Lent, Love, and the Rest of My Life

Photo Credit: MTSO Fan, flickr

Photo Credit: MTSO Fan, flickr

One of my pastors likes to say, “Lent is a time to do more joyfully what we should be doing all the time.” That challenges me, because I naturally want to think of Lent as some kind of crash diet, a time when you give something up that you really love and it’s a great test of your willpower. Then, when you’ve gotten to the end of the sprint, you can go back to living exactly like before. And that’s usually exactly what I do.

But Lent, a season of fasting, sheds light on the rest of my life. In my current circumstances, I lead a life of plenty. There’s no reason for me not to indulge, and in fact, I’m encouraged to treat myself all the time, like it’s a holiday every day. There’s a reason we call this a consumerist society.

And also, of course, I just love overindulging all the time. I’m still young and there are few consequences to my physical body. I love the feeling of being overfull, secure in my plenty. I love new delights on my tongue and familiar comforts slipping easily down my throat.

Fasting is a shock to my system in every way.

My body, my mind, my culture all tell me, You can’t go a whole day without eating anything. You have to eat.

But Lent asks, Do you really?

Can God alone be your bread today?

And it makes me wonder if I can ask myself that moment to moment. If I can live with less so others can have more.

I’ve given up all animal products for Lent, for more reasons than one, but mostly because I know my consumption of dairy contributes to global warming, which is devastating for God’s creation and the materially poor.

I know it makes sense to drastically reduce, if not completely eliminate, dairy as a part of my diet for the long term, not just forty days. But I also miss butter and cheese and ice cream so much already. Even as I think aloud about making sweeping changes, it’s often with a heavy heart and (I’ll admit it) a whiny tone of voice. I don’t wanna give up my favorite stuff.

I’m tempted to look forward to Easter as the time when my life will go back to normal.

But here’s the thing: maybe my normal and Jesus’s normal are two very different things.

The Bible says that Jesus “became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” I read that last night and I thought about how little I contemplate all that it meant for Jesus to become one of us.

Jesus was God, with all the power and glory that implies, but he became one of us. He humbled himself and became a being who existed in time, who was born and died. He endured every frustration in life that we do. He suffered sickness, exhaustion, and emotional pain. The closer he got to death, the more his suffering grew: betrayal, abandonment, misunderstanding, mockery, utter humiliation.

At times he wished there was another way to save us. But through it all, he wasn’t resentful. He was doing it for the love of poor people like us and through God’s love for him, and his loving heart shone through it all.

So that gives me a bit of perspective on my “sacrifices,” in and out of Lent. There’s nothing I can’t do with a loving heart, if I stay in the middle of Love and let it fill me.

What’s So Good About This Friday?

Michelangelo-pietaA good reminder not just for Good Friday, but for every Friday.

The first moment I had a clue what the Cross was for, I was in my usual spot in Mrs. Weaver’s English classroom at Cochise Community College: one row back, two spaces from the left. It was Irish Literature class, and we were talking about the gods of Irish mythology, and Mrs. Weaver, knowing my nerdy interest in Ancient Greece, had just called on me to back her up on a scene from Homer’s Iliad.

“Now, Rachel, in the Iliad, the gods don’t concern themselves much with the fate of human beings, do they?”

“No,” I responded immediately. “In fact, at one point, Zeus is feeling sad because he knows his son is about to die in battle, but Hera talks him out of it. She says mortals are doomed to die anyway and he’s better off not getting emotionally involved with them.”

“Right,” she said with satisfaction, turning back to the class. “So you see, this myth is similar in that…”

The discussion went on, but I remember staring at the floor to the left of my desk, daydreaming as I often did in class at seventeen. Huh. Interesting that in both these cultures, there’s a story about why the gods don’t care about us humans. Actually, why would you ever naturally believe a god cared about you? What could a god, who is immortal and can’t feel pain, know about your life? Why would they ever want to know?

And then it hit me. I’d never understood about Jesus. Growing up in the Church, saying all the creeds, listening to the Gospel over and over, my religious education classes, none of it had made the death of Jesus make any sense. God loved me? Sure, okay. Jesus, both divine and human, came to us to reveal how to live? That sounded like a fine plan. But every year when Easter came around, I would wonder, Why did he have to die like that? Why couldn’t he just have gone back to be with God, or even died like a normal person? Why the beatings, the blood, the torturous thirst, the getting nailed to things?

