In the Middle of the Night.

I had a lot of anxiety as a kid, particularly on Sunday nights.  I can’t remember very clearly why I had trouble just then, but every Sunday evening after dinner when I was in middle school, I would completely freak out and have trouble calming myself down enough to go to sleep.

The thing that would calm me down the most, interestingly, was the theme song to the TV show “The Critic.”  It was a fun, jazzy little song, but the part that comforted me the most was at the end, when main character Jay Sherman burrows down in his NYC apartment to go to sleep and the camera pans out, showing the entire skyline.  There were lights on in his apartment building, and lights on all over the city.

And it gave me such a great comfort, at that young age, to know that in my anxiety and in my worry, I wasn’t alone.  Other people were up, too, in cities like New York that never slept.


At night, every night – in the smack dead of night, no less – there are men and women who wake from their sleep far too early for normal people and dress and go to another room where they pray for the rest of the world.  That is a reality.  People whom you have never met, and will, in all likelihood, never meet, leave their comfortable beds and their dreams and they walk – willingly, mind you – and ask God to hear their prayers for and incredibly broken world.  They pray for addicts, and for abused children.  For victims of war, for people wrapped in hatred, for people in pain.  They chant and pray and ask God for His mercy on those whom He has created but have gone so far from Him.  They ask Him to see them, to heal them, to empower them, to sustain them.

They pray, in short, for you.  For me, too.

Why do they pray in the middle of the night? Maybe it’s partly sacrifice – it is so meaningful that they would give up their sleep for others – but maybe it’s because it is in that incredible time of silence that God’s voice is the loudest.  Maybe they know that God surely hears them all hours of the day and night, but it is in the darkest night that they can be assured of the best chance of hearing Him back.


There are many things I admire about monks and cloistered women religious.  I respect their silence, their quiet confidence, their seemingly easy sense of abandonment to God and His desires.  I myself am not a silent person, nor confident, and my sense of abandonment is anything but easy, although it’s a skill I am trying to practice daily.  Does that make me any more or any less? I don’t think so.  But there is so, so much I can learn from them.


This morning, I was awakened in the night by one of my children, who has a fever.  My first thoughts were, admittedly, not of helping and of comforting; it was of my own bed and the dream I was in the middle in, and how cold it would be to go downstairs.  I immediately began to think of the anxieties of the day: what would my children be like? Would my son get more sick throughout the day? What things did I have to get done? So many things.

It wasn’t until hours later, sufficiently caffeinated and my now both awake children quietly playing in the other room that I remembered that in my time of anxiety, there were others praying.  There was another city that never sleeps, lighted only by candles and little lights that illumine pages of musical notes.

And the prayers of that night were, in their own way, sustaining me and were there for me to lean on, even in the daytime.


Prayer strengthens.  Your prayers strengthen others.  Their prayer strengthens you.  You have my prayers for a happy, holy, calm Sunday day of rest.

So That Happened.

My Mom passed away in January.  It’s nearly five months later and while I’m still trying to process things, there are so many things I’m grateful for.

I’m grateful I was there as close to the end as I was.  I wasn’t there when she died, but I was able to spend time with her in her last days.  I never wanted that – I wanted to be far away and “get the call” and have that be that, but it was such a grace that I was able to see her again, even if she couldn’t see me.

There is so much that we fear in death – and not only death, but the things that go along with it: getting sick, growing older, losing the things we once had (or even the physical possessions we have now).  And being there for my mom wasn’t fun, or anything – it was incredibly difficult, at times – but it was a real privilege to see and understand how things work – how the body works to shut itself down, how things progress physically – and also to see what comes out in relief against all that darkness.

It was very similar to me to the process of having a baby.  Labor and death can really mimic each other, I’ve found — it’s a singular process that must be gone through alone – although support is needed, at the end of the day, it’s the person’s process alone – and it’s an experience that requires the double helix of work and of release, of moving towards a goal while letting go of everything else.  It was pretty humbling to witness, as I imagine many births are, too.  I’m happy that my labors with my kids all went beautifully.  I hope my own death is as great an experience, too.


I was honored to give the eulogy at my mother’s funeral.  Here it is.


My mother could make friends with a bag of rocks.  

She had the ability to befriend absