What I Mean When I Say, “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

This evening, I finished my Divine Mercy novena before Mass and began my meditation. I was, as usual, rather spacey, without any particular focus to my prayer, but I kept internally murmuring, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

It’s a good prayer–Jesus himself taught it to St. Faustina. And it’s a powerful thing to pray even when you don’t totally mean it, in the hopes that the Spirit will make it true. But I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, just staring blankly in the direction of a Divine Mercy image and occasionally tossing it out there: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

And then I felt him ask, “Do you trust me with your fertility?”


Friends, I am 34 and very single. I spent all week rejoicing over the Easter pictures of your beautiful families on social media (and, if I’m being honest, having some less delightful feelings, too). I am supremely aware that the odds of my ever having a family of my own get slimmer with every passing year. I know 34 isn’t old. I get that. But it’s Catholic old. And when most of your friends have at least 5 kids and none of the men your age are single, it’s hard not to see your biological clock as more of a time bomb.

I don’t share about this kind of thing often because it makes me feel rather pathetic. Also because when I do, some people seem inclined to try to make me feel worse. Or write entire blog posts excoriating me. You know, because that’s helpful.

And I’m not trying to start a pity party, I’m just trying to give you a sense of what his question to me meant. “Do you trust me with your fertility?”

Because the answer to that is absolutely yes, spoken in a soft and shuddering voice. I trust him with my (waning) fertility. I trust him with my lonely heart. I trust him with my homelessness and aimlessness.

I do not trust him to give me a family.

I do not trust him to give me a home.

He never promised me those things.

When I say, “Jesus, I trust in you,” I’m telling him I trust him to be God. I trust him to make the calls. I trust that whatever he gives me–or doesn’t give me–is best. I’m saying, “Your will be done.”

I do not trust him to give me what I want. At some level, I don’t even want him to give me what I want. A God who exists merely to satisfy my whims is no God at all.

I trust him to tell me no. I trust him when he tells me nothing at all for years and years and years. I trust him when he feels incredibly distant at the time I think I need him most. I trust him to be God.

During the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, I was struck by Mark 15:32, when the bystanders taunted him, “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” It wasn’t really a prayer, but still: they called to God with a request and he said no.

Thank God he said no. Where would we be if he had consented? Thank God for his mercy poured out in unanswered prayers, whether we understand it in this life or not.

Jesus, I trust in you.

The Day After the Annunciation

Yesterday the world stopped spinning.
The whole earth trembled.
Heaven came down to earth
as the Word was made flesh
in my womb.
Though I am no queen,
no prophetess,
no Judith or Esther or Deborah.
Here in this nowhere town
dwells the creator of all the world.

I cannot say if there were trumpets,
though I heard them,
nor if choirs of angels sang God’s glory.
I only know my heart thrilled,
my spirit soared,
my soul sang
as the angel of the Lord called me God’s own
and asked me to bear his Son.

But that was yesterday.

Today the angel is gone,
and so too the astonishing peace,
the silence in my heart so loud it fairly shook.
Today I am not wandering
like one in a dream,
a secret smile touching my lips
as my hand returns again and again to rest
over the spot where Life himself has chosen to live.

Joy still, yes, and wonder.
Who am I that my Lord should come to me?
Still my heart is full and still my head spins with the glory of it all.
But today I have to think:
what next?

St. Anne and the Young Mary, by Maria Pureza Escano.
St. Anne and the Young Mary, by Maria Pureza Escano.

Perhaps I imagined it,
fell asleep in the warm afternoon sun
and turned the words of the prophet
into my fate.
Perhaps it was a dream,
a temptation,
a trick of the light.
And yet there has never been anything so real
as that shocking moment of peace,
that clarity of confusion.
Nobody could hear what I heard
and see what I saw
and not believe.

But they did not see.
Nor did they hear.
And today I must wake from this dream I am living
and act.

What will he say, when I tell him this thing that has never been told before?
Will he rage against what cannot be believed,
call me out for a liar and call my neighbors out with stones?
He would have that right.
But no.
My Joseph so gentle could never.
He will not shout, will not condemn.
But still he may not believe.

And the sorrow in his eyes would break my heart
if it did not beat for another Heart than his.
He may turn from me,
divorce me,
and leave me alone with this Child who will save him, too.
I am not afraid,
My life is not my own.
And He who has chosen me will take me where I need to be.
Though that may be death or disgrace,
though a sword may pierce my heart,
I know he will be with me.

but I cannot help but hope
that the love of this good man will be stronger than his doubt,
that my parents will believe,
that I and my son will be safe.
As I walk from the radiance of the angel’s presence
into the darkness of the unknown,
God-with-me guides my steps,
though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
And while my flesh may fear
my heart will choose to trust.

Even when I cannot see him
I will be faithful:
the handmaid of the Lord.

After the Annunciation

Do You Have a Reliable Car?

I took my hot mess of a car into the mechanic last week for a weird rattling sound. 6 hours later, I got this call:

“What is the story on that car?”

I knew things weren’t going to go well.

I don't think this muddy disaster had anything to do with it.
I don’t think this muddy disaster had anything to do with it.

Apparently I drove her right into the ground. Shocks, struts, control arms, wheel bearings, rotors, everything.

“Your brake pads are okay,” he said. Because that was about the only thing.

Undriveable, he said. And I was kind of relieved. My prayer has always been that I would know for certain when it was time to move on from this lemon of a car, and this was about as certain as I would get. Besides, I’ve spent the last few weeks (months?) dealing with dead babies and broken marriages and foreclosed homes and kids with restraining orders and all kinds of heavy, ugly stuff that I can’t fix for people. This I could do. God has shown me again and again that if nothing else, he’s at work when my car is a disaster.

People always ask me, “Do you have a reliable car?” After all, how could you live out of a lemon? How could you put 3,000 miles a month on a car that might break down at any moment? How could you drive 500 miles from anyone you know if your brakes might go out or your radiator crack or your engine die? Who would spend this many hours in a car that regularly leaves bits behind on the highway? Of course I must have a reliable car.

