Intimacy

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By Joyce Rupp, OSM

Will you believe that I love you without any reservation?
Will you trust me?
Will you let me be your strength?
Will you let go of your own strong control?
Will you walk with insecurity for a while?
Will you open up your heart?
Will you be vulnerable with me?
Will you place your hand in mine?
Will you take me to the places in your heart where you hide out?
Will you unburden your heart to me?
Will you talk with me about what is really difficult for you?
Will you wait patiently for me to revive your spirit?
Will you say yes to the growth I offer you?
Will you stand close to Calvary and learn from me?
Will you believe in the power of my resurrection?

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Homebuilding

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Home sweet home.

Homebuilding runs in the family.  My dad is a homebuilder by trade; he built the house we grew up in. One brother is an architect, who designs homes and spaces. I also have a carpenter brother, and he builds furniture and cabinetry. And I don’t even know how to list the millions of ways my mom continues to make home.

When both J. and I “go home” (that is, go back to the homes of our families-of-origin), there is a tangible sense of recognition and embrace, of solidness and rootedness. It is an understatement to say that our first homes shaped what kind of home we are building together; despite the differences in J. and I’s setting and circumstances growing up, our family cultures reflected similar values – faith and prayer, celebration and joy, sharing and prioritizing time together. As newlyweds, we are of course building our first home – not just our household and our physical place, but more importantly the spiritual space where we live out this vocation.

I suppose I’m thinking about home lately because, well…I’m always thinking about home. Home seems to be a recurring, central theme for me – leaving home, returning home, making new homes with new communities. Between Boston, Seattle, and St. Louis, trips abroad and summers as a camp counselor, engaged and married life – I have returned to my childhood home for various periods of time, as an “in-between” place between one experience and the next, a touchstone of sorts. I think with tenderness about the early morning of our wedding day, when I woke up in my childhood bedroom and cried with both the loss of leaving home and the joyful anticipation of J. and I’s home together. I think J. experienced a similar sense of joyful loss when we stayed with his parents for the first time as a married couple, on the tail-end of our honeymoon. A tender understanding that home is different now.

When we were planning our wedding liturgy, we decided to create a theme to guide our chosen readings and songs: a call to joy. However, little did we realize that we were prioritizing another theme, through our actions and intentions and the way that we tried to include celebrants and hosts and musicians and friends: hospitality. Our celebrant surprised us, by emphasizing this commitment to hospitality, to making home for others, and to finding home in each other. Something about hospitality felt so close to each of us, that we might not have even noticed this value had it not been mirrored back to us. This intention — to build home for others — has become a mission statement of sorts for our marriage. Papa F says it best, from his time in Rio last year:

“From the moment I first set foot on Brazilian soil, right up to this meeting here with you, I have been made to feel welcome. And it is important to be able to make people welcome; this is something even more beautiful than any kind of ornament or decoration. I say this because when we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them – some food, a place in our homes, our time – not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched. I am well aware that when someone needing food knocks at your door, you always find a way of sharing food; as the proverb says, one can always “add more water to the beans”! Is it possible to add more water to the beans?  Always!  And you do so with love, demonstrating that true riches consist not in material things, but in the heart!”

 These words hang on the wall in our home. More than a new armchair or an old kitchen table or recovering a sofa, these words make the home we’re building. God, grant me the grace to remember this kind of homebuilding when I’m perusing the West Elm website…
-E.
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that free us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Marty Haugen (1994)

FTW

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Colombia, for the win!

J. and I had a winning moment yesterday. You see, we have this ongoing “joke” now about how every time we are on our way to mentoring the Atlanta Jesuit Volunteers (which is bimonthly), we argue en route. “Joke” is in quotes because it’s not a funny kind of joke. However! Yesterday, in mutual acts of pure will, we deliberately chose to break the pattern! Granted – it took us literally 12 months but – we did it!

You might find yourself asking, “But E., how could two adults, with pretty good communication skills, possibly argue every time about driving directions when you have easy access to GoogleMaps, when you’re going to a place you’ve been over two dozen times, to a place you enjoy going, in which you are supposed to provide guidance and examples of maturity, intentionality, and self-awareness?”  Great question. There is no logic here.

Our best guess is that our regular en-route-JV-house arguments happen at the intersection of habit, hunger, rushing against time (we go in the evening hours after work), forgetting small details (we usually take dessert/beer), over-extention and under-appreciation, trafficy angst, and un-commuicated expectations (“I thought you would print the handout”). It really is the perfect storm, no?

Not yesterday. Yesterday, on the verge of extreme frustration, teetering on the edge of an argument, we chose a different path!  Slowly, begrudgingly, against our inner-five-year-olds, we mustered up the will (and opened to the grace) to check-in instead of picking a fight, to laugh instead of tense conversation. Then we high-fived. Now we have this experience that reminds us what it’s like to break the spell, that a new habit is being formed to choose another option when we notice the familiar temptation. I credit the Holy Spirit, the dove in the poster below (by Bro. Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS) who is whispering “Work with me.”

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“Peace sometimes only takes a small gesture.”

How many times do we all let ourselves to get flustered over something that’s really about something else? How easy is it to pick a fight when we’re hungry, lonely, tired, have a bruised ego? What about when we’re trying to prove something? when we need affirmation? instead of asking for what we need, using humor, or being honest about where we’re at?

I’m learning that these tiny milliseconds present a choice, the choice to turn towards J. or turn away from J. I’m realizing how much power I have (and J. has, and all of us have) to make or break a moment, to use it to connect with each other or subtly isolate from each other. I’m learning to take ownership of my role in these moments of our car ride, and to practice humor and benefit-of-doubting and connection.

This experience of choosing — of training ourselves — to think differently reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005, which went viral in the past couple years:

Thanks, Dove.

-E.

On Lunch-Making and Laundry-Hanging

J. is six weeks into his no-longer-new job, and our household has found a new rhythm.

We’ve entered a new realm, a realm that involves lots of ironing of Oxford shirts, making lunches the night before, commute planning, and ensuring clean laundry, breakfast options, and a set alarm clock. It’s a little less French Press, a little more Set the Timer on the Coffee Pot.  This movement into the conventional working world has previously been delayed by grad school programs (over the past four years for each of us), and most currently for me, my flexible work schedule.

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excited for the day we add a dry cleaning budget.

We’ve already started to notice the impact of our new, daily routine on our relationship. On one hand, I love structure and it goes without saying I’m grateful for J.’s job, and on the other hand, I’ve already felt weary at times from daily chores, the routine, and from missing the old days of seeing J. at random times throughout the day.  It’s neither objectively good nor objectively bad to have a daily rhythm that largely remains the same day-to-day; rather, we realize that our task will be to find meaning and joy, to meet God, and to stay connected in the daily grind. Here are a few ways we try to do that:

Small gestures matter. Doing the little things with great love (Mother Theresa said something about this? So did St. Therese of Liseaux, Thich Nhat Hahn, and lots of other smarties). This means that it’s awesome when we notice teeny tiny ways to help each other out. Example: J. wiped out the bathroom sink the other say because it had developed a “film” (EW), and it was awesome. Also in this category: setting the table, folding socks, leaving little notes, packing cookies in lunches, leaving the outside light on when one of us comes home late.

Parallel play. When we’re in the same space but quietly doing different activities, we call this parallel play. Since our new schedule has made the evenings super important for getting stuff done, this is one way that we can still accomplish necessary tasks without boxing out the other person. On evenings when we’re paying bills, looking at finances, making grocery lists, ironing shirts, or doing a myriad of other household tasks that have to happen – parallel play works for us. You know how oftentimes you feel close to your comrades on a silent retreat even though you’ve barely spoken? Parallel play.

There is always something to celebrate. Fridays = frozen pizza! Traffic wasn’t so bad today! You had a presentation at work! Anything! Everything!

Ritual. Sitting at the dinner table, sharing a quiet moment before work in prayer or reading the paper or coffeetime. One ritual that stuck: the day after our wedding, in a reenactment of the day before, we gave each other our wedding rings and said “take this ring.” Cheesy? You decide. Ritual? Absolutely. Daily reminder of the vows, 226 days strong.

Technology. Texts during the day, here’s-what-I’m-doing pics, sometimes calling on the lunch break, competitive updates about J.’s company’s health challenge (why yes, I did replace sugary drinks with water today, and I’d love a point for that).  We also help each other avoid using our phones in ways that make us feel disconnected. One concrete way we unplug is our rule about no phones in bed (see: iPhone addiction). No pre-bedtime Instagram scroll or news first thing in the morning?! NO.

I’ve found that when I’m operating from this frame, I feel less weary or less creeping resentment, and more in touch with gratitude, service, and partnership. What are your best ways for partnered presence in the daily grind?

-E.

facing discernment

I returned yesterday from a weekend at Ignatius House, for the closing retreat of my Contemplative Leaders in Action (CLA) program. For the past two years, our CLA group has met monthly for leadership development, community building, and faith formation rooted in Ignatian spirituality.  I began the retreat with a specific intention of “courage in discerning next steps,” and, in addition to usual retreat-gifts of copious food/sleep,  I also experienced much consolation in finally deciding to commit to a new round of vocational discernment. Courage, indeed.

Making this commitment to the discernment process is something I’ve been actively avoiding for a while now. Naming that I’m struggling at work might lead me to big changes, and I’m too busy with wedding planning and I’m transitioning into marriage and I can only do one big change at a time and yeahyeahyeah. Fearing something uncomfortable and new, I figured I might hear a call that I’m not ready to answer; or that God might require something of me I’m not sure I can give. Alas, the “day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” and I’m choosing to take seriously this call to looking deeply into the realities of how my work life is less than what I want. After a few months of some pretty impressive avoidance tactics, I’m finally letting myself ask a question: how is God calling me to serve, now?

One catalyst for this turn towards discernment was our first-ever “F. Family State of the Finances,” and the very real limitations of newlywed finances (hashtag adulthood, hashtag ugh, hashtag momoneymoproblems). More important, though, was the second catalyst – that my struggles with my work situation have been slowly growing towards a tipping point.

Since I began work as a therapist almost two years ago, I’ve consistently experienced an ambiguity about building my practice. While I value greatly the creativity and flexibility allowed to me, as well as my actual clinical work with clients, I’ve always felt unsettled by the lack of structure and the reality that as clients come and go, so does my paycheck. Additionally, being a good therapist requires a constant self-reflection and commitment to doing my own work; being a depth-oriented therapist requires a willingness to go into the absolute darkness with clients and hold the undying belief that there is light on the other side. Some days I’m not so sure I’m capable of being that kind of therapist. This is not the type of job in which I can show up and punch the clock. It requires vulnerability, courage, and a long-term view; which is, of course, both what I love and fear about this work. Combined with less than ideal client quotas and not being busy enough? Cue ambiguity.

In discerning marriage to J., my process most resembled what Ignatius called the First Mode of discernment: “when God so moves and attracts the will that, without doubting or being able to doubt, the devout soul follows what is shown to it, as St. Paul and St. Matthew did in following Christ.” (Spiritual Exercises 175). When J. and I began to first think about marriage, this knowledge (that we were to be married) simply felt like a gift to be received. Through no efforts in decision-making or active discernment process of my own, I experience a certitude and deep peace in this vocation.

However, knowledge of my work/career vocation – rather, how I will serve – has consistently felt more like Ignatius’s Second Mode of discernment, that is: “when sufficient clarity and understanding is received through experience of consolations and desolations, and through the experience of discernment of different spirits” (Spiritual Exercises, 176). More a process over time than a one-time gift, this mode is characterized by ups and downs, closeness to and distance from God. I currently feel myself deep in the muck of sorting through my consolations and desolations in my work life – always doubting, rarely certain.

On retreat this past weekend, our group completed two exercises in particular that lead me back to a place of trust, a new freedom to say that I want what God wants for my life.  First, our leader had printed out copies of our initial application to CLA – in short, why we wanted to join the program. Second, our group completed a communal timeline of the past two years and noted places of consolation and desolation. In both of these exercises, I could see clearly that God had been working, whether I thought so or not. I realized that in the midst of my work-related desolation, I had tunnel vision – lacking the long-term perspective, seeing only what was immediately in front of me, thinking each event was isolated from the others. Through those retreat exercises, I felt the grace of new eyes – to see that the things that I was once so certain were my vocation (ministry, service, creativity, community) are still the things I feel God calling me towards today. Was my heart not burning within me on the road, even when I couldn’t see it?

Yesterday’s reading from Romans drove this point home for me: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27). God not only hears those inexpressible groanings I couldn’t communicate, but God has been using and working with those unspoken desires. Both of us work together to co-create these next steps; right now, my role is to get attentive.

Grant me to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits
that help me read the signs of the times.
-Pedro Arrupe, SJ

Eating, lately

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Meal Plannin’

Shared meal times are one of the best parts about living together and being married for me. Sure, we met for dinner or cooked together before we got married, but I think I’ve experienced partnership differently through planning, preparing, and eating food together in our home. The first trip I took to the grocery store after we got married felt memorable for me, taking into account both of our preferences, compromises, and values.

Shared food around the table is sacred time.

I’m a big fan of planning our meals each week.  Meal planning helps me focus in grocery shopping, avoid unnecessary purchases (goat cheese? OKAY), and cook efficiently. For example, if I know we’re going to eat something with beans the next day, it’s more likely that I’ll remember to soak the dry beans the night before, as opposed to coming home at 6pm and only having dry beans on hand for dinner that night. Since J. and I both have some evening commitments, our weekly meal planning sesh is a good reminder of the nights we’ll be out or won’t be eating at home (the Gmail shared calendar can only do so much). We also try to share the cooking if possible, and plan so that the first person home that night can start up dinner.

Since I don’t want to forget these recipes, here’s a roundup of some of my/our favorites from these first six months of marriage.

Smitten Kitchen: Carrot Salad with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas
My sister-in-law suggests to up the ante on the crisped chickpeas by adding smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is a bit spendy, but it truly does up the ante. Also: roast the chickpeas for at least 15-20 minutes longer than Deb suggests for a better crunch.

Minimalist Baker: Crispy Peanut Tofu Cauliflower Rice Stir-fry
This is a keeper. We subbed the cauliflower rice for buckwheat noods since we had those on hand, but I’d like to try it with cauliflower rice when I’m feeling fancy.

My New Roots: Big Comfy Sweet Potato
This recipe represents my ideal kind of recipe: easy but not too easy, pretty simple ingredients of mostly things that we have on hand, budget-friendly, whole ingredients, filling enough for J., and tasty. I recall modifying the sauce quite a bit to fit what we had in the pantry, and it was still delicious. We made this back in the winter, since it has the word “comfy” in it.

NY Times: Chicken with Shallots
My brother sent me this recipe with the note: “The LeCreuset was born for this.” Destiny. Super tasty, relatively un-fussy ingredients, one-pot. Note: you can skip the tarragon, and you probably won’t miss it.

Smitten Kitchen: Greek Salad with Lemon and Oregano
Deb does it again! And I could eat this every single day. #FETA.

Vegetarian Times: Puttanesca Sauce with Fried Capers over Linguine
I made this when J. was out one night for a work event, since it requires the perfect Venn-Diagram-style overlap of “foods J. hates” and “foods E. loves”: namely, capers, Kalamata olives, and excessive garlic. I froze a serving of the sauce for next time J. has an evening event…

Cooking Light: Sweet Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Broccoli
Another noodle keeper. Black sesame seeds = worth it.

Cooking Light: Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa, Tomato-Avocado Salad, and Black Beans and Rice
We enjoyed cooking this together, but it does involve a few more elements than we usually prepare on a weeknight. Still, it’s a favorite.

Other favorites, without recipes:
1. Easy tikka masala with chickpeas or chicken, over rice. It’s easy because we buy the jarred version of tikka masala for $2 at Target. Thanks, Archer Farms.
2. Fish tacos. We usually have tortillas and taco fillings (like cheese, tomatoes, salsa) on hand, and we usually keep a big bag of white fish in the freezer.
3. J.’s PR-inspired chicken, rice, and beans. His specialty.
4. In winter, the classic: soup and grilled cheese. I usually freeze a couple individual servings of any soup we make, so that it’s easy to grab for a quick lunch or solo dinner.
5. Pasta + jarred tomato sauce + side salad. Yeah, I know how much sugar is in jarred sauce, and my best roommate B. used to make huge batches homemade, but…jarred for now.

Happy Eating!

-E.

To love is to be vulnerable

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Yesterday, I was heartbroken from the USMNT’s World Cup loss to Belgium after 120 minutes of play. I mean, just try not to cry watching epic goalkeeper Tim Howard’s post-game tearful interview.

Emotionally investing in the World Cup means opening up to the possible triumph and the possible pain.  Alas…to be a U.S. soccer fan is to be vulnerable. I wonder if this is why we only have a deluge of U.S. soccer fans once every four years? (me = guilty of this).

I ran into this C.S. Lewis excerpt a few times this week, and it feels like a fitting connection to World Cup woes. I’m pretty sure C.S. Lewis had marriage sports-related heartache in his mind when he wrote this:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, excerpt from The Four Loves

-E.

waiting.

ImageEarlier this week, I went home for lunch. I walked outside to get the mail, and as I shut the door behind me, I realized one second too late that I had just locked myself out. No phone, no keys, no nothin’ – just me and the contents of our mailbox.  Since I’ve been recently battling an epic iPhone addiction, I took my lapse of thinking as an opportunity from The Universe to practice present-moment-ness instead of franticly-calling-our-landlord-ness.

After some old-school (i.e., not iPhone-based) problem-solving, I decided to walk across the street to the Sunrise Assisted Living to ask if I could borrow the phone. As the saintly-if-not-surly woman behind the desk coached me to dial “9”  before making an outgoing call, I dialed the only remaining number I have memorized (that is, besides my parents’ and my 3rd-grade BFF’s old house’s): J.’s, of course.

I waited on our front stoop for an hour or so with the peaceful assurance that J. was on his way: watching traffic, flipping through our mail, sitting and thinking, feeling sweaty (thanks, Atlanta) but oddly…patient and content.