I didn’t get it. And now, somehow, I did get it a little bit: if you believed that Jesus was God (which was still to me just hypothetical), then you could no longer say, ever, that God didn’t care about or understand your suffering. Surely crucifixion was not only one of the most horrifically painful deaths ever, but also one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing. And if God was Jesus, and Jesus went through all that, it proved once and for all that God knew all about suffering. Surely God had empathy for your pain, compassion even for the most horrible experience you would ever go through.  Surely, if you believed that, it would give you a powerful sense that God was with you in your darkest moments.

Now, this is not how the impact of Jesus’ death is usually explained. I’ve discovered many more dimensions of it since then, and no doubt I will discover many more. But that was the thing that grabbed me first, stunned me and spun me around and made me get it after all my years of half-sleeping through sermons. I almost got choked up thinking about it: a god would do that for me? So that I could know I wasn’t alone? So I could know the Creator of the world was not hostile, or even neutral, but loved me enough to get down on my level, wade through all that blood and mud and grime, suffer all those filthy looks and jeers and whispers, to prove it wasn’t the end of the world? I pictured Jesus like a big brother, jumping before me into a lake that looked freezing, murky, teeming with perils, his head rising again to the surface to say, “Come on in. I’ll be in here with you.”

It wasn’t the day I decided to follow Jesus, not even close. I filed out of class somewhat pleased that I’d had an interesting thought. I’d always wanted to understand why people made such a big deal out of the Cross.

I thought that was it. But now I know that’s one of the things that makes Good Friday good. Jesus took what was until that time a horrific symbol of torture and death, a tool to make an example of criminals, and he took it on to show us how much he loves us, how intimately he wants to know us, that he would drink from the very same cup of pain. And also, of course, to show that no matter how horrible that pain, it won’t have the last word.

I’ll always remember that day as the day Jesus got his hooks into me. He must have waited years for it. He got me good.

Humility and Freedom

Epitaph on Nikos Kazantzakis' grave. I don't h...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know Lent is over, but this post from last year has been on my mind lately. I need to write much more about this. Stay tuned.

And please, do share what you need freedom from in the comments so I can pray and ponder with you.

In 2005, on a trip to the island of Crete, I visited the grave of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis. I remember his grave being hard to find, for such a famous landmark. Finally my friends and I drew close to it, the shadows growing long by now. Etched on the headstone in gracefully looping Greek were the words Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

Holy Week is fast approaching, and what I’ve learned this Lent is that I’m not yet as free as I want to be.

Maybe it’s actually the lesson of every Lent. Many of us give up something that seems minor and silly, chocolate perhaps, and we’re hit in the gut by how much we long for it. We go without food, a minor inconvenience for those of us who don’t have medical or psychological reasons to abstain, and we are shocked by how much our hunger pangs obsess us. More than that, we realize how numb we are to the things that matter more. We are brought to tears over our caffeine withdrawal, but not by footage of war on the news. We thirst for our tiny pleasures and think we can do without Love itself.

What I gave up this year was Facebook. Sounds like a tiny thing, right? Well, for me it’s a tiny symptom of a much bigger problem: online or off, I live to be liked. I have an approval addiction. If my actions don’t provoke praise, I immediately question their meaning. If I incur even the tiniest criticism, my stomach churns, my muscles involuntarily tense.

And here’s the upshot of all this: when I care so much about what people think, I ignore what God thinks. I thrill to hear a random fellow bus rider say I’m pretty; did I forget I am by definition “fearfully and wonderfully made“? I quickly grow impatient with trying to help someone if I’m not thanked or swiftly shown progress; is that my answer to “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up“?

I am filled with unreasonable hopes and unrealistic fears. There is a lot of “me” in the way of my freedom. And yet I have one hope I know I can count on: that there is a Higher Power than me, that I don’t have to fix my own brokenness. That Jesus will help me empty myself of my ego so I can be filled with love, like he did in his time here on Earth.

I’d like to close with a prayer for freedom for me and for all us approval addicts. Thank you, Cardinal Merry del Val.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
Deliver me from the desire to be esteemed,
From the desire to be loved,
From the desire to be extolled,
From the desire to be honored,
From the desire to be praised,
From the desire to be preferred to others,
From the desire to be consulted,
From the desire to be approved.

Deliver me from the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of being rebuked,
From the fear of being slandered,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected.

O Jesus, grant that I may desire that others may be more loved than I,
That others may be more esteemed than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease,
That others may be chosen and I be set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I, too, become as holy as I can.