“No,” I answer. “But I have a reliable God.”

A very kind young man in Alabama took this off my car when I pulled into a gas station and lay down on the ground to see what was dragging.
A very kind young man in Alabama took this off my car when I pulled into a gas station and lay down on the ground to see what was dragging.

This car has been trouble almost since I got her. She dies at inopportune moments, eats money I don’t have, and leaves me nervous that I might find myself stranded.1

But every time she’s broken down, God has saved the day. Every time I’ve been stuck somewhere, it’s because he was doing something. Every time I’ve had an emergency change of plans, he’s taking me somewhere I need to be. Maybe it’s a mechanic who needs to hear about Jesus, maybe it’s me needing to see how he provides, maybe it’s a hostess who needs someone to listen and pray with her. But it’s really gotten to the point where something goes wrong with my car and I smile and step back, wondering what God’s about to do.

He proves himself again and again, this God of mine. And it’s nowhere more obvious than with the thing I rely on most in this world. Every time there’s a disaster with my car, he reminds me that I don’t need a reliable car. I need a reliable God. And I have one.

In fact, I’ve learned so much about God’s faithfulness from my car that she’s even named after what she’s done for me. I call her Betty, but it’s really BD: Balaam’s Donkey. In Numbers 22, Balaam was a pagan prophet asked to curse Israel. He knew God would only bless them, but eventually he agreed to see what he could do. On his way there, an angel of death stood in his path to cut him down. His donkey, seeing the angel, refused to go on. Balaam beat her in rage until she opened her mouth and spoke, telling him that her refusal to move was saving him.

I’ve seen again and again how my Betty’s refusal to move has saved me: in individual circumstances and above all in transforming my ability to trust the Lord.

Oh, I’m still learning, of course. Tuesday I bought a new car and Wednesday I felt compelled to return it. As I was sitting in the chapel, anxious and frustrated to the point of tears, I suddenly remembered who God is and gasped:

“Oh, that’s right! You’re always at work!”

Matthew 10 29-31And the peace was back again. Because for a few hours I’d been overwhelmed by the unknowing and the complexity and the heaviness of life but then he sang me that song he’d been singing all day (Matthew 10:29-31) and I remembered that he is always working all things for good. I don’t have to know how or when because he’s done it enough that I trust him.

Meanwhile today I’m buying a car on my way from Atlanta to Baton Rouge. Hopefully this one lasts longer than the last! And while I went looking for reliability this time around, there’s a part of me that mourns the loss of the jalopy that taught me so much. Rest in peace, Betty. Well done.


  1. When I sold her, she had parts from Missouri, Nevada, Georgia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. At least. []

The Wrong Questions

We are a faithless people, aren’t we? We know to say “God is good” and follow it with “all the time” but the moment something goes wrong, we’re questioning him: “Why would God let this happen to me?” “What good could possibly come of this?” “How am I ever going to get through?” “When will God step in and save me?”

silhouette churchThey’re totally natural, those questions. And in a sense, they’re good because they do, at some level, presuppose that God has a purpose. But they’re the wrong questions. When we’re lost or suffering or alone, the question is not “Why?” or “How?” or “When?” The question is “Who?”

Who is this God we worship? If he’s a puppetmaster or a strategist, messing with our lives with no regard for our hearts, it makes sense to doubt him. But if he’s the God who is love, the God who calls Israel his darling,1 the God who was stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and nailed to a cross to suffocate to death on the off chance that you’d love him back, we have to change our attitude. Because if that’s who God is, then your first thought in times of trouble ought to be, “The God who loves me is at work in this.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see where God is in your pain or wondering when you’ll be released. The problem is when you’re seeking those answers because you don’t really trust that God is who he said he is: the Lord and Lover of souls.2

stream in French countrysideWhen people are suffering, I don’t often have answers. I can begin to see the ripples, the way their pain is working to make them holier and happier—ultimately. But in the moment of anguish, it doesn’t feel like enough. And so I find myself, again and again, saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s doing, but I know who he is. I know that he’s for you. I know that he loves you more than you could possibly imagine. I know that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you. And so if he’s not stepping in to save you, I have to trust not in what I can see and understand but in who I know him to be. He is yours and you are his. There is nothing to fear.”

It’s the difference between Job and Jonah, the difference between a man whose response to difficulty is trust in God and a man whose response to prosperity is despair. Job loses everything and cries out, “Though he slay me, still will I trust in him.”3 And when he finally calls out to God, God doesn’t tell him what he’s doing. He doesn’t explain why he’s allowed Job to suffer. He simply says, “Remember who I am. Remember that I am wise and powerful, that I am sovereign creator.” Having known Christ, we can add, “Remember that I am for you. Remember that I am love.” And Job is content in knowing who God is, despite the miserable failure of his life.

Jonah, on the other hand, is called by God to be a prophet, an honor and a dignity sought by many in Israel. But Jonah doesn’t know why God would send him to the hated Ninevites and so he runs from God. In the belly of the fish, he relents, only to lament God’s will once again when his preaching is successful. He longs for death, a drama queen to the end. God reminds him that he loves the Ninevites, that he loves even their cattle, but Jonah is unsatisfied. He so caught up in his idea of how things ought to work, so caught up in the why and the how, that he’s forgotten the who.

Belgium sunriseYou will never understand God, whose ways are as far about your ways as the heavens above the earth.4 “What you understand is not God.”5 And holding him accountable to your plan dictated by your finite understanding of things is just ignorant. God would not be God, after all, if he were God the way you would be God if you were God.6 Read that again. He is God and you are not. And while there’s nothing wrong with asking, “Where is God in this?” or “What good thing is God doing?”, any questions you ask have to be rooted in the answer to the one question that matters: who is God?

