It started with a terrible crush I had on a drummer. “Alex” was living in Alaska for the summer, spending some time with relatives when we met. He was a successful musician in New York, a small town boy who’d done well for himself in the big world, and a devout Christian. He sat in at clubs around town where I was singing and we ended up attending the same church for a while. He was sweet and very hip, an excellent drummer, and I liked him immediately. I was young and had virtually no experience with romantic relationships, so I pined away silently for him as we hung out, just friends and fellow musicians. One night I will never forget, we were sitting in a coffee shop late in the evening on an Alaskan summer night with the sun still high in the sky when we fell into deep conversation. I was trying to express what I wanted - out of life, out of our friendship, many things - and I was fumbling awkwardly. After listening patiently to me a long while, his summary of my thought was piercing. “You want to be known,” he said simply. It was the emphasis on the last word that nearly crushed my heart. I was ashamed by my own need, and I could not deny that he was exactly right. Just then, almost in response to the embarrassment I felt in being exposed so flatly, we noticed a very unusual cloud approaching. It was black and ominous and beginning to blot out the Alaskan evening sun. We sat, speechless, watching it unfold, growling and low, ready to engulf the whole world. Slowly, we realized, a volcano across the inlet had erupted and this was an ash cloud. By the time we got to my car, we had to cover our mouths; ash was filling the air - something like tiny, bitter shards of glass. At the time, I thought that volcanic eruption was an omen, warning me off any real attempts at intimacy. I have thought better of it since then. Truly, we have been created with many needs: for intimacy, for grace, for love, even fiery passion. If the Sacred Heart teaches us nothing, it must teach us that. Some of the defining moments of my life have been in prayer with art based on the Sacred Heart. I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with this image, but oh how I have. I love it for its burning passion, for its willingness to be pierced and rejected, and for its fearlessness in longing for love, for souls. I adore it for its purity and clarifying power. How often Jesus begs us to “take heart.” And how often just as he is pouring out his healing. “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,” “Take heart, your faith has healed you,” “Take heart, it is I!” (Mt. 9:2, 22 and 27). “Take heart,” he says. That is, “take my heart. Let my heart be your heart, burning, pure, full of holy, sacred need for intimacy, for souls, to be known and loved.” The theologians tells us that God has no need; he is perfect act, perfect joy. And of course they are right. But God also chooses to reveal himself in the Son, and to take on himself even human need. I “take heart” indeed, that Jesus knows my needs, not as an abstraction, but as an intimate, human ache, and enters into them, that he may know me, love me, and save me. Jesus, I offer you my heart to you to do with as you will. Let your loves be my loves. Let your longings be my longings. Let my heart hide always in your Sacred, Burning Heart
A few weeks after I had a rather alarming lump removed in a somewhat unexpected surgery that was insanely expensive, even with insurance, I learned that my business accounts had been hacked to the tune of one hundred thousand dollars in fraud. To put that in perspective, an average transaction on my website is about twelve bucks. Apparently, when random charges started coming in for $26,000 and the like, this raised no alarm bells. It was pretty impressive, actually. The hacker got into my email and was replying as me and had changed out my bank account for his (or hers, let’s be fair). No one caught this until almost two weeks had passed and, at which point, about twenty-three thousand dollars was unrecoverable. I frequently and with some anticipatory amusement pray for the conversion of my hacker. A week later, to make matters even more ridiculous, my husband was attacked by a dog. He was running on a public jogging path blocks from our home when a huge beast, perhaps one-hundred and twenty pounds, leaped up and sunk his teeth into my husband’s abdomen. The dog was on a leash but his owner could not control him. Later, when my husband reported the incident to the police, he was made out to be the instigator of said attack by the dog’s owner. As if my husband, out for a jog, would stop to randomly provoke a pet. Two weeks later the police called to let us know that the dog did not have rabies, (for which we were tremendously grateful) and was now “free to return to his normal dog life.” Well, what a relief, that the dog could return to his normal dog life. The world is mad. Like the Crocus, We Shall Blossom. I think this might be why God bothered with the hearty spring crocus. I planted a few bulbs some years ago next to my house and every year, without fail, despite the snow and cold and ice that may yet await its arrival, my crocuses valiantly reach skyward to pierce the surface of the frozen earth, green and savory and ready to blossom. The crocus knows: beauty and goodness and life often spring up from darkness. The crocus reminds us: evil will not win, it can never overcome what has been achieved through the Passion and brought to fullness on a Good Friday afternoon. Do not doubt it for a minute: evil may take a bite out of you from time to time, but it can never undo what has been achieved by El Shaddai. Let the world go mad and go buy yourself a crocus. And live with abiding, unshakable joy in the reality of Easter. Father Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of all that is, the earth manifests your glories and sings with joy of your wisdom and might. Let my every word and work join in this eternal and triumphant song that proclaims the unstoppable truth of your victory over sin and death. Amen. For the image: Isaiah 35:1-2 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
“Miss K” was an exercise in the incongruous. She couldn’t have weighed much more than a spring robin, but she rode a Harley Davidson. I still remember her roaring – at a chug, mind you – down the long driveway of my childhood on her “hog.” It was something akin to a noodle of spaghetti riding in on a bull. Though meek in demeanor and dimension, her voice was husky and deep and always a little surprising emanating from her mild face. Miss K was the science teacher for most of my older siblings and over the years became a close friend to my mother. In that time, my mother came to understand that Miss’s childhood was marked by a terrible cruelty, and in the aftermath of this abuse, she was prone to depression and sometimes it would grip her without mercy. During these bouts, she would call my mom, who would listen to her for an hour or two. Occasionally, Miss K would come to stay with us. And though she was always tired, she never seemed able to sleep and I would wake in the middle of the night to hear her poking around in our kitchen. Toward the end of her life, Miss K had found peace, good friends, a community that loved her in all of her quirkiness. There was a certain lifting in her spirit that was palpable. She remained close to my mother, recounting that those long, difficult phone calls with my mom probably saved her life; that my mother, by simply listening had helped her more than she could say. Miss K was scheduled to stay for a few days over the New Year, but when my parents fell ill with colds, she postponed her trip and came a few weeks later instead. She was greeted warmly by my older brother, who just happened to be at my parents. A former student, he would become an electrical engineer years after he spent time in Miss K’s classroom, and I wonder if her way of teaching science might not have made a good impression on him as a boy. He helped her to carry in her many bags – Miss K never traveled light – and after settling in, she remarked, “I just love staying here.” Not long after, she sat down to say a rosary with my parents and then have dinner. And some time in the next hour, Miss K had a massive stroke. She lost consciousness as my parents, held her and helped her to the floor where they covered her with a blanket and called 911. The paramedics asked my mother to go through her things, looking for any medicines she might be taking, and in every pocket and crook and cranny, my mom found prayer cards, novenas, and all of that Catholic DNA that marks a faith-filled life. Miss K died peacefully a few days later at a local hospital surrounded by those who loved her the most. Sometimes, healing creeps along at a slow, steady pace. Sometimes, mercy is quiet and hidden and more effective for never drawing attention to itself. Sometimes, the simplest kindness, which seems to cost us almost nothing at all, is the very balm that does the most good. And sometimes, I think, the Father saves his greatest mercies for last in this life. Father in heaven, thank you for the gift of Miss K and that she chose to pass on, not the cruelty she knew, but a love for your creation instead. And thank you for allowing her end to stand in such stark contrast to her beginning. Your mercy endures forever. Rest in peace, Miss K.
