure because it made me so happy to think we have a neighbor who loves the Lord. He was talking like he was giving a sermon, quoting Jeremiah and referring to spiritual warfare. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a radio show, but I don’t think it was.

It’s really hard to tell which door goes to what apartment, so I have no idea what apartment number it is. It would be fun to figure it out and go knocking on his door with some homemade cookies, but what would I say? Hey, I heard you singing hymns and wanted to say thank you? I like knowing there’s a fellow believer next door? I’m an eavesdropper new to the area? Want some fresh baked cookies?

Life in the Semi-South is a whole new world from the New England living I am used to. I hate the thought there is a hate group functioning nearby, but I love the fact that there are so many friendly people, people who love their God, even if some of them intimidate me with their outward perfection. There are more churches to try, and so many cats to love, in this new-town living. Taking wrong turns isn’t looking so bad.

*All names changed to protect the furry felines.

Photo of rescue kitten I met out for a walk in a nearby shore town.

What are you created for?

spiritual exercisesYou are one link in an enormous chain that connects all of us to each other and to our Creator. If you ever wonder what your little link is supposed to do — what is the purpose of your one wild and precious life — you’re hardly alone.

Through the St. Ignatian Spiritual Exercises my favorite priest helped me to understand one critical piece of information regarding what we are created for. All the worrying over what I should be doing, where I should be doing it, and if I was wasting my time with the wrong people seemed a lot less important knowing this.

We are created to glorify God.

It’s so simple. Whatever you do, wherever you are, and whomever you are with right now, glorify God in it. Ask yourself as you go about your day:

What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?

Our lives — all our choices, deeds, words, even our thoughts — have the potential to reflect the grace of God. The more we consider these questions, the more we will encounter Christ in our lives. The more we encounter Christ, the less likely we are to sin against one another.

God has created me, to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nothing. Therefore, I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am. I cannot be thrown away. ~ John Henry Newman

As you come to the realization that you travel in His grace, safely ensconced within His intricately woven chain of creation, it becomes easier to accept life’s struggles. One way to work on this is by practicing what Ignatius calls a freedom of detachment.

To possess a freedom of detachment or indifference to your trials and the things of this world, you must find balance. Choosing the things that bring you closer to God versus those that don’t, accepting what might be plaguing you right now instead of continuing to rail against God for what’s happened — a freedom of detachment will help you make a choice that brings you peace.

“Making use of those things that help to bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t” is in Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation. The freer you are — the greater level of holy detachment you possess —  the better able you are to choose what serves God.

In whatever position you’re in, try to find a place of wisdom, intuition, and compassion before taking the leap. Try to find someone whom you trust who can counsel you. Try to see your options in relation to your deepest values and beliefs. Pray for guidance.

Trying to find balance through a freedom of detachment takes time. More time than I have patience for! Yet how else would you choose to live? Living in God’s grace or living without His peace? “One day at a time,” a wise nun told a friend of mine. The nun, sitting in a wheelchair after suffering paralysis from a stroke, wagged her finger at my friend.  Sometimes that’s all we have to hold onto.

Today then. Can you trust in God and His call and purpose for your life as you live each day?

“Touch the Sky” by Hillsong United.

Release and forgive those who offend you.

release those who offend you

Leap” by charamelody, used under CC BY / Modified from original

Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I’d like to think that I am good, but knowing that I am loved despite all my faults, despite all my failed attempts at sainthood — can you see how difficult it is to follow in Your footsteps? — is enough.

We are all in this together, even if there are a smattering of bewildered ones who seem to think that it is best to attack and harm and ostracize. Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift,” Mary Oliver writes. If you’ve tasted from your own box of darkness, you’ll know it tastes far bitterer when someone you love hands it over.

As a Mama Bear, its flavor holds a unique repugnance. Watching your child experience the gift of darkness, carrying his heart in your hands, praying for the world to dissipate and spiritual reality to speak. The wild geese calling in Oliver’s poem tell me to drink the full cup of our Creator’s love, including life’s pain, and “forgive men when they sin against you.” (Matthew 6:14)

No, you don’t have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles in the desert in repentance. It just feels like it at times.

Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, tells us that forgiveness is a necessary step on our spiritual journey. Just like Jesus, how we choose to react to betrayal will determine our future health and relationships. Rohr says he can see it in the faces of people, the hardness in our movements and in our walks, that sense of unforgiven betrayal and the inability to release the perpetrators from our offended hearts.

It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to want to blame another for your pain. But the truth is, we’re all part of “an essentially tragic nature,” inherently imperfect, and unable to achieve the Divine Level (for anything longer than a breath).

Is it easier, I wonder, to release those who are strangers to Divine Mercy, or to forgive those who should know better than to be heartless? Does it really matter? Both are equally deserving in His eyes. Both are worthy of and “live under the waterfall of divine mercy.”

Without a safe place to go, something to fill the barrenness, it’s impossible to forgive. Rohr calls it “releasement.” You can only truly forgive or release when you find something to replace the gaping hole that remains.

Enter grace.

As I read the story of the band Gungor, I stood in witness to a tale that carries betrayal at a level you can only experience as a public figure. Betrayal so big that my heart can’t even imagine it. Christians clothed in self-righteousness, masquerading as truth-tellers, huddling in their self-appointed huddles. Yet Gungor is determined to follow in Christ’s footsteps and release every single one of those who choose to cause pain.

Enter prayer.

Even though prayer has, as Rohr says, been trivialized, it still carries an essential ticket to our releasement. We are engaging in, as Paul says in Philippians 4:8, the power of positive thinking.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Instead of imagining your enemy sitting in a corner with a dunce cap (okay, that’s a really tame imagining, but it’s better than saying they’re being attacked by various venomous creatures or other ambiguous tortures), think positive thoughts. When your heart is plundered, that empty space is the void that calls to you, saying, “Hey, come join me down here! It’s cozy and dark and you can just sink into the oblivion of nothingness.”

Except it’s not nothing. It’s everything your worst nightmares ever conjured. That satisfaction you get from imagining those who’ve caused you pain clenched in the jaws of a monstrous beast (like that one better?) will turn around and bite you back. “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” the Buddha warns us. There’s only one way to get the relief you so long for.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Enter Christ.

You. “It’s always only You.” Gungor comes full circle in experiencing life and its crazy turns in “You” from the album One Wild Life:Soul. Where else can you go but wide and long and deep in the comfort of God’s grace? Go there, or keep falling into the pit of nothingness.

As you fill yourself with something better than poison, you’ll transform your pain. Rohr tells us that with a “deep gratitude for our own undeserved grace and mercy,” we can move past the hurts. They don’t warrant our energy. The scariest part of failing to do this, for me, is the idea that “if you do not transform your pain, you will with 100 percent certainty transmit it to others.”


There’s little choice then, unless you want to let hate mold you into the same monster you imagined swallowing whole your adversary. “You cannot love in moderation,” Gungor tells us in “Land of the Living.” How do you love then? “Lay your soul on the threshing floor.”

So that’s it. The only way out of your tangle with the demons of unforgiveness. Love big, there’s no other way, and while you’re at it, hand over your dredged-open soul to the only One who can fill it up.

The threshing floor is where your pain is winnowed out, fanned away, and Love is laid bare. Here is where you can think of each person who has offended you in some way, then release them in love.

From Gungor’s “It’s Us for Them” in One Wild Life:Soul, the first in a trilogy of albums.

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Loneliness to fill the silence.

loneliness to fill the silenceWe tell stories because we can’t help it. We tell stories because they fill the silence death imposes. We tell stories because they save us. — Madeleine L’EngleRock That is Higher

I read a story today that filled my own silence. Another person’s story can overwhelm our own story, reach down into our despair and loneliness, and haul us out. Even for a few glorious moments of fresh air, we are removed from our cocoon of fears.

