Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Faith of a Child

Dancing in the Light on Pentecost at the African Refugee Mass in Boise

She's on a mission. My nearly four year old daughter urges me to follow her, "Come on, Mom!" She runs to a picture of Jesus and points. I catch up to her, lugging the baby in her car seat along with our coats. Daily Mass is done, and I have emails to answer and phone calls to make. But her excitement bids me to set aside the cares of my day and follow her.

"What's He doing?" she asks without looking at me. Her eyes never leave Him.

"He's carrying His cross," I answer simply. I am tempted to say more, but her steady gaze on the scene above keeps me silent. She's doing what most adults can't do. Though she's unaware of any methods or rules, she's meditating on Him.

Her motives are not to gain peace or insight. She has no goals to become holy or for spiritual wisdom. She only knows He loves her, and she cannot help but love Him back.

Without warning, she breaks into a run across the back of the church to the first picture. She waves at me to come quickly to where she's standing. She silently points to Jesus being condemned and jumps up and down. I hurry over, worried she'll start yelling. But she only whispers, "Tell me, tell me!"

My daughter is waiting as I mentally go through my list of tasks to be done. There is one email that hangs over my head. I have to say no to someone. I have to say that my plate is full and the direction of my life is leading me to other things. I must tell this person that my energy needs to be focused elsewhere. But I don't want to. I want to hold onto this opportunity as a safety net. I want to say yes, because I'm afraid that I won't have enough work down the road if I say no.

"Mom?" she asks, again.

I bring my attention back to her and Jesus, back to the First Station of the Cross. I finally answer her, "This is when they say that Jesus has to die."

"Why?" she asks as she turns her head towards me. Her eyes are puzzled. Jesus is good. Jesus loves everyone. Who would say He must die?

"Because they don't understand that He's God's Son." I keep it simple, just as my mother kept it for me. I wonder briefly if I'm not failing, if I should try to explain more, but I decide to follow my mother's path.

My daughter steps over to the next picture of Jesus and looks on without a sound. Then she moves onto the next. No more questions. She only pauses and looks. I look, too, and I remember the novena I prayed at the end of Advent — the Surrender to Jesus Novena.

I began the novena when the words of de Caussade's Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence still lingered in recent memory. The novena calmed my swelling fears of what God would want of me if I completely surrendered to Him. It beckoned me to simply rest in Him, without any worries. Now I was standing before the Stations of the Cross, not wanting to leave something behind, even though I knew to my core that it was time to let go.

My daughter broke her pattern of silence in front of Veronica with her veil. "What is she doing?" she asks.

"She's wiping His face," I answer, just above a whisper.


"She wants to make Him feel better." I look at Veronica holding up the veil. The pragmatist finds it futile that she wipes blood and sweat from His face while He's trudging to His death. There are no accolades for helping a condemned man, and helping could incur the wrath of Roman soldiers. However, Veronica is overcome with love. Her reckless act of abandonment is set in eternity as a thing of beauty. The world's foolishness is God's wisdom.

My daughter continues on her journey through the Stations of the Cross. She loves these pictures of Jesus. She wonders at wounds and blood. When she sees the Blessed Mother holding her Son's dead body, she reaches out for Mary's face. "That's Mama Mary," she says with a reverence I haven't heard from her before. "What's she doing?" she asks.

"She's holding Him because He died. He's her Son, and she's sad," I say as gently as I can.  I think of how during all of Advent the lessons of Mary's Fiat! were proclaimed in Mass after Mass. Without her complete surrender, Jesus could not come to save us. I look at Mary and think of how obstinate my will is in comparison to hers. I want to cling to all the work I can get, but my family is suffering from my being too busy. I know after praying for months that it's time to let go, but still my mind toys with alternative solutions.

Then my daughter goes to where He is laid in the tomb. She asks what happened. I tell her Jesus had to be buried, but on the third day He rose again. "He's all better?" she almost yells.

"Yes, he is all healed!" I get caught up in her joy that He is not hurting anymore, that He's happy and alive.

I think her pilgrimage around the church is done, but I am wrong. My daughter spots prayer cards to the Holy Family. She is excited that Mother Mary holds baby Jesus on the card, and she barely notices poor Joseph. I point him out, but she gushes over Mary holding her baby. I show her the side with the prayer. Without another word, she marches to the altar steps and kneels. She can't read, but she prays in her own way in solemn tones.

