Unexpected Answers

Unexpected Answers

accidental saints

I read a lot of books. I recommend books to friends I know would enjoy them. But I don’t write about books on this blog. Unless of course, I run across something that so rocks my world that I have to write about it. Last time that happened, it was The Shack. This time it was Accidental Saints: Finding God in All The Wrong People.

Ever read a book that you can’t put down? I’ve read a lot of those. A few years ago, I called out sick because I had quite literally stayed up all night to finish the Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest and still had 100 pages left when the sun came up. I couldn’t go anywhere until I knew what happened to Lisbeth Salander.

But now let me ask the question another way: Did you ever read a book that wouldn’t let go of you? Because in the last ten days I read one that pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t that long of a book but it took me ten days to read because, crazy as it sounds, I swear to you that book told me when to pick it up and when to put it down.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had read Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix during the Week of Guided Prayer over the summer. That book beat me up. It challenged me into a profession of faith that I felt not quite ready to make. Add the scripture readings into the mix and well, I came away from that week feeling very bruised. The image of a rosebush being pruned (or run over by a lawnmower, depending on your perspective) was the image of the week.

So maybe given how that week went, pre-ordering Pastor Nadia’s next book Accidental Saints was probably a little crazy. But it was okay because I wasn’t going to read it right away. I figured I’d save it for the long Thanksgiving weekend. I lasted all of about 2 hours after UPS dropped it off. Then I randomly read all of Chapter 8 in the laundromat and cried my eyes out. (Don’t worry – no spoilers here.)  But even reading a random chapter was enough. It grabbed me and pulled me in. As I read, I found myself facing all those things that had come up during the Week of Guided Prayer: trust, surrender, pruning and deeper healing. I read about “forgiving some jackass who I really want punch in the throat” and how much love and grace can sting. Being loved well stings – that is a perfect description of something that I’ve felt so deeply but could never manage to find the words for and to see it there in black and white in my hands dissolved me entirely.  For the second time in ten days I was sitting in the laundromat with a book in one hand and wiping away a stubbornly steady flood of tears with the other. The regulars there are probably beginning to wonder if I’m coming unhinged.

Deacon Ron always tells me to look for the recurring themes in my writings. Trust and surrender are not my strong points. Patience is a virtue. It isn’t one of mine. Read any three random posts on this blog and you’ll see those things pop up. What you might not find so easily are the themes I don’t write about as much. Being vulnerable.  Letting people love me. More specifically, not letting anyone close enough to love me.  It’s taken a long time to learn to open up again and even longer to accept that I had walled myself off from being hurt because I had been deeply hurt – actually I believe the term most often used by my therapist was brutalized, although try as he did, he could never get me to say that word out loud.

It was hard to type that sentence and if this seems a bit disjointed here it’s because I had to walk away to make a cup of tea and sit in the sunshine for awhile until all the ugly feelings that word brings up – weakness, powerlessness, shame, fear, embarrassment – had dissolved again.

For years there had been a lingering pain that I could never quite explain. I know why I flinch if someone touches me unexpectedly or why I get panicky if I hear someone yelling and angry. But I could never find the way to express how much it hurt, and sometimes still does, to hear, “I love you” or to have someone do something kind for me. And it sounds pretty batshit crazy to tell someone, “I’m so glad you hugged me (said you loved me, repaired my car, drove me to a doctor) today. I needed that. And by the way it feels like you ripped my heart out of my chest in the process.”  No. I kept that level of crazy to myself in hopes that sooner or later it would make sense. I don’t know how I expected that answer to come but I can promise you I never expected it to come all at once in the middle of the spin cycle.

Grace stings because it is so undeserved.

Love stings because we believe ourselves to be so unworthy.

Trusting God is scary as hell because it means first accepting that we are so

Surrender requires working through the other three.

candleAnd this is why grace is like water. It slips under the walls, through the cracks in the mortar, drips in through the ceiling. Not only is it impossible to hang on to, it’s impossible to keep out. Except it’s more like rubbing alcohol than water. It stings but it cleans and once you’ve been soaked in it, you can be set on fire.

We’ll Come Back To This…


This week is my annual Week of Guided Prayer, my ninth and the third (thankfully not consecutively) without Deacon Ron. There has been so much upheaval in life the last few months, I wondered more than once if maybe I should pass it up this year. But at the same time I knew if I skipped it, I would regret it. I cleared my schedule and I mean completely cleared my schedule. I took the week off from work, I doubled up on my schoolwork so I have nothing due this week, and, although not of my doing, it worked out that the boys are with their father and his new wife for the week.

Saturday morning at the opening, I wondered who my director would be, wondered at least until she spoke.  As soon as she opened her mouth, I knew who I was assigned to. I’ve never laid eyes on this woman before and yet I recognized her voice as soon as she said, “Good Morning” to the group. I couldn’t see her from where I was sitting but I knew the voice. Yeah I know how weird that sounds. Rank it up there with the rest of my strange Jedi skills of knowing things I can’t possibly know. I gave up trying to explain it a long time ago.

When we broke into groups and arranged our meetings, she handed me my readings for the first day. I took one look at that slip of paper and started to laugh. Jeremiah 29:11-14. Again.

Jeremiah 29 11-14

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.  When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you.  When you look for me,  you will find me.  Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord, and I will change your lot; I will gather you together from the nations and all the places to which I have banished you, says the Lord, and bring you back to the place from which I have exiled you.

God has been stalking me with that verse for at least five years now. As in a post-it note tucked into an old wallet and forgotten until precisely the right moment two years later kind of stalking. This isn’t the first time it popped up during the Week of Guided Prayer either. The last time it was at the end of the week and my reaction to it then was not exactly warm and fuzzy. Instead it led to a sit down with God in an empty chair across from me that just thinking about still gives me the shivers, even three years later. I knew back then that our discussion was far from over. So much has changed since then. What sounded so beyond impossible back then is happening now. That future full of hope seemed so far out of reach and now I’m in the midst of something I never thought possible.

And just in case I thought to brush this off as coincidence, Sunday’s psalm was Psalm 23. The first time I did the Week of Guided Prayer, I spent the entire week on those verses. Okay, so God got my attention. Seems like we may be revisiting some things from years past and that’s not a bad feeling. It feels sort of like hauling out the old family photos and sorting through them. Remember this? And this? And this?

And in keeping with tradition, it is once again the hottest week we’ve had so far this summer. I have yet to figure out God’s rationale for that one. But it does serve to send me to the beach with a book in hand. No school reading this week. Hasidic parables will just have to wait. I had been waiting until the end of summer classes to read Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix but it’s been calling my name. Very much turning out to be the right book at the right time. But that’s another post entirely.