#Lent2018: To Re-spond or De-spond?

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280-193x300Two weeks ago I mentioned a book I’m reading, Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, by Nicole M. Roccas. As I continue reading, I’m impressed with the timeliness of reading this book during Great Lent, which begins today for Orthodox Christians. Yes, today is “Clean Monday,” and the journey to Pascha (Orthodox Easter) actually began last night with Forgiveness Vespers in Orthodox churches all over the world. (For reminders about Clean Monday, check out my post from 2016, “Gifts From the Sea on Clean Monday,” and from my old blog, ten years ago: “Forgiveness Sunday and Kites on Clean Monday.”)

This morning as I continue reading Nicole’s book, Time and Despondency, I’m especially struck by the crucial place despondency plays in our Lenten journey. From her chapter, “Time and Despondency”:

TO RESPOND OR DESPOND?

As pointed out earlier, acedia—the Greek term for despondency favored by the theologians of late antiquity—connotes the absence of care. In regard to time, however, despondency also manifests itself as a lack of responsiveness. Actualized time consists of re-sponding, unfulfilled time of de-sponding. Both words—respond and despond—contain the Latin verb spondere: ‘to pledge, promise, or guarantee.’ To re-spond literally means to make a fresh promise. When we respond to God’s love, we are essentially re-promising, re-giving ourselves—offering back to God what was given to us….

On the other hand, to de-spond means to lower or cancel a promise. It implies an absence of, or movement downward from, promise. And when we move away from response, when we descend from the opportunity to offer ourselves back to God—who is substance and fullness—our only option is emptiness. Death.

I read these words several times this morning, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten the eyes of my heart so that I could see what God was trying to say to me on this, the first day of Great Lent. I often dread Lent, rather than looking forward to this season with its greater number of (longer) church services and its stricter fasting program. But this year I feel a shimmer of hope—and the possibility of responding to the gifts God has for me during this season, rather than desponding, as I often do.

respond-to-gods-light

 

Having recently met with my father confessor for help with this next leg of my spiritual journey, I was given advice for embracing the fast in ways that encourage me to respond, rather than to despond. And as my husband—an Orthodox priest—blessed our home yesterday afternoon with prayers and the sprinkling of holy water on the walls in every room of our house while my Goddaughter Katherine, visiting from Gulfport, and I walked with him throughout the house chanting the verses for the house blessing, I felt my soul responding to this annual tradition with hope. Yes, I have hope that this next year, and especially this Lenten season, will be filled with blessings as I learn to respond to God’s love in ways that will affect my relationship with others and my struggles with my personal demons.

And so I say bring on the fast and the longer, more frequent church services with the darker vestments and minor key music. This year I hope to respond to all of this with love, and not with despair. May God bless.

P.S. After posting a link to this on Facebook yesterday, my friend Erin commented about Nicole’s Lenten Reading Guide she just published to go with the book! Here’s a link to it.

 

Don’t Quit Your Daydream

quote and peacockI’m still enjoying the quotes and stand my daughter-in-law See Cushman gave me for Christmas. Recently I selected this quote for the stand (which is right next to a peacock I painted at a shop in Denver a couple of years ago with my daughter, daughter-in-law, and three oldest granddaughters) and I walk past it whenever I leave through our back door: 

Don’t Quit Your Daydream

I Googled the phrase this morning, and discovered:

A Facebook page with inspirational podcasts,

A Nashville Film Festival winner,

And various other sites that use the phrase.

And today’s quote from A Woman’s Book of Inspiration, which was a Christmas gift from my daughter Beth Cushman Davis:

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word—excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.—Pearl S. Buck

As I continue with the first draft of a new book, I’ll be keeping both of these inspirational quotes in mind. They also remind me of the two amazing young women who shared them with me. Beth and See are both inspirations to me, not only because they are the mothers of my four fabulous granddaughters, or because they are beautiful and have successful careers, but because they understand the importance of drawing inspiration from other women as we move forward with our lives. I love you both!

Previous posts on these quotes:

 
Don’t Look Back

Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes

Courage and Hunger

Pre-Lenten Encouragement

TriodionIt’s been a couple of weeks since I blogged about my current (and life-long) struggle with disordered eating. (If you missed it, it’s here: “Courage and Hunger.”)

Since that post, I’ve made a spiritual shift that I’d like to share today. In the Orthodox Church, we are in a pre-Lenten period of the three weeks leading up to Lent known as the Triodion. The three Sundays in this time period, and the fourth Sunday, the day before Lent begins, are outlined here:

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Sunday of the Last Judgment

Sunday of Forgiveness

Many people take advantage of the Church’s intensified calendar (more services, longer services, stricter fasting guidelines, encouragement to give alms, special retreats and speakers, etc.) as a time to jump-start their spiritual lives. Taking a spiritual inventory, going to Confession, and working on “pet passions” that plague you are common activities during this time. I got a head-start this year, with a productive meeting with my pastor last week, and the healing sacrament of confession.

chocolateOne of the main things I went to my father confessor for help with is my ongoing struggle with the disordered eating I mentioned above, which has intensified since I quit drinking back in September. I’ve actually gained back seven of the fifteen pounds I worked so hard to lose last year. (I wrote about this struggle about a month ago, here: “120 Days.”) I shared with him my frustration that I couldn’t apply the same effort (and God’s grace!) that I use every day to not drink alcohol to disciplining myself regarding the junk foods that seem to have me in their grip. He offered me some encouragement—both spiritual and practical advice—and I’ve been praying about it a bit more. Somehow, today, I decided to throw away the rest of the fondue chocolates in the bag in my pantry and not buy any more. And at the grocery store the other day, I made the same decision regarding the kettle-cooked potato chips. I know the struggle isn’t over, but somehow making these decisions feels like a hopeful beginning.

In the area of spiritual food, Father encouraged me to “tithe my reading” this year, especially during Lent. I told him that I read almost 50 books in 2017, but only two were spiritual. Mostly I read memoir, literary fiction, and psychology/mental health books. So, 10% of 50 = 5, so I plan to read at least five spiritual books this year. I mentioned that I love Anthony Bloom’s books on prayer, and he agreed that they are a great place to start. I went to my “spiritual” book shelves and quickly found Living Prayer and Meditations on a Theme, both of which I read over twenty years ago.

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280And then I remembered that I had just gotten a new book, Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, by Nicole M. Roccas, which was just released last month. Nicole actually spoke at our women’s retreat at St. John Orthodox Church her in Memphis last year, but I was out of town and missed her talks. (She also has some wonderful podcasts, available here, on Ancient Faith Radio.) We’ve become friends on Facebook, and when I discovered her book I ordered it immediately. I started reading it today, and when I opened it, I found a quote on the page before her Acknowledgments by Anthony Bloom… and later quotes by Kathleen Norris. I knew right away we would be kindred spirits.

In the introduction, Nicole says:

I saw my despondency for what it truly was: a condition that robbed my entire self—body, soul, and spirit—of the freedom to dwell with Christ in love.

I immediately thought about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind, which helped me quit drinking, because Grace talks about finding FREEDOM, although her approach isn’t spiritual. But truth is truth, and I believe God led me to read This Naked Mind as much as He has led me to Nicole’s book.

You might be wondering what despondency/depression has to do with disordered eating (or maybe you’re not wondering… maybe you already get it)… but for me, much of my junk-food addiction and binging have to do with depression. Nicole addresses this several places in the first chapter of her book:

Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness…. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination toward sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.

I probably have some degree of (undiagnosed) ADD… I’m always looking for some excitement in my life, and I get bored easily, which is a quick slide into depression. As Nicole says:

… we manipulate even necessary activities like sleeping and eating—normally peaceful and life-giving—to serve our apathy. They become desperate efforts to soak up the boredom leaking out of every orifice of life.

I’ve only just begun reading this book, but I look forward to continuing, and then to re-reading Bloom’s books on prayer. Oh, and to actually praying more. Even before we enter Great Lent. Stay tuned… I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this journey.

Courage… and Hunger

In my first post of 2018, “Don’t Look Back,” I shared two more wonderful quotes from the Bright Ideas quotes and A Woman’s Book of Inspiration, two wonderful Christmas gifts from my daughter and daughter-in-law. I’d like to share two more today. (I shared my first quotes selections on December 28, “Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes.”)

quote

And from A Woman’s Book of Inspiration:

“Women have to summon up courage to fulfill dormant dreams.”–Alice Walker

cover-hungerOne woman who has certainly summoned up a tremendous amount of courage in her personal life and in the literary world is Roxane Gay. I just finished reading her memoir HUNGER yesterday… my seond book to read in 2018. (If you’re not familiar with Gay, some of her other books, short fiction, and essays are listed here.) The author Ann Patchett sums up how I feel about the book:

It turns out that when a wrenching past is confronted with wisdom and bravery, the outcome can be compassion and enlightenment—both for the reader who has lived through this kind of unimaginable pain and for the reader who knows nothing of it. Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves, and decent to one another. HUNGER is an amazing achievement in more ways than I can count.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you know that since I quit drinking (on September 8, 2017) I’ve struggled more than ever with food issues, which is why I picked up Gay’s book. It’s not a “how-to” or a “I did it!” book. At all. But it’s so candid and full of compassion… and courage. Gay was raped as a young girl, and this is a testimony to the way that experience has shaped her life. Like Robert Goolrick’s powerful memoir, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, it’s a tragic but beautifully written description of what childhood sexual abuse does to a person. I did a guest blog post for Writer’s Digest in 2011 about Goolrick’s book and its affect on me and my writing here:

Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional

My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day Search for Everything,” was published in the anthology THE SHOE BURNIN’: STORIES OF SOUTHERN SOUL in 2013. It’s really a look inside my own disordered eating. I think Roxane Gay would understand. As would Robert Goolrick. Here’s an excerpt from Gay’s book that reminded me of what I felt writing my essay:

When I am eating a meal, I have no sense of portion control. I am a completist. If the food is on my plate, I must finish it…. At first it feels good, savoring each bite, the world falling away. I forget aout my stresses, my sadness. All I care about are the flavors in my mouth, the extraordinary pleasure of the act of eating. I start to feel full but I ignore that fullness and then that sense of fullness goes away and all I feel is sick, but still, I eat. When there is nothing left, I no longer feel comfort. What I feel is guilt and uncontrollable self-loathing, and oftentimes, I find something else to eat, to soothe those feelings and, strangely, to punish myself, to make myself feel sicker so that the next time, I might remember how low I feel when I overindulge. I never remember. This is to say, I know what it means to hunger without being hungry.

And so as I continue my personal and writing journey in 2018, I’m inspired by Gay’s courage, and by her art. And by Alice Walker’s inspirational words.

Don’t Look Back (My first post of 2018!)

Jan 1 quoteThis morning I’m sharing another card from the Bright Ideas quote cards my daughter-in-law See Cushman put in my Christmas stocking this year… and another wonderful quote from the book A Woman’s Book of Inspiration that my daughter Beth Cushman Davis gave me. Here’s the quote from A Woman’s Book:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.—Eleanor Roosevelt

2 calendarsIt felt really good to set aside my 2017 desk calendar this morning, as I’ve been using both that one and the 2018 calendar for several months now. How much simpler to only have to keep up with one year for a while! January looks promising, with three events scheduled for my novel CHERRY BOMB—in Mississippi, Texas, and back home in Memphis. Also a fun weekend in Little Rock, co-hosting a wedding shower for my friend Daphne’s daughter, Hallie. Somehow, in between those engagements, I hope to get started on my next book, as I had set January as the time I would begin a new project. 2017 was such a banner year for me, with three books published…. But I can’t just look back and rest on those achievements. I hope to continue to believe in the beauty of my dreams.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

0 Meetings in 90 Days—My Final Post of 2017

90 in 90I had planned to post this on December 8, but I decided to sit on it for awhile, just to be sure I wanted to go public with it. Having returned from a wonderful Christmas visit with kids and grands in Colorado, and now as I prepare for our (almost) annual New Year’s Day/St. Basil’s Day party on Monday, I have decided that I want to share this important part of “my story.” This clarity came to me yesterday as I was checking out at the liquor store, where I purchased three bottles of liquor for “Mississippi Bourbon Punch,” a hit at many of our parties, and 8 bottles of wine. I realized that although I will be drinking sparkling water as I enjoy the afternoon and evening with friends, watching the bowl games and playing board games on the breakfast table, I won’t be “missing out” by abstaining from the (delicious) bourbon punch and wine. I didn’t know I would feel this way back on September 8, when I made a life-changing decision. So, here’s the post I wrote 90 days later….

0 Meetings in 90 Days—December 8, 2017

I’ve considered quitting drinking for a number of years, and I even visited an AA meeting once, about ten years ago. I read a good bit of their literature, and as happy as I am for the millions of people it has helped, it has never resonated with me personally. So, today I’m sharing a different approach that I discovered a few months ago. Why today? Well, if I was in AA, today I would be getting my 90-day “chip.” My last drink was on September 8.

AA encourages people to go to “90 meetings in 90 days” when they first quit drinking—either on their own or in a treatment center. I understand their reasons—those first three months can be tough, and people need support. It’s just that my support has come from other sources. I’d like to share a little bit about those sources, beginning with a book.

