I’ve had some of my friends worried this week. I write this post for them as much as anyone.
They were concerned after seeing some public writings about me — on social media and in the paper. Because they know me, and my heart, they wondered how I was holding up under the pressure. I hope that in sharing some of the back story, they’ll rest assured that all is truly well. I’m still a little surprised myself, but then again, when you walk with God, anything is possible, as I’ve learned, even feeling total peace in the midst of standing in a ring of fire.
The whole thing began accelerating on Friday. I’d responded publicly to a local television news story, which I’d learned about through some frustrated friends. Though I’d already written and submitted my weekly column, their concern seemed to merit a response of some kind. And so I wrote one (here).
The moment I learned that newspaper column would be swapped with one I’d submitted earlier, and posted online within an hour or two, I was at a morning Mass with a hoard of 8th graders, preparing spiritually to do an 11-mile pilgrimage.
I knew that my being bold could produce some public backlash. But I was in a good place to ponder all this, and in a good stance – on my knees in prayer. And so bowing there, surrounded by a community of faith, I offered to God whatever might come. “I offer it to you, Lord, whatever suffering might come, and whatever blessing. Use me, and protect me. Jesus, I trust in You.”
Soon, we were off on our walking journey south. This included stops at several churches, and a brief pause at our state’s only abortion facility. This wasn’t in the original plans but the students insisted we go there, and I was glad we did. I knew that praying in that very spot where things can become so heated would bring an added layer of protection to my soul, and encourage those praying there for the 40 Days for Life campaign. Their faces did light up when we arrived.
It also included time before the Blessed Sacrament — what refreshment. I could feel myself absorbing here the graces that God knew I’d need.
My final stop was with the students at Church of the Nativity. Here, I was able to pause a final time before the Lord and ask for his blessing before leaving for home, where my suitcase and other weekend belongings awaited. The students continued onward for the second half of their pilgrimage and I left to pick up my friend Madonna, my traveling companion for the next several days.
Destination: Round Hill/Camp Angelus, a spot of heaven, really, near Durand, Wis., where I’d been invited to speak at a fundraiser. Traipsing through town earlier, I reveled in the sound of crunching leaves below our feet, and had a feeling we might see a few more of the same out on the road, and indeed we did. Since I drove most of the time, I only caught a few images, but here’s a peek of the roadside scenery.
On our way there, things started happening. It seemed like every time we stopped for a bathroom break or snack, another email whooshed in. One was filled with pure hate. A few contained criticisms from my colleagues. I couldn’t really even process it all, but it was nice to have a friend along to begin.
Despite realizing the possible trouble ahead, however, the peace that I’d gathered up at the stops along the pilgrimage seemed to be having an effect. We arrived at Camp Angelus at Round Hill in pitch black, and after being welcomed to our temporary abode…
My head happily hit the pillow.
I slept well, and in the morning, peeking out of the window…Wow!!! I’d awoken to what I at first thought was a lake within my immediate gaze, but I soon realized it was moving like a…well, a river. Indeed, it was the Chippewa rolling happily along, very close to the guest house. What an amazing sight!
I breathed it all in with pure delight…
Throughout the day, I had to keep pinching myself over God’s consolation. Walking the grounds of this spectacular haven, where I would be speaking in a barn that evening, gave me the feeling of being sheltered in his cloak of love.
And even more, I got to experience it all with a friend.
And with new friends.
And at some point I realized that beginning with the stops along the pilgrimage, and now the grounds of Round Hill, my spirit had been filling up with grace. And now, I was thoroughly saturated.
The evening went off without a hitch, thanks in part I’m sure to St. Therese, whose feast we were celebrating.
As I gave my talk on “Discovering Mercy,” I was renewed in Jesus’ Gospel message to love even those who might not have merited it, or be willing or able to reciprocate — kind of like the way God loves us most of the time. I felt grateful for the chance to be part of an event for such a special and gracious community; a community that has poured its sweat and tears into a project meant to bring people of faith together and praise God for his beautiful provisions.
Madonna and I spent our last night in the guest house having a pillow fight! Well, okay, not really. I’d suggested it, but we behaved ourselves, instead sharing many thoughts over glasses of orange juice, and planning our morning route back home.
When daylight first broke, once again, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Such a different scenario than the previous morning, yet stunning in its own way. The fog skirted gently along the surface of the Chippewa River like the breath of God.
And yet, soon enough, the sun came back and burned off the fog.
Madonna and I mused about how these contrasting scenes were so much like the spiritual life. At times, we see everything so crisply, with such color and beauty.
Other times, the fog rolls in and we can’t see beyond our noses.
But through all of that, God is there, in every moment of every day. And when we embrace our cross and surrender it all to him, he finds ways to fill us up and ready us for whatever sphere he wants to place us in for his purposes.
My time at Round Hill — as well as the pilgrimage that preceded it — was like filling up at a gas station; not on fuel but on an abundance of grace. This prepared me to meet the challenge of finding this berating letter to the editor that was waiting for me on Monday. And it helped me receive, in gratitude, the public words of another, a true warrior-hero, on Tuesday. And it has kept me peaceful as I’ve moved along through the week, my heart prepared for whatever is next.
Whatever you bring me, Lord, whether suffering or blessing, I offer all to you, for your divine and perfect purposes.
Q4U: What has served as your filling station of late?