Why Bother to Contemplate?

Why Bother to Contemplate?

My parents taught me to pray in a particular way. First, one had to have the right posture: kneeling without slumping your back. Secondly, hands were to be folded and eyes were fixed on an icon, such as a crucifix or a statue of one of the saints. If you closed your eyes while praying, people would think you’d gone to sleep.  

I still remember the words and gestures to the sign of the cross and can say it in Polish. I recall the blessing we used to say before every meal, and the“Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys.” During lent, we said part of a rosary every night as a family while kneeling down in front of a statue of Mary. This routine made my back tired and my eyes sleepy. 

I do not doubt the good intentions of my parents. They wanted to instill in their children the importance of prayer. But, whether I prayed or not, it seemed to make no difference to God or to Mary.  

Ponder Anew

Later in life, when I was drawn to return to what little faith I had once possessed, I found myself visiting different churches. These places of worship also had a particular way of praying. Kneeling was no longer required nor was the folding of the hands. Instead, I could stand with eyes wide opened or closed, the palms of my hands facing upward or arms raised overhead. In these churches the only icon was an empty cross. Instead of ending prayers with an amen, now I learned to say, “In Jesus’ name.” 

Though praying no longer involved scripted words, except for the three charmed words, “In Jesus’ name,” it still seemed my prayers changed nothing. I’ve never doubted the existence of God, yet touching base with him through my prayers, seemed futile. Then I began to muse, to wonder, to mull over, and to imagine. I began to contemplate.

Contemplation is simple. Neither special posture or words are required and there is no abracadabra to it. To contemplate means I remember what is true about God. He is present, a perfect father, who loves me perfectly. To contemplate means to rest because all I need I already have. To contemplate means to wait. There are no instant changes, but at the same time, everything changes about me. 

Why bother to contemplate? To think on what is true is not a slam dunk prayer, rather it is a lifetime practice.

Why Bother With Faith?

Why Bother With Faith?

As a child, my parents introduced me to the foundational principles of their religious beliefs. I was baptized as an infant, attended church on Sundays, made my First Confession and First Communion and was confirmed into the Catholic Church all by the time I was thirteen. I didn’t question anything about what I was being taught. I believed in God, that he was good and all powerful, that is, until my dad ended his life. After that, everything I’d learned seemed too unlikely to be true any more. 

Crisis of Faith

Though I did not have a term for what I experienced as a young teen, looking back I now see what it was. It was a crisis of faith. My system of belief was no longer useful to me. It could no longer support me and my doubts. Instead, it created dissonance, discomfort, and disappointment. If God was so good and powerful, then why would he allow such a horrid and painful event to occur? My dad’s life, I thought, had displayed God’s worthiness of  devotion and adoration, yet this same God did not seem to come through when Dad needed him most. 

It was too much for me to try and sort through something I could not understand. Consequently, I took the route of least resistance and gave up what little faith I’d once possessed. I assumed that because I no longer thought about God, God would no longer think about me either. 

Believing I had solved the problem of my crisis of faith, I went out into the world determined to make a happy life for myself. But, it did not work. Instead, I came to another crisis of faith, this time with the world’s philosophy. I had believed in myself, and in my own power to build a little kingdom of success and happiness. But it did not work.

One night, I considered the choice my dad made and considered it for myself. Could he have realized his inability to change himself? Could he have felt as completely powerless and defeated as I now did? I could see how easy it would have been for me to end things right there and then. But I didn’t. Instead, God spoke to me in a way that was clear, discernible and personal. He gave me an offer I could not refuse: life instead of death. 

Trusting someone I couldn’t see would prove to be tricky, but over time, I’ve found that God is completely trustworthy. 

  Why bother with faith? When we claim our faith as our faith, it can change everything for and about us. 

Why Bother Being Grateful For Brothers?

Why Bother Being Grateful for Brothers?

I have three sisters, and three brothers for whom I am grateful for, but I identify best with the brother who is only eighteen months older than I. Growing up, I was too young to see the value of Dippity Dew, rollers in my hair, or makeup, as did my older sisters. Instead, I benefited  more from my brother’s world. 

Alongside my Brother

 Bruce and his friends congregated in our backyard on summer evenings and picked teams for kickball, and soft ball. Too young and shy at first to play the games, I’d watch my brother’s gang while sitting on the edge of our sandbox. The boys played seriously with lots of yelling and at times, hand to hand combat to settle conflicts. Compared to my sisters, they were a brazen bunch. 

When we moved from Nebraska to South Dakota, I was older and bolder, and ready to compete. I’d follow my brother and the other boys on my purple stingray bike, fly over jumps made out of  plywood and compete in races down the middle of the street. The front yard across the street from our house served as our football field. We’d stuff red kerchiefs into our back pockets for a game of flag football that always turned into tackle. The first time I got the wind knocked out of me, and tasted blood, grass and dirt in my mouth, Bruce helped me to my feet and brushed me off. 

Like puddy in his hands, I trusted him even when he tied boxing gloves onto my skinny little hands and pointed me toward a circle made by the boys in our dusty alley. 

“Just punch him in the gut,” he’d said into my ear as he gave me a little shove. 

My opponent, a boy about my height, and chubby, stood with his arms dangling by his sides. My target, his belly, was covered by a tight fitting blue t-shirt. Fearful, but not about to back away, I stepped toward him. I didn’t wait for him to put up his “dukes.” I just slammed my gloved fist into his gut. He doubled over and fell to the ground. I reveled in my victory and my brother’s happiness. He won the bet and collected his quarters. 