Let me remind myself that “patient” and “content” are not usually my strong suits under stress. Lest I forget that for most of my childhood years during the Sacrament of Reconciliation I confessed “being impatient” (right between gossiping and being bossy).  Lately, even waiting at a red light has felt excruciating. I find myself wanting to multitask during TV commercials or a YouTube ad. I even sometimes pull my breakfast toast from the oven before it’s finished BECAUSE I CAN WAIT NOT ONE MORE INSTANT. And contentment? Um, that would require a present-focused mind that even on my best days can feel elusive. And surprisingly, in this moment of grace, I felt both patient and content on our front stoop.

Happily making his 40-minute commute twice that day, J. unlocked the door for me, and drove back to work.

Locking myself out of our apartment got me thinking about waiting in general, how readily I avoid any situation of waiting, how easy it has become for me to fill the waiting void with distractions (see: epic iPhone addiction) and how it made all the difference that I knew who I was waiting for, and trusted that he was on his way.  I suppose you could say I waited “in joyful hope” rather than restless anxiety.

Besides the obvious eschatological analogy, or John Mayer reference (equally important, no?), I reflected on past experiences I’ve had of waiting, transition, liminal spaces, and in-between times.  Usually these liminal times are marked by my desire to know what the future holds, to see what comes next, and to try my best to make my vision happen; what often follows requires letting-go, surrender, and opening to a God who dreams bigger than I do.  Besides, the more I think I have transitions behind me, the more I realize that there is always a call to transition, to make adjustments, to grow.  The challenge continues to be finding God in these waiting times, because all times are waiting times, whether we distract ourselves from this or not.

I wonder about my current waitings, too. Waiting to expand our new, little family, when it’s time. Waiting to feel more satisfied at work, waiting for more clients, waiting for clients to change. Waiting for myself to change: to finally floss every day, to let go of familiar fears, to accept the limitations of family members, to do more yoga and structured prayertime.  This time, in this waiting, I wait with the blessed assurance that the unfolding is on its way.

-E.

God will keep you from all anxieties;
God will keep your life.
God will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

-Psalm 121, adapted

There and Back Again

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In the past 30 days time, I have:

…traveled to Nebraska, Colorado, and Puerto Rico.
…celebrated two graduations, two weddings, two baptisms, two birthdays, one wedding anniversary, one ordination anniversary, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
…read The Hobbit (for the first time! so good) and also watched The Hobbit Parts I&II (side note: these stink); alternatively titled “There and Back Again,” which conveniently sums up my past month.

As beautiful and celebratory and privileged these travels have been, I’m antsy to be home. I’m noticing myself desiring normalcy, routine, structure. I’m excited to grocery shop for more than a day or two at a time, to wake up in our bed more than a few days in a row, and to feel grounded in our space together. I’m grateful to come home with the blessings of having these celebrations and travels.  J. starts his new job this week, which will make our days a bit more predictable. Right now, that feels welcome.

“…said Bilbo, as he turned his back on his adventure. The Tookish part was getting very tired, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. ‘I wish now only to be in my own arm-chair!’ he said.”

surprise!

Extend your arms in welcome to the future.
The best is yet to come!
-Anthony deMello, SJ

Although there is much evidence to the contrary, it turns out I can actually keep a surprise a surprise:

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Yup, that’s a tambourine.

Don Suegro y Doña Suegra surprised J. by flying in from PR for his graduation weekend, and I was their complicit accomplice.  Successfully keeping the secret a secret for about two and a half months, I fluctuated between excited anticipation for J.’s reaction to their visit, and total horror that I was allowing  J. to feel sad/bad/mad his parents “couldn’t come” for graduation.  Did the end justify the means?! I don’t know, except that the surprise reunion moment included a guiro (a hollow gourd musical instrument from PR), a tambourine, and even a few happy tears…which was awesome.  The weekend festivities were full, joyful, celebratory, abundant, wonderfully exhausting; the weekend left me full of gratitude and emotion.

As evidenced by my less-than-consistent ability to keep surprises, my relationship to surprises in general is ambiguous. As a kid, though, surprises were decidedly exciting and happy (Christmas morning is the purest example of this anticipation).  However, as I’ve grown into early adulthood, I’ve felt increasingly uncomfortable, anxious, impatient, or even intolerant at times of allowing myself to be surprised. Call this obvious, but I’m pretty sure this movement towards anxiety about the future has something to do with a) seeking control, b) fear of the unknown, c) lack of trust, or d) all of the above. Some of the most integrated moments of my adulthood so far have been when I have somehow, by the grace of God, been able to open up to the God of Surprises — the Giver of all good things, who showers us with abundant generosity, unrelated to our deservedness.