It was a rather odd little flare-up of multiple sclerosis. I’d gradually gone numb from my lower back, down the back of my legs, and across the bottom of my feet. I could still walk and move normally, and to look at me you’d never know this was going on, but I couldn’t feel the back part of my lower body. I will leave to your imagination the full range of indignities such a condition introduced, but among them, sitting was terribly irritating and at times, a little iffy. As this exacerbation stretched on for some months, it got a little wearing. One day, it came to a head as I was sitting in adoration. The chapel at my church had very hard wooden pews that were uncomfortable even when I could feel my whole body, but combined with this weird sensation, I was having a hard time entering into prayer. As I grumbled about this before the Blessed Sacrament, it was as if the Lord said to my heart, “Why don’t you kneel, dummy?” (This is one of his many terms of endearment for me; another favorite is “donkey.” You see the pattern . . .) So, I got on my knees. And, of course, immediately, I discovered this was the perfect position for prayer – I could feel the front side of my body. I could feel my knees and shins pressing against the kneeler. I could feel the pew in front of me touching my abdomen. It was almost like my symptoms disappeared and for the duration of my holy hour, I felt whole and stable and entered into a lovely period of prayer with a huge smile of relief across my face and spirit. I am a dummy, but a much-loved one. In contemplating Christ’s Passion in the especially intentional way that we do during Lent, it cannot escape our attention that Jesus did in fact choose human nature to express himself. He does in fact have a body, a vulnerable body with many needs, a body that submitted itself to the laws of human growth; a body that suffered, a body that thirst and bled and responded fully and humanly to every kind of pain. A body that felt relief, too, in our acts of compassion. Because of this, we know: the body matters. Your body matters. In all of its limitations and needs, in all of its wonder and beauty, in the ways that it allows you to connect to the human family and to God; your body matters. The great convert, Robert Hugh Benson wrote, “We are body as well as soul; we are incomplete without the body. The soul is insufficient to itself, the body has as real a part to play in Redemption as the soul.” We needn’t fear the radical vulnerability that it is to be in a human body. In choosing all that it means, Jesus not only dignifies human nature and exalts it, he shows us how our bodies can become vehicles by which he can introduce us to more of his mercy and his grace. If the limitations of my body keeps me on my knees before the Father, then I am blessed indeed, even if a smidge numb and a bit dumb. Father, thank you for the tremendous gift that it is to have a body, no matter how flawed or imperfect or needy it might be. Bless this body of mine that it may be effective to your purposes and a witness to your glory, mercy, and might.
My house is a spectacular mess. I keep waiting for someone from the government to show up in a Hazmat suit and give me a citation for violations against human health and public safety before hauling me away to pig-pen prison. This is not what I would hope for, of course. It’s just an unusually busy season with many unusual demands – moving parents into assisted living in another state, working, managing a few of my own health issues, scheduling a minor surgery, and the like. Filling out insurance forms has become a part-time job. Try as I may to keep my head above the mayhem, I am failing, and the only thing God seems to be interested in telling me is this: be grateful and pray without ceasing. He doesn’t seem all that concerned about the cleanliness of my house, whether or not my Christmas cards arrived on time (or at all), or whether or not I’ve cooked dinner from scratch or purchased it at the local supermarket deli. (The clerks there now know me by name.) Which brings me to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, that rigorous, silent thirty-day retreat praying through the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in four or five hours of meditation a day. When you do a thirty-day retreat, your usual duties are suspended. They have to be. For example, for the duration of the retreat, a priest is not required to prepare homilies, visit the sick, baptize babies, or hear confessions. He puts down these normal duties in order to enter into the work of the retreat in a more focused kind of way. The retreat becomes his work. Just so, there can be other natural occasions in life where we put down our usual responsibilities to meet new demands, to take up with greater concentration some other duties as our work, our prayer. The disciples put down their daily tasks – fishing, for example – to travel with Jesus, to be trained up in his ministry. They relied on, among others, some of the women who traveled with them for food and other provisions. Those women who traveled with Jesus were relieved of their normal responsibilities in order to take up this new mission. It became their work. My point is: illness or caring for someone who is ill and the mayhem that unleashes is a spiritual exercise. It may in fact be the spiritual work that God is calling you to for the time being. But rest assured it is no less effective than if you were to do the Exercises of St. Ignatius. The burden of illness is a training ground for growing in virtue and learning how to pray without ceasing. It is the equivalent of dropping your nets to follow Christ into this experience of illness and discovering how to love him and serve him in a new and deeply fulfilling way. I don’t like that my house is a wreck and that I’m behind on paperwork, preparing my taxes, and even taking care of myself. It overwhelms me at times. But I drop my daily net and follow Jesus into this new work in confidence and joy because he is right there ahead of me, leading me through it. Where else would I rather be? Lord, your love compels me, just like the disciples, to drop everything and follow you, wherever you may lead. Strengthen me for the work ahead and in the knowledge that I only ever want to be where you are.