Nietzsche claimed, “He who knows the why of his life can bear with almost any how.7 It certainly does help to have a sense of the why of your life but the more important question is the who. As you struggle through whatever situation is trying your soul right now, take this question to prayer. Who is God? What has he done in the past to reveal his power, his mercy, his love? What has he done in salvation history and what has he done in your life? Get to know the God of consolations instead of looking merely for the consolations of God. There is peace.

2014-10-22 17.28.35

  1. Is 44:2 []
  2. Wis 11:26 []
  3. Job 13:15 []
  4. Is 55:9 []
  5. St. Augustine []
  6. Thanks to Msgr. Edward Dillon for that marvelous line that’s brought me through many a confusing situation. []
  7. With thanks to Fr. Stephen Billington for the quotation and the response. []

I Talk a Big Game

Remember when I told you how I’m so good at trusting God now? Ha. Just like 2 years ago, I trust him plenty in the big things. The day-to-day gets a little dicier. Let me tell you what happened the very day I wrote that post about trusting God in Turkey.

Boiled pigs' blood that takes like floury charcoal. Glad I tried it, but next time I think I'll pass.
Boiled pigs’ blood that takes like floury charcoal. Glad I tried it, but next time I think I’ll pass.

The day started off a little rough with black pudding, which is (unsurprisingly) not my new favorite food. After Mass, I headed to the train station to get on my way to lovely Oxford. I waited in a long line at the ticket counter only to discover that I could have saved 30 pounds on my train ticket if I’d bought it the night before, as I was considering doing. 30 pounds! I stewed over the money for a while (as I am wont to do) but really had a rough time getting over it. I’ve got the money to spare, I just hated that being stupid cost me 50 bucks. Pride.

Nursing wounded pride, I caught my train to Oxford, where I was planning to head straight to Littlemore to see the home of Blessed John Henry Newman, a great favorite of mine. But, of course, I have no data plan over here. So I asked how to catch the 16 bus and tried to follow the directions I was given through the winding streets of Oxford. With no map and no sense of where I was going, it took me a frustrating hour to find the stop. By the time I got there, I had only an hour before Newman’s home closed for the day and a 20 minute bus ride still to take.

Rushing unaware past beautiful and historic things the whole time. Like this church, where Newman preached his last sermon as an Anglican before draping his master's hood across the altar as a sign that he was renouncing his preaching authority in the Church of England. Quite a flair for the dramatic, that one.
Rushing unaware past beautiful and historic things the whole time. Like this church, where Newman preached his last sermon as an Anglican before draping his master’s hood across the altar as a sign that he was renouncing his preaching authority in the Church of England. Quite a flair for the dramatic, that one.

So I got in what I thought was a “queue.” My bus pulled up and I waited patiently as the line inched forward, pleased with myself for doing the proper British thing. Until my bus pulled away. At which point I discovered that people getting on that bus got out of the line to board the bus while the others moved forward to wait for a different bus. I had missed my bus even though I was standing there! I was furious and near tears. The next bus wasn’t due for half an hour. By the time I got to Littlemore, I’d only have ten minutes!

But I’ve loved Newman for years, so I stayed in line, trying very hard not to hate my stupid self. When my bus finally came, 30 agonizing minutes later, the old lady in front of me told the driver she was getting off at Catholic Church, Littlemore. Generally, I try to take care of myself, but after the afternoon I’d had, I wasn’t above asking for help. I had to endure some awkward racist comments1 but she pointed the way and I was off for a few minutes with Newman!

Except the door was locked.

Me with a bust of John Henry Newman. At his house. In the room where he was received into the Church. Across from the desk where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
Me with a bust of John Henry Newman. At his house. In the room where he was received into the Church. Across from the desk where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

But Ivy hadn’t left me yet. She and her friend Ruby were waiting at the corner to see if I’d gotten where I needed to go. And when it was clear I hadn’t, Ruby took me around to every door—even behind gates I would never have opened—until someone answered. Turns out the place had been closed all day. But since Ruby knew the community running it, I got a private tour of Newman’s library (the room where he was received into the Church) and bedroom and chapel. How marvelous!

If I hadn’t been lost, if I hadn’t missed my bus, if I hadn’t been so frustrated that I caved and asked for help, I never would have gotten in. Every single stupid, frustrating thing of my day was leading toward this. Everything I was so upset about, angry and lamenting my terrible life, was making such a beautiful afternoon possible.

God isn’t just in the big things. He’s in the small things, too. Maybe God isn’t protecting you from riot police. Maybe he’s just getting you a little lost or making you miss your bus. Or maybe he’s putting Ruby on the bus you’ll be on. Somehow he’s working, in big things and small. Especially in small.

It’s easy to tell the stories of how all the bad things were leading to a good thing that ties up all the loose ends and makes for a pleasant resolution. I tell those because I know the happy endings. But there are other upsetting stories whose happy endings I don’t know. The traffic jam that kept you out of a car accident. The broken bulb that sent you to the store where you walked by an old man and reminded him to call his daughter. The bad grade that made you stop at the library where you checked out a book that was then at the top of the pile where someone who needed it could see it.

One day, we’ll know all the happy endings. One day, we’ll know the only happy ending that matters. Until then, I’ll keep trying to trust the Author that the plot twists are working to resolve something, in my storyline or another.

Oh, and by the end of the day, strangers had given me 30 pounds. They probably would have anyway, but I wouldn’t have seen the hand of God in it so well if it hadn’t been exactly the amount whose loss I was lamenting. Glory be to the God of small things.

With the lamp post that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia. I almost died.
With the lamp post that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia. I almost died.
  1. When a Muslim lady got on the bus: “There’s too many foreigners here now.” “Well, I’m a foreigner.” “Oh, no you’re not dear. I mean those Muslims.” “I love her scarf. Isn’t that pretty?” I mean, how do you correct the racist remarks of an old British lady who’s doing you a favor? I just changed the subject. []

God’s Triumph over Turkey

I’m a planner. I’ve always been one to plan out my day, to plan out a trip, to plan out my life.1 And if you’ve been following this ridiculous life of mine for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that God doesn’t like this controlling tendency of mine. He’s spent years teaching me to trust him, to let him be God. He’s changed my five year plan more times than I can remember, pulled the rug out from under me when it comes to daily plans, and established me in a life where I regularly wake up in the morning unsure what state I’ll be in when I go to bed. And I’ve been learning to roll with it. After all, he keeps providing for me, so at a certain point it seems a little silly not to trust him.