I believe that J. and I’s relationship was (and continues to be) a gift from this God of Surprises.  The timing, the circumstances, this person, the way it began, the lessons used from experiences past, and all the ways I see God through it and through J.  This relationship caught me off-guard, and sometimes I still feel I’m catching up to God in learning to accept all of this overflowing goodness.

This challenge, to accept God’s surprising gifts, hit me again this past weekend.  Even though I’m not the one graduating this time around, J.’s graduation weekend stirred up within me a familiar swell of anxiety. When commencement speakers spoke of Successful Futures and All The Tools In Your Toolbox and Oh The Places You’ll Go!, my stomach churned with a mix of pride, hope, and sincere happiness for J.’s MBA journey, but also…fear. Fear of what it will be like now that we are both in the working world, and what if we become complacent in our careers, and what life will be like without any external structures (i.e., school or program) to keep us accountable or provide social opportunities, and what if we succumb to a fear-based quest for financial security above all, and what if we can’t realize our dreams?!?!

As my mind was “spiraling,” as we say, my eyes landed on a prayer I keep on my dresser mirror. I received this prayer on a grad student retreat a few months before my own graduation from my master’s program, when each retreatant chose a small box at random – a gift. Each box held a different image of God, with a different blessing.  My prayer, chosen at random, is this:

May the God of Surprises be with you, awakening you to the gifts already in you, giving you a sense of eagerness and anticipation about your life, opening you to unimagined blessing and the deepest wisdom of your being. May God startle you with Infinite Love and Presence so that you begin to look for sudden joy in all you do. May the God of Surprises bless you. 

Random, schmrandom.  And thus my prayer is a call to trust: to be radically open to surprises about what comes next, to trust God’s accompaniment every moment, to know the no-matter-whatness of being God’s beloved. Oh the Places We’ll Go, indeed!

-E.

PS. A similar sentiment, better said?

sacred days and neophytes

“This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness…

…O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.”

-Excerpt from the Exsultet, ancient text chanted at Easter Vigil

This was an Easter of firsts: our first one married, my first time as an RCIA sponsor, our first Tridiuum at our parish.  Over the past few years I’ve come to deepen my understanding of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil, and enter the experience more fully, a movement that I largely link to my relationship with J.  So this year felt particularly special – sacred days not only for the Church but also for me personally.

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Easter Vigil in years past

These were moments filled with light and dark and water and splashing; trumpet and drum and chant; bread and wine and brown robes and white robes; saying yes, I do, and amen; new names, big eyes, and joyful faces; celebratory post-midnight Mexican food with friends, made by some church ladies; congratulations and felicidades and welcomes.

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Sacred moments with J.: of sleeping in, breakfast creation, walking in the park behind our home, blooming abundance. Watching Jesus Christ Superstar, and reenacting the songs over What’sApp with J.’s family – in Spanish. Taking naps.

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Of spending time with family, hosting friends old and new, asparagus galettes, and the famous bunny cake.  Making preparations, sharing meals while taking turns watching the babies, playing with bubbles and books and bunny ears.

The adults newly baptized at Easter are called neophytes – beginnersfor one year after baptism. In our first year as neophytes of marriage, may we live into Easter with the confidence that everyday sacredness is indeed the “things of heaven wed to those of earth.”

-E.

compañeros

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Update: America Magazine is also thinking about spiritual friendship

It’s Holy Week, and, among other things, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ friendships. The betrayal, the loyalty, the falling-short, the fear, the tenderness, the accompaniment. How “he loved them to the end,” washed their feet, broke and shared bread, asked them to stay awake with him. How they followed him, were confused by him, let him down, surprised themselves, loved him.  There are other models of spiritual friendship, too, like the first Jesuits, St. Vincent dePaul and St. Louise de Marillac, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande. I love learning about spiritual companionship, especially this Holy Week.

I’ve got to thinking about my own friendships, and how they might be changing now that I’m married.

In her speech at our wedding reception, my matron-(so old, K!)-of-honor and BFF poked fun at the fact that when I was in college, I set my calendar chock-full of “coffee dates.” Coffee dates were also known as check-ins or life chats; they implied deep conversations in the dining hall or our favorite on-campus sandwich shop. They could be shared with someone I’d just met and wanted to get to know better, or a longtime friend; topics could include funny stuff, hard stuff, meaningful stuff, spiritual stuff, relationship stuff, school stuff, any stuff. Coffee dates were the birthplace of my desire to join JVC, the mill where I processed my experiences, the laboratory where I explored the relationship between spirituality and social justice, the church where I found connection with now-lifelong companions on the journey.  These coffee dates solidified many close friendships that I treasure.

