Tag Archive | pleasing God

. . .as we forgive those who trespass against us.

From infancy on, anger is a constant threat that can damage each one of us in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways. Few learn how to handle it in a healthy manner and so our society suffers because of anger issues. Retaliation only ramps up the hostility while ignoring the issue turns the victim into a neurotic door mat. Today’s news, conversations with neighbors, and reports from our childrendreamstime_xl_22824210 will again be filled with episodes of aggression,antagonism, opposition, intimidation, and anger.

No wonder God insisted on that “Forgiveness Clause” in the Lord’s Prayer that nearly all Christians memorize as children and repeat daily. It ties our own forgiveness from Him to the extent of our willingness to forgive the ones who hurt us. May each of us who claim to be a Little Christ take that clause seriously, learn how to forgive instead of stuffing anger down below our conscious level, and truly forgive others no matter how often or how seriously they hurt us.

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Have Thine Own Way, Lord

“Thou Art The Potter, I Am The Clay”

I couldn’t quite figure out the look on their faces as I opened the door for my parent’s friends, Frank and Lexi. So, shy seven-year-old that I was, I silently escorted them to the kitchen where my mother was cleaning up after supper. I retreated to my room to live again in the fantasy world of the latest library book.

After eagerly finishing yet another Bobbsey Twin mystery, I realized no one had scolded me for staying up too late. So I ventured back to the adult world to see what they were up to.

There they stood, almost in a circle. All were silent except my little brother whose latest accomplishment was a joyful “Da Da” that he was practicing confidently and continuously. Everyone else now shared that same somber look that Frank and Lexi had brought in the front door.

Instantly, I knew. “Daddy died, didn’t he?” No one said a word, but looking at the tears, I knew that I was right.

He had died in a fiery plane crash that afternoon. It shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t his plane; he wasn’t flying it. He had merely gone along for the ride. Another flight instructor had just repaired a small single engine Piper Cub and needed to test it before his next student took it up for a lesson. They identified the two young fathers by the flight records from the airport. There wasn’t enough left of the bodies.

I stood with the grieving adults for a few minutes trying to absorb the news. When they began making lists and phone calls, I slipped back to the comfort of my own room to cry alone. We had just won World War II and now everything was supposed to be okay. How could God have made such a mistake? Wasn’t He paying attention?

Just 11 months earlier, He had taken away my beloved grandfather. But Granddaddy suffered from heart trouble and had been sick several months. Much as I missed his gentle hug and courtly manners, I could understand that he was old and had earned the right to go to heaven for a rest. All through the war he had sat silently praying during daily newscasts by H.V. Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heatter. He had lived to see his native England spared, celebrated V-E day in May, and then clung to life until victory over Japan was assured. Two days later, with his work done, he went home to be with the Lord.

But Daddy was only 28 years old. He had three children to care for. He wasn’t supposed to die. They told me that God loved me. How could He do this to me twice in one year?

I talked to God a lot about it, angrily, pleadingly, and finally, submissively. When none of the adults was around, I would sit at the piano, pick out the tune, and sing “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” and offer my life to Him again and again. I considered myself one of His even though I hadn’t been baptized yet. No one could help ease the pain, but I turned to God because I had memorized that verse in Matthew that says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I didn’t know how or when I would find comfort, but the Bible offered the only hope I could find.

My mother and grandmother were devout Southern Baptists who accepted only believers’ baptism. I had wanted to be baptized and “officially” a Christian for as long as I could remember. But to get to that point, one had to go to the front of the church during an altar call, cry because of your sins, and write on a card that you wanted to be baptized. I really wanted to do all of that. I knew that I mustn’t “deny Him before man” and that I must stand up for my faith. But it took me a couple more anguished years to work up the courage to walk down the long church aisle all alone and make my profession of faith.

We descended from a long line of Protestants who took religion seriously. Church work, prayer, and attendance at the three major church services every week were part of the family heritage, if not the genetic code. And we continued the pattern with even more fervor after that fateful day in July 1946.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 2

“Mold me and make me after Thy will”

There has been a longstanding joke in the South that every loving Southern Baptist parent prays that his children will grow up and become successful enough to join the Episcopal church. To the casual observer, my conversion to the Episcopal church certainly fit that paradigm.

After my father’s death, my mother took a crash course in shorthand and typing so she could get a job, worked to pay off the business debts associated with my father’s nascent Flight Training School, then put herself through college while rearing us three children.

