Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lead me into the desert, Lord

Those days come in so unexpectedly. Those days which begin with the gaze of the sun warming my window. The light sifts through the drapes, filtering in softly as though being whispered. My Darling has brought my coffee in, and I am tucked in with my warm and snugly little Cuppie (she who so recently was the Pudge.....). Her whiffles indicate her sleep, though her fluttering lids hint at the pleasure of her dreams.

So many of my mornings begin this way. So often, I roll over to the smiling watch of the Monkey, or perhaps the quarrelsome whinge of the Reepicheep.

Yesterday was actually a sweet morning. I was really looking forward to the day--for once--rather than dreading it's length, the hours stretching before me like taffy that's been pulled and re-pulled. Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. The prime season in which to lay bare the soul, asking God to call me to decrease so that He may increase. The season when everything feels as it should--penitential, because that's how I've been feeling for so long. Lent feels like coming home.

I was scheduled to cantor for the Mass. The plan was that My Darling would meet us, and then he and the children would depart for destinations unknown. The afternoon would be mine, and I had planned to meet up with my very good, Dear Friend--who was once called Tiffany by a complete stranger in a little diner (which is a hilarious story that I promise to tell another time). She and her family relocated last month, coming from a couple of hours away and now residing a mere 25 minutes from my very door. The bliss! The blessing! God is good!

And He is. He is so good to know when we need the challenge of a bad day.

Mass was beautiful. It was the liturgical shock that the beginning of Lent always is--the silences, the barren sanctuary, the somber hymns, and the fasting from the great prelude to the Gospel, that word which we do not utter these long days, which we reserve for the great joy of the Resurrection.

Then there was that verse. The hymn which was sung during the distribution of ashes was done as a Psalm is done--with me leading the people in the refrain, and then me singing the verses alone, bringing the people in after each verse to repeat the refrain. But it was unexpected and unfamiliar, and I was arrogant enough to believe that the two verses which were beneath the staves would just fall into place. You know how it is when six or seven verses are printed directly beneath the notes, and then a few more verses are just typed in stanzas below? The problem is, of course, that the words are not near the notes...and when the tune is unfamiliar and one is the only voice heard, well, it can present a difficulty.

It was disastrous.

I picked up the first words of the fourth verse, but completely lost my place in the music. The refrain was at the top of the page. The verses began in the middle. I was trying to put the words of the fourth verse to the notes of the refrain, and felt like someone had picked up my brain, my eyes, my voice, and the beautifully played notes of the very confused organist, put them into a blender, and just started tapping away at whichever buttons caught their eyes.

Oh, the train wreck that was me. My face burned. My knees became jello. And I knew that I could not stop. I just had to plod forth, like a camel in so much sand, until the merciful end of the verse. For short little verses, this one certainly seemed to take it's sweet time, for Pete's sake.

I realized my error as soon as the refrain began again, and the next time the fourth and fifth verses came around, I corrected my error. But it sure was a great tap on the shoulder in humility.

And thus began the falling-apartness of my day.

After exchanging pleasantries with a few parishioners after Mass, speaking with the Bishop, and thanking my friend the organist profusely for covering my pitiful self, we headed out to the van. My Darling informed me that his day was not going as he had hoped, and this required me changing my plans. I knew that my Dear Friend would understand, because she's beautiful like that, so we went on our separate ways.

It was when I reached into my purse to retrieve my wallet that I nearly freaked out. It was not there. My wallet was gone. I snatched my phone and fired off a call to My Darling to ask him if it was perhaps in his jacket. He didn't answer.

I hastily reviewed the way the morning had gone: After leaving the house, I stopped to fill the tank with gas. I had used my check card, and in the cold, I tucked it into my coat pocket. I never did have the chance to return it to my wallet. We drove into town, we parked, I took a fortune in quarters from my wallet to plug the meter (only to discover that since the last time I had used one of the blasted things, they raised the bloody rates), I stuck my wallet back into my purse. We went into the church, I had my purse with me while I ran through the Psalm and Gospel Acclimation (and even that blasted hymn, though apparently, not enough...), I carried it downstairs with me, slid it into the pew with my family, and took my place in the sanctuary for the duration of Mass. From that time until we left, either My Darling or one of the children took charge of my purse, and I don't believe it was ever unattended. Reepicheep let me know that she had taken my wallet from my purse during the collection, but then she put it back afterward. The kids dumped out my purse and the diaper bag and sifted through the contents of both. No wallet. They searched the entire van, all of the nooks and crannies, under the seats, in the bins, behind the car seats. No wallet.

Good grief. I turned around. I drove back to the over-priced metered spot where I had been parked. No wallet. I ran into the church, and Monsignor helped me search the several rows of pews in the area where my family had been during Mass. We looked on and beneath the pews, walking from one end to the other, checking in the hymnal shelves and under the kneelers. No wallet. I drove to the lot where My Darling had parked, since we had driven him there after Mass. No wallet. I finally heard from My Darling. No wallet.

Oh, this was so not good.

I called my Dear Friend. She did understand, because she truly is beautiful like that. She and I both prayed for the intercession of Saint Anthony. I began to thank God for the blessings in this thing. My check card was safely in my pocket. I had just used my last check and had not replenished with a new book. I only had one credit card and one store card. I had perhaps a dollar in cash and some change. I almost never carry cash, unless I intend to stop for a meal--and even then it's not guaranteed.

I began to pray that if someone had picked up my wallet, that they did so with a good heart and pure intentions of returning it. Or that if someone picked it up because they needed money, that the little bit that I did have would somehow bless them and ease even a small burden.

When we got home, I immediately called the bank and cancelled our credit card. We talked about the options concerning our checking account. I called the DMV to see about my license. I e-mailed Monsignor with a description of my wallet.

And then I just waited. When My Darling came home, I departed for my Dear Friend's house.

Such joy to be in the presence of her spirit and the warmth of her family! There is a balm in Gilead after all! Ah, the balm of a sweet friendship, tempered with hours of prayer and the strengthening of years.

We talked, we laughed, we played, we prayed. We drank water and watched the Olympics, and gawked unashamedly at Shaun White, while he demonstrated once again his blatant refusal to remain tethered to the earth like the rest of the peasants. We reminisced and filled each other in on what had been going on in our lives. I listened to her eldest daughter read a story--a flashback for the two of us, since she listened to the Frog so many years ago read her first book. It was such a wonderful and fulfilling visit, and in the presence of my Dear Friend, I felt God gently mending some small, faraway place in my soul.

I heard my phone ring at some point, and after a while, returned My Darling's call.

That Saint Anthony is one fast worker! Monsignor had called to let me know that some kind soul had found my wallet following the evening Mass! And where was it? In the pews, where we had looked, with unseeing eyes.

Sometimes the Lord keeps hidden from us the very basic, everyday things, and He offers us a chance, as our dear Bishop said recently, to run toward holiness. We are given plain chances to grasp at faith, to reach toward Him in prayer and to fill our hearts with the desire for Him and Him alone. We are given opportunities to bless or to curse, to display our tempers or to remain composed, to give in to temptation or to avoid the near occasions of sin. Thanks be to God for the awesome blessings He lavishes on us in the uncountable details of our days.

What an end to the day, anyhow. Thanks be to God, Who heard my small prayer for such a trivial thing as to reunite me with my wallet, for Pete's sake.

The day ended as blithely as it had begun. The calm warmth of my sweet little Cuppie, the inviting embrace of My Darling, and the knowing that He will again walk me through the desert, through the fire, through the darkness of Lent and into the Light of Easter.

A fruitful Lent to you all.

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