Posted in musings

as lent draws to an end

If a life-disrupting pandemic had to come at any time, I am glad it chose to arrive in Lent.

Lent is the season in which the Church encourages us to make a concerted effort to strive against our vices and turn away from temptation – to go above and beyond in seeking holiness. And yet, while the practices of prayer and fasting and giving certainly help us grow in virtue, Lent isn’t about the success of our own striving, the achievements of our own strength. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Lent is about trying so hard to follow God that we reach the point where we find our strength to be insufficient, our virtue too weak, our will too easily persuaded by the siren call of sin – because it is at that point that we, pinioned between the laws of the fast and the temptations of the flesh, between God’s standard of holiness and our own weakness, have no other recourse than to cry to God for help. In brief, Lent forces us to turn to God.

And when the threat of sickness and economic instability comes tearing through the world, with all its concomitant stress on the fault lines already present in society and all its strain on each individual in their own way, that posture of turning towards God is exactly the response we need. And here we are, already practicing it, already trying to make it a habit, just in time to deal with something more! If I have learned to come to God and fill my spirit with prayer when my body is hungry from fasting, it is easier to come to God with my anxiety and receive His peace and presence when I am tempted to distract myself with the constant noise and bustle of social media or the news or games on my phone.

There is also this reassurance, of which Lent reminds me, that God also has experienced suffering and hardship in this life. He is not ignorant of the emotional responses natural to humanity; he knows them from the inside. And he chose to face them, without taking the way out of comfort or escape from men or angels, that we might have the hope of eternal life in him. It is a hope we can cling to; it is an example we can strive to emulate; it is a strength and a grace that can keep our feet from falling.

Visit This Ain’t The Lyceum for more on Good Friday and Easter, including this: “It is from the darkest and most uncertain of times that we are made new.

Posted in musings

to the end

As the narrative of the gospel of John transitions from Jesus’s ministry into his final teachings before Passover (which in turn are the build up to His suffering, death, and resurrection), there stands one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible.

“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” – John 13:1

With the end of Lent in sight now that Holy Week is at hand, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ends of things. So often I start with high ambitions and good intentions on a new and brightly fascinating idea, only to peter out into nothing before I complete anything (and oh, that phrase of unknown etymology calls up some interesting analogies here: the disciple who strode out on to the water in faith, only to end by sinking in doubt; who boldly proclaimed that he would never forsake Jesus, only to deny him three times not long after). The daily grind of discipline and maintenance required to see a task through to its end, after the shine has worn off and the hardship and tedium has set in, is not something that comes naturally to me (does it to anyone, really?). But eventually, the end comes. The deadline approaches – time runs out – what is left undone must still be called up and held accountable. At some point there is no “tomorrow” left to finish up the chores, to do something special with your child, to read the last chapter of your book, or to turn your heart towards God.

What do you want to be focusing on, when the end comes? What do you want to have finished, or to at least have put your best effort into? And if it is not what comes naturally, how can you give yourself the motivation and support you need to do what you truly, deeply, desire to do?

Jesus, here, was approaching the end, and he knew it, and he was most definitely not looking forward to it. The task he was about to complete was not a pleasant one. But as the end came, he held fast to the bright and beautiful idea that had started it all: he loved his people. Having loved them from the beginning, he loved them to the end. He would prove that love, on the cross, that great and terrible end towards which he was at this point rapidly proceeding.

And what happened then? He loved them to the end – the end of his earthly ministry, the end of his very life – and then he showed them, showed us, that the end is not final: that hope and redemption and life and restoration continue on. He loved us to the end – and his love did not end. Peter sank into the waves, and it could have been the end – but Jesus pulled him up onto the boat. Peter denied his Lord and Savior, and that could have been the end too – but Jesus forgave him, redeemed him, equipped him, and built the church upon his shoulders. He caught hold of that unending love, and it pulled him past the end and into the eternity awaiting.

I know what I want to be focused on, when Lent ends, when I end: that same unending love. I know what I want to have put my best effort into: leaving behind my vices and sins, into loving the people around me and fulfilling my responsibilities to them, into making my small corner of the world more beautiful and more illuminated by the light of heaven. And since it does not come naturally, most of the time? I pray that I might strive (for righteousness) and rest (in grace) both now and at the end: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Like Peter, I stretch my hand over the raging waters to catch hold of the ever-strong grace and the never-ending love of Jesus.

Posted in family life, musings

rainy day in the desert

Sometimes, when everything is dry and parched and hot, rain comes bringing renewal and new life.


Maybe if I’d grown up somewhere wetter, rain wouldn’t always feel like a gift from heaven or an answered prayer – but to this desert girl, where water is always needed, rain is analogous to grace. It comes from God, not by any effort of our own, and we delight in it.


It got a bit cold for us out in the rain, because it was also fairly windy, but the boys were entranced by the water anyways.


I just hope that they will be just as entranced by grace itself as God pours it into their lives.

Posted in family life, musings

grace in my inadequacies: striving for virtue as a mother of toddlers

Some days, as a parent, I just get so frustrated, so irritated, so impatient that it literally takes all I have not to yell at my kids. They usually aren’t doing anything wrong, either – just normal behavior that pushes my buttons.

Those are the days that remind me just how much I still need to grow in virtue and holiness.

Are my charity and compassion really so small that I can’t respond with a kind word and a helping hand when my toddler is whining for help wiping his nose because he’s sick and congested? It’s not loving, it’s not just, to snap at him every time just because I can’t handle the sound that he’s making because of how miserable he’s feeling – all it does is add to his sadness and upset by pushing him away from what should be his source of comfort and gentle love.

Are my temperance and self-control really so stunted that I can’t push back a meal or miss a little sleep because my boys need me for something that they can’t handle on their own? Can I not set aside my physical needs temporarily in order to take care of these little people who are depending on me for so much, and who in general have to bend to my schedule and my desires time and time again?

Is my joy so fleeting and shallow that the small irritants and storm clouds of everyday life are sufficient to wipe away my smile and bring a harsh edge to my voice? Am I really so far from the Root of happiness and peace that every small problem raises my temper or deadens my laughter?

Is my patience so short that I can’t deal with a toddler’s incessant questions or a baby’s irrational tears? How can I hope to teach them to love people well if I can’t love them well for who they are through their normal developmental needs?

And the hard answer to hear is yes, my virtues are that weak and undernourished, that immature and small. Sure, some days we have together are beautiful and by God’s grace I am living well in those moments, but in general – when I am tired, when someone is sick, when work is stressful, when Paul and I are having trouble communicating well, when I’m worried about someone I love – in general, in the normal stressors of life, my virtues aren’t strong enough to keep my feet in the path of holiness. At any rate, they still need the help of massive amounts of willpower and even more massive amounts of prayer!

My solace in those moments is knowing that the pain of striving towards virtue, the strain of denying my inclinations time and time again, the practice of coming back to God for mercy and grace hour after hour, will all result in an increase of virtue, in the same way that the aches and pains of exercise lead to greater strength. God wants us to grow in holiness, so His grace is extended for us for this purpose without stint or reservation – all we have to do is seek it and cooperate with it instead of pushing it away to pursue our own pleasures. It’s just a lot easier to say it that way than to actually live it out…