Each of us, in turn, worked and earned scholarships to complete our college education. Eight months after graduation, I married my knight in shining armor and began to live the Great American Dream of Success and Happiness with him.

I had earnestly prayed that God would preserve me from the temptation of falling in love with a Catholic and was quite relieved when the man of my dreams turned out to be a fellow Southern Baptist from South Carolina. I gladly moved east, away from my family in Texas, and tried to become his perfect “help-meet.”

The most wonderful part was mothering our four children. No feminist has ever shown me any project that is more challenging, exhilarating, or rewarding than nurturing your own children. I relished every year of it. Of necessity, I had been a latchkey kid a whole generation before the term was invented. Every day that I had come home from school to an empty house, I swore that somehow, someway, I would be there for my own children.

Being a helpmeet also meant refinishing furniture, making curtains, cooking gourmet meals, befriending the neighbors, and volunteering to improve the community. As a couple, we eagerly participated in each church we joined, serving as Sunday School teachers, committee chairmen and prayer group leaders. As we moved “up the ladder” financially and socially, we also began to entertain more frequently and more lavishly.

I certainly thought of the many stylish parties we could have the first time I saw The House on Valley Road. Its elegance took my breath away. Architectural details like solid mahogany paneling in the library, Waterford chandeliers, triple solid brass hinges on every door, custom-milled windows and woodwork, and twelve foot ceilings were flourishes that I had never dared to dream of owning. As I mentally measured the rooms, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the houses of my youth, including the one-room shack that had lacked indoor plumbing.

I wanted it so much I could hardly relax until we paid our earnest money and signed a sales contract. Yet, I was afraid of my intense desire. On the morning of the closing I prayed that it would not become an idol to us and that God would use our family and our house to be a witness to him in the new community. In my arrogance, I somehow thought that God would be pleased that a family of sincere Christians lived in the most beautiful home in the county.

With the home came a move to another town and to the Episcopal Church. But it wasn’t just a desire for status or a chance to get to know the “movers and shakers” of the community better that drew me there. It was the liturgy.

After attending one service, I knew that this was what I wanted and had wanted for a long time without knowing what to ask for. The solemn procession, the skillfully written order of service, the music, the rituals, and the Eucharist transformed Sunday morning services into a divine appointment. It was as if I suddenly had permission to enjoy beauty for its own sake, that it was Godly, not frivolous. I had grown up relishing the earnest preaching from evangelicals. As an adult, I had reveled in the exuberance of a Pentecostal church. But here, in this service, I felt like I glimpsed heaven itself.

We took the Christian formation classes and quickly became leaders in the Episcopal parish, eventually serving in almost every possible capacity. I learned to appreciate the gentle discipline inherent in the church calendar. I gradually relaxed and began to value the theology. Instead of militantly being on guard to “promote the faith,” I learned to appreciate God’s mercy – and my own need to call upon God for mercy every day. We parishioners supported each other emotionally and spiritually while we fervently prayed for our church leaders to come in from left field and return to the basics of faith. In fact, when the media drumbeat reached a crescendo for the leadership in the Catholic Church to liberalize its views during John Paul II’s visit in 1993, we jocularly suggested among ourselves that perhaps all the liberal Catholics should join the Episcopal church and all of us conservative Episcopalians should become Catholic. Yet none of us made a move.

But my life in Camelot ended several years before World Youth Day in Denver.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 3

“Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!”

I groggily became aware of bright lights everywhere; slowly the three green clad figures came into focus. My surgeon walked over and asked, “Do you know what we had to do?”

I then noticed the burning circle where my right breast used to be. Yes, once again I knew the bad news without being told. Two more surgeries within the next nine weeks marked a second mastectomy and a failed reconstruction attempt. These were just punctuation marks in a list of tragedies that had plagued me for the last several years.

It had started Christmas of 1983 when my “knight” began to side with the dragon, instead of with our four children and me. We all tried to smooth out the tattered relationship, but a phone call from a stranger revealed the real problem, another woman.

Rather than angry confrontations, I went the self-improvement route – new diet, new clothes, new make-up, new hair-do, new attentiveness, new passion, and new marital counseling.