This Naked Mind coverI don’t remember how I heard about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, and Change Your Life.(Check out the reviews on Goodreads for responses from more readers.) I read This Naked Mind over one weekend (September 8-10) and made the decision to quit drinking before I even finished the book. This is the first time I’ve ever made this decision, although I’ve thought about it for many years, being concerned about the effect alcohol was having on my body and mind. But every time I considered it, I couldn’t imagine dealing with anxiety, stress, physical pain, and even social events without it. And now—90 days in—I’ve never been more hopeful about my life and my health.

There’s not one word about God or faith in this book—it’s strictly scientific and anecdotal. But I prayed fervently as I read, and I continue to pray every day for God’s grace to continue the journey. It’s been nothing short of amazing so far. Sure, there have been times (almost daily) when I’ve craved a drink, but by God’s grace I’ve been able to remind myself that (1) one drink is never enough and (2) any amount of alcohol is bad for me. You might not agree with that last statement, and I have no desire to argue or convince, but if you’re curious, Grace’s book has over 250 endnotes, many citing academic/medical/scientific sources to back up her mission, which she states clearly near the end of the book:

My mission, the mission of This Naked Mind, is to change how our society views alcohol, to expose the truth and to provide tools to change our direction.

Grace believes that alcohol is bad for everyone, not just for people who have or have had “problems” with it. Her view is that the alcohol is the problem, and that’s it’s bad for everyone. It’s an extremely addictive drug. She even discourages drinking moderately, citing how bad one or two drinks a day is for your health. She’s definitely an anti-alcohol vigilante, spreading her message through her book, websites, workshops, etc.

One thing that struck me as different about Annie Grace’s approach than any I had read before is that she blames the drink, not the drinker. Her tone throughout the book is positive, hopeful, and non judgmental. Her own story is woven through the narrative, which gives it a strong, personal message.

So, what does Grace mean by “the naked mind”? In Chapter 1 she says:

Did you know your unconscious mind is responsible for your desires?… Unconscious learning happens automatically and unintentionally through experiences, observations, condition, and practice. We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

She explains in much detail, which I won’t do here, how stressful it is when our conscious and unconscious minds are at war with each other, which she calls “cognitive dissonance.” And then she says:

Your opinions about alcohol and your desire to drink spring from the lifelong mental conditioning of your unconscious mind…. The goal of This Naked Mind is to reverse the conditioning in your unconscious mind by educating your conscious mind…. You can easily and peacefully end the conflict inside your brain.

And somehow, by God’s grace, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 90 days. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? And yet, I am experiencing this right now. Every time my unconscious mind tells me that a drink will help (relieve anxiety, stress, or pain, or enhance pleasure) I choose (with my conscious mind) to believe that it will not help, and I don’t take that drink. Whenever I’m tempted to have “just one,” I remind myself that one is never enough. That over the years I’ve conditioned my body to need more than one drink in order to get the relief or pleasure I’m seeking. And the conflict between my unconscious and conscious mind is lessening every day.

If you’re interested in what Grace has to say about how the alcohol industry markets their products (fascinating and scary) and also the details about the specific ways that alcohol is bad for you, read the book or check out her web site. And for my friends whose lives have been blessed by Alcoholics Anonymous, I hope that I haven’t offended you. I’ve just never been able to accept the theory that people who are addicted to an addictive drug have an incurable disease. As Grace says:

The nebulous idea of an addictive personality allows us to protect our precious alcohol. We focus on the addictive personality, which makes alcohol dangerous for them but not for us. We protect the alcohol and blame the individual. This takes hope away from the alcoholic, encouraging them to believe they are powerless against their personality…. A collection of traits, which can have positive or negative implications for someone’s life, should not be stigmatized and labeled as “addictive.”

I’ll close with a comment from Grace about moderation, which had been my goal before reading her book.  She explains about how dopamine creates tolerance, so that the brain craves more than just one drink. Her words ring so true to me, 90 days in:

Moderation is like an alcohol diet that will continue for the rest of your life.

Instead of struggling with moderation (and poisoning my body in the process) I am choosing to abstain, and I feel better than I have in years.

Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes

Beth, Gabby and Susu brave the snow blizzard at the Denver Zoo! (Pops took the picture, and Kevin took 2-year-old Izzy back to the car early.... it was freezing!)

Beth, Gabby and Susu brave the snow blizzard at the Denver Zoo! (Pops took the picture, and Kevin took 2-year-old Izzy back to the car early…. it was freezing!)

