Monday, January 19, 2009

Embracing the "new" me

“... pay close attention to the times that God calls you away from the valley and invites you to tiptoe quietly back into the light. It is still there, waiting for you.”

I received an email months ago from a dear friend who was to undergo surgery for cancer later that day. She spoke these words with a peaceful wisdom that comes both from life’s experience and a God fearing heart. Her encouragement and sweet invitation to tiptoe back to the light were initially met with resistance from my fortressed heart. In the months since Cate’s death, I have learned to guard my heart even more and to protect it at all cost. So, to step out “into the light” was much more than I desired to do. But the email stuck with me, and a day or so later another sweet woman gave me permission to ... fight for the happiness I deserve. And then I got it ... If I want to somehow start getting my life back together than I have to start embracing small steps to wholeness.

I will be the first to admit that the stages of grief are all consuming in moments and sometimes days. The stage of anger was and is one of my biggest struggles. I have unleashed my furry on a few dear friends, who thankfully still love me. My anger comes from a place of honesty and although it is somewhat uncomfortable it helps to continue the softening of my heart. They are small steps in a powerful direction, allowing me to not hold so tightly to my fears. Anger is not one of those “pretty feminine” attributes that I “do” well, but I am learning fast that it does have a place in a mother’s heart. And if you channel it well, anger can be both liberating and productive. And although I will admit that “angry Ali” is not an enjoyable place to be, (or enjoyable to be with) she does have a valid place in this process.

Yet through the anger, the months have unfolded, life has continued on, but the reality of Cate’s death remains the same. What I am learning is that there is no finish line on this journey. There is; however, an embracing of the “new” me and my “new” family. The marathon race we began with Cate’s surgery has continued on without her, and the load we carry now is more than we anticipated. I changed the day Cate died, we all did. Our family is not who we were seven months ago, and I don’t anticipate being “those people” again. We will continue to develop and grow, hopefully for the better. However a part of each one of us died that day. Along with grieving Cate, we also grieve that part in ourselves, which we buried with her.

Trust is harder to come by, and faith in God is often a decision, rather than a way of life. The “new” me hurts more often, cries more easily, and often ungraciously lashes out in anger. But the “new” me also take pleasure in great conversations and delights in hardy laughs. The “new” me has learned that evenings with grade school friends are some of my best treasures, and that my own children can give the most honest advice. The “new” me is learning that I find more solace in chocolate milk rather than wine, and new shoes take a back seat to worn-in boots.

The “new” me is learning that (if you allow yourself to listen) God shows up to comfort us when we least expect Him. A good friend invited me to attend a support group a while back for grieving parents of infants/babies. I felt much resistance to go. My heart felt filled with anger, not from her invitation, but from the sheer fact that by way of Cate’s death, I even needed to know about this support group. I didn’t want be counted among “them,” I wanted my baby girl back and to pretend that I never knew this group existed. Yet, when the group was over, there was a great sense of unity to be joined with others, who feel just as lost, confused, and left-behind. I felt a great sense of relief when others shared wisdom or expressed concerns that were similar to mine. One of the greatest gifts I received from the group is that I do not feel that I need to rush to complete Cate’s headstone. Her precious grave is still the humble concrete with fresh dirt. It brings me great comfort to “play” there many afternoons with the kiddos. We draw all over her grave with chalk and we blow bubbles. We walk ALL OVER the cemetery and the kids find comfort in bringing flowers to other graves that are “flowerless.” It does hurt my heart to know that an aspect of their innocence has been robbed by Cate’s death, and yet their resilience is inspiring, and hopeful. They continue to remind me that love abounds in our life, even when, and if it hurts.

So for now, I am embracing the “new” me. I embrace all that I have learned and will continue to learn on this journey. I embrace all of the hurts, loves, and new joys that we are experiencing through all of this. They are all incredible teachers. And I also embrace all the …peace that today offers… as I place one toe out of the valley and feel the light that waits to shine on us again.