When the good folks who organize perpetual adoration are trying to recruit adorers – a formidable and honorable task to be sure, one I certainly couldn’t do – this is the verse they often use on the flyer: “Can you not stay awake with me one hour?” And this, of course, recalls the Lord’s words to his sleepy disciples who kept nodding off while he was in prayerful agony anticipating his passion. An extraordinary moment is captured in that verse, and I understand why they choose it. It is a remarkable accounting of the Lord’s deep desire for our friendship, our company. It also recalls the natural entreaty of a man in need of support and the failure of human weakness. What it does not immediately recall is joy. In recent years, in addition to my usual holy hour commitments, I’ve started serving as a substitute adorer. Once every few months I am asked to take one of the “ironman hours” – those brutal hours between 2 am and 5 am, in many ways the hidden life blood of perpetual adoration. When I was young and healthier, keeping a holy hour in the middle of the night was a common habit, and frankly, fairly easy for me. With more than half my life behind me and a slightly less healthy body, a holy hour in the middle of the night, though I cherish this intimate time with Jesus, has taken on a new timbre of sacrifice, but far more importantly, joy. It is unfailingly moving to enter the chapel at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning and find there an adorer, often on their knees, deep in prayer, keeping close company with the King of Kings. This being their regular habit, not something out of their ordinary routine. I marvel at their faithfulness with deep gratitude. We make our quiet exchange as I take the watch, and after a moment, their footsteps disappear into the darkness and I am left alone with Jesus where the sweetest silence descends and envelopes me like a warm blanket. This is the Jesus who knows my name and is so delighted that I have come. There is a unique quiet that visits the adoration chapel in the middle of the night, a stillness that cannot be recaptured easily in the daytime. In these, the little hours of the morning, I am more and more convinced that it is not only the hour of agony that the Lord wishes to share with us in this devotion – though sometimes it is that hour, too – but perhaps even more so, Jesus invites us to know him in those early hours of perfect joy, those shepherd hours, when those simple and faithful men of good will kept watch; those who, while quietly and humbly fulfilling their normal duty, also lived in anticipation of Emmanuel. It was in their normal routine that the sky erupted in music and glory and a mystery they could barely comprehend. These nameless few would race to that hidden cave and find the word made flesh in the unspoiled innocence of a holy infant – a Messiah who knew them by name and was so happy they had come. This hidden Jesus, this innocent child-Savior, this font of all joy, this answer to all anxiety, this conqueror of every fear and tribulation, this Prince of Peace, Holy One, Comforter: he is there too desiring your friendship.
It was just one of those days. I found myself sitting at my desk, overwhelmed with work and deadlines and decisions to be made, deep concerns over loved ones seriously ill. I love my work and my life, but it was just piling so high. I needed to go walk in the desert with Jesus a while. I got in my car and drove to a favorite adoration chapel not too far from my office. In the basement of a church, it’s always reminded me a touch of the catacombs and I thought it would be the perfect place to go hide with the Lord. I tried one door, and then another, but it was closed due to a special event. I got back in my car and made a Plan B: I would drive to a country church I knew with an adoration chapel. I hopped on the highway and prayed, “Lord, I just need to bury myself in your stillness. Let me find you in the desert!” On the way, I had a vague recollection of another church nearby that I was sure had perpetual adoration, though I had not stepped foot in it in many years. At the last possible second, I turned off of the highway and wound through the quiet neighborhood streets looking for a steeple until I found it. I entered and realized it had been renovated and reoriented, and I couldn’t find the chapel. A church secretary told me I had to go back out around the building and enter from the street. She gave me the code to the door. I’d barely finished punching it in before I opened the door and fell to my knees in relief. Finally, my Jesus. I felt myself beginning to disappear. But then there was a man sitting toward the back of the chapel that kept looking at me, watching me as I settled in. I could tell, he had that “are you a sub?” question on his face. As he readied to leave, he quietly inquired. “No, I’m not a sub,” I said, “but I will happily remain for the next hour.” He smiled and explained that the woman who usually held that hour wasn’t perfectly reliable and so he was relieved I had arrived. Once he was reassured that I knew what to do in adoration, he slipped quietly out the door and I sat there in the still and silent presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and truly wanted nothing else; no answers, no direction, not even consolation or rest. Just the desert-quiet of adoration in a tiny, hidden chapel on a Tuesday afternoon. It was in Carlo Carretto’s lovely book, Letters from the Desert that I read, “Make some desert in your life.” And it has always stuck with me. By this, he does not simply mean reducing activity, or even making more time for quiet, but rather he means something more. He writes: “The men of Galilee would have gone on fishing in the lake and attending the synagogue of Capernaeum if [Jesus] hadn’t been there to say, ‘Come.’ That is the truth we must learn through faith: to wait on God. And this attitude of mind is not easy. This ‘waiting,’ this not making plans,” this ‘searching the heavens,’ this ‘being silent’ is one of the most important things we have to learn.” All of Advent is an opportunity to practice: to sit and search the heavens and wait in silence. Lure me to your desert, O Lord, where you are waiting for me, and speak to my heart.
Make no mistake, my husband is a man’s man. For his “bachelor party” my siblings gave him a day at a recreational facility called “Drive-A-Tank,” where he spent the afternoon with my brother firing World War 2 machine guns and driving an obstacle course in a Cold War tank –complete with a water feature. He has hung the bulls-eyes from that day prominently over his work bench in the basement. It was, he reported, “a blast!” Pun intended. Once when I was in a bad bicycle accident – something he could not have prevented – I saw his protectiveness toward me unleashed in a way that I knew, he would sooner be fed to the lions than ever, ever let any harm come to me. I have never felt so cherished. And when I ask him to help me around the house – to the wash the dishes, for example – they nearly quake in fear as they know they will be receiving a military grade washing. But when I had to have surgery on my face – skin cancer had left a gaping hole in it and it required surgery to repair it – he tended to me with the perfect combination of military precision and the Good Shepherd’s gentleness. It was so noticeable in fact, that as I was preparing to leave the hospital on a very hot, humid day, the nurses told my now-husband to go and fetch the car, make sure it was nice and cool before I got in because the heat would make the swelling worse for my wound and this would be very painful. Once he was out of ear shot the nurses gathered around me in my wheelchair and as they pushed me to the door, they said, “We know when someone leaves here, whether or not they are going to receive good or bad care. We can tell. And you are going to receive exquisite care.” And they were right. One day when we were walking my puppies – it was a very hot day and we had been out a long while – the pups were getting thirsty and we didn’t bring any water or a watering dish with us. My husband improvised. We found a drinking fountain, he cupped his hands, filled them with water, and bent down low to water my dogs. And they, in their complete certainty that he was a good master who would always meet their needs, lapped up the water right from his palms. We repeated this process several times until they were sated and went on about our walk. This is exactly how the Master is with me. I am busy about the work he has for me and I suddenly find myself thirsting – for him, for any number of needs to be met, to know that I am loved and cherished – and he bends down low to meet me in my need. He finds a way to “water” my soul so that I can go on about the business he has for me. It may not be in the way I expect or in a way that is predictable, but his care is always exquisite, and he will never leave me to perish in thirst. My husband teaches me this over and over. In your mercy, O Lord, you have seen fit to send me such a good man, a gentle man, a strong man who frequently reminds me how generous you are to your children. And, as an added bonus, he’s Italian. Grazie a dio, O Signore. ~ For Vincent, on the occasion of our wedding.