Last Tuesday, he gave me a pretty intense opportunity to trust. On my way to Manchester to begin my evangelizing tour of Europe, I was stopping through Istanbul. Turkish Airlines has this great deal where they’ll give you a long layover in Istanbul and a free hotel room while you’re there. I was thrilled by the opportunity to see one of the world’s great cities, albeit briefly, so I jumped at the chance. I booked the ticket and waited for information on the hotel. When I got none, I called the airline. “Oh, when you get to Istanbul they’ll give you a room.” “Can you check my itinerary and see if I qualify?” “Oh, yes, you’ll be fine.”

Well, I didn’t love the idea of going to a country where I know nobody and can’t speak a word of the language without even an idea of where I would sleep, but I figured it would all work out. After all, they’d told me I’d have a room, right?

You can see where this is going.

A blurry picture of me setting out in DC. I'm really proud of fitting 6 weeks worth of winter clothes into a carry-on suitcase.
A blurry picture of me setting out in DC. I’m really proud of fitting 6 weeks worth of winter clothes into a carry-on suitcase.

After a long (and very pleasant) flight in from DC, I rushed through the Istanbul airport, making it through customs and immigration, finding someone to direct me further, and finally stumbling across the Hotel Desk to be told that I couldn’t have a room. Turns out my flight out of Istanbul left too late for me to take advantage of the offer.

I gave the desk clerk a very disappointed look (which I’m sure he was entirely unaffected by) and walked off to freak out. Yes, I have enough money for a hotel room but I have no internet, so I’m sure to be cheated. And if I spend all that time finding a hotel, I won’t make it to Mass.

Then I stopped.

Last Tuesday was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The feast of the miraculous triumph of Christendom over the Turk. Here I was, in trouble in Turkey on Our Lady of the Rosary. What on earth did I have to worry about?

I’ll go to Mass, I thought. That’s really what matters. And God will take care of me from there. Don’t be too impressed–I had several occasions in Israel where I had nowhere to stay so I went to the church to see about Mass times and found a hostel or a friend from the US or a guest house. It stood to reason that the same thing would happen here.

Peaceful enough to stop and take some selfies with Turkish flags in the background.
Peaceful enough to stop and take some selfies with Turkish flags in the background.

I was astonishingly peaceful. Really, I kept remarking on how powerful the peace of the Spirit is and how far God has brought me. I’m not spontaneous and easy-going by nature, but I felt such a reassurance that God who is sovereign over death, who was sovereign over Lepanto, who is sovereign over creation and salvation and everything in between was also sovereign over my travel plans.

What’s the worst that can happen? I asked myself. This confusion isn’t going to get me sent to hell, which is the only thing that should ever really frighten me. And while I’d rather not be assaulted or have to spend the night on a park bench, I probably wont and I trust that God will be sovereign in whatever happens. Forget the hotel question, I’m going to Mass.

I got on the bus into the city center and got off, following the directions a friend from Turkey had emailed me. I’d spent the evening before trying to download maps I could use offline but to no avail. Standing at the bus stop, confused by the directions I had, I pulled out my phone out of habit and discovered that I had access to nothing—no data, no wireless, no cell signal, not even the correct time—except a map of the area with GPS telling me exactly where I was and a star I’d put on the map telling me where to go. So I went to Mass.

Once I got here, I knew I was okay. Nothing makes any church feel like home like not having a home of your own.
Once I got here, I knew I was okay. Nothing makes any church feel like home like not having a home of your own.

When I got to church, the young gentleman next to me introduced himself and asked how long I was in town. Before I’d been in the chapel 5 minutes, I had an advocate who’d promised to help me find someplace to stay. After Mass (which was in Turkish, so I’m now at 12 languages I’ve been to Mass in) another young man approached to say he worked at a hotel and he could help me, too. But I felt like God wanted me to ask the Church for help. So I approached a Sister and asked her in rusty French if there was a Christian guesthouse or Benedictine monastery nearby. She lived at the hospital, she said, and couldn’t do anything. Father was put off that I hadn’t asked earlier, not understanding that I was only in town for 20 hours. But I explained a little better and dropped the name of a friar I thought we both knew and before I knew it he was on the phone with a community of Italian sisters. “Follow me,” he said, dismissing my guardians.

As I rushed after Father, he explained that there were protests in the streets outside the church. “They may throw gas bombs,” he said. “Can you run?”

Protests. Police in riot gear with gas masks hanging around their necks. Angry-looking Turks shouting something I couldn’t understand.2 But it was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. What was there to be afraid of?

We pushed through crowds, our path occasionally blocked by heavily-armed cops. We scurried across a wide divide between a menacing mob and determined riot police. Finally, we turned onto an empty street and Father slowed down, turning to me. “We’re safe now.”

Of course we are, I thought. We always were.

Look! Something pretty! Taken from the window of the bus.
Look! Something pretty! Taken from the window of the bus.

There followed an introduction to the sisters who had offered to open their home at the last minute and an hour of awkward conversation where I made the best use I could of my college Italian. “Why are you Catholic?” one of them asked me, and I gave my testimony in a language I kind of spoke a decade ago. As always, I felt bad to be imposing on them. As expected, they were happy to help. Finally, I got a good night’s sleep and headed back to the airport in the morning, having seen none of the great sights but also having avoided being caught in a riot or stuck sleeping outdoors. All in all, far worse than I expected my visit to Istanbul to be, but also far better.