We moved again, this time to Colorado. The houses in our new neighborhood stood few and far between. No other kids to pal around with, my brother and I became our own entity. I followed him on game trails through thick woods heavy with the smell of pine, and along sandy banks of a fast flowing river. We never talked much. We’d just tromp side by side and that was enough for me. 

As teenagers, and then again as young adults, our paths veered off. He went to trade school, married and became a dad. I went to college, pursued a career and met Jesus. My brother had no interest in hearing about my new faith, and instead, kept his distance, referring to me as a “Bible Thumper.”  But I took no offense because he was my brother and we had a good history.

Then his wife left him and filed for divorce. His world fell apart. He moved into an old shack in the middle of cow pasture and lived alone in his sadness until one Christmas Eve.

 He told me the story later, how he’d wrestled with God and how God won. I was elated. He went off to Bible college, and became a pastor. Now he’s a “Bible Thumper” with a contagious passion, zeal and authenticity that is contagious among the people in his church community.  

Why bother being grateful for brothers? Brothers are worth being grateful for especially when you can tromp beside them along the road of faith. 

 

Why Bother With True Grit?

Why Bother With True Grit?

I admire the character Mattie, in the book and the movie, True Grit. When her father is murdered, she sets out to avenge his death. First she hires a gunman, Rooster Cogburn. Then, a Texan Ranger, LaBoeuf, also offers his services in the hunt for Chaney, the murder. Cogburn and LaBoeuf do not expect Mattie, who is only fourteen, to go along with them as they head out on their horses, but she will not be left behind. Although Mattie has no idea of the dangers awaiting her on this journey, she mounts her horse with more grit than either Cogburn or LaBoeuf. 

Tenacious Commitment

The story takes place in 1870, when women were generally recognized as more tender than tough, and whose role mainly involved running a house on a homestead, not using a gun to revenge a murder. But Mattie was determined to do what she believed she needed to do, in spite of the opinions of others. Mattie’s greatest virtue was her grit, or the resolution of follow through. She butted up against attitudes of patronizing men, the raw hatred of outlaws and near death experiences. Yet, she did not back down. By the time her journey ended, Chaney was dead and she was still alive. 

Though I have never needed to avenge anyone’s death and women are no longer viewed within the narrow confines of the 1800s, grit is still a necessary virtue in anyone’s life. People still make commitments and our pledges, either to ourselves or to another, will be tested. If we do not believe in what we are doing, or if we do not trust our decision, we will not have the staunchness it takes to complete what we have begun. Self doubt is worse than the meanest gunslinger. 

 Mattie’s success did not depend entirely on her talents. She could not shoot straight, and riding a horse did not come naturally. The only thing she had going for her was her passion for the mission. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was her job, and no one else’s, to avenge her father’s death. Knowing this truth about herself, gave her the dauntlessness she needed for her success. Understanding what she had to do gave her focused confidence and supplied the fearlessness she needed to keep going even when circumstances loomed against her. In her quest, Mattie faced the naysayers; outlaws and condescending men. She also stared down the dangers found in nature. And she won.

Why bother with true grit? It is worth finding our true grit so that we can face our naysayers, whoever they might be and move out on our journey with resolve like Mattie’s. 

 

 

Why Bother With Definitions?

 

Why Bother With Definitions?

Recently I read an article by Jeff Minick, a new favorite author of mine who writes for The Epoch Times, a new favorite newspaper I subscribe to. His article, ‘I’m Doing It’: Resilience and Faith in Our Daily Battles, told the story of a woman who contracted Lyme disease and as a result, everything about her life changed. Though the article focused on resilience, the quality that gets people through difficult times, my takeaway was; how do I define myself? When health fails, as it did for the woman who contracted Lyme disease, and I can no longer do what I’ve always done, does my definition of me remain the same?

Dictionaries and Definitions

I love dictionaries. Along with the pronunciation, part of speech, and the origin of the word, they give words their precise meaning. But, when I look for my name in a dictionary, I am not there. Mother Teresa, an Albanian nun, Teresa of Avila, a mystic writer, and Teresa of Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun are listed, but not Terese Luikens. How then, am I defined and where do I find a definition for who I am?

 Eva, the woman whose life was changed by Lyme disease, left the corporate world in order to focus on treatments to combat her illness. She was no longer a prestigious employee in a Fortune 100 Company. So was she still Eva? When the circumstances of our lives change and we can no longer attach our name to what we do, who are we? 

For many years, I coordinated a community women’s Bible study. I knew a lot of women and a lot of women knew me. I was flattered whenever I was out in public and someone approached me and acknowledged who I was. But then there came a time when I knew I had to step away from that position of leadership and for a while, I didn’t quite know who I was. If I wasn’t a Bible study teacher and coordinator, then who was I?  

 I used to be a competitive triathlete, but I no longer compete. Though I have activities that I am zealous about; bike riding, swimming, running and yoga, who do I become when my body can no longer do any of those things?

Are we who we are because of what we do? In order to give ourselves any kind of definition, I think we have to reach a little deeper for something more than just the things we are capable of doing. I believe our identity is given to us by the One who created us in the first place. 

The Bible is my all time favorite book. From it I gain wisdom, hope and a little insight into who I am and who created me. Thankfully, it is not a book of dos and don’ts. Instead, like a dictionary, it tells me who I am; an eternal being, loved and accepted by an Eternal Being no matter what I can or cannot do. It is comforting to know that I will always be one who is loved by the One who loves me perfectly both now, and forever. It is a simple definition of who I am, but sometimes it is hard to remember that one important fact about my identity. 

Why bother with definitions? It is worth it to know that it is a Who that defines us, not a what. When changes take place, as they will, remembering that the One who gives us our identity remains the same, both now and forever.