You know you’ve crossed some mystical threshold in aging or illness the moment that water aerobics begins to look, well . . . appealing. I confess, I crossed that threshold about a year ago. Living with MS for some years now, swimming is one of the only exercises left to me and my body. Borrowing the spiritual linguistics of St. Francis, who referred to his body as “Brother Ass,” I sometimes refer to mine as “Sister Ass.” A few times a week, I drag myself and Sister to the local Y, endure the stark humiliation of wrangling Sister into a bathing suit, and, reassuring her that it will all be over soon, lower Sister into the pool. Oh, but for a few lovely, cool moments, we almost feel strong again. Pulling her through the water, stroke after stroke – the buoyancy of more than a few extra pounds no doubt helps keep Sister afloat – but for those minutes in the water, I have a sense of agility, strength, coordination, control. It brings Sister and me so much joy. I am frequently there with my pool-buddies – the little old ladies doing water aerobics to terrible, early rock-n-roll tunes in the next pool over. And then there’s my favorite, “Stanley.” Stanley’s spine is more crooked than a crooked question mark. It bears the mean scars of countless surgeries that did little to ease his condition over the course of his life. I watch in private awe as this humble creature lowers himself into the water, turns over onto his back, and ever-so-slowly flutters his hands and kicks his legs, patiently making his way back and forth across the length of the pool – lap after protracted lap. I sense in Stanley that same inkling I have, a feeling of buoyancy that eases the pain and the wearying weight of constant illness, if only for a moment. And when he’s finished, I take note as Stanley hoists himself up the ladder to his walker and makes his way to the locker room, the pain of his condition clearly having returned in full. And though for now, I am faster and stronger and more able than Stanley, I can imagine a time when I may not be, and I pray for the graces that Stanley seems to so easily possess: acceptance, perseverance, and not the slightest iota of self-pity. “Brother ass,” St. Francis’s well-known moniker for his body, was always making demands for sleep, for food, for shelter, but even Francis admitted at the end of his life that he might have been a little too hard on his body after all. My body makes far more demands than I would like these days, too: for rest, for pain relief, for every kind of comfort. One day I may be moving to the other pool to cha-cha in the water with the older ladies and I hope I can accept it with gratitude and a good sense of humor. And I beg the Lord: let my wrinkles be earned for always seeking his truth; let my gray hair come from striving after virtue and gentleness of spirit. Let my fatigue be the result of spending my energies for Jesus and his Church, and let the pain of my body be consumed by his pain in that mystical way we are granted the startling honor of joining Jesus on the Cross – even in our crooked, little, humble laps. Lord, I thank you for the gift of this wonderfully perplexing body. I trust in that merciful day of its glorious resurrection, and on that day, I hope you will give me the chance to ask Stanley for a proper dance – no pool required.
When we met, Tammy had yet to reach her twenty-fifth birthday. It was her second stint in prison, this time on a charge of armed robbery. At home, she had two young children, whom Tammy’s father was raising. She rarely saw them. To say that there was sadness in her eyes is an understatement. They were overtaken by a profound vacancy and despair. The program for which I volunteered required that you meet with a prisoner once a week for several months to discuss “decision-making skills.” The prisoners were given homework and short reading assignments about how to make good decisions and how to recognize in advance the consequences of bad decisions. On my first visit with Tammy, she told me, “I didn’t do it.” She said that she had been asleep in the backseat of her boyfriend’s car when he and a friend decided to hold up a 7-Eleven. Tammy barely knew her own mother, for she had been imprisoned by the time Tammy was fifteen and was still in prison. I was very young when I volunteered for this ministry. I knew little of the world and virtually nothing of the realities that someone like Tammy faced. Our visits reminded me at times of a scene out of a Flannery O’Connor novel, dark and humorous for their pretense filled with characters desperately hoping for a different reality. Tammy – wildly emotional, over-enthusiastic, cheerful one minute and brooding the next, wishing so to be the wrongfully accused, fighting against the lions of injustice from a prison cell. And me – wishing so that I had the words, the maturity, the depth and desire of a Mother Teresa to bring life into the heart of a deeply wounded soul. And realizing with flat clarity how far short I fell, how widely I missed the mark, like a basketball dimpled for lack of air hitting the hard gym floor and rolling absolutely nowhere. I’d realized, almost from our first visit, that this was a ministry for which I was ill-suited. Each week as I drew closer to the prison, I was filled with dread. I wish I could say that I made a difference in Tammy’s life, but I confess that I was relieved when my tenure ended. We were forbidden from exchanging personal information and I have no idea what became of her. Still, twenty-five years later, I have never forgotten her and so many invisible women like her, nor the crushing despair that draped over that women’s prison like a putrid, choking fog. Lately, I’ve been leading an 8-week study based on my book, Jesus Approaches, throughout my archdiocese. Nearly 400 women have participated so far and it has been tremendously rewarding. Not long ago, through one of my small group facilitators, I was introduced to a deacon who serves as a chaplain in a women’s prison with an interest in bringing the book to those he serves. When I asked, the women currently in my study didn’t hesitate. I have been overwhelmed at the ease of gathering donations on behalf of these incarcerated women from those currently in my study, like turning on a tap and having fresh, clean water flow out. God bless you for your generosity, ladies. And I am deeply humbled by God’s mercy at providing, after all, a way for me to “visit” the imprisoned. Lord, your mercy works – always and everywhere. It stretches into our future and envelops our past. Help us to remember those the world chooses to forget and look for creative ways to serve them and love them, even from a distance.