I’ve often said that if I were to write about that hapless period of my life, it would be, not a book, but a multi-volume soap opera where I was the embarrassed and unwilling star. Incident after troublesome incident piled up on an almost daily basis. First, I put my finger in the dike, then my whole body, until finally the dyke broke and I was swept away like flotsam and jetsam to a world with new realities and new rules.

I could frame my life in regular two year cycles for awhile: two years to try to save my marriage, two years to wait for a civil trial, two years to obtain the meager settlement allotted to me, two years to try to find a new pattern for living, two years to battle cancer and its financial burden without insurance. And even more years passed before I began to find a new place for myself in society.

In my experience everyone who gave his or her Christian testimony always came through any trial within a defined period of time and with at least some spiritual victory to claim at the end. But as the years rolled on, I could find neither an end nor a victory.

In God’s mercy, there is no time frame for the book of Job, so he became my closest friend as I read and re-read that book searching for some answer or some promise of resolution. Like Job, I felt rejected and accursed by God and I, too, enjoyed the comfort of well meaning friends.

Like Job, I frequently argued with God over the way He was treating one of His best (in my own somewhat arrogant eyes) friends. In frustration and anger I even threw pillows at the ceiling one night as I cried in bed. “Take that and that!” The whole scene seems so ludicrous now; I must have given all the heavenly hosts a really good laugh. I kept complaining that I couldn’t go on, that He demanded too much, that life wasn’t worth living. But I could not find a way out.

The worst part was the loss of my dreams. One day I was financially and socially secure, working toward apparently godly goals for my family and myself. Then I unwittingly found myself with no husband, no security, no place in society, no goals beyond mere survival, no beautiful home, and no hope. I couldn’t even find a real job to pay for groceries.

I considered my experience of rearing four children, running a complicated household, organizing charities, and creating charitable events as least as demanding as running a successful small business. But sixty-seven different employers who needed help refused to allow me to show them what a conscientious and intelligent worker I was. From 1986 to 1998, I could find only occasional odd jobs. In materialistic America therefore, I had no identity and no “raison d’ être.”

My friends got tired of bring sympathetic and I got tired of being plucky. Suffering is a scandal to us Americans. We are quite willing to help each other out if problems can be fixed fairly rapidly. But affliction over long periods of time frustrates us.

Tacitly, if not theologically, many American Protestants have adopted the idea that earthly success illustrates God’s favor. It’s not really suitable to actually be a victim or a failure unless, at some point, you emerge as a hero. Au contraire, a little sleight of hand, a little manipulation, a little winking of the eye is not only sometimes acceptable, it’s almost a proof of righteous intelligence. Surely those hapless victims deserve their fate somehow, while successful people have certainly earned whatever advantages they’ve managed to grab for themselves.

As the popular song suggests, we want to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again toward the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are allowed to stumble along the way, but we must become successful. As months of picking myself up stretched into years of dusting myself off and countless failures at starting all over again, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. How could I be such a failure when I tried so hard? I even wrote an essay describing my (and other rejected wives’) plight that won first place in a national professional writers contest. However, no one would publish it because there was no happy ending or resolution. I could not find the way out of the financial, social, and emotional morass for myself, much less describe the path for others.

The problem wasn’t just that I had suffered, but that it appeared so random, so useless and so meaningless. As Viktor Frankl wrote from a Nazi death camp:

Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to see a

            meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to

            be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

I didn’t learn any great spiritual nuggets of truth. Nor did I come to a great awakening to the need for repentance although my friends, enemies, and family no doubt would love to show me some blind spots that I should work on. My suffering certainly didn’t help proclaim the gospel. In fact, my experiences probably caused many to either doubt that God was loving and powerful or that I was really a Christian. There was no result to allow me to believe that any good whatsoever came out of it.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 4

“Touch me and heal me, Savior divine”

Although I marvel at the stories of converts who actually studied and wrestled their way into the Catholic Church, my conversion was pure grace. God was so gracious and so gentle that I was unconscious of the direction I was headed until a month before I decided to call a priest to inquire about the process. Almost imperceptibly through the years all the stumbling blocks about the Catholic faith that I had inherited from evangelical Protestantism and from not knowing any Catholics fell by the wayside.

There wasn’t even a Catholic mission in my Protestant hometown. Neither Catholics, nor Catholic churches appeared on my radar screen until I was in college. Then I briefly dated a couple while fervently, but ineffectually, praying they would come to “know the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior” and join a Protestant church. Not until I was involved in the Charismatic Renewal did I understand that Catholics were actually Christians too.

