Sunday, January 5, 2014

Christ Beside Me

Crazy hair... It runs in the family
I woke up late Friday morning after staying up to prepare lessons for the coming week.  I meandered slowly into the bathroom to brush my teeth and looked sleepily at my reflection in the mirror.  I chuckled at my wayward hair and thought, "Wow, I look like a mess."  I freshened up my breath with some minty paste and plastic bristles and went back to my room.  As I crossed the threshold from the bathroom to my bedroom which is the hallway, I thought for a moment about my silly hair and my reflection.  "I'm kind of like that on the inside, too," I realized, "A mess."  I sat on my bed to think about it a moment longer and thought about the "cracked pot" story (see below) and it prompted a simple prayer.  "Lord," I began, "I don't want to let my brokenness get in the way.  I want to learn how to let You work through my brokenness - don't let it stop You.  Don't let it stop me, either."  With that, I offered an "Amen" and continued to get ready for the day.

I love being outdoors and so am often looking for an opportunity to walk or ride my bike somewhere.  So, after having gotten myself ready, I decided to walk down to the RiteAid near our convent.  I only needed a few things, but any excuse was good enough.  I left without a coat or sweater, it was so warm, and as I skipped down our steps the woman across the street greeted me with a kind "Good Morning!"  It added an extra piece of goodness to an already beautiful day and I happily prayed a rosary down the street to my destination.

I found only one of the items I was looking for, so I decided to continue my walk and went a block over to Walgreens.  Looking around at a world I don't normally walk through, my eyes landed on an auto shop that was coming up on my right.  Some music was playing and I caught a line of a very familiar song.  "I just want you to know who I am" was all I heard, but in that very brief moment, as I peered into the lot of cars and felt the sun on my face and listened to the music, I was somewhere else.  I was in someone else's childhood, someone else's memories, someone else's reality.  For a split second, I knew that no one else has or ever will experience life like I have, nor will I ever experience life the way someone else has.  It seems so basic, so obvious, but even though I knew that before, I never understood it.  As I waited to cross the intersection, the words from the song came back to me - I just want you to know who I am.  Though they may just be lyrics from a 90's song by the Goo Goo Dolls, at that moment it was part of God's answer to the prayer I had uttered earlier in the day.  By saying, "I want to learn how to let You work through my brokenness," I was basically asking for Him to be my teacher.  "Teach me," I had pleaded, and this was part of His lesson: "Know who I am."

When I got back home my dear mentor - and most frequent comment-giver on this blog (thank you, Sister Seraphine!) - returned from picking up some groceries.  We chatted for a few minutes before I hopped in the car to run a few more errands.  As I left she mentioned it was First Friday and with a smile said, "Stay close to Jesus."  That was the second part of God's lesson.

The next part took place at Mass.  After I ran my errands I drove to a nearby parish where I knew they had an evening weekday Mass.  I arrived a bit early, so I took some time to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and began another rosary.  I got halfway through when I looked at my watch and saw I only had about five minutes left.  Finding a seat, I took my journal out so I could jot down a few thoughts from the day and then I quieted myself down for Mass.  We began with a song, although there was no official choir, and I found myself somewhat reluctant to chime in.  I enjoy singing, but I have not yet figured out how to use my vocal chords for something other than talking.  However, I noticed that the church was actually loud with song, that almost everyone was singing, perfect or not, so I quickly gave up on my insecurity and gladly joined in an a cappella "Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing".

The priest started his homily with a story: "I was at Wal-Mart shopping one day when this woman passed by me in the aisle.  She was looking at me in a very strange way and I wasn't really sure why.  Finally she said, 'Do I know you from somewhere?  I feel like I've met you before.'  I told her I wasn't sure, so she asked what I did for a living.  'Well, I'm a priest,' I told her.  'Aha!' she said, 'from church.  That's where I've seen you.'  It's funny," he continued, "how people don't recognize us outside of a familiar setting.  I think that's how it can often be with Jesus.  Jesus is present in every situation, but sometimes we only see Him when and where it's obvious, like church.  I think Jesus is more often found in those places and people we are not expecting, places in which it would be a surprise; that's where we need to look for Him."

The priest's homily was the last piece of my lesson for the day.  In conclusion, God's overall message to my plea was this: "In order to receive what it is you're asking for, you must know who I am and you must stay close to my Son by looking for Him where you do not expect to find Him."  Perhaps knowing who God is has to do with entering into the experiences of others and perhaps one of the places in which I can begin to look for His Son is within the brokenness that I have been reluctant to embrace, like our dear friend the cracked pot.

The story of the cracked pot

An elderly woman had two large pots.  Each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck to gather water each day.  One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.  At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.  The poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what the pot perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.  "I am ashamed of myself," it confessed, "because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house and I only bring home half as much as the other pot."

The old woman smiled.  She placed the pole on her neck to begin the walk back home.  In doing so, she replied, "Look at the path as we walk.  Do you see the flowers growing on your side only?  I have always known about your flaw.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path and each day as we walked back home you watered them.  For two years now I have been able to enjoy seeing the beauty of these flowers during my long walk home.  I need you to be just the way you are."