Over the past several years, these friendships have transitioned through many moves, many locations, changes, breakups and engagements and weddings, grad school programs. These friends are dear to me, and have been central to my identity (That’s a dead-giveaway for my Enneagram type, no?). They are my “beloved companions,” as we say, and have been beautifully supportive of J. and I’s relationship, my most beloved companion. They have nurtured us, supported us, encouraged us, and sent us on into marriage.

Since being married, though, I can feel my relationship to my concept of friendships changing. Does that make sense?  My identity as a friend, the way I receive my friends, how I think about friendships – essentially, the “way I do friendship” – feels like it’s changing.  This feels both painful and freeing.

On a pure logistical level, it has proven difficult to maintain long-distance friendships.  We live in a small apartment where you can hear every conversation, and I’m less inclined want to have a “phone date” with a good friend (often of epic lengths, 2+ hours! You know who you are) when J. is studying most evenings.  We are learning how to live together, and I haven’t yet figured out how to do long distance phone chats without feeling overly distracting (J., of course, is a great sport about this, using headphones or shutting the office door. It’s me who feels rude!). There are other times when I feel I am less transparent to friends when J. can hear me, and this impacts our ability to connect over the phone. Sometimes self-consciousness and fear gets in the way, too, like when I don’t call my friends back for WEEKS because there’s never a perfect or quiet time, or if J. is around I don’t want my friends to think I’m not giving them my undivided attention, or if I fear I will be perceived as not prioritizing friendships if I need to cut our conversation short for any reason (Bleh! Projection!).

Other times, phone chats are inclusive of J., when we are both on speakerphone or Skype and we all talk together. Sometimes this strategy is super fun, and other times it feels like it’s compromising our individuality (i.e., “From now on, we come as a packaged unit! Get used to it, friend!”).  For example, my BBF and her husband, who live in London, share the same small apartment logistics as we do, and that often means that her husband will pipe in our conversations unannounced (something I usually find funny and lovingly accept, but was something I initially had to get used to).  While including our partners in some parts of our friendships is expected and healthy and welcome, it’s nonetheless a change. Recently, I experienced the opposite of this inclusion, when my college buddies and I planned a fun girls’ weekend away, with no boyfriends or fiancés or husbands allowed. It was super fun to think about a mini-reunion, and I’m a huge fan of women-only time, so it surprised me to notice myself hesitating. It surprised me to hear myself say “That sounds great! Let me talk with J. and get back to you,” to think about the financial implications for a weekend away, to consider 3 nights without J. almost cruel in the context of NFP.  I am learning how to balance being a conscientious wife and good friend at the same time; most of the time, these two identities support each other and are not at-odds, but they have challenged my sense of balance. I think this is why couples seek out “couples’ friends”; it feels easier in many ways! We’ve loved spending time with the young married couples at our parish, and are grateful for community in marriage.

For in-person hangouts with local friends, J. and I have talked about our expectations for making plans.  As a general rule, we try to check-in with each other before making plans during times that we have named as important for us to be together, such as weekday dinnertimes and weekend mornings. At the same time, we both find it super important to support each others’ friendships outside of our relationship and try to help each other facilitate this in a way that is also respectful of our bond.

Other times, I’d simply rather spend quality time with J. than be with friends, in a quiet evening together at home. I can feel my care and attention turning inward to our household, not in a self-absorbed way hopefully, but in a way that honors the sacredness of this new beginning for us and the fact that this new thing growing takes time. I find myself prioritizing J.’s needs and our relational needs. I suppose I feel less available for friend time as I seek to create more space for our marriage. This startles me; I had always reacted against this sort of turning inward. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to turn you outwards, in service to others?!

Theologian Richard Gaillardetz (who is quickly becoming my go-to), instead talks about this turn to the relationship as a “freely chosen limitation…to explore the depth of human experience with this one person over the breadth of human experience that can be explored prior to a marital commitment” (A Daring Promise, p. 55). Strength and identity in this one unique relationship, then, can send us outwards in service, but not without first freely choosing to be limited. This marriage should make us better friends to each other, better friends to others, a better daughter and son, better able to serve. Choosing this limitation paradoxically becomes expansive.

This is one of my favorite photos from our wedding; our bond encircled with beloved companions.

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May all know this warmth, companionship, and accompaniment.

-E.

101 Days

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 100 days since our wedding day! I’m posting our gospel reading in celebration.

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Visitation, by artist James B. Janknegt, http://www.bcartfarm.com

A reading from the Gospel of Luke:

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

-E.

celebration.