Looking back, it was probably the Old Testament class I took in high school that laid the foundation for my eventual entry into the Church. There the elegant, patrician Mrs. Reuben Schmidt introduced me to the Jews and to the riches of the Old Testament in one of the most rigorous courses I’ve ever taken. Her attention to detail coupled with her enthusiasm laid the groundwork for my avocation of studying the Jewish heritage of our Christian faith.

She taught the foreshadowing of the Messiah in the prophets, the exodus, the tabernacle, the festivals, and the Jewish history. We also gained an appreciation of theocracy, a nation where God rules. By extrapolation it seemed that right there was a course in “How to Live Successfully” if one correctly applied the concepts in the societal laws to present day situations.

As I studied in the Episcopal Church, I discovered that the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist had developed from the Jewish worship service and the last Passover Seder that Jesus celebrated with His disciples. I also learned about the real presence of Jesus in the wafer and the wine, although many Episcopalians do not accept that tenet of the faith.

The first time that I heard Mary referred to as the Second Eve, years of study popped into perspective and I understood why she had been a part of salvation history too. Eve was immaculately conceived also, but she said, “Non serviam,” while Mary said, “Fiat voluntas tuas.” Later parallels with Mary and the Ark of the Covenant and Mary and the role of the queen mother made perfect sense because I already had the background. I only wondered why more Protestants had not seen the parallels.

Even the title “Co-Redemptrix” ceased to rankle when I realized that all of us are, or desire to be, co-redeemers also. No, God doesn’t need our help; Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient. We don’t volunteer to crawl upon a cross, but we do hope that our prayers and witness will help pave the way for others’ entry into the Kingdom of God.

Through my interest in Judaism, I first understood the joy and beauty of marital sex in a rhythmic style. Even today observant Jews honor the “whites and the reds.” Devout women go through a purification rite in preparation for a return to the marital embrace after days of abstinence. The forced periods apart, according to the Rabbis, develop the spousal relationship and make the conjugal act more pleasurable. It is contrary to everything our hedonistic society thinks makes for “good sex.” But it works. Both Jews and Catholics who practice this lifestyle report greater satisfaction with their marriage than those who don’t.

As a casualty of a contraceptive marriage, I can only attest to what doesn’t work. After my divorce, I read a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal from a Catholic layman who defended Humanae Vitae and Pope Paul VI’s teaching. I knew that this was another way the Catholics got it right. They had applied a concept of Old Testament theocracy to one more area of living life God’s way. I can only weep for the married Catholics who miss out on the joy of obedience.

Although those usual barriers to the Catholic faith were behind me, the immediate reason for reconciliation with the Church was that there was nowhere else to go. I had moved away from my old Episcopal parish and neither of the ones in the new town seemed to fit. I visited some non-liturgical churches in the area, but decided I couldn’t live without the Mass. So that left only the nearby Catholic Church.

I hesitated for several months, but once I made the decision to leave Protestantism behind, all heaven broke loose. I left the steerage compartment of the ocean liner where I had lived on crackers and cheese and entered the Captain’s dining room where table after table was crowded with delightful gourmet treats to feed the soul.

The Catholic teaching on suffering was for me the most rewarding aspect of reconciliation, one of the many lavish spreads for believers. The Catholic Church’s doctrine brought meaning to my suffering and lifted an intolerable burden from my life.

Suffering is no anomaly to true Catholics; they have learned to rejoice in it just as the New Testament teaches. Instead of turning away from it, they use it. “Offer it up,” they shout, “Use it for good.” Like St. Paul in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” they offer their suffering to God along with their prayers and their tithes.

What a joy it was to find both the theology and the people who affirmed that my life had not been some tragic mistake, especially not one I had subconsciously engineered. No. It could be an offering of love acceptable to God – a way to bring healing to the world. No longer secretly embarrassed at my own failures, I could now ask God to take those years of unmitigated, blind pain and use it for His purposes. What a relief! What bliss!

For a Catholic, life here is the atrium of heaven. Like St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12, now we can only see “as through a glass darkly,” but we do see. We do understand that life on earth is but a preparation for our ultimate goal, our ultimate joy. Success during our lifetime is meaningless compared to what lies before us. Both failures and triumphs are but opportunities to bring God’s purposes into fruition.