If a good man is hard to find, maybe you’re not looking in the right places. Case in point: A few years ago, my brother married a lovely woman who was widowed when her husband was killed in a car crash – a crash that two of her young girls survived. My brother is now in the process of adopting the girls along with an older sister. Last month, while my brother and sister-in-law went out for the evening, I babysat my new nieces and their newborn sister. We had a wonderful evening getting to know one another better and after endless games of Crazy 8’s and an impromptu performance by the girls of Amazing Grace, they went to bed without the least fuss. But a few minutes later, I heard footsteps coming through the kitchen – they reappeared in their jammies. “Would you bless us?” they asked. My brother always blesses them before bed and they didn’t want to go to sleep without it. He uses the prayer of Aaron – May God bless you and keep you, let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God look upon you kindly and give you peace. I didn’t remember it off of the top of my head, so I suggested they bless one another and I would witness. I watched as these two precious souls offered a benediction, making the sign of the cross on her sister’s forehead as she did so, first one and then the other, followed by a big hug. And back to bed they went, with their father’s blessing. Case in point 2: There’s a parish near work where I often attend daily Mass in the late afternoon. Arriving early one day, I sat in my car to return phone calls and while there, this scene unfolded before me. A colleague and friend of mine, father to seven, approached the playground adjacent to the church with his happy, rambunctious brood in tow. As they passed by the front entrance to the church, my friend and each of his young children paused to genuflect and make the sign of the cross – the boys dutifully removing their caps as they did so. Then off to the playground they went, following their father’s blessing. I know, the cultural moment is all about hashtags and “me too,” and bringing into the light too many terrible abuses kept in the dark. Every day it seems, the news uncover some long-hidden, grotesque offense by someone unexpected. A senator from my home state resigned this winter under a cloud of photographed impropriety. My own archdiocese recently settled a lawsuit involving decades of child abuse committed by priests. And good: these things are all important and necessary and ultimately, I hope, healing – as far as they go. I was relieved myself, when years ago, police went to arrest a man that had assaulted me and found that he had institutionalized himself. I get it. By all means, bring it into the light. Name your abuse and your abuser. But don’t stop there. I wonder if the greater opportunity here is to be reminded of millennia-old church teaching on the dignity of the human person and what it means to flourish as a man or woman; to remember the price the Church has paid to continue to teach about the value of all life and the proper ordering of human sexuality; and the importance of a radical and real forgiveness to be offered to all who will sincerely ask for it. That’s where lasting healing and restoration truly lives. Heavenly Father, let me celebrate goodness and blessing, virtue and innocence, and the genius of a good man when it approaches and kneels before you before my very eyes.
As a gift to my brother on the occasion of his ordination years ago, I told him that I would offer up all of my speaking engagements in thanksgiving for his vocation to the priesthood. This seemed an especially fitting and easy gift because I love speaking for groups and talking about our faith always brings me great joy. At times, of course, my joy in this is strained. One evening stands out as an example. I was scheduled to speak for an evening event, and I did not go on until 8:15 pm. I was tired, it was winter, dark, cold, windy, and one of those dreadful mixes of snow and sleet. I sat at my desk grumbling that I should be so put out as I printed out the text of my speech – the topic was, no less, praying through suffering. So, after a full day’s work, I bundled my body and braced myself for winter’s assault on the way to my car grumbling all the way. But as I was driving to the gig, clutching the steering wheel, slumped over with brow furrowed, the Lord reminded me very clearly of my promise – to offer up in thanksgiving my speaking engagements on behalf of my brother, for the protection and flourishing of his priesthood. I immediately saw him the day of his ordination: he glowed like a perfect, brilliant sunrise. Another image flashed in my mind: little children running up to him after Mass, their earnest little arms extended to him with complete trust and affection. I thought of so many people who have been blessed to call my brother, Father, including me. I immediately adjusted my attitude and went laughing into my talk, sensing God’s free rush of grace to give me stamina and sincere affection for the needs of my audience. The talk came off well and at the end, I was given a standing ovation. I wish I could claim that I am frequently the recipient of standing o’s, but I have to confess this was rather unusual. I laughed all the way home, even as I crept over the icy streets, making my way through the bitter winter’s darkness. I take two things from this little episode. One, the Heavenly Father must be so very pleased with my brother’s priesthood. (I realize that I am probably a smidge biased on this point, but I still think my assessment is judicious.) Two, and more importantly, I am reminded that God’s grace can never be exhausted. He never tires of extending himself to me. Never. He only asks the tiniest effort on my part, the slightest leaning in his direction, the most miniscule effort to resist evil. He will rush in and joyfully do the rest. He will take my measly offering and magnify it unto his glory. The generosity of this reality fills me with awe. Your grumblings may be big or small, exaggerated or very real indeed. You may be in the throes of resisting great or petty evil, but the principle holds true: you need only offer what you can, Jesus will do the rest and the communion of angels and saints will offer a veiled but glorious ovation in thanksgiving and in joy. Father, never let me forget that your inexhaustible grace sustains me in every moment and that it is your joy to ever offer it. Thank you for my brother and the gift of his priesthood. Bless you, my brother – and Father.
