Struggler

Happy New Year’s! Well, we made it. 2020 is on it’s way into memory and we are all opening our arms wide to welcome 2021. It’s the same kind of feeling each year, but this year, for obvious reasons, those feelings of shaking the dust of the previous year from our feet are stronger than usual. I wrote earlier this fall about being careful not to totally write off 2020, or as Ben’s grandpa would say, put it in the book of the dead. And while yes, I too am excited to embark on a new year, I keep being reminded that shaking my fist at 2020 isn’t the right choice.

There is a music artist that I like who is a Franciscan monk named Brother Isaiah. He has mostly acoustic stuff and is often fairly repetitive which makes the lyrics easy to learn and excellent to pray with. His latest album, Poco a Poco, has been cued up in my phone often lately, especially one song in particular.

This song is so good, because it is so much of 2020. 2020 has been a struggle! It has been hard, horrific, frustrating, heart wrenching, and isolating. As the song says, it has often felt like we are reeds broken in the wind, how many more hits can we take? Without my faith, I’m not sure how I could answer this question.

This is one of the beautiful mysteries of our faith. Suffering always bears fruit – “every good thing is born of a struggle.” The song acknowledges that suffering happens, and that it’s hard to struggle through. But we all know that the best things in life are the ones that we have to work for, work through and continue to grapple with. None of us is a finished masterpiece, we are works in progress. The song pulls this image to the fore:

Something being born in you so beautiful and so true

Like a statue of David chiseled-away and never fading

We are being honed, refined. Brother Isaiah calls life a crucible, a place of extreme heat which can transform metal. This reminds me of the refiners fire the prophet Zechariah talks about when speaking of the coming of the Lord. Zechariah 13:9 says: “I will bring the one third through the fire; I will refine them as one refines silver, and I will test them as one tests gold. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'”

2020 has definitely been a refining year. And things aren’t going to magically change now that the clocks and calendars have turned over to January 1, 2021. The same struggles are being carried forward, but not without hope. Listen to how the singer chooses to respond to the new knowledge about struggle:

Yes I’m a struggler, but I’m not gonna give up no

You give me heart when I want to give up

He affirms that yes, he is a struggler. But he’s a struggler that’s going to keep on going because what’s being created is worth the effort. My friends, let’s walk forward into 2021 seeing where we are struggling, and instead of trying to run away from it, let’s embrace it. Let’s discover what beauty is waiting to be found within the crucible of our struggle. God does not abandon us in our struggle, but walks right alongside us. Whatever your struggle, wherever you are, my new year’s wish for you is that 2021 will bring forth fruit in your life that strengthens you to continue becoming the person He desires you to be.

Happy New Year!

Book of the Dead

When I met Ben’s family, one of the stories that I heard about was his grandfather’s “Book of the Dead.” If he had a bad experience at a restaurant, gas station, you name it, often it went into the Book of the Dead. Meaning he would not go back. There was one restaurant that he didn’t go back to for something like 30 or 40 years because of the poor service he had experienced all those years earlier. When I asked Ben what the name of the restaurant was, his response was, “Which one?”

Ben’s mom still jokes about this and has her own version of the book of the dead. When we move to Kansas this winter it will be the first time she and his dad have driven in the state since the Ice/Wind Storm of one of his childhood trips to Colorado. Fingers crossed Kansas doesn’t get a double entry!

I have recently begun using the Hallow app. The app is full of Catholic prayers, resources and meditations. It’s very peaceful and has a multitude of ways to engage in prayer. There are psalms, homilies, guided silence, and Lectio Divina. I have been trying to do the guided Lectio Divina each day as well as a Divine Mercy Chaplet. I will be honest, one of the things I really like is the timer feature. For nearly every experience you can choose how long you want it to be. If I know I have time, I can do my Lectio for 30 minutes (I haven’t actually gotten to do this yet, but it’s nice to know the option is there for someday!) Or, if I know the kids will be awake soon, I can set it for only 5 or 10 (what usually happens).

The Lectio passage from a few days ago had some interesting words to say about life and death. It was a short Gospel, and to be honest it isn’t one I’ve really noticed before. The meditation was on Luke 20:37-38. This passage is part of a longer story where the Sadducees are trying to trick Jesus into making judgments about what happens after people die. Jesus, of course, answers their question in a way they don’t expect and wins the day.

Part of His answer was to point out that God is the God of the living, not the dead, for “to Him all are alive.” I had to stop and really think about that for a minute. No one is dead to God, for even the dead on earth are still living souls in eternity. Their bodies may be gone, but their soul remains forever.

This, I believe, is big news for the past year. How often have we heard people (ahem, and maybe our selves?) exclaiming that they want this year over, that it’s time to move one, that it’s dead to them, or in Ben’s grandpa’s words, ought to be put in the Book of the Dead? But no, this isn’t what Jesus wants us to do with the year we have been given!

There has been pain, suffering and death in this year. Fact. We cannot sugar coat the tragedies, the sorrow and the large sacrifices that have taken place all over the world. Many, if not most, people have personally encountered the pandemic’s devastating effects on their families, friends and workplaces. It has been a hugely difficult year. But that doesn’t mean it should be written off, left for dead or abandoned.

Jeff Cavins has an excellent book, When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding, which I highly recommend (I posted a review of it a while back if you’re interested in checking that out). Cavins fully acknowledges that suffering is painful, challenging and a universal truth of human existence. Everyone suffers. But, as Christians and especially as Catholics, suffering is much more than this. It is also an “immense treasure” because of what we can choose to do with our suffering (pg 157). Quoting Fr. Mike Schmitz, Cavins asserts: “Suffering without Christ just hurts. But suffering with Christ can transform the world” (ibid).

Many of us have experienced suffering of a new level than we have previously. We have suffered isolation, loss, loneliness, sacrifice and more. But do not let that be the end of the story for 2020. Suffering united with Christ’s passion, using the power of our suffering to grow beyond ourselves and offer it for the suffering of others, and other tools Cavins explores in his book are all ways to discover the transformative potential this year has given to us.

With Advent at our doorstep, a new liturgical year is dawning. Advent is an excellent opportunity for focused spiritual reading, intentional prayer time, and closeness with the Holy Family. If you are able to find a copy of Jeff Cavins’ book, I very much recommend it to everyone. Don’t forget about the free Advent journals I have created for your personal use as well. They are still available and will always be free to print.

I hope that you had a joyful Thanksgiving, even if it was a smaller one. If you haven’t already, this weekend is a beautiful opportunity to take some time to write down what you are grateful for this past year. It’s easy to think of negative things first. Give yourself time to really dig into the year. Go back through your planner, your Facebook or Instagram accounts. What brings a smile to your face? When did you have a sense of peace, of happiness, or contentment? This is also an excellent way to begin preparing for the Advent season.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving weekend and a blessed First Sunday of Advent.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com