Happy 4th Day of Christmas! We got home from Denver last night, after spending five wonderful days with two of our “kids” and all four granddaughters, and the magic of a white Christmas. Being a city girl, it’s always fun for me to see the wildlife near our children’s homes… this time two coyotes and several rabbits. Our days were spent playing games (7 different games with the girls!), watching football, eating (of course!) and catching up on the lives of our kids who live so far away. Every day was special, but a couple of special memories are the night we went to Zoo Lights with our daughter and her family… only to encounter a blizzard as we tried to walk through the beautiful sights!

Guinea Pig Nativity bookAnother special memory was reading A Guinea Pig Nativity with our son’s daughters, and then playing with their Guinea pigs, Snowy, Noah, and Luke. (This is a wonderful little book, even if your kids or grands don’t have Guinea pigs!) Here’s a hilarious You-Tube video of a live Guinea Pig Nativity play!

Snowy and Luke

Snowy and Luke

 

 

 

Pops getting ready to read A Guinea Pig Nativity to Grace and Anna

Pops getting ready to read A Guinea Pig Nativity to Grace and Anna

 

 

My first gift from Jared!

My first gift from Jared!

Oh, and exchanging gifts. I love presents… to give them and to receive them. And to watch our granddaughters spend hours enjoying their new toys and games.

I was blessed to receive several really special things this year, including earrings from Jared, personalized stationery, personalized traveling jewelry case, Echo Dot for my office (we also have them in our bedroom and den), individual fondue mugs (I love chocolate fondue!), and more.

3 gifts

 

My daughter and daughter-in-law both know how much I love quotes. Beth (my daughter) gave me this wonderful book, A Woman’s Book of Inspiration: Quotes of Wisdom and Strength, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi.

Work Hard

 

 

My daughter-in-law See gave me this little “Bright Ideas” set with a wooden stand and a collection of quotes you can change out on the stand. So I’m going to post some of the quotes they sent me from time to time here on my blog. Starting with today.

From “Bright Ideas”:

work hard.

stay humble.

From A Woman’s Book of Inspiration:

Everyone has inside of her a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is! – Anne Frank

I chose these quotes to share today because as I approach the beginning of a new year, I move forward with thankfulness for the good things that happened in 2017 but also with an eagerness to begin something new… a new book, or two! And also to learn to love more, as Anne Frank said. And as Tim McGraw sings:

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

Thanks, always, for reading (even when I’m gone for a week during the holidays!) and remember that I love to hear from you, here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Christmas Day at Beth Cushman Davis and Kevin Davis's lovely new home, with their family and Jason and See Cushman and family.

Christmas Day at Beth Cushman Davis and Kevin Davis’s lovely new home, with their family and Jason and See Cushman and family.

Book Tour, the Beach and Praying With Icons

On the porch at Sundog Books in Seaside

On the porch at Sundog Books in Seaside

Good morning from Seagrove Beach, Florida… my favorite place on earth! My husband and I are here in the middle of my Alabama/Florida books tour for CHERRY BOMB, as well as a little fall vacation time. The high today is 77 and it’s sunny all week. Yesterday I signed copies of CHERRY BOMB on the front porch at Sundog Books in Seaside, and tomorrow I’ll be signing at The Hidden Lantern in Rosemary Beach. Thursday we’ll head over to Fairhope, Alabama, for my reading at 2 p.m. at Page and Palette, and an after-party thrown by my friend Ren Hinote. Meanwhile we’re enjoying walks on the beach and lots of good seafood. (We also had a great time at a “choose your own cover” event at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday afternoon, with music, great oysters and shrimp, and customers got to choose one of our books with the price of their cover charge for the event.)

My friend from Little Rock—Joanna Seibert—is “blogging a book,” and invited me to contribute two guest posts on her blog as part of her project. Joanna was inducted in to the Arkansas Hall of Fame in August. She asked me to start with a quote, add an image, and write a short reflection on the quote. She also asked if I would write about praying with icons, which I did. I hope you enjoy both of these posts:

PRAYING WITH ICONS

MORE ICONS: SANCTIFYING THE SENSE OF SIGHT

I’ll close with a few pics. I have to go now… the beach is calling!

Authors and musicians at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama

Authors and musicians at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama

 

Susan 30A yoga

Saint Francis (the Peacemaker) and the Wolf

Never has the world needed a peacemaker more than today. We need a peacemaker to settle the wars in the Middle East. We need a peacemaker to keep us from a new war with North Korea. We need a peacemaker in our cities and communities to help prevent the growing mass murders and acts of terrorism. We need a peacemaker to help families mend and prevent domestic violence. We need a peacemaker to tame the wolf.