Some years ago, a woman told a lie about me that caused some serious harm and was tremendously painful to bear. After many months had passed, out of the blue, she sent me an email, something along the lines of “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” We’ve all gotten these: the non-apology, apology. It was, I thought, cowardly, and did very little to repair the damage that had been done. On the other hand, I’ve received some very sincere and blessed apologies, too. One from a dear friend who years earlier had done something that needed forgiving. By the time he got around to asking for forgiveness, I had long since forgiven him, but I will never forget the sense of freedom that was unleashed in him in naming the offense, claiming it before me, and asking for forgiveness. Such joy it brought to us to see God’s grace at work flowing freely between us and further cementing our friendship with one another and with the Lord we both loved so dearly. This Lent has me thinking about the tricky and nuanced work of forgiveness; that is, where I need to ask for forgiveness. Where do I need to make real amends? Where is it not enough to name it in the confessional, but instead to shrug off all cowardice and pride, name my offense in plain language without excuses to the one I have harmed, and ask for their forgiveness? Have I done all that I am able and obligated to do in order to help facilitate forgiveness in the one I have wounded? Before the altar, I love – and occasionally dread – the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells us most plainly, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift” (5:23–24). I find these verses to be an excellent and effective examen before Mass. And I confess that on more than one occasion, this passage has turned me around before receiving Communion in a most unworthy condition. Of course, getting to forgiveness is not always a perfectly tidy, linear operation, and I am not advocating for scrupulosity. Sometimes our hurts flare up long after we’ve sincerely forgiven someone, revealing another little corner of resentment that still needs to be swept out. It does not mean that our apology was somehow flawed if someone we’ve harmed has not yet forgiven us, or not forgiven us fully, or needs to forgive us again. We forgive in layers, working out our “seventy times seven” along an often bumpy and unpredictable road. Sometimes our apologies are not received in the moment we offer them. That’s all right. True and worthy apologies don’t have an expiration date. A heart can “catch up” so to speak at a later time, and I want to hope for that in another. If you tend toward an exaggerated scrupulosity, maybe you don’t need to pray about this. For my part, I am more tempted to diminish my sins and their damage. For those like me, let’s not waste any opportunity to be reconciled with those we have hurt. Let’s resolve to trust in the power of God’s grace and beg his clarifying love to flow freely mending all our soul-fissures where it will. Merciful Jesus, your grace can never be exhausted. Help me to look at my sins honestly, and with courage, to ask simply and without excuses for forgiveness where it is most needed.
My friend, I’ll call her “Veronica,” goes for the spiritual jugular, so to speak. It’s almost as if she avails herself to God and says, “All right, Lord, give me the toughest assignment you’ve got. Spare me no challenge.” As an example, when she and her husband decided to adopt a child, they opted for the most difficult arrangement currently available in our state: from foster care to adoption. It is a process fraught with uncertainty and agonizing tedium. The bureaucracy alone would put off most people of a lesser constitution. In all likelihood she and her husband will be caring for a child who has suffered a great deal of trauma and might have any number of spiritual, physical, and psychological needs beyond the ordinary, wounds that may take a long time, perhaps a lifetime, to mend. The process might take years, or worse, even after years of physical and emotional investment might not come to fruition at all. All parenting involves a great deal of sacrifice and selflessness, a kind of patience and tenacity of spirit to suffer the pains of forming a unique, unrepeatable, little human, body and soul. But somehow the willingness to take on this method to becoming a parent ratchets up that sacrifice to new and inspiring levels in my mind. But that’s just who Veronica is. She’s fearless when it comes to the hard realities. She worked in a poor part of the world where life was rather precarious for a woman on her own and she suffered the daily toils that come with such an existence – even the little things, like having to wash her hair in a sink of cold water – in order to help girls get an education. She spent years working on the front lines of the pro-life movement, tirelessly knocking on the doors of legislators trying to educate them about any number of complex issues. In a particular apostolate of which she is a member, she deliberately chooses the assignments that others will not take – the harder ones, the ones that don’t even occur to others. Veronica’s is a compelling and credible Catholicism because it is uninterested in tidy consolations or platitudes. If someone wanted to give her a “humanitarian award,” she’d laugh and think it an absurdity. Her life quietly, mostly anonymously, burns with the authentic desire to care for those who cannot care for themselves – but it is a supernatural fire, not one stoked by a desire for rewards or recognition, or even a sense of self-worth. Her faith walks her into the tender, dark underbelly of the beastly human condition without fear and asks in all earnestness and without the slightest condescension or pretension, “How can I help?” She burns on out of an uncommon and holy valor that I know has been fed and formed in Christ’s Church. Peter’s faith was big and beautiful and imperfect. When Jesus invited him out onto the sea, he lasted a while – dear fellow, our rock – at least a few steps before the dark world and fear overtook him, and look what the Lord did through him. In my mind, I see Christ calling Veronica out onto that same sea. But she doesn’t sink at the sight of the storm and the crashing waves. No, she dances. Jesus, may we be bold, convicted, and without self-interest or false piety, take your compassion to every dark and difficult corner of the human experience.
When I was a child, I loved most the wise men of our nativity set for their grandeur and color and elegance, and for the numinous gifts they brought to the Infant King. They were mysterious royalty from a far-off land who somehow possessed secret knowledge of the Savior’s birth, and I was sure their lives were full of intrigue and adventure. As I age, I find myself much more drawn to the lowly shepherds – for their simplicity, their humility, their faithfulness to an ordinary life of labor among innocent beasts. And I wonder about their wonder, how in their daily, non-glamorous existence, they carried within them as a people that deep longing for the Messiah. It went with them everywhere – into their homes and pastures, into their barns and fields. They nurtured that longing, they suffered with it, they held it in reverence and hope, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Awaiting the Messiah was a way of life they’d honored for generations. How frightening and wildly surprising it must have been – while they were simply doing what they always did, keeping at their daily labors – to have the sky erupt in glory and music and heavenly hosts. And I mostly love the shepherds because despite their ordinariness, despite their terror, they made the decision to go to Bethlehem. Into the night, they ran in haste. They ran empty-handed. They didn’t make a stop at Macy’s to pick up some myrrh. They ran, knowing they had virtually nothing to offer but themselves and their witness, to testify to what they had been told. In this way, I wonder if they do not honor the Infant King in an even more powerful way. Jesus comes as an infant, completely dependent, possessing nothing. What he gives is himself in complete vulnerability and trust. Is there a way that I might do the same this Christmas, that is, make the decision to go to Bethlehem, to go there with haste and energy and fervor and without reservation, and to give Jesus myself, more of myself – in vulnerability and trust. To give not out of abundance, but out of holy dependence; to give, not out of my wealth but out of my poverty, not out of grandeur but out of humility and littleness and boring old ordinariness. You might be tempted to imagine that your life is too ordinary for the Father of all creation to break through with angels and glory and good news. You might think, “I’m not holy enough or important enough, or there is simply too much darkness around me” – too much corruption, too much betrayal and failure, too much terror and illness and pain, or that it’s too late for you, your chances have all been spoiled. But that is to forget our shepherd friends. That is to forget that in their lowly routine, their daily little faithfulness, God broke through, came crashing in with that long-awaited, spectacular rescue. That is to forget what the shepherds found when they raced to Bethlehem, an innocent babe who would touch them in the flesh, would look on them with human and divine eyes of innocence and perfect, redeeming power to reclaim all that had been lost to sin and death. Jesus, break through to this ordinary heart – I know it is not nameless or boring to you – and I will run to meet you in the manger where I long to entrust more of myself to your sacred heart of rescue.
