Yesterday I flew from Rochester to South Bend, IN, where I’m spending 3 days at a convent for a personal spiritual retreat before speaking at a college near Fort Wayne on Friday.
The convent where I’m staying is a complex of buildings around a lake. The dormitory looks kind of like a nursing home — with twin-sized beds, plain bedspreads and activity rooms with institutional-looking furniture.
This morning I woke up feeling tired and achy and empty. It was chilly in my room — the high today is 18 degrees! — so I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat in a chair by the window, looking up at the frigid blue sky.
An hour later, I met with one of the sisters for a spiritual direction session. As I shuffled down the hall to meet her, I felt like I was a patient. Here because my soul is sick. Here because I need to get well. Here because there are kind, wise spiritual nurses to care for me.
When I booked the reservation, I didn’t realize I would be here on Ash Wednesday, but it ended up being perfect timing.
The Sister and I spent an hour talking about what Lent means, how to observe it in a meaningful way and how to experience it as an opportunity instead of an obligation.
She said Lent is an opportunity to let go of the things we have attached ourselves to other than God. It’s an opportunity to carve out space and stillness so God can transform us.
“If we, say, give up chocolate for 40 days, then gorge on chocolate on Easter Sunday, and the following Monday go back to life the way it was before, we have missed the point entirely,” she said. “The point of Lent is to be transformed, and to become more deeply and strongly attached to God than we were before.”
Usually about this time of the week, I’d be picking a new blog theme and writing hundreds of words about it. But for the past few days, as I’ve been thinking and praying about what to write on next, I’ve come up empty. For the first time in my writing career, I’ve been speechless.
It’s not to say I’m not trying (I am) or thinking hard (I am) or praying lots (I am.) It’s just that in spite of everything I’m doing, I don’t have anything to say.
Why are my writing coffers so empty? Why don’t I have anything to say? I’ve been wondering.
And then I realized — it’s because I’ve been listening.
Over the past year, as I’ve traveled all over creation and met lots of amazing people, one question keeps coming up. “Where are you from?”
I think people ask it because they think it’s a simple way to get to know someone. A one-word answer that helps put someone in context. Except, in my case, it’s not an easy answer.
I was born in Lancaster, PA, and lived there till I was 12. Then southern New Jersey for 4 years. Then Pennsylvania for my last two years of high school. Then college in Los Angeles, grad school in Connecticut and NYC, then Portland, OR. Then I lived in Santa Barbara, CA for 6 months before selling everything and setting out on this grand traveling adventure.
After I say all that, I shrug. “Where does that make me ‘from’?” I ask people. There’s no easy answer. Most of the time we just laugh because clearly I’ve inherited what I call the Gypsy Gene. Everyone in my family moves around. A lot. And so have I.
A few days ago, I got word that my grandpa’s cancer is advancing faster than the doctors were expecting it to, and today he’s meeting with a palliative care doctor to discuss pain control because there’s nothing else to be done.
I spoke in Boston yesterday, and I was going to see friends in New Haven before my next speaking event next week, but I cancelled those plans, rented a car, and I’m driving up to Maine this weekend to see my grandpa, to tell him I love him and, unless God works a miracle, to tell him good-bye.
I didn’t sleep much last night. I hate good-byes. I hate being sad. I hate losing people I love.
This morning I woke up with a heavy heart. “Jesus, I hate this,” I said.
To put it simply, I hate the storms of life. I’d be a lot happier if life’s waters were placid and glassy, if the sun was always shining on the beach.
“But then you’d experience zero personal growth,” a voice in my head says — the same one that tells me to eat vegetables instead of pizza and work out even though I’d rather watch movies.
“I don’t care,” I answer back on days like today, days when I’m tired and afraid and sad.
The last time I was in a relationship was the month before I sold everything and set out on this grand 18-month nomadic travel adventure of writing, speaking and spending 3 months in Togo.
The break-up was an amicable ending to a less-than-serious relationship, and I’ve continued to be friends with that guy.
After that, I measured how long I went without being kissed by weeks. Then months. Now it’s been more than a year.
“I don’t think I even remember how,” I told my friend a few weeks ago.
“It’ll come back to you,” she assured me. “Kissing’s just like riding a bicycle.”
Last week I was staying at a hotel when a very handsome gentleman approached me in the lobby. We started chatting. Then he asked if I’d meet him later for dinner. I said sure. For three magical hours we sat in a dimly-lit restaurant, talking about our stories and our families and our occupations.
I learned that he was a Marine, spoke fluent French, and was now an investment banker in NYC. He had sophisticated tastes and incredibly good looks. To put it simply, he was my dream man. Except for one thing: he didn’t love Jesus.
On Wednesday I was flying from Jackson, Mississippi to Denver, Colorado, for a speaking engagement. On the flight, I closed my eyes and for some reason, I started thinking about all the people Jesus encountered. All the people whose stories we read about in the Gospels. And I started wondering what happened to them afterwards.
