Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Grace

All my kids love the snow, but my youngest adores it. My two (almost three) year old finds absolute glee in shoveling snow. She sees her older siblings at work and rushes out to help them. However, she does everything on a whim. If we tell her it's time to come in before she's ready, she makes a fuss. Or if we were to tell her she absolutely must shovel snow, when she'd rather make a snowman, she would be sure to resist!

My fifteen year old knows shoveling snow correctly is actually hard work. He knows that within minutes his nose will run and his cheeks will sting. However, he trusts my motives when I tell him he needs to go out and shovel. He'd rather play a video game or read a book, but he goes out into the snow without a fuss. When I go outside to join him, he's smiling, even laughing. When his brothers, who've become bored, break out into a snowball fight, he stays the course. He chats with me a bit while we work, and there is no resentment in his voice. When he's done, he goes inside satisfied with his job and makes himself hot cocoa.

I didn't ask God for a message from Him this Advent, yet my mind seemed to come back to this over and over during the last four weeks: "Love what must be done." This paraphrase of Goethe by Christopher Perrin has stuck with me for four years, and this Advent it became a prayer, again. 

I have been reading the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. My priest told me to read it slowly, and so I have. (I lost it for awhile, which slowed me down even more . . .)  One day after going to Mass, my two year old wanted to snuggle for awhile instead of getting back into her car seat. I took advantage of staying put and prayed in the way de Sales suggests. In my prayers it struck me how much St. John, the Apostle of Love, trusted Jesus. John stayed with Jesus when all the other apostles abandoned Him. 

The Gospels are pretty good at recording the foibles of the apostles, yet they never say that John complained or tried to stop Jesus from doing what must be done. John simply loved Jesus and because of that love, trusted Him. It can be easy to dismiss Jesus' trust in the Father because of His divine nature. Yet John, totally human, also gives witness that love trusts. This trust is faith.

"Every morning when we roll out of bed, we also make a decision: We decide to give up, or we choose to trust in the grace of God to accomplish the mission He's assigned to us," said the deacon. I missed all but those last words of his homily a week ago. It was precisely what I needed to hear. 

Grace ties everything together. To love what must be done and to have the faith to do it, takes grace. 

My youngest child shovels the snow for fun. My fifteen year old shovels the snow with grace. He loves and trusts me, and he loves what must be done, despite wanting to do something else. 

I have encountered many amazing people this Advent who are overcoming painful and tragic circumstances. Despite death, divorce, job losses, and myriads of other problems, these people are still happy about Christmas. They have a light that shines from deep within them, and nothing can put that light out. They live in grace.

And grace is not just for extraordinary circumstances. Grace is for everyday living. From cleaning spilled milk to shoveling snow, from starting a recipe over because the cake didn't rise to reading a bedtime story again and again  . . . and again, grace is there to enable us to do all things in love.

As I finish writing this, the clock turns to Christmas Eve. Love Incarnate is soon to be born. The fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and our every Hope is coming to bring us to Himself. Oh, how He loves us! With our growing pains and imperfections, still He loves us! 

He doesn't resent emptying Himself. He doesn't grumble about being born in a stable in poverty. He doesn't say snide things about us because He has to save us. He doesn't give up because we're too difficult or too ugly or not worth the time. He isn't critical or condemning. He loves us and loves what must be done, despite having the full understanding of all that entails. 

His love is not arbitrary. His love is so true and certain, that we cannot comprehend it. 

We can talk about unmerited favor, the power of God at work in us, and so many other definitions of grace, but I believe (keeping in mind that I'm not a theologian) grace is another facet of the love of God (divine love), which is both unmerited and empowering. To abide in Jesus and His grace, is to soak in His love, or to use my priest's turn of phrase, "to marinate in His love."

To be honest. waiting feels like work to me. It feels the same way shoveling snow does. I have to choose to wait every Advent. 

But Christmas! Christmas is playing in the snow! It's basking in light and marinating in love, even if I still can't find our nativity set and I'm waaaay behind in wrapping gifts and baking pies. Christmas is faith that takes in the circumstances and still trusts and obeys. Christmas is grace. Christmas is love.

©2016 Emily Woodham

Sunday, December 4, 2016



by Emily Woodham

(For my friend who mourns. I love you.)

slips down the threads woven
slips down my feet upon them
pendulous, air is tight
lungs compressed, I breathe

dark treads on luminescence
dark moves the beating rapid
closing in, choice is nothing
single path, no turning

prostrate, silence echoes
prostrate, pain relentless
fragmented faith clings
hardened hope yearns

lifting to a scarred Face
lifting to a pierced Hand
the bitter cup stays
no solace, save in consuming

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Night Seasons

Originally published 7/10/10. Slightly edited.*

The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: 
thou maintainest my lot.
The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places;
yea, I have a goodly heritage.
I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel:
my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
I have set the Lord always before me: 
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth:
my flesh also shall rest in hope.
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell;
neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Thou wilt shew me the path of life:
in thy presence is fulness of joy;
at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
--Psalm 16:5-11 (KJV)

Night seasons are a part of life, but when we make the Lord our portion and happiness, we have nothing to fear.  Hearts that are dedicated to Him continue to find His wise counsel as darkness tucks in the corners of the sky.   