Lenten Reflection 2014: Sometimes It’s Not That Complicated

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

I seem to forget that Jesus said that. Quite frequently, in fact. Sometimes all I can hear is the call to follow, to take up my cross and get going, to get out there and bring good news to everybody.

And it’s true that Jesus said these things, but I forget that he also said, in his very last days on Earth, “Abide in me.”

The One who had no place to lay his head told us he would be our place. The One who calls us to take up our cross and follow him said he would make our yoke easy and our burden light.

This Lent, Jesus called me to go back to my first love. To find joy and peace just in being with him, like how good friends can sit together, saying nothing, doing nothing, just enjoying each other’s presence.

During Holy Week, I read Psalm 131, which really brought it all home for me.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Psalm 131 1-2

God welcomes me when I’m tired, when I feel overwhelmed, when I feel broken. God invites me to bring this to our times together and lay it down, so I can be calm and quiet, like a tiny child leaning on my mother’s shoulder.

Notice that it’s specifically a weaned child. The weaned child is not restless with hunger, fussing and wanting milk. The weaned child can be content just leaning on its mother, enjoying the deeper-than-words bond they share.

I’ve also been reading the book of John a lot lately, the one where Jesus says “I am” a lot. I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Sometimes these statements don’t sound very humble. But the more I read them, the more I hear Jesus humbly offering to take care of all our needs. “I will feed you, lead you, light up your life. I will take care of you and satisfy your needs in a way no human person can. Just come rest in me.”

I make my faith about so many other things sometimes. I worry about getting to church on time, about reading the Bible “enough,” about doing the right things for the right reasons. And we should care what we do; we should want to grow and change for the better.

But the real insight of this Lent, for me, was that I can’t do any of those good things, not for long, unless I abide in Jesus. Like I can’t do a good day’s work if I haven’t gotten any rest.

I need to listen to that call to rest. When I try to pour myself out for others, I quickly feel like I have only the dregs left. But when I let God fill me first, that’s when my cup spills over.

My Not-So-Brilliant Career as a Footwasher

So Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Is that as gross and awkward as it sounds to our modern ears?

The answer is yes. Possibly even more so.

Imagine washing the feet of someone who gets around primarily by walking and who wears sandals all the time. And there are no cars yet, so the streets are pretty much covered in animal muck.

Foot washing was a necessary task in Jesus’ time, and it was one of the most important gestures of hospitality. It was also considered so disgusting and demeaning that a master was not allowed to order his Jewish slave to do it.

Now imagine Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, putting on a towel and stooping down to do this chore even some slaves wouldn’t do. No wonder Peter’s response was something like horror: “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus did, and then he washed eleven other pairs of feet. Then he asked his disciples if they understood why.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,'” he said, “and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master…”

I’ve been thinking about footwashing this Lent, trying to figure out what the equivalent is in my own life. Now that we have showers and close-toed shoes and cars, what is it I’m supposed to be doing?

I believe it was Shane Claiborne who likened washing feet to scrubbing toilets. Seems like a good analogy to me. I think of that often when I’m cleaning my own house, when I don’t want to bend my knees and get down in the muck and mess.

Reflecting on this is good for me. My mother was not a great housekeeper, and neither am I. Mostly I just don’t want to take the time to do chores – not when there are so many other, better, things I could be doing. More noble. More important. More uplifting.

But Jesus says, Get in there. Wipe away that grime. Don’t let your pride get in the way. I don’t care who you are. I’ve set you an example.

But even more than housework, this applies to my job. I’ve mentioned before that my job is boring, stressful, undesirable. I certainly never wanted to work customer service. As much as I’ve learned from my job over the years, it’s also true that most of the time I feel like it’s a waste. I have a fancy degree. I’d rather be doing so many other things, and I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about that when I should be working.

This Lent I gave up surfing the Internet at work. It was my guilty pleasure: when I was on hold, or when I felt like there was nothing else to do, I’d look at a blog, a window on someone else’s life, and escape my own life for a minute.

It felt like a tiny vice, something everyone did from time to time. But I realized the more I did it, the less I wanted to serve. I felt annoyed at customers for interrupting my reading. I felt annoyed at the universe that I was stuck in the land of gray cubicles. I felt annoyed at God for not showing me a way out of this dead-end job.

So this Lent, I’ve focused on just serving – and trying to do it joyfully, as worship. Trying to see our customers as Jesus, as loved by Jesus. Trying to do my job, a job many would say only the desperate would take, generously and freely, just as Jesus did.