One of the things I love most of J.’s family in PR is how they celebrate. They celebrate occasions big and small, grand and humble. There is celebration for coming home, leaving home, just because, before mass, after mass, breakfast lunch and dinner and snacks, birthdays, anniversaries, when a neighbor visits, religious holidays. Celebrations usually involve creative signage, made with love and care by mi suegra;

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welcoming.

Music, singing, and dancing;

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casita.

Meaningful words, gifted as lively speeches or quiet prayers;

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speeches and metaphors.

and food, of course, lots of it, and anything from preparing a feast to plucking citrus off a nearby fruit tree.

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fricasse de pollo

I grew up with lots of celebration, too; my mom is famous among family members for her holiday decor (no holiday too big or too small). She’s an expert at making things feel special. Both of our families-of-origin value welcoming, hospitality, celebration.

For me, these celebrations are sacred time.

Last week was tough on us, as a couple.  I could feel the subtle movements of disconnection, fearfulness, blaming, listlessness, negativity.  By Friday night, J. and I were spent; we cancelled plans with friends in favor of a slower-paced date night at a familiar neighborhood pizza place.  And we celebrated. We celebrated the week ending. We celebrated creating time to reconnect. We celebrated by toasting our pizza slices and asking Would You Rather questions involving the Braverman family, Sherlock, and fugitives. We celebrated by talking about nothing and everything. We celebrated with food, words, beauty, and guitar strums. It felt like thanksgiving.

“Celebration is nourishment and resource. It makes present the goals of the community in symbolic form, and so brings hope and a new strength to take up again everyday life with more love. Celebration is a sign of the resurrection.”

-jean vanier, community and growth

-E.

Disappointment, observed.

We have a priest friend who says that no couple should get engaged without first disappointing each other, and then choosing each other anyway. Thankfully, this advice has helped frame my experience of disappointment in J. and I’s relationship (it’s a lot harder to frame than the joyful, fun parts!). Rather than seeing disappointment as a sign that Our Relationship Must Be Doomed, like I had in previous couplings or friendships, I noticed with J. that we could simply voice our disappointments with each other and move forward, together, in acceptance.  I’ve certainly disappointed J. more times and in more serious ways than I am proud of, and J. has also disappointed me from time to time.

Well, now seems to be one of those times where we’re disappointing each other.  Let me set the stage: J. has been super busy with school stuff (as there are only 3 weeks to go until classes finish for the semester), and I’ve often felt less than generous about carrying the burden of household duties. More than that, I’m facing some career decisions that I’d like to talk over with him; he’s facing some thoughts about finances, family visits, and graduation that he’d like to talk over with me, and neither of us have felt very available to each other lately.  I’m disappointed when J. appears to prioritize deadlines over me, and he’s disappointed when I’d rather unwind with TV instead of checking-in. I’m also disappointed in myself, by how needy I’ve felt lately (Did I seriously just ask for “more attention”? Am I five years old?), how quickly I can get resentful, or by how easily I forget empathy over how much J. especially is balancing right now.  And I think he’s pretty disappointed in himself, too; it can’t feel good let your wife down.  Each of us has gone to bed on occasion feeling pretty lonely, despite the physical presence of the other.

I think our culture teaches us that marriage is supposed to be the antidote to loneliness, emptiness, and disappointment. Get Married and You’ll Never Be Lonely Again! But theologian Richard Gaillardetz says in his book, A Daring Promise, that a real understanding of covenantal marriage not only includes, but emphasizes, the significance of the limits of the relationship. In this way, marriage is pretty countercultural; turns out, what we signed up for is a hard road. Gaillardetz says it best here:

Although a spouse brings significant personal gifts to a marriage, those gifts are finite and, in time, each spouse becomes aware, often painfully aware, of what the other partner does not and cannot give. For every time that one’s spouse is graciously present and attentive in a time of need, there is a time of real or emotional absence…When spouses freely accept the limits of the marital relationship, when they choose love even out of the emptiness, they enter into the pascal rhythm.  

In my reflections of this current experience of disappointment, I realize that if I am coming from a centered and aware place – not a reactive place – feeling disappointed in J. (or myself) really doesn’t shake my core. I am learning that disappointment is inevitable because no one is perfect (even me??!), disappointment can serve as a signpost to help each other out in areas that are challenging, and being vulnerable with each other in our disappointment can lead to fruitfulness.  I am learning that facing disappointment is both central to our relationship, and also one way I can practice authenticity, unconditionality, forgiveness, and affirmation of J.’s belovedness (and J. for me).

With the balm of a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee, J. and I made ourselves available to each other and talked over some of our disappointments. Our stressors right now remain unchanged, but I feel freer – both available to J. and heard from J. in a new way, and thankful that the acceptance of our disappointments led to greater connectedness.

-E.

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