All my love, Ali

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beautifully Ugly

Greeting to all! As Ali and I were driving through Lafayette the other night heading home from a spontaneous date night this really attractive billboard caught my eye. On the bottom there was silhouettes of what appeared to be people in worship with hands raised and the silhouettes where outlined on the top with this really bright green color and the words Live Love Worship. As I drove to work the next morning that billboard popped back into my head and then scenes from worship events that I had been to over the years.. All the scenes were beautiful, the lighting was perfect, the stages were elaborately decorated, and the sound was done just right. All of this to create a perfect environment to worship our God.

The more I allowed my mind to journey into these various events and the feelings associated with them I began to think that my life does not even remotely resemble the beauty that flows out of those nights. Lately, I have felt so distant from God and whenever I pray it surely does not feel like any of these Spirit filled occasions. When I pray it feels dry and void of even words, believe it or not, but I continue to sludge through these valleys of prayer in search of refreshment. I began to wonder if I had not unknowingly conditioned myself to think that worship has to be “pretty,” that it must have the right “sound,” that it needs to be “inspired,” and have the perfect “words.” I thought to myself, that right now, my life and my prayer seems “ugly.” It doesn’t look like anything a “Good Christian’s” life “should” look like, even under the circumstances I find myself.

That day I stopped by one of my closest brother’s offices. Ironically, He runs a very successful ministry putting on nights of teaching and worship. His nights are always first class, they really create an environment which enables people to enter into worship through song, scripture, and the Eucharist. I felt like I could possibly be insulting what he is called to do but at the same time we are close enough that I felt like I could freely share these thoughts that had been flowing through my heart all day. I explained to him that as I was having these thoughts about worship the image of a bloodied crucified Christ kept coming into my heart and how “ugly” that scene must have been. He went on to say that we have to be authentic that our lives are not always as neat as a worship event. He shared a story with me about an encounter he had with an older prominent couple in the town that he works in. One of their children was having some personal struggles and ended up needing to get professional help and it had all been kept real hush hush. He ran into them at a gathering and asked them how they were doing, him knowing what was going on with their child, and they responded with some canned “good Christian” response and he thought to himself, “your lying to me.”

As a Christias we often feel that we have to hide behind our fig leaves just as Adam and Eve covered themselves out of their own embarrassment. These feelings are even more pronounced by the times that we live in when everything has to “look” perfect. I think even as a Church we have in someway begun to fall into the trap of thinking and unknowingly teaching that worship looks a certain way. Yet, if we are to really examine the Life of Christ, it didn’t look anything like that, it was real, it was raw, and the finale was one of the ugliest things that this world has ever seen, But guess what? That magnificent cross, was beautifully ugly, it was a physical embodiment of everything that had and would happen in this world. It was our Christ who willingly, honestly, and OPENLY took on the ugliness of this world and made the eternal statement, “you don’t have hide anymore.” I feel like He was saying to all of us, bring your ugliness to me, bring it out in the open, and I will make it beautiful. Unfortunately what happens is we try to hide our ugliness, dress up our ugliness, or just down right deny that it is even there, because if we are honest with ourselves we do not feel that our life is appropriate for the dressed up worship services that we attend or that our life is in and of itself worship.

Please understand what I am saying, I am in not in anyway putting down these incredible nights of worship, heck I love them as much as the guy. What I am saying is that worship is not a canned action. What I am saying is that worship is does not always feel good. What I am saying is that worship is not always pretty. Worship IS our life and I don’t know about you but my life is not always, not even most of the time, pretty and you know what, Christ’s life wasn’t either. His life was filled with rejection, disappointment, and in the world’s eyes, failure. The question that my heart asks is, why should I not feel like these valleys are worship? I had wondered the other day if the humanity of Christ thought to Himself as He hung on the Cross, “Father, I hope I am doing this right because this does not look like any Jewish sacrifice I have ever seen,” That is exactly how I feel right now. I feel like my prayer is often, God, I hope I am doing this right because this is not the kind of worship that I have experienced before. I desire a transformation to take place in my heart that will enable me to realize that my life is worship, the good, the bad, and yes, even the beautifully ugly.