There’s a quote I keep in my office from Douglas Steere, the Quaker, and I read it before every meeting I have, especially with directees. He writes, “To ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another” (On Listening to One Another). The first time I ever read this line in school for spiritual direction, I copied it by hand and sent it to my best friend with a note that said, “This is what you do for me; you listen me.” I hope you all have friends like that, someone who listens you. When I was living in Alaska, I worked for a think tank called Commonwealth North. (In case you’re wondering, I was a note-taker, not a thinker.) The year I worked with them, they were meeting to discuss the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. A series of experts in anthropology, sociology, economics, public policy, wildlife preservation, and the like met with the group each week to discuss the impact of this legislation, which in part, meant that Alaska would never have reservations like the rest of the lower 48. It’s an interesting system and not without its own serious problems. But I’ll never forget one sociologist who visited our group to speak about some of the common practices of the various Native American cultures in Alaska. He told us that in some indigenous populations, when one of the tribe suffered a particular trauma, the whole tribe would be gathered together in a circle, and the person who had suffered the trauma was invited to share his or her experience with the first person in the circle. When they were finished, they moved on to the next, and then the next, and the next, just as long as it took. They went around the circle telling their story—until they were finished, until they were listened through the trauma. In my mind’s eye I pictured each one in the circle being given a tiny share of the trauma-teller’s suffering, no more burdensome than a rose petal. And by spreading it out, carrying it together as a tribal community, it eventually dissipated altogether. That anecdote tells me something tremendously important about listening, only listening – without feedback, without commentary, without judgment, without critique, without correction or editing or advice-giving or one-upmanship. In a culture where so many seem to be clamoring to launch their own talk show, to be a listener seems ridiculous and almost certainly weak. And it made me think of the Blessed Sacrament: forever silent, forever listening, forever available to hear our stories again and again and again. We all know what it means not to be listened, to have the sacredness of our story trampled over by the well-meaning, the distracted, or the careless. God forgive me for my tramplings – they are too many. But I am grateful to be learning that listening to one another is in its way a participation in honoring the sacredness of the soul before me; it is to kneel at God’s altar in awe for the unique and unrepeatable person he has created. Let’s do better to listen one another. Heavenly Father, in the cacophony that is human suffering and strife, teach me the poise and stillness of the Blessed Sacrament, and like the silent Christ of the Holy Eucharist, to bear witness to the sanctity of every person I encounter.
My first job out of university was working as a teller in a bank. I was singing a lot on the weekends and working on my writing, but I needed a regular income, too. My mom had suggested I apply at a bank. She thought it might be useful for me to learn a bit more about how money works, and to that end – bless her heart – she was right. In another sense, it turns out, I might have been the worst bank teller in all of Lawrence National Bank’s history. On one particularly foul day, I could not – though I tried valiantly – balance my till. I was rushing to finish so I could pick up my sister at the airport and the harder I tried to close my drawer, the more complicated and larger the error became. My teller station was being taken over by yards and yards of teller tape that dangled and swelled like a terrible paper tentacle. At one point, I thought it might come to life, reach up, and choke me. In pity, and I think in some well-earned dread, the bank manager finally let me leave without resolving the issue. She said, “Go ahead, I’ll balance your drawer for you.” But she couldn’t. It took a specialist in the main bank’s downtown accounting division to find my error over two days of working on it to put it right again. I would have been fired without her effort. Even though my colleagues knew I did not take any money from my drawer, on paper it appeared that my till was short a large amount. At the end of the calendar year, as a part of a company-wide annual report, all teller offages for the entire year were reported in a statement several pages long at the back of the document. It read something like this: Ashley Baker . . . $0.00. Mary Davis . . . $0.00. Teresa Franks . . . $0.05. Ann Jackson . . . $0.00. And then came my reporting line: Elizabeth Kelly . . . $1,879.14. Failure can be an excellent teacher, and spectacular failure can be a spectacular teacher. A few months later I was on my way to Alaska where I had been heavily and rather miraculously recruited for a creative writing program. No doubt, all of Lawrence National Bank breathed a sigh of relief. And me along with them. I am mindful of the many occasions I have tried to be someone I wasn’t, someone I thought the world wanted me to be, someone I thought might please someone else. I am wildly grateful for the mentors the Lord has sent me over the years to tease out my gifts and charisms, to help identify them and then to steward them and put them at the service of my heavenly Father. For in this way, I decrease and he must increase. And someone far better suited and more capable than I can cash your paycheck correctly. Loving Father, thank you for the gifts you have given me and the opportunities to make you better known and loved through them. Remember all those who are searching for suitable work. Do not tarry in helping them to discover their talents and to put them at your service.
Some years ago I developed this little habit when traveling alone: when boarding an airplane or a train, I would ask the Lord to give me the least desirable seat, the one no one else wanted, next to the crying baby, for example. I cannot count how many times I have been seated next to a young mother traveling with a small child. One woman was from India and had been traveling for more than 24 hours already with a baby just learning his first steps. She was clearly completely exhausted and it wasn’t long before she and her child were fast asleep. But at some point, the boy awoke and started to make for the aisle. I caught him and ended up holding him while he played with my rosary beads for at least another hour while his mother slept. When she woke up with a start looking for her son and saw him tucked in my lap playing contentedly the relief and gratitude on her face was palpable. On another flight from Alaska to the lower 48, I was given a seat next to a very young boy traveling alone – leaving one parent to join another in another state. The flight attendant let me know this and she tended to the boy, allowing him to make a last phone call to his father with her cell phone before takeoff. It wasn’t long before we were in the air and they were selling earphones for the in-flight movie. I bought some for the boy and myself, got us plugged in and situated, and we watched a kid’s movie together. Before too long, he was asleep on me and the flight attendant, who kept careful watch, would occasionally come by to see if anything was needed. When he awoke, we played with his cars and coloring book and the 5 hour flight passed without incident. When we landed, the attendant came to escort him off the plane, and I noticed at baggage claim that he was with a woman, probably his mother, and he pointed to me as his mother leaned in to catch what he was saying. I waved and he waved back. His mother mouthed “thank you” in my direction. Sometimes, I think we imagine that our acts of charity only count if they are bothersome and difficult. It only counts if it hurts. Maybe I have more patience for the crying child than someone else, but if I do, it is only because in that moment, I am best yoked to Christ. My burden is light only because he is carrying the lion’s share. A Passenger from Hell On a train trip, I got seated next to an active meth addict who was beyond obnoxious. When he found out I was Catholic, I thought for a moment his head might spin around on his neck. His behavior became even more egregious and I could see other passengers moving to other train cars or turning their backs while they turned up the volume on their headphones, disgusted by the insults he was hurling at the world in every direction. I get that, I wanted to move too. We don’t all have the same gifts and that’s all right. But that’s not a free pass to turn your back on those in need. Rather it’s an invitation to think about the ways Christ has made your burden light, the ways that you can serve others in joy that perhaps others cannot. Lord, let me always remember that my yoke is first yours, and let me get to work.