Hers is the stuff of nightmares: terror, murder, isolation. Most of us simply cannot conceive of this form of darkness. As a resident of Djibouti, a country in the horn of Africa, Rachel Pieh Jones mourns the recent tragedy of 148 killed in Kenya, where two of her kids attend a boarding school.

In 2003, she fled with her family from Somaliland, an independent state not far from where they live now, after western aid workers were killed. She lives surrounded by poverty, unemployment, and refugees who continue to arrive, fleeing from Yemen. She manages to function in spite of an ongoing state of fear that today will be her last day to live.

Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos, we see despite all the chaos. — Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

By telling her story, she allows not only us, but herself, to see through the chaos and to the beauty of the cosmos. She doesn’t do this without some serious help; without the help of a hero, our Greatest Hero, she admits she’s a coward.

“I am the woman cowering behind Jesus, clinging to the edges of his robes, trembling. I’m the one saying, ‘I want to be with you. I want to go with you. But are you sure you want to go there? You really want to do that?'”

Do You, God? Do You really want to put us at risk? Bring us to the edge of our sanity? Drag us through unbelievable pain? Force us to witness unspeakable violence and unfathomable hate? Endure the quiet torture of loneliness?

Like Rachel, and the psalmist David, we can take comfort in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” If we are going to live our story despite the chaos and fear, we can try to live it like David. He was brave enough to admit that he was afraid, but weak enough to admit he needed Jesus.

When Rachel admits she fears a lot of things, and lists loneliness among them, I stop to give her silent thanks. Here’s a woman who must worry about the lack of armed guards outside the church on Easter Sunday saying that she fears loneliness.

Our story is never written in isolation. We do not act in a one-man play. We can do nothing that does not affect other people, no matter how loudly we say, “It’s my own business.”  — Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Thank you, Rachel, for giving me a gift of consolation. Knowing I’m not alone in my fears, that my fear is real, makes me inexplicably less frightened. Shared fears, like shared grief, lightens the load. I may not know you, nor you me, but you know my fears.

Perhaps that is part of the Naming that Madeleine L’Engle speaks of when we tell our stories. As we give Name to our deepest fears, as we share this part of our story, we free ourselves from its clutches. Loneliness won’t go away, but it will begin to have meaning.

My husband calls it confronting the ugly. As my steadfast anchor in stormy seas, he never fails to supply me with a more practical perspective. When the boat feels like it’s about to go over, he reminds me that it’s seaworthy. When the waves are too much to handle, he asks me, “What are you going to do about it?”

Most of the time, the answer is the same. I will put my trust in the One Who Is Bravest of All, like David did. I will Name my fear, face my fear, and trust that God will give me what I need to carry on.

Therefore I would like to voice loudly and clearly what might seem unpopular and maybe even disturbing: The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.  — Henri Nouwen, Wounded Healer

Manatee Love

graceLike a charming yet distinctly unglamorous pug — a breed of dog that is so ugly it’s absolutely adorable — there’s another creature that tugs on my heartstrings. For not only is it inexplicably it’s-so-pugly-it’s-cute, but this utterly defenseless and gentle mammal exudes a tender cheerfulness with its God-given grin.

If only humans would practice the manatee’s posture of sanguinity more often. Imagine people everywhere grinning with abandon, prepared to receive you with unabashed happiness as you approach them.

It would unfold something like this:

“Hey, how ’bout a belly rub?” you offer, in pure manatee-love fashion.

“Why, yes, I think I might,” they accept, careful to meet your eye so you know they mean it.

As you begin a friendly belly rubbing, you note how graceful they are despite their portly shape. You think, Wow, if only I knew how to do a roll-over and twist with such ease.

“Great. Wait, you missed a spot,” they add helpfully.

And so the dance goes. In a manatee-loving, faith-trusting, truth-seeking, hope-giving, forgiveness-sharing world, we will be blessed with bountiful grace. We will dance with one another without fear.

What can I do for you? Can I help you with that? How are you doing today? (asked like you really mean it.) You look like you need a hug. Can I pray for you? I’d like for you to have this. Here, let me do that. I’ve got it for you.