Much Love,
The Cantrells

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wise Men are Fools

Greetings to all! As we sat in Mass yesterday celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, in other words, the wise men’s arrival. I got to thinking about these so called wise men. Could you imagine if one your friends would say to you, “Look, I been doing a little research about this religion and from what I can tell they are all waiting on a king to arrive. I have been monitoring the stars through my looking device I invented and I found this star that was not there before. I have a feeling that if I follow that star it will lead us to this new king, wanna come?” There were three wise men, right? My question is who was the first one to see this star? And my second question is how on earth did he convince these other two fellas to go with him? There are a few things that I love about the wise men and I will elaborate on these each in a little detail.

First, angels did not appear to them singing Hallelujah and telling them to come over to Bethlehem the King is born. It was not some mind blowing spiritual experience that lead them to this newly born king. It was NATURE! I think a lot of times we can box God into such a small package as to not realize how much HIS creation all points to Him. Also, we continue to concrete ourselves in as our cities grow larger and so we get to experience less and less of His creation. I remember a few years back I had finished reading this book about men’s spirituality called, “Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge, it is an amazing book that truly continues to change my life, can you tell I highly recommend it? After reading the book I found out that John Eldridge and his team put on men’s retreats in Colorado and I decided that I wanted to go. I signed up for the retreat, bought a plane ticket and booked my rental car. The weekend was awesome, hands down one of the most powerful weekends thus far in my life, but do you know what was the most soul freeing experience of those four days was? The drive to retreat center believe it or not! I remember leaving the airport and the concrete jungle of Denver and the further and further I got into the mountains the more I felt my heart being freed. As I rounded this one corner traveling through the mountains, the whole landscape just opened up into the HUGE beautiful valley completely surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. I literally pulled my car over onto the side of the rode, got out, walked to the edge of the side rail, and jumped off, ok, no I didn’t, that just added dramatic effect to the story. No, I just stood there and experienced all of God’s majesty, power, and beauty and I let His creation lead me into His heart at that moment. These wise men knew that God could use anything to lead people to Himself and so they followed His creation right to the feet of the King!

Secondly, can you imagine how crazy they looked to everyone they knew? In a day and age where we are probably more self conscious than society has ever been, can you imagine if you or I set out to follow a star because we thought it might lead us to a king? We are afraid to bow our heads in a restaurant to bless and thank our Heavenly Father for the meal He has sat before us, can you imagine if we were to do something radical like follow a star? These guys must have looked like complete and under fools to everyone they knew. We call them “wise men” NOW, but can you imagine the conversations about those fellas back in the day, “hey, you heard about Johnny, Danny, and Billy, they went looking for a king cause they saw a star! HAAHAHAHAHAHA what fools uh? But guess what? They found one! They not only found one, they found THE ONE! I think that the wise men present a challenge to us all to step out of our comfort zones in search of the King. I think that the wise men call ever single Christian out, by not what they said, but by what they did! They put everything on the line for this King and their actions present a very loud question to all of us, what are we willing to do to find the King? In the end, they were not fools, they went down in HISTORY as Wise men! That my friends is a legacy, wise men, in search of the King, that’s what I want to be and I don’t care how foolish I look!

My final thought on these wise men is that they may or may not have been Jewish. These guys could possibly have been the first Christians sorta of. Now, this is not a theological point so please don’t go to your priest, pastor, or whoever and tell them that I am calling the wise men the first Christians, I am not trying to make some new theological point, what I am saying is that Christ called everyone to Himself! And I think that these guys recognized something special about this child, something different. I think that is the reason they did not go back to Herod to tell him where they had found the child. The priest at Mass yesterday said that from the very beginning of Christ’s life even in the manger He was drawing people to Himself to adore Him. People from all walks of life from Sheppard to wise man from Jew to Gentile and from Sinner to Saint, He desires to bring us all to Himself! What an awesome thought that our God wants us ALL!

As we begin our Christmas Year, may we allow God to use His creation to draw us to Himself, may we not care what we look like to others as we follow Him, and finally may our hearts be filled with gratitude that our God wants us ALL!

Much Love,
The Cantrells