9f03a897af0c9727569cdf6f6c164315--st-francis-san-francesco

 

 

4525287889_e0bd25fbe9This morning I read the following excerpt on Facebook. It’s from Jim Forest’s book, The Ladder of the Beatitudes. I haven’t read this book, but I loved his book Praying With Icons. I’m reprinting the excerpt about St. Francis here with the author’s permission. I hope lots of people read this and share St. Francis’ message of peace, courage, faith, hope, and love.

Today is the feast of St Francis. He was born in Assisi, in central Italy, in 1182. He started out as a wealthy man-about-town until he fell into a serious illness in his 19th year. He was praying in the dilapidated Church of St. Damiano one day in 1206, and he heard the voice of Christ saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is fallen into ruin.”

One of the stories of his many efforts as a peacemaker comes toward the end of his life and concerns Gubbio, a town north of Assisi. The people of Gubbio were troubled by a huge wolf that attacked not only animals but people, so that the men had to arm themselves before going outside the town walls. They felt as if Gubbio were under siege.

Francis decided to help, though the local people, fearing for his life, tried to dissuade him. What chance could an unarmed man have against a wild animal with no conscience? But according to the Fioretti, the principal collection of stories of the saint’s life,

“Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, master of all creatures. Protected neither by shield or helmet, only arming himself with the sign of the Cross, he bravely set out of the town with his companion, putting his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in him walk without injury on an asp … and trample not merely on a wolf but even a lion and a dragon.”

Some local peasants followed the two brothers, keeping a safe distance. Finally the wolf saw Francis and came running as if to attack him. The story continues:

“The saint made the sign of the Cross, and the power of God . . . stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, ‘Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone.”

The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy.

“But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore.”

The wolf responded with gestures of submission “showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe it.”

Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth “give you food every day as long as you shall live, so that you will never again suffer hunger.” In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man. “And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis’s hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.”

Francis led the wolf back into Gubbio, where the people of the town met them in the market square. Here Francis preached a sermon in which he said calamities were permitted by God because of our sins and that the fires of hell are far worse than the jaws of a wolf which can only kill the body. He called on the people to do penance in order to be “free from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world.” He assured them that the wolf standing at his side would now live in peace with them, but that they were now obliged to feed him every day. He pledged himself as “bondsman for Brother Wolf.”

After living peacefully within the walls of Gubbio for two years, “the wolf grew old and died, and the people were sorry, because whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness of Saint Francis.”

Is it possible that the story is true? Or is the wolf a storyteller’s metaphor for violent men? While the story works on both levels, there is reason to believe there was indeed a wolf of Gubbio. A Franciscan friend, Sister Rosemary Lynch, told me that during restoration work the bones of a wolf were found buried within the church in Gubbio.

Francis became, in a sense, the soldier he had dreamed of becoming as a boy; he was just as willing as the bravest soldier to lay down his life in defense of others. There was only this crucial difference. His purpose was not the defeat but the conversion of his adversary; this required refusing the use of weapons of war because no one has ever been converted by violence. He always regarded conversion as a realistic goal. After all, if God could convert Francis, anyone might be converted.

“They are truly peacemakers,” Saint Francis wrote in his Admonitions, “who are able to preserve their peace of mind and heart for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite all that they suffer in this world.”

The Last Lecture and Another Special Anniversary

the-last-lecture-randy-pauschTen years ago today—September 18, 2007—Randy Pausch gave his “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon. He was a computer science professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unlike most professors who are asked to imagine their demise when giving their last lecture, Pausch didn’t have to imagine his—it was right before him. He was given a few months to live.

His lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” was about overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, seizing every moment, and not knowing how many moments you might have. You can watch it here.

The lecture, and the book, The Last Lecture, were more than a legacy for his students and colleagues and friends. They were Pausch’s gift to his three children, who were too young to understand the life lessons he wanted to teach them. The book was a great blessing to me, and I plan to give it as gifts to my children. My favorite quote from his lecture and book:

“We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

Mary Allison CallawayThis day—September 18—is also the nineteenth anniversary of the death of my precious Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway (d. 9.18.1998). I wrote about it on the tenth anniversary of her death here.

Mary Allison wasn’t given the opportunity that Randy Pausch was given—to prepare for his death. She was killed instantly by a drunk driver. But she was prepared by the way she was living her life. She was a shining light to all who knew her, and an enormous blessing to me and my family. I still miss her. Memory eternal, Mary Allison.

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