Bedouins are an exceptionally hardy, hospitable people. I learned this in the Holy Land from my friend, Tony, a Catholic archeologist who grew up in Jerusalem and is presently completing his dissertation on King David, examining his life in the rock and ruins. Tony tells me that he will sometimes employ Bedouins to work on his archeological digs especially during the blistering summer months. He hires them in particular for their work ethic, but also for their ability to withstand the crushing desert heat. He speaks of them with sincere admiration when he says, “I am a son of the desert, I know what 120 degree heat is, and even I can’t work past about ten a.m. some days. But the Bedouins,” he adds, nodding his head in approval and a touch of disbelief, “they can work all day.” They have their methods. One day while working alongside them, Tony was about to collapse due to the rising temperature. About mid-day, he told the Bedouin workers to quit for the day. Instead, they made a roaring fire and sat around it, close, drinking very hot tea. Curious, Tony joined them. After about twenty minutes next to the blaze, he said, “I’m cooked! I can’t take any more!” and he got up to move away from the fire. As he stepped away from the blaze, he stopped short – he suddenly felt completely cool. It was over 120 degrees, but sitting next to the fire, drinking the hot tea raised his body temperature such that he actually felt cool when he returned to the dig. And he was able to work vigorously the rest of the day alongside his Bedouin desert brothers. God’s method of mercy is often just like this: a roaring fire in the desert heat. Sometimes, Jesus brings us a little bit closer to the blaze, asks us to drink just a little more of that hot cup of suffering, whatever it might be – persecution or poverty, loneliness or rejection, illness or isolation – but it is to prepare and strengthen us, that we might go back out into the heat of spiritual battle and continue to fight with fresh courage. The question becomes, will I trust his method or will I run for shade? Am I just too attached to my own comfort that I refuse to drink that burning cup? O, God of fire! In his word, you cannot miss the multiple references to the Lord as a consuming fire, or his curious choice to lead the Israelites by night as a pillar of fire, or to appear to Moses as a burning bush, or the tongues of fire that descended upon the trembling first faithful in the upper room. I could go on. Yahweh seems rather smitten with his creation of fire – for its power, for its heat, for its refining properties, for its dancing illumination. Who could possibly know the effects of fire better than our God? How’s the heat where you are? Is the Lord offering you a seat close to the roaring blaze? Is he handing you a miserable burning cup when all you long for is a sip of cold water? Can you trust his method just a little bit longer until he releases you into cool, blessed relief? Lord, you are a consuming fire. Devour my fears in the flames of your Sacred Heart. Give me the grace to withstand your refining holy heat just as long as you know I need it. Fire of Heaven, I trust you.
Jeremiah is homeless. He is a slight man and slanted to the right. Some days he has a pronounced limp – arthritis in the knee. He’s lost most of his teeth. I first met Jeremiah some time ago on my way into work at my highway exit where he stands at the stoplight and holds a cardboard sign: “Homeless, hungry.” One day I rolled down my window, asked his name, and offered him a few dollars that he accepted with a two-tooth grin. He asked my name and we shook hands. He thanked me and blessed me and the light turned green. I keep a small wad of bills on me because of Jeremiah. I want to be prepared. As the weeks and months went on, we would greet each other and make our little exchange and I found myself saying ridiculous, meaningless things like “Take care of yourself.” One day I said, “I’ll say a prayer for you” and even though I meant it, even though I do pray for Jeremiah, I hated how condescending that sounded, how holy-roller and hypocritical as I drove away in my car that is paid for, on my way to a job with a salary and benefits, into a world a million miles from Jeremiah’s. I wanted to do better. One day, I asked, “How are you doing?” He shook his head a bit and gestured toward what looked like an old, dirty sleeping bag among his few possessions leaning up against a utility pole. “You wanna know?” he said sharply, “That’s how I am. That’s my reality.” He turned his back, the light turned green, and I pulled away opening up the painful gap between us. I was dissatisfied and disheartened, and utterly dumbfounded by the stupid ease of my escape. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. I prayed for wisdom. Fr. John Wickham suggests that wisdom is the graced ability to hold the risen Christ in your heart moment by moment, to measure everything against the horizon of the truth of eternity. He says wisdom is found in recollecting oneself continually with the Word, allowing Jesus to reveal himself to you in his teaching, and in particular, with the reality of his resurrection. How could Jeremiah and I ever share a world with a resurrected Jesus? One day I found that my cache of bills had been spent. I started digging in the cup holder for a few quarters, any change. Jeremiah accepted the coins gratefully as I apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, that’s all I have today,” but then I added, “I’ll see you again.” I pointed at him and nodded my reassurance, my little pledge. He nodded back and smiled. “All right!” he said taking me at my word. I drove away hoping I would see Jeremiah again. I wondered if he felt the same way about seeing me. “I will see you again.” Such a little gesture and yet, he seemed to receive it with all the weight I had intended. Suddenly, we had a plan, a hope, the promise of a future together. It is, of course, woefully inadequate. Not nearly enough. But it’s a start. I wonder if just maybe that little hope is where Jeremiah and I can begin to share a home, a sliver of the promise of the kingdom of heaven. Maybe that’s where we can meet in blessedness and catch a glimpse of Jesus walking by. Lord, show me how to create “home,” even for a moment, for those who have none.