For all my life is lived in the hands of Providence, I’m not great at trusting God. Sure, I know he’s going to take care of me ultimately, but I get mad when he doesn’t do it the way I want. I’m anxious when faced with the unknown not because I’m afraid but because I’m obsessed with having my way, with things going perfectly. And God just keeps showing me that my way isn’t perfect. If I’d had a hotel to go back to, I still would have gone to Mass at St. Anthony’s. But then I would have had to navigate an angry mob and a foreign police force on high alert on my own. After dark. Without any idea where I was going. Thanks, I’ll take the uncertainty of having no hotel over that.

Here’s the thing: I’m nothing special. Sure, I may have more opportunities to see God stepping in dramatically, but he doesn’t do it any more for me than he does for you.3 Maybe he’s not going to have a chance to give you a place to stay in Istanbul, but he’s working in your life. He’s leading you to new relationships or away from dangerous situations. He’s offering you peace in turmoil and liberation from bondage. I’m not saying everything that happens to you will be pleasant if you trust God. This is not the Osteen Gospel of “Love God and he’ll give you a BMW.” All I’m saying is that if you try every day to trust God there’s peace even in the midst of disaster. There’s an ability to live in the knowledge of who God is even when you don’t know what he’s doing. It gives you hope when the world would tell you to despair and joy when there seems no cause. I’m not good at it yet but last week God gave me a taste of what it means to trust him. And that time things worked out. Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough to trust him and then find things going disastrously wrong. Even then, my head knows the truth, whatever my heart may say: “Though he slay me, still will I trust in him.”4

At least the trip wasn't a total loss....
At least the trip wasn’t a total loss….
  1. Ask me how many kids I’m supposed to have by now…. []
  2. The only Turkish I know is “Thank you” and they certainly weren’t saying that. []
  3. Although I am fairly imprudent, so I may need more rescuing than most. []
  4. Job 13:15 []

Two Years In

Well, friends, it’s been two years as a hobo. Two years since I last put my clothes in a drawer. Two years of taking a deep breath before answering the questions “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” Two years of planning a year from now with no idea where I’m going tomorrow. Two years, 49 states,1 two foreign countries,2 60,000 miles on my car. I’ve stayed in 42 states, spoken in 31 (50 dioceses), and been to Mass in 42 (90 dioceses), including 25 cathedrals. Like my first hobo year, this last has been eventful–almost frantically so at times.

2 year map
Stalk me more here.

In two years, I’ve ministered to thousands of God’s people, ages 1-97. I’ve played with hundreds of children, reunited with long-lost family members, and made friends of countless strangers. I’ve answered the same questions more times than I can count and been privileged to share my heart with many people who are struggling. I’ve talked Jesus on street corners, in airplanes, in Dairy Queen, at gas stations, in Catholic churches, in Protestant churches, on the boardwalk, in a country club, on the sharing rug, on the auditorium stage, via email/Twitter/Facebook, around the dinner table, in the middle of the night, in a party barn at an SEC frat house, at retreat centers, in parking lots, in grocery stores, and most everywhere else you can imagine. I’ve been ridiculed and accused and praised and welcomed and ignored–all about par for the course if you’re a missionary (which you are).

So what have I learned? Aside from what I’ve been sharing with you along the way, that is. What truths has the Lord been speaking to my heart over these past two years? Dozens, surely, but two in particular keep resurfacing.

1. I am enough…

I never realized it, but I’ve always thought of friendship as a sort of zero sum game. I’m happy to be the one who’s always giving, but I’m terrified of being needy. I’ve always assumed that people were just friends with me because they were being generous, so I’ve needed to earn their love.3 So I dispense wisdom or collaborate in ministry or just listen well and then I’ve done my part and they won’t mind being friends with me. I hope it’s not news to you that this isn’t love.

When I first started as a hobo, God made me entirely needy. I had nothing to offer. I wasn’t speaking anywhere, wasn’t serving the Church in any visible way. People weren’t inviting me to their homes to stay while I ministered to their community; I was inviting myself. And when I got there, to the homes of dear friends, I felt the need to earn my keep. I washed dishes and babysat, but more than that I just sat around feeling guilty, convinced that I was imposing on the generous nature of my virtuous friends and that they were secretly resenting me for it. It’s a terrible thing to think about the people you love, but it’s more a judgment on what I tend to think of myself than on what I believe about them. Staying uninvited with people who didn’t need me made me terribly anxious.

See? My godson can't get enough of me. He's thrilled, I tell you.
See? My godson can’t get enough of me. He’s thrilled, I tell you. Thrilled.

But every time I moved on, they asked me to stay. Every single time. At every home, I heard, “Don’t go. We’ll move the kids into a room together so you can have the girls’ room. Just stay another week. No, move in! We have room. We want you here.” Everyone wanted me–not because of what I was doing for them, but simply because of who I was.

And God spoke so loudly to my heart, “You are enough. You don’t have to do anything. You are enough.” I think I’ll spend the rest of my life learning this, but God keeps showing me4 that all my anxiety and self-loathing are the product of lies. I am beautiful. I am enough.

2. …because he is everything.

I’m not enough because of who I am, but because of who he is in me. He gives me direction, leads people to open their homes and their hearts to me. He speaks in me and through me. Anything worthwhile I’ve ever said was either the Holy Spirit in me or me quoting someone else he’s spoken to. It’s not me. He helps me to love the unlovable, to ache with those whose suffering was entirely avoidable. He gives me patience and joy and empathy and wisdom. And when I mess up, it’s because I’m not letting him be God.

    Walk up for the puppy, stay for the prayers. I think Don Bosco would approve.
Walk up for the puppy, stay for the prayers. I think Don Bosco would approve.