Watching the manatees reminds me of the simplicity of generosity. The simplicity of living in harmony. The simplicity of making room for others who desire a seat at the banquet table of Life.

Watching the manatees spoke to something deep within my soul, an ancient part of me that exists in everyone. Jesus, I see, resides in the depths of the ocean floor, in the unlikely creature of an affable sea-being. Jesus, I believe, abides in each of us, in the hidden recesses of our psyche where True Love waits.

Watch and maybe you will see and believe too.

Video music: “Watch Over Us” by The Lone Bellow and “I Will Be Blessed” by Ben Howard.

Angel tears and unknowing.


Photo modified from original by massimo ankor under CC BY

The state of unknowing is perpetual. Unknowing means recognizing our limitations and ultimately understanding that you “do not have to know in limited, finite terms of provable fact that which {you} believe.” It means taking life and all its mysteries and removing them from the confines of a box.

Author Madeleine L’Engle once said, when asked how she got out of her agnostic period:

“I am still an agnostic, but then I was an unhappy one, seeking finite answers, and now I am a happy one, rejoicing in paradox.”

Being agnostic, she said, speaks to our not knowing. As limited, finite human beings, we can’t know “in any intellectual or ultimate way the infinite Lord, the undivided Trinity,” but we can know what we don’t understand.

That is the paradox.

We know the truths of the universe, yet we can’t know them as eternal certainties, because science is always evolving.

“A religious creed differs from a scientific theory in claiming to embody eternal and absolutely certain truth, whereas science is always tentative, expecting that modification in its present theories will sooner or later be found necessary, and aware that its method is one which is logically incapable of arriving at a complete and final demonstration.”

Bertrand Russell, Grounds of Conflict, Religion and Science, 1953.

We know what the world is made of, although we are unable to see this mysterious element of all life. We accept it because it satisfies the answer to enough questions. But we don’t know truth unless we step outside the box.

We are able to accept our “not-knowing,” as L’Engle said, in faith as well as in science.

Religion and science? One and the same. I don’t have any trouble with it,” L’Engle said in a PBS interview

This acceptance is also necessary when it comes to wrestling with hardship. We need this faith in the unknowing as we attempt to understand the meaning of tragedy, violence, hate, betrayal, and all host of painful irrationalities. They all can be answered by choosing a truth that is beyond our forensic thinking, that can only be explained by transcending fact.

Truth as we are called to know it through faith is frightening and demanding and uncomfortable. Pontius Pilate knew this, as L’Engle points out, so he “washed his hands of truth when he washed his hands of Jesus.”

Truth allows us to believe in things beyond this world. Angels are no exception. “To take angels seriously“, as L’Engle did, is to join the ranks of Milton, Doré, Shakespeare, William Blake, Robert Browning, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Angels are a mystery, a part of the invisible, coexisting spiritual realm around us. In The Mystery of Angels we see how subtly our lives are impacted, yet how huge are the ramifications for life-altering change because of the supernatural existence of angels.

Could we see angels, perhaps we would see them weep tears for us, for surely there is cause for such weeping. Should you grow to imagine angels as I have, there is little you can do without considering whether or not an angel will suffer despair over your actions or inactions. This is what happens when the concept of another unknowable dimension—one with angelic beings as revealed in the bible—takes root in your psyche.

When you are open to the supernatural, you will always question, and hope, and most of all, wish to be aligned with the light bearers. All of science, all the pain, and all the unknowing can’t alter the simple paradox of the truth of God’s love for us.

So go ahead and admit your not-knowing. You are a creature of light, wherever you are in your journey, even if all you can muster is a flicker. The light that flickers is the light that removes the darkness in a dark world.

“It does not mean that I do not believe; it is an acceptance that I am created, that I am asked to bear the light, knowing that this is the most wonderful of all vocations.”

Quotes taken from Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections.

“Watch Over Us” by The Lone Bellow

Father James Dressman

Father James Dressman

Wilhelm Kotarbinski, “Tears of the Human,” c. 1800.