What happens to the prodigal son once he comes home?
What happens to the sinner who’s beating his chest while the priest is arrogant and proud?
What happens to the widow after she gives her last mite?
What happens to the man whose demon is cast out?
What happens to the woman who’s almost stoned to death for adultery?
What happens to Mary once she breaks her alabaster jar and pours out her expensive perfume?
What happens to Zacchaeus after he climbs down out of the tree and has Jesus to his home for dinner?
What happens to the man who was blind but now can see?
To the man who spent his life by the pool of Bethseda, waiting for angels to stir the waters?
To Nichodemus who humbly confesses his doubts?
One word came to me. After encountering Jesus, they were free. Read more →
A few years before my breast cancer diagnosis, an OB/GYN had cornered me in the atrium of the hospital where I was doing clinical rotations. He told me he was working with an infertile couple who wanted a daughter just like me — tall, thin, blond-haired Ivy League grad student. He offered me $20,000 for my eggs. (I declined.)
After I completed my cancer treatments, I thought maybe the reason why I’d gotten cancer, maybe the reason why God had deconstructed the life I was building and had taken away so many things I wanted is because he was preparing me to live overseas.
I applied to several missions agencies, who all declined to take me because of my recent cancer diagnosis.
I felt like my value had plummeted.
Now, after cancer, people didn’t want my eggs or my life — even if I gave them away for free.
If the value of a painting or an antique is determined by what people are willing to pay for it at auction, what did it say about my value that not only were people not willing to pay for me; they wouldn’t even take me for free?
I was now in the class of rescue animals, truck stop coffee, junk stocks and stained thrift store t-shirts.
I couldn’t give my life away if I tried.
No one would take it.
No one would take me.
You know how some days you wake up in the morning, and you have no idea that by the time the day is over, your life will have been profoundly changed? That happened to me in June last year, when I was on a one-week trip to Israel.
Our Israeli tour guide took us to the banks of the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized. At the river, there’s a long tiled wall where the verse Mark 1:11 is translated into at least a hundred languages.
The NIV translates the verse, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
But our guide took us to the Hebrew translation, which translates, “You are my child. My soul wanted you.”
For a minute, time stood still and I just stood there, blinking, wondering if I’d heard the guide correctly.
I touched his elbow. “What does it say again?” I whispered.
“You are my child. My soul wanted to you.”
Of all the things a father could say to a son, of all the things God could say to his child, I can’t imagine anything more beautiful, more overwhelming, more generous or more transformative than those words.
Here’s the next blog in the Known, Loved, Wanted, Precious & Free Series!
The first half of 2015 was a little rough. I was in the most intense spiritual darkness I’d been in — maybe ever.
And then I went to Togo.
While I was there, when the Internet was working (which was a rare occurrence), I messaged back and forth with a friend in California who’s a trained spiritual director.
I asked him what I should do about the darkness — or if I should just conclude that I was a nocturnal saint, meant to live in decades of darkness like Mother Teresa or Julian of Norwich.
“Maybe,” my friend wrote me back.
“But,” he continued.
My ears perked up. Because if there was any way to live in light instead of night, I wanted to know more about it.
He said that sometimes the Dark Night of the Soul lasts for a long time because it takes that long for God to prepare us for a new level of relationship with him. Sometimes it takes the caterpillar a long time to come undone in the cocoon before it’s resurrected as a butterfly.
On Monday, I wrote about the five things God says we are: known, loved, wanted, precious & free. Here’s more about being known.
Ethan Renoe was jogging in Chicago on a rainy night in December 2015 when a reporter asked to interview him about the unusual amount of rain Chicago was getting. After a short, shirtless, on-camera interaction, Ethan spontaneously looked into the camera and said, “I’m single!”
Girls went wild over the news clip. Ethan says that before he got back to his apartment that night, the clip had already been viewed 24,000 times (it’s now been viewed more than 1 million times!) MTV dubbed it “The Jog Seen ‘Round The World.” CBS named him “The Sexiest Man on Earth.” The Internet dubbed him “Ethan the Shirtless Wonder.” He got requests for interviews. He was offered a TV show. He was nominated for The Bachelor.
Ethan wrote a profound article for Relevant magazine this month called, “The Surprisingly Depressing Experience of Going Viral.”
He talked about the experience of skyrocketing into viral video fame, and how empty it was. “…while I became Internet famous, what I did not become was known,” he wrote.
If we’re not careful, we can experience the same phenomenon in our own lives — becoming more visible but less known. We can spend hours interacting with people on Facebook or via text messages without anyone seeing our face or hearing the tone in our voice. We can start to form an identity based on the number of followers we get on Instagram or Twitter. We can garner self esteem points from how many times our clever thought is retweeted, or how many hits our website gets.