I have a lot to learn about the Lord’s gentleness and humility. My instinct in many situations is still to say, “That’s not my job!” or “They don’t pay me enough to care.” or “Clean up your own mess!”

This Holy Thursday, I pray for a different kind of attitude, a gentle and quiet spirit, an emptying of myself, a willingness to be a student of my Teacher.

Lenten Love Stories #6: Home Away from Home

February 1st, 2009

For years after my conversion I didn’t go to church. Oh, sure, I attended the odd service, particularly at college, where the Chapel offered up a different style of worship every week. And I church shopped in town a good bit, too, trying to find something that felt right. I went to Mass and Taizé services and I raised my hands to worship bands and I broke big fat communion loaves in a circle of chairs, all of that from time to time. But I did not go to church with any regularity. I tried a bit of this and a bit of that, rarely staying long enough to be recognized or remembered, certainly not enough to be vulnerable.

Even after my dramatic (for me) call back to the Church body, I didn’t visit church buildings too much. I was still weighing my options, trying a bite of this and that but never feeling nourished.

Then I walked into a small, dilapidated-looking Catholic church in my neighborhood, something I’d seen out of a bus window on a trip downtown. Maybe I should try that one, I thought idly as it flowed by.

I tried it that Sunday and quickly saw past the crumbling building to the vibrant life inside. I think I may have finally found a church I want to keep going to, I wrote in my journal that night. I was immediately impressed by everyone’s sincere friendliness and the care which they took to welcome me. I also thought the music was beautiful and powerful, and the church itself is more subtle than some but very beautiful, with a carved wooden crucifix which displays Christ not sad and suffering, but triumphant, clearly the Resurrected Christ, with his arms open and a very welcoming feeling.

I felt very at home there theologically, too. There is a great emphasis on service in this community; they use their meeting hall to feed the homeless six days of the week (in fact, the post-Mass coffee and donuts sort of merges with serving lunch, a seamlessness I was impressed with). The sermon was a call to social justice, but also firmly grounded in Scripture… Seems like a place to acquire some wisdom and good influence.

I’m still going to that same church. Ironic that after all the different churches I sampled, I’d wind up at one walking distance from my house. And as I went regularly, I realized I needed to be there. I realized that taking part in a church week after week, sharing joys and sorrows, growing and encouraging others to grow, enriched me in a way church shopping never had and never could. There were completely new joys involved, like the first Sunday I realized I could hug people during the sharing of the peace because these strangers had become my friends.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, I still get the urge to shop. I’ve been at this church long enough to know that it’s far from perfect. Sometimes I wish for something that suited me a little better, that understood me a little better. But the wiser part of me knows there’s no place for consumerism anymore in my experience of the Church. Every congregation is human and broken. No part of the Church is perfect; only Jesus is. So I’ll strive to stay faithful to my little corner of the church, which has indeed molded and shaped my life in major ways, has fed my hungry soul with the Bread of Life.

I sit in the back and marvel that I’m even there, that I settled down and stayed. Truly, it’s one miracle that happens every Sunday.

This Lent, I Want to Stop Cheating

On God, that is.

In the last few weeks I happened to read the memoirs of two women whose marriages were destroyed by adultery. Both women described being cast aside by their husband for other people as the single most painful experience of their lives. They loved their husbands deeply, and they tried to save their marriages through counseling and compromise when they found out about initial affairs, but their husbands resolutely chose another path, a path that no longer had room for them. These strong, beautiful women nearly drowned in their sorrow as they watched promises they’d based their lives on be trampled, then broken.

Then I happened to read Ezekiel 16, and I realized we do the same thing to God.

We, the puny little humans, breaking God’s heart. Incredible but true. God feels anger and heartbreak when we turn away from pure Love and accept a cheap substitute. God knows our idols don’t love us back. We hoard money like we could eat it. We scramble for security like we’re ignorant it can crumble in a moment. We do this ridiculous tap dance of approval seeking and blame dodging like other people define who we are. God knows this is, in every sense of the word, vanity, that only the Divine can make us truly happy.

This Lent I realized I haven’t been letting God into many parts of my life. There are things I’ve been trying to hide out of sight of our relationship: bitter feelings about my humble job, anger about lack of healing in friends and family, fear that others will criticize or reject me. I must feel, at some level, that Jesus wouldn’t care or wouldn’t help if I brought these things to him in prayer. So instead of communicating, I stuff my feelings inside and I seek out other loves: ego stroking, shiny purchases, aggrieved complaining, excessive busyness, passive daydreaming. I’ve been on this roller coaster ride of hypocrisy and self-justification, caring more about looking like a nice person than changing my heart.