The talks I’ve given so often that they end up being almost identical always go over pretty well. But the ones where I start talking about things I’ve never thought about before, the ones where the Holy Spirit really takes control, those are the ones that leave people changed. There was the day I went into a day-long retreat with three lines of notes and afterwards had to reassure the participants that I hadn’t gotten confidential information about them to focus my talks around. There was the flight where I got moved to the front of the plane, then had to switch seats again, then felt compelled to start a conversation with the couple beside me5 only to discover that they had fallen away from the faith and were longing for someone to draw them back. There was the time I felt I had to wear my “I’m a Catholic, ask me a question” shirt to daily Mass and was approached by a Protestant from Northern Ireland for a 3-hour conversation. The young man on the quad who God led me to give some cash to. The guy who talked to me and prayed over me because I happened to have pulled over in front of his house to make a phone call. Providence.

People tend to write me off, to think that the way I live is something out of the ordinary and irrelevant to their lives. “It’s amazing how you let God have control of your life,” they tell me, as though they’re not called to the same thing. “Oh, he’s in charge of all of our lives,” I sometimes respond. “The only difference is that I know it.”

Sure, I’m more obviously dependent on God for daily needs, but he’s providing for you as directly as he’s providing for me. The message I’ve been getting these past two years–the repeated assurance from the Almighty: “I’ve got this”–isn’t just for me. He’s not finding me places to stay and leading me to generous mechanics and sending me to Europe simply because he’s particularly fond of me6 but to remind me that he is God. He knows the hairs on my head, he watches the sparrow, he cares about how many Levites were under the age of 5 at the time of the census, and he provides exceedingly and abundantly, more than all we can ask or imagine.7

He’s got this. He’s working through your diagnosis or your breakup or your failure or your bankruptcy. He’s working all things for good.8 He loves you too much to give you everything you want or even everything you feel you need. But he is always, always taking care of you. Trust him.

God keeps leading me into danger and uncertainty just so he can swoop in and save me. It’s getting to where I almost don’t worry anymore. Almost. But at least in the midst of my worry I know I’m being dumb. Because my God is so good and so much bigger than anything I may face. He’s got this.


Basically, the lesson I’ve learned is that God loves me. And if I ever really believe it, I’ll be a saint. Until then, I’ll keep trying. And failing. And falling on my knees in the confessional and before the Blessed Sacrament to let him heal me once again. And I’ll keep driving. See you around!

  1. Come on, Alaska! []
  2. More to come! []
  3. I know this isn’t true, but I have to remind myself every time I begin to feel this way. []
  4. Often by having me show up at the very last minute at a stranger’s house to stay without anything to accomplish. []
  5. Something I rarely do. I always want to talk to everyone, but I assume people don’t want to talk to me. See above. []
  6. Though he is. []
  7. Eph 3:20 []
  8. Rom 8:28 []

Only God Matters

I'm pretty tough.
I’m pretty tough.

I do a lot of things that look scary on paper: traveling to Palestine and Bosnia, showing up at strangers’ houses to spend the night, sharing my brokenness with the world at large. But there is nothing that scares me more than telling teenage girls that leggings are not pants.1

Now it’s true that leggings aren’t pants. I know it’s true because godly young men have given me a round of applause when I’ve said this and others have glared at me like I canceled Christmas. I know it’s true because while women may have stopped noticing the half-clad hordes surrounding them, the men I’ve asked have not, much though they might wish they could.2

leggings not pantsI know it’s true. And yet I’m terrified. If I tell them, they’ll hate me. They’ll get so angry and stop listening and tell everybody I’m an awful person. And so (on this as on so many topics) I keep my mouth shut to preserve their opinions of me. Or I say what needs to be said and feel miserable about it, obsessing over how people might feel about me.

I do a lot of that: having irrational emotions about other people’s opinions. I was born with a lot of feelings–big feelings–and I’ve been trying to chill out ever since.

Growing up with big feelings, you develop a lot of coping mechanisms. You learn to talk yourself down from irrational shame and self-loathing, to breathe deeply and process and occasionally to drive to the middle of nowhere, pull over, and scream and sob till you’re spent. When you’re the kind of girl who once burst into tears and stormed out of a room because a friend asked what you were making for dinner, the kind of girl whose college application essay was about what you do to calm down when you’re miserable, you spend a lot of time honing these skills.

It gets to be a habit. “It doesn’t matter that I sounded like an idiot in that comment,” you say, “because nobody there knows who I am anyway.” “It doesn’t matter because probably nobody noticed when I said that.” “It doesn’t matter because they’ve already forgotten about it.” “It doesn’t matter because if you think about it this way, I was right.”

I was proceeding through this litany a while back, using reason and logic to remind myself that probably nobody hates me and even if they do they don’t know me and I’ll never see them again, when God intervened.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “because only I matter.”

“Yes, right. And also, that guy clearly misunderstood me. And really, it doesn’t matter because everybody else—”

“It doesn’t matter because only I matter.”

“Well, yes, of course, but also it was a long day and so what if I misspoke? It doesn’t matter because she—“

“It doesn’t matter. Because only I matter.

Now I don’t generally hear the voice of God when I pray. Some people do and that’s awesome, but I’m not one of those people. Not audibly, anyway. But there are times when I know exactly what he’s saying.

rest in God“It doesn’t matter because only I matter.”

The coping mechanisms I developed when I was an emotional adolescent wreck were terribly helpful. But I’m less emotional, less adolescent, and less of a wreck now. I’m still far more emotional than most people I know, but I’ve learned to let God use that for the good. Most of the time. And yet here I am, still trying to find peace in who I am instead of looking to who he is.

I spend so much time wondering if I’m pleasing other people. I’ve always been a people-pleaser. “Peggy the Peacemaker,” they used to call me,3 not because I wanted people to get along but because I wanted them to admire me. And now I wonder if I looked okay, if I offended anyone,4 if I was clever enough, if I was boring. I want so much to please people when all that matters is being pleasing to God.

be still my soulI justify it by claiming that I have to be likable to be an effective witness, but it’s not true. I just have to be who God made me to be. It doesn’t matter what people think as long as I’m being faithful. It doesn’t matter because only God matters.

A lot of what I write here I write because I’m trying to convince myself, not because I think I’ve arrived. So when I tell you that only God matters, I’m not saying it as a saint but as a sinner who’s been convicted. I keep worrying and caring and over-analyzing, but each time it’s interrupted: only God matters. I’m trying to let being his be enough.