I think of my friend who will wake in the middle of the night to nurse her newborn, and a friend's daughter who is in labor tonight with her first baby. There are parents who can't sleep as they long for healing for their sick children. Heros work night shifts, giving up the daily rhythm of life, so that others might live.  

I remember summer nights as a teenager, unable to sleep because I was filled with such excitement about my future. I remember laughing with my husband until the wee hours of the morning, telling each other jokes and reminiscing about silly things. I think of fitful nights of worry that melted into peace because of His presence. I am humbled by all the times His forgiveness and mercy brought solace when regrets of the day crowded the silence of night. His love for us does not run out, no matter the time on the hands of a clock.

How many prayers will be said for the first time tonight?  How many whispered conversations between couples?  How many tears?  How many giggles?

The night belongs to Him as much as the day.  He rules over all.  His Holy Spirit guides us when the sun is brilliant and also when there isn't a star to be seen in incomprehensible darkness.  He never slumbers nor sleeps. 

Set the Lord before you always and you will find courage, gladness, rejoicing, rest, and hope.  He will guide you through the night seasons; He will show you the path of life.  Abide in Him, and you will find fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore.

*In the Douay-Rheims translation, this is Psalm 15. Even though I'm Catholic now, I still love the language of the King James Version for this Psalm, which doesn't affect the meaning of the translation.

©2010-2016 Emily Woodham

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Becoming Catholic: The Missing Piece

A gift from good friends on our Confirmation Day

I was asked to write my conversion story for the Idaho Catholic Register before I wrote The Day We Decided to Become Catholic, Parts I and II for this blog. Although I talk about the timely conversation between a priest and me on May 31, 2014 in my blog, I share very little about what was discussed. That part I saved for the Register, which was published on October 7.

So if you want the missing piece, pop over to the link and go to page 5 (which also has a book review I did on Crime and Punishment:

To read the story in order:

The Day We Decided to Become Catholic, Part I

From Canterbury to Rome (page 5)

The Day We Decided to Become Catholic, Part II

And don't forget to subscribe to Idaho Catholic Register!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pay Attention

Edited. Originally published 3/27/11.

Have you ever noticed that it's easier to drive on a road that has medians as opposed to the straight forward roads that are divided only by two yellow lines?

When there is no median, people tend to swerve a bit to the right as oncoming traffic comes towards them.  When there is no oncoming traffic, it's a breeze to just focus on the guidelines of your lane, but as soon as those cars start coming in the opposite direction, our eyes want to focus on the cars, not on the road.

We seem to instinctively look at the danger although it's safest to keep our eyes straight ahead, right in-between the two lines that give our lane definition.

You'd be a fool not to be aware of oncoming traffic.  If you notice in your peripheral vision that a car is leaving his lane and coming right at you, it would be stupid to ignore it. However, you could fail to see the other cars around you, or the traffic light up ahead, if you only focus on all that traffic zooming by.

Fear does that.  The fear may have a high probability of being realized, but to drop everything to focus on that fear will leave you more vulnerable to other mishaps and lost opportunities.

There is necessary, healthy fear: Fear of a speeding ticket, so you stay within the speed limit.  Fear of the maniac in the SUV, so you pull over to the side and let him pass. Fear of running out of gas, so you keep the tank full.  But this fear doesn't cripple us, it helps us—just as true fear of God spurs us on in the right direction. The cowering, false fear of God is just a self-centered focus on our weakness rather than on His majesty. 

When God says "Fear not," He means it, and it is aimed directly at foolish fear. Yet it is an impossible command. It's in our very nature to succumb to fear, to follow the impulses that tell us to fight or flee, to swerve, to slam on brakes—whether or not the danger is real or imagined. We have trouble discerning when to "fear not" and when it's wisdom to be afraid. God asks us to do this impossible task of not fearing all the time, every day.  So how do we do it?

We die to ourselves and pay attention . . . to Him.

Pay attention to what His Word says and how He defines the stuff of life, and don't forget that He is there with you. Pray to Him. Tell Him your fears, your thoughts, and, yes, your thanksgivings! He knows it all, of course, but that's what makes His listening to us all the more divinely, sweetly loving.

He is humble with us, just as we are humble with our children when we listen to them tell us about things we already know. We listen because they need to tell us, and we love them. He listens to us because we need to talk to Him, and He loves us.

When we focus on His love, holiness, and grace, the fears of this earth truly pass away. When we pay attention to Him, anything is possible.

©2011-2016 Emily Woodham

Friday, September 16, 2016

My New Writing Gig

On the go with the younger three.

My first article for the Idaho Catholic Register has debuted! Yes, you can read it online, but it's far more delightful in your hands while enjoying tea or coffee. If you're in Idaho, you can contact your parish office to subscribe. You can also subscribe by calling the Idaho Catholic Register at 208-342-1311.

To read my first article, Memorial brings healing to post-abortive women and men, click on the link and turn to page 5:

©2016 Emily Woodham