I need to get off that ride and back into the arms of the One who loves me, loves me for life and beyond. I want to receive that love, I want to return that love. I want to honor the promises made in that love. Even on the days when my eyes feel like straying, I want to lift my eyes to God, the true source of my help.

Lenten Love Stories #5: The Slow Falling

In telling the love story between me and God, I’ve been sharing the big dramatic moments, like you do. You tell your friends about the moment you looked into your beloved’s eyes and knew, or the first time you put words to your feelings, or your first date or your wedding ceremony.

But love is so much more than the big memories. It’s the things that seem tiny at the time, but bring a smile to your face whenever you think of them. Yes, that too was love.

Jesus sent his disciples out to harvest what others had sown. The disciples watched people fall in love with Jesus over and over, but they’d already been falling for a long time. Other people had planted the seeds that would slowly grow green toward the light, would flower and bear fruit, would someday become ripe.

So many people have sown tiny seeds in my heart. Some of them are not around anymore to see the blossoms. Some of them I’ve fallen out of touch with. Some of them I never even met. I’m sure most of them are ignorant of any beauty they birthed in me. I know they didn’t see it happening at the time. As I’ve said many times, I’m a really slow learner spiritually. I’m sure watching for the seeds to sprout in me would have been about as much fun as watching actual grass grow.

One of the sowers was my dad, who told me stories about Jesus he heard from his mom, who heard them from Rose DeWitt, a middle-aged black lady who was once their neighbor in the projects of New York City. Heirloom seeds from this home-grown theologian who never held a degree but taught herself Hebrew, who invited my Jewish relatives to her Christmas feast, eyes shining from gazing on the face of Love.

One of the sowers was my mom, who dragged me to church in those early days, got me hooked on singing Psalms and the strange rituals of liturgy. Who responded to my urgent (and foolish) spiritual questions with a grace that never discouraged me from faith.

One of them was my first boss, Becky, who in addition to showing me some really great reading material really showed me what the Holy Spirit looked like in someone’s life during my teenage years. Endlessly patient through all my teenage screw-ups, honest and kind while sharing her faith, she was a true role model for me.

One of them was a young Christian I knew casually online named Trevor, who responded to my first public confession of faith not with shock at my rough language but with joy and excitement that I was so close to belief and a little friendly pressure to make a decision for Jesus.

One of them was my college Chaplain, whose office I visited at least once a term to sob out my life issues, anxieties about my family, my romantic prospects, and my purpose in life. She gave me a lot of great advice, too much of which I ignored for too long, and mostly she just listened, providing a safe place for me to wrestle with things I wouldn’t have told another soul on campus.

One of them was a woman I met online named Lasa who eventually invited me to stay at her house. She is the one who convinced me, somehow, that I wasn’t going to choose the wrong life path and end up on God’s bad side forever. As she put it, “God loves you too much to let you go.” Plus, she sent me my very first study Bible.

So much sweet fruit in my life now (such as there is) ultimately comes down to these people, who broke ground for my faith, who nurtured and protected it in the early days like a precious sapling. I hope one day they’ll get to know what those thousands of tiny moments meant, how all the love they lavished on me made harvest even possible.

Lenten Love Stories #4: The Spirit Electric

Image Credit: aggieerin, Flickr

Image Credit: aggieerin, Flickr

May 23, 2010

I always tell people I rebelled against my parents by staying in school and not taking drugs. Let’s face it, I’m not the adventurous type. I don’t even like legal supersensory experiences, like rollercoasters or horror movies or nitrous at the dentist. In most circumstances, the feeling of being out of control is just not one I seek out.

Yet being sober all the time takes its toll, and it seems to come out in my dreams. Sometimes I’m sick of being me, so I dream I’m someone else completely. Once I dreamed I was a beautiful young woman being randomly attacked by two strangers who completely overpowered me physically. They knocked me unconscious momentarily and my dream-self awoke smiling, saying with genuine warmth, “You know, I bet you are wonderful people. I’m sorry I had to meet you this way.” My assailants exchanged a shocked glance, dropped me, and scuttled away.

I remember the rush of waking up, thinking, Who was that I just got to be?