Love others. Serve others. Live for others. But not for their approval. That doesn’t matter. Only God matters.

The inimitable Rozann Carter knows exactly what I mean. Read more here.
The inimitable Rozann Carter knows exactly what I mean. Read more here.

And pray for me: I’ve got some people to offend.

  1. I’m not judging you, it’s not your fault, you didn’t know, please don’t hate me! []
  2. One of these days I’ll give you my thoughts on modesty. Until then, Lauren said it well. []
  3. Back in the day when I went by Peggy, which is short for Margaret, just like Meg is. And just because you didn’t know that doesn’t mean it’s not true. People are always trying to tell me Meg isn’t a nickname for Margaret and I’m all “THOMAS MORE’S DAUGHTER WAS NAMED MARGARET AND HE CALLED HER MEG AND HE’S A SAINT!!!” Because I want them to know I’m right. Because I care too much what they think about me. And now we’re back to the topic at hand. []
  4. Which I usually have. []

Big Ugly Buts

When people ask me how I got started with this hobo thing, the heart of it goes like this: I knew I needed to quit my teaching job and a priest friend said to me, “You’re good at public speaking and you’ve wanted to do more of that.” “Father,” I guffawed, “you can’t just quit life and be a public speaker!” And then I took it to prayer. And God said, “Tell me why not.”

I do a lot of reasoning with God. I tell him why it’s a bad idea for me to do something hard, how it’s really going to make me less holy, how I’m not going to be effective. I keep throwing up objections, like he hadn’t already thought of them. Turns out I’m in good company. Moses was much the same.

burning bushGrab your Bibles, friends, and flip to Exodus 3.1 Moses’ first encounter with the living God is no laughing matter: a bush that’s on fire but not consumed. God demonstrates his power by doing something that’s impossible, using something frail for his glory without destroying it, and then tells Moses he’s going to do the same through him:

“Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (3:10)

A disembodied voice from a miraculous vision. And Moses’ reaction?


That’s right. Moses objects.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)

The minute he’s called by God to do something great, Moses starts thinking about himself. He’s unworthy, he thinks, and so he corrects God.

“I’ve been feeling like I need to teach Sunday School, but I don’t know enough to teach anybody.” “I know I need to go to confession, but I’m just going to mess up again.” “They begged me to join the choir, but I can’t sing in front of people!” “I can’t be called to the priesthood, not with a past like mine.”

“I’m unworthy!” we cry. The problem is, it’s not about you.

God answered, “I will be with you.” (3:12)

“Who am I?” you ask? Nobody. It’s who God is that matters. And if he’s calling you, it’s because he’s going to use you. Even in your brokenness.


“But,” said Moses to God, “when I go to the Israelites…if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” (3:13)

But I’m ignorant. I don’t know enough. I can’t evangelize–I don’t have all the answers! I can’t encourage people to be holy–they’ll see through me!

God replied, “I am who am…. This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (3:14)

Jesus said it best: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”2 Yes, you’re ignorant. We all are. But he has all the answers. More than that, he is the answer. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can be inadequate. His grace is enough.3

God gives Moses all kinds of explanation and defense and even a detailed plan for fame and riches and a life of ease.


“But,” objected Moses, “Suppose they will not believe me, nor listen to my plea?” (4:1)

successful-faithfulWhat if they reject me? What if they hate me? What if I’m a failure? God can’t be asking me to risk that–there’s got to be something more comfortable I can do.

This time God gives Moses miraculous proof–a staff turning into a snake and back again, a leprous hand, water turning into blood. He shows Moses once again that he’s in control. “I’ve got this,” he says to Moses and to us. “Just follow. Remember that I’m a God of miracles and just follow.”

Moses, however, said to the Lord, “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent.” (4:10)

Good one–let’s fall back on humility. Figure out all the things that are wrong with you, all the things that keep you from praying or serving or witnessing like you should. Make a list and put it before God. “You see? I don’t have to do your will. Because I can’t.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” (4:11-12)

call the qualifiedOver and over he tells Moses, “It’s not about you.” God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. So while grace builds on nature, it can do a lot more with a lot less than we think. If God is calling you to tithe or put your kids in Catholic school or discern religious life or stop using contraception or go to daily Mass, he will make it possible. You’ll be given what you need–extra time or prudence in spending money or trust in his providence or talent or virtue or whatever. You are already enough in him. Stop grasping at straws for why you “can’t” do what he’s asking of you.

Finally, Moses does just that. He stops making excuses and just refuses.

“Please, Lord, send someone else.” (4:13)

Through all the objections, God kept promising, kept explaining, kept showing Moses how he was enough because God was enough. He kept telling Moses that the Great I AM wouldn’t call him without preparing him first. He kept asking Moses to trust. When Moses stops negotiating (with a booming voice from heaven) and just says no, God gets a little miffed. (4:14) This is when God tells him that he already knew his concerns and his shortcomings, that he already took care of them.

“Have you not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he is an eloquent speaker. Besides, he is now on his way to meet you.” (4:14)

See that? All that time God was trying to convince Moses to follow, it was because God knew what he was doing. He didn’t tell Moses at first because he wanted Moses to trust him for who he was, not for what he had done. But his call was perfect, even down to the backup plan that was already in motion when he first called Moses. Aaron was already on his way to support Moses before Moses even started doubting his adequacy to the task.

I’ve heard these called “big ugly buts”–objections to God’s will that stand in the way of our following him. They’re rational and prudent and completely self-serving. They’re natural and faithless. They ignore the fact that God knows you, that he loves you, that he wants what’s best for you, and that he does the impossible every day.

Set the world ablaze Catherine SienaI’d be willing to bet there’s something in your life right now that you know God’s putting before you. Something that’s nagging at you: a job you need to quit, a donation you need to make, an enemy you need to forgive, a sin you need to forsake. You were made for greatness but most of us are pretty mediocre. Moses was pretty mediocre–until he became the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Peter was pretty mediocre–until he became the first pope. David and Esther and Augustine and Teresa were all pretty mediocre until they decided to get off their big ugly buts and start being who were made to be.