I wait and pray, too.

She jumps to her feet and exclaims that she must give the card to Mama Mary. I try to direct her to the little altar to Mary in an alcove along the church wall, but my daughter is stubborn. She is adamant that the card be given to Mama Mary who is holding Baby Jesus behind the altar. I convince her to leave the card by the steps. She hums and smiles as she lays the card down. She is done.

"Mama Mary will come and get it, right?"

I hesitate to answer, but then I remember.

I remember my own childhood with its simple beliefs. I remember that span of time when God was everywhere and was my friend, and I couldn't imagine how anyone could not believe in Him. Belief at that time took no volition because I had no reason to question His existence. I remember looking for angels in the empty sanctuary and sneaking up altar steps to ask God to hold me on His lap. I remember longing for communion, because I wanted so badly to have more of Him. I remember thinking adults were funny for talking about mysteries, and I couldn't understand why they thought the Trinity and Christmas and Easter were complicated. I remember naming my guardian angel Rose and asking her each night to hold me while I slept.

I knew God because my mother lived out her faith in everyday life. It wasn't so much that she taught me about God, but rather that she included me, and my siblings, in her relationship with Him. My faith grew because she let me believe in Him as children do. If she had forced my childhood faith to fit adult-size criteria, it would have become overstretched and thin. It would have snapped.

Children need to be children. They need freedom to experience wonder and awe through their fanciful and adorable faith.

I know that the phase that my young daughter is in, is relatively brief. Friends and I sometimes lament over the change that comes to our children's faith over time. It goes from a natural flow from their hearts to something they have to choose from their will. But children must ask questions and grow. Life brings paradoxes and exceptions and disappointments. Platitudes ring hollow, and Truth demands exploration. Mysteries stop being idiosyncracies of adults and become deep necessities. Our world is not just. There are times our omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God seems silent and absent. If faith does not have growing pains, it dies.

Fiat! Abandonment. Surrender. When you're a child, there is no doubt that God will catch you when you leap. When you're an adult, you can struggle over leaving even small fears in His hands.

My daughter will not leave the sanctuary until I answer her. "Will Mama Mary come down and get my card?"

"Yes, she will," I say as I look into her face. My daughter lights up with joy. She hums songs as we bless ourselves with holy water. I know I cannot delay any longer. I do not know for certain what the consequences will be after I send my email, but how could I not trust Him when He has never failed me?


Friday, November 3, 2017

God's Laughter

Our newest addition, on her first day. From Baby Bella Photography, Permission Granted

Earlier in the week, First Things had a live video on Facebook of a talk given by Bishop Robert Barron. In it, he flushed out a bit the misconception that God is in competition with us, that to live for Him means that we can't truly be happy.

While cuddling my sixth infant and trying to form sentences in a sleep-deprived state, I admit I often think of the proverb, "Man plans; God laughs." Even though I know better, I sometimes think God is laughing at my plans to mock me: "I'll show her!" He scowls. "None of her plans will work today. . . or any day all week!"

But that's not Him. That's not our God who loves us so deeply. One doesn't empty oneself of all the riches of heaven to rescue miserable sinners because one wants to beat them up!

He rescued us and adopted us because His love is immeasurable. Believing in God doesn't truncate us. Dear and holy Irenaeus got it right over 1800 years ago: "The glory of God is man fully alive."

If He really laughs at our plans (and I think sometimes He actually mourns with us when our plans fail because He knows our frailty), then His laughter must be brimming with kindness. His laughter must be the kind that pulls our attention from what we've lost to what we've gained.

In Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, Caussade says that God lets our plans fail because He wants to teach us to depend on Him alone. This has encouraged me all the more to look for His goodness in a failed plan. More than a silver lining, I want to find His joy.

It takes a faith-filled perseverance to make plans every day, knowing full well that St. James wasn't messing around when he said that anything we accomplish is only because God willed it. Sometimes I think this is the middle of the pie that is spiritual detachment: We care; we plan; we do our best. But in the end we have to let go and say, "I want such and such to happen, but only God willing . . ."

I think it's in the freedom of detachment that we can better hear God, especially the beautiful tones of His heart-filled laughter. Perhaps this also gives us the freedom to join in and laugh, too.

Click to see the First Things video of Bishop Robert Barron's talk.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Radio Interview Coming Up!

Me, about 10 years old, and already bugging my parents about becoming Catholic.

Our local Catholic radio station, Salt and Light Radio, is kicking off its pledge drive this Wednesday, April 26. During the drive which will last through Friday, different parishes will be highlighted, and my parish will be on the air from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday.

I will be interviewed about my journey to becoming Catholic from 4:30 - 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday. You can tune in from anywhere in the world through the internet: .

I wouldn't mind a few prayers as it's a little different on the other side of the interview process, besides being live on the air!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Carbonated Holiness

We celebrated all Twelve Days of Christmas. When Epiphany came, I had to fly to Oklahoma to help my dad relocate to a retirement home in a whirlwind of activity that lasted five days. On the flight home, I was exhausted. I resolved that I would unplug from all activities for awhile and just focus on home life. And God laughed.

On January 16, I began training to be the Interim Editor for the Idaho Catholic Register (ICR). This promoted me from a contributing, freelance writer for the ICR to an employee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise. Because of this, I have been intending for three months to post this disclaimer (which is also on my sidebar): The views expressed on this site are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.

I also went from being a few hours per week, work-at-home mom to over 20 hours per week, work-at-the-office mom. Life shifted. 

I did not expect to love my work as much as I did, and I found the experience to be wonderful. I enjoyed covering different events. I interviewed our bishop, Father Mike Schmitz, and Catherine Adair. I was given a story assignment (still in process) that involved interviewing other national speakers, and I'm floored each time I think about it. I was taught basic use of InDesign, and I got to meddle with Adobe Premier Pro one afternoon. I've learned more about writing, editing, marketing, and layout. It has been a blast!

The kids adjusted better than I feared, and now our 3 year old loves going to preschool. I'm still homeschooling the middle two kids though, and this was relegated to the not-so-ideal method of workbooks with lots of reading. Despite less than perfect circumstances, the kids enjoyed asking me about my day, and they liked the different stories I'd tell them about events and people.

God was not done with surprises though. Although the odds were against it, February started off with my finding out about baby six, due around my 44th birthday. Morning sickness made interim editing an interesting challenge. I am grateful I work for a truly family-friendly employer. I can't imagine the nightmare women face when they are stuck with employers who have no respect for pregnancy or family life. 

Of course, life doesn't stop just because your career took a turn and you're on a learning curve . . . and you're pregnant. Flat tires, winter illnesses, school events, house repairs, birthday parties, pet woes, and some such or one-thing-or-another cropped up with more regularity than it seems the powers that be ought to allow.

I'd fuss in Confession that I didn't have time to read or pray or go to daily Mass. I'd sigh when I looked at the stack of books by my bed, too weary to open them. I missed time with my kids during the day. I was torn between loving the exhilaration of my work (I truly loved it) and missing parts of my former life. Transitions are rarely smooth and clear.

Somehow though we all made it to spring and the second trimester. We all got through Lent, and now it's Easter.

The new editor is fabulous, and I've enjoyed learning more about journalism from him. My hours are going to drastically change, but I am happy that I'll still be writing for the diocese. I'm grateful for my job every day. I'm also thankful to have more time to do things with my family and with my parish.

A friend posted on Facebook a quote from Anne Lamott: Laughter is carbonated holiness. 

I laugh when I think of God laughing — not cruel or condescending, but with love — over all my plans and perfectionist ideals. I want smooth sailing; He wants me to learn how to peacefully navigate a storm. 

When my priest asked me last week how things were going, I told him that it's been humbling — none of my plans ever seemed to work, yet things always worked out anyway. Then we laughed.  

Dying to self is painful, no doubt about it. But resurrection is joyful. With resurrection, we can see the ridiculous nature of our own selfish ways and ambitions. We can laugh and remember that holiness isn't stiff and strict with dour schedules and rigid expectations. Holiness is grace and love; laughter sets it free in blissful bubbles.

©2017 Emily Woodham

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