One spring morning I had a dream unlike any other I’ve ever had. I don’t even remember the context, but suddenly I felt electrified. There’s really no other word for it. Like the electric shock that used to travel up my arm when I pushed the metal button wrong on my family’s ancient dryer, but all over my being. I felt like my hair was frizzing out cartoonishly. I could move, but it felt more like I was being moved by this current of energy rushing through me, its chosen conduit.

Yet unlike the burn of real electricity, the energy filling me in the dream felt wonderful. It felt so good I almost felt guilty. The word “possession” flashed through my mind. I struggled momentarily with my old fear of losing control of myself, the thing that keeps me away from roller coasters and risky behavior, but I realized I didn’t want to escape the current, even if I could have. How bad could it be to trade myself away to become a tiny part of this gloriousness? How could I choose to camp out in the tiny tent of my body, ignoring a view of the endless stars?

I woke up abruptly, jolted back to reality. It was Sunday morning. I was late for church, but I decided to go anyway. I hadn’t been for weeks, choosing to spend the day making bread or soaking up sunshine instead, but for some reason I wanted to be there.

I slunk in late and noticed a change from our Sunday usual. Red banners hung from the ceiling. Everything glowed with the colors of flames. A feast day? Wasn’t Easter over? Stupidly I looked down at my program.

Pentecost. I’d had no idea.

Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit first rushed through the Apostles of Jesus, busted them out of the confines of their tiny hick lives, made them start speaking foreign languages they’d never uttered before.

Pentecost, when the dreamers became the dream, but some people scoffed and called them drunkards.

Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit consumed the people like wildfire.

Lesson learned that day: even for timid little me, erstwhile worshiper of my own safety, the last kind of person to play with fire, there is room for the Spirit. Even if only in my dreams so far. God is tempting me to experience more of the divine nature, and I am the moth to the proverbial flame.

Lenten Love Stories #1: How I Came Back to the Church

October 2008

I woke up one day with this song in my head I hadn’t heard since childhood. A song they used to sing sometimes in my church when we went up to receive Communion. But I’d stopped going to that church ten years ago. I couldn’t believe I still remembered it.

Do not be afraid; I am with you / I have called you each by name / Come and follow me, I will bring you home / I love you and you are mine

I had just moved to the city from my small-town college, still slept on my friends’ living room floor. After months of applying for jobs, I’d landed one at a cookie factory, what I called “my I Love Lucy  job.” Workdays, I woke up at three in the morning, ate plain oatmeal, and went to wait for the train in the dark. When I left work, it was dark again.

The day I woke up with the song in my head, though, was Saturday, a day off. On Saturdays, I woke up and tried to meditate, perhaps trying to convince myself there was something romantically monastic about my spartan lifestyle.

I opened the book of devotions I was using to a random page, and the same words jumped out at me, the beginning of Isaiah 43:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I blinked. How weird, I thought. Well, maybe I had seen this page on another day and that was what got the song into my head. I did my usual sad attempt at meditating and went about my day.

The next day, Sunday, I decided to try out a church. I’d never really stuck with one in college, preferring to make brunch for friends on Sunday morning. But now, in this new place, I’d decided it would be good for me to have a church of my own. It would help me meet people. I’d heard about this church before, seen its beautiful picture online, heard great things about its welcoming atmosphere.

It happened to be a Catholic church, like the one I’d grown up in.

When I came out as a Christian to my father in my late teens, the first thing he asked me was, “Does that mean you’ll do everything the Pope says now?”

“No, Dad,” I said, with a great show of patience. “That’s Catholics. I’m not specifically Catholic anymore, I’m just a Christian.”

During my college years, I’d never felt a draw back to my childhood church. The churches I shopped were Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, nondenominational.  I’d attended maybe one Catholic Mass since my conversion, and I felt completely unmoved by it.

The one thing I’d really missed about Mass was Communion. Some of the churches I’d attended only shared the bread and wine occasionally, and that never felt quite right to me. So as the Mass went on, I started to get excited about receiving Communion again. After all these years of getting it sporadically at best, I guess I was hungry.

Finally the moment approached. People started to sing the Communion song.

I started to laugh. Then I started to cry, covered my face and sobbed right there in my wooden pew.

It was the song that had been in my head for the last two days: “You Are Mine,” by David Haas.

As I went up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I was crying so hard I couldn’t even think of singing. On my way back to my seat, a stranger swept me into her arms and gave me a huge hug.

Things like this don’t happen to me. You should know that. I am not a magnet for miracles, or even remarkable coincidences. But after all my wandering and all my doubting, that day I got a sign I couldn’t ignore. Don’t be afraid, it said. Come on. This way is home.