No, you’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough or holy enough or loving enough to set the world ablaze. Fortunately, it’s not about you. If God is calling you to some service or prayer or sacrifice, it’s because he’s going to do great things in and through you. You may not see how–or why–but you’ve seen him work again and again in your life. Stop wondering what he’s going to do and trust in who he is. Trust. Follow. Even when you don’t know where he’s leading. Because you may have to walk through the Red Sea and a whole lot of desert, but eventually you’ll get to the Promised Land. Get off your big ugly but and go.

  1. Dust it off. I’ll wait. I’m not kidding–get your Bible and a pencil and start marking that thing up. []
  2. Lk 21:15 []
  3. 2 Cor 12:9 []

The Parable of the Parking Ticket

Tightwad GazetteI was raised cheap. I mean it–my mother had a subscription to The Tightwad Gazette, which sounds like a joke, but it was a real newsletter. Don’t worry, though; she got her subscription free. I was checking unit pricing before most kids even knew that different coins have different values. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful that I was taught to live frugally.1 When you’re a hobo, a taste for the finer things in life can really mess with your bottom line.

One problem with being such a natural cheapskate is that unforeseen expenses really shake me. Even if I have the money, having to shell out for something I wasn’t anticipating stresses me out more than anything.2 I get tense and anxious and feel almost guilty. It’s a little bit ridiculous.

So you can imagine what parking tickets do to me. Especially parking tickets a week after I had to get all new tires and rims.3

My new BFF Nicole came with me. I say she's my new BFF because I met her once and she decided to book me to speak at her church and at a youth conference and then she took me to the beach and helped me make signs and took me to In-n-Out and is basically awesome.
My new BFF Nicole came evangelizing with me. I say she’s my new BFF because I met her once and she decided to book me to speak at her church and at a youth conference and then she took me to the beach and helped me make signs and took me to In-n-Out and is basically awesome.

After a lovely afternoon evangelizing the Santa Monica Pier, I came back to the miserable sight of a slip of paper under my windshield wiper. And despite my disbelief, there was, in fact, a sign 10 feet behind my car that pointed out two different parking rules I was breaking. So I couldn’t even be outraged. Sigh.

I tried to be okay with it, despite the large price tag attached to my complete failure to check for restrictions. I tried to tell myself that it’s not that much money, that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, that I should never let anything rob me of my joy, blah, blah, blah.

But what I really needed was prayer. Fortunately, I was headed (after sitting in traffic for an hour and a half) to see Jesus. And it’s a good thing, too, because he had quite a lot to say to me.

You know how I do that read-the-Bible-in-a-year thing? Are you doing it with me? Because here’s the first thing I read, sitting tense and frustrated in the Church courtyard:

“You also are now in anguish. But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from you.” (John 16:22)

Double sigh. Yeah, I get it. The stupid parking ticket doesn’t matter. What matters is Christ and rejoicing in him and getting to heaven one day and whatever.

Then I saw that I had drawn in an asterisk and written a note in the margin:

Easter joy

Can you read that? It says “Don’t let anything rob you of Easter joy.” Okay, fine. Got it. Still joyful even though I was a moron and got that stupid ticket.

But God, apparently, wasn’t okay with my pretense of peace. Reading to the end of the chapter, I saw this:

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage: I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

I’d been sitting there worrying–unnecessarily because God and his people are so generous and even on a natural level I have nothing to worry about–about how I have to pay this ticket and I don’t have the money for it (which I do) and I’m not going to make any more money (which I will) and what am I going to do? Now, I know rationally that this ticket is not a huge deal, but I was feeling so anxious and I had to have something to feel anxious about, so apparently I decided on this. And God told me, very clearly, that he’s got this. That I might run into some financial issues but it’s never going to be a problem, just like it’s never been a problem in the past. Not a problem he can’t handle, anyway.

Okay, I thought, I get it. Really, this time. There’s no earthly reason for me to be so stressed about this and every heavenly reason for me not to be. Jesus, I trust in you. We’re good.

But God in his mercy (and maybe in his irony) wasn’t finished with me yet. Turn with me to the proverb on my schedule for today:

“It is the Lord’s blessing that brings wealth and no effort can substitute for it.” (Proverbs 10:22)

I put this neat filter on the picture so it would look as ominous as it did to me this afternoon. Clever, huh?
I put this neat filter on the picture so it would look as ominous as it did to me this afternoon. Clever, huh?

Friends, I can’t make these things up! I literally flipped to a passage that told me specifically that all the money I have comes from God and I have no business freaking out about it. Because being as cheap as I am isn’t about prudence, it’s about control. And, as in all things, I am not in control. Everything I have comes from the hand of the Lord. He’s always reminding me of this, although he’s usually a little subtler about it. But a hard head like mine doesn’t respond well to subtle. Give me a parking ticket, though, and I sit up and take notice.

So I guess my point is one I’ve made often before (and clearly ignored in my own life): trust God. Even when there’s money involved. Even when the mess you’re in is your own stupid fault. Even when it just seems like one thing after another after another. And especially when he smacks you upside the head with your Bible. Because today’s “catastrophe” won’t look like much in a few weeks. And today’s actual disaster won’t look like much from the other side of your judgment. But the love of God, his providence, his sacrifice for you? Nothing will take that joy from you. Take courage; he has conquered the world. And its parking tickets.


P.S. I haven’t forgotten about that divinity of Christ series. It’s just that things keep happening that I want to tell you guys about!

  1. Really. Thanks, Mama! []
  2. Except running through the airport knowing I’m going to miss my flight. That is the worst! []
  3. Speaking of which, anyone looking for a set of used Mazda3 rims? 3 in good condition. The other was the occasion of the aforementioned ridiculous expenditure…. []