“There is a weeping of fire, of true holy longing, and it consumes in love…These, I tell you, are tears of fire, and this is how the Holy Spirit weeps.”

~ Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue

It’s never an easy thing to see your beloved friend in a coffin, and I don’t know why I refuse to anticipate such a thing when attending a wake. I suppose it’s because I know having to bear it will undo me, so I deny the possibility until it’s upon me.

But there he was, still Father Jim, yet not Father Jim at all. I kept telling myself he was no longer there. He’d travelled to the far reaches of time and space, into a world we are not yet able to access unless dreams and visions take us there.

With the resoluteness of a wanderer in unknown lands, I stood before him and whispered words of hope and regret. Regret that I won’t see him again in this world, and hope that we will be together again in God’s kingdom. “Just another reason for me to be happy to go home, because if there’s anyone who’s in heaven with the angels and saints, it’s you!”

There was a smattering of priests and other laity, including men who studied the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with him. A few women who worked at Campion were also present. The chapel was filled with too-loud music, the ceiling of angels over the altar resounding with the cacophony of songs meant to soothe.

A woman who’d been stationed near the coffin gave a brief epilogue of his life, similar to the one in his obituary. We learned that as a very young man he preferred basketball to books, was an avid participant in his health care as it deteriorated, and when he was nearing the end of his forty-year mission in Nepal, he grew nervous about his return to the States and where he should go to continue as a priest.

His prayers directed him to New England, and it was our good fortune that he ended up in Storrs at St. Thomas Aquinas for ten years. As the only member of his parish present, I felt I should take the opportunity to share something when the microphone was passed. I waited until the last moment, hoping that some miracle would allow me to master my emotions by then.

The miracle of that afternoon wasn’t found in the telling of a tale without tears, which, as Father John Monahan used to tell me, was a gift, something not to be taken lightly nor to be scorned. The miracle was laying before us, dressed in a robe of white and clutching a rosary in his hands, the shell of the man who was closer to a saint than anyone I’ve known.

As impossible as it was to share my tale minus any tears, it’s impossible to remember Father Jim without remembering his intent manner—how he would look into your eyes as if you’re the only person in the world at that moment who holds significance.

Several people thanked me afterward for sharing, even thanking me for my tears. It is perhaps the first time I’ve experienced gratefulness for my tears. How odd and perplexing; it’s as if my own sorrow reflected the sorrow of others, and they were thankful I was able to express it.

The mementoes lined up on the narrow table at the back of the pews were tangible reminders of my favorite priest: his bible, a tiny reliquary of St. Faustina, and photos of friends and family. It wasn’t enough, this assembly of items. Nothing is enough to capture the essence of a man who lived his life for God, and to serve others in God’s name.

We sang an unfamiliar hymn to the playing of the piano, most of us out of tune and unsure of the notes. Father Jerry sat behind my son and I, and he made the same effort to sing as effectively as possible when encumbered with such uncertainty. What a motley crew we are, I thought. And how appropriate that we should be gathered together like so many wanderers, plucked from our daily lives, focused on the man who at one time helped us to drink from the eternal fountain of life—the man who now drinks deep in the living presence of the very One whose life was given for us—for the same motley crew that sings a song out of tune.

See Will he remember me? for memories of Father Jim.




Will he remember me?


William Blake, “Jacob’s Ladder,” c. 1800. Watercolor. British Museum.

He said his guardian angel told him its name. He said mine might too if I asked and listened.

He once did a Mass just for me. I was both thrilled and nervous. Thrilled to be given such a special gift and nervous because I wasn’t sure exactly what to say and when, being such a novice Catholic even several years after my conversion.

He changed my life. His direction in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises continue to impact my prayer life and my love for Jesus. After completing the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), I participated in these exercises and through his guidance learned that Christ is reachable. He’s at once a mystery and an ever-present, close friend. Jesus is the ancient fire of life that no one can extinguish.

He made me feel less crazy in a world of secular expectations, privileges, and sanctions. He made me feel safe in a far wilder landscape of enigmas and intangible forces that I am compelled into with the force of gale winds at my back.

Like the holy spirit that he steered me towards in faith’s deep waters, the beauty behind the veil became more of a reality to me than the water engulfing my feet at high tide. Because he knew. Father Jim knew well the Flame that lies within each of us, of its power to heal and redeem and sanctify.

remembermeHis laugh, I can hear it still. In heaven’s vast timelessness, where he rubs elbows now with the other saints and angels, will he remember me? Will he remember the walk we took over gnarled tree roots and among dying pines? Will he recall our Jesus talks and my tears of gratitude?

For my favorite priest, dear friend, and spiritual mentor, may the blessed Savior and all His angels and saints keep you safe until I see you again.

I will miss you. I will think of you often. I will wonder when I catch glimpses of shimmering light in the corners of my eyes if angels are nearby.

The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
’Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

~ Francis Thompson, 1859–1907, The Kingdom of God, “In No Strange Land”

remember me

Father Jim takes a selfie!

For more on this wonderful priest, I wrote about Father James Dressman’s wake and the gift of tears.

Advent is utter heartbreak.

advent heart

Love in unexpected places” by Katie Tegtmeyer, used under CC BY / Modified from original

Waking this morning to blue skies, there was a heaviness to my heart I couldn’t explain. Then I remembered what the calendar already knew.

Advent has come.

Advent is the complex fusion of anticipation, contemplation, and brokenness that ushers us to renewal. Yes, Christ is coming. We rejoice and celebrate. But we must also see beyond the glory and beauty to the pain.

Advent is about so much more than a time of renewal – of reflection, waiting, and patient abiding. Advent is about the heartbreak.

“The thing I love most about Advent is the heartbreak. The utter and complete heartbreak.” – Jerusalem Jackson Greer

The birth of Christ involves Mary, an unmarried teenager who carries a child she was told to carry; Joseph, a man who has to accept and support his pregnant betrothed; and a long journey on a donkey to where there is no room at the inn.


New life doesn’t occur with the snap of your fingers or the instantaneous answer to prayer. The journey to new life isn’t one lined with rose petals and – God help us – sappy music.

The path to new life, the journey Advent represents, is riddled with sorrow and pain. Like the journey to the manger, it’s not supposed to always be easy getting there.

The cycle of heartbreak carries us to the very place we need to be to receive the newness and goodness and truthfulness of a resurrected life. If we stop at the place of our brokenness, if we stagnate at the point where we grapple with our wounds, then we can’t receive the grace of new life.

Christmas is a gift of new life to you. A heart-wrenching, soul-splitting gift, but one that will ultimately transform you with magnificent hope.

As the days of December carry you through Advent, let the heartbreak consume you into newness. Let the absolute truth of what Mary felt as she travelled the road to Bethlehem give you a renewed desire to live a life of purpose and joy.

Advent is utter, glorious, life-affirming heartbreak. I hope yours breaks with all the intensity and beauty and promise of living anew.

Does Your Heart Break?” by The Brilliance

Where are you this Christmas?

Christmas poem
Where are you now?

Your silence stretches and pulls—
thin strips of yesterday
left hunched and withered.
Where are you now?

Our thirst waxes and wanes—
shadows from lost dreams
droop low to beckon.
Where are you now?

Time bends into slow miracles—
drift into moments
gone to search horizons.
Where are you now?

Untouched promises yawn deep—
breaths take sips slowly
waiting for sunrise.
Ah, there you are still.

Where are you this Christmas? Someone you love, someone you lost, or someone beyond this world, we miss you now more than ever.

Although you often seem far from us in this life, we know you’re there. No amount of silence, absent dreams, or time will separate us from you.

We hear you in our thoughts, see you in our visions, and feel you with our beating heart. Everything we touch, all that we do and think, the sum of our being, is waiting for you.

This Christmas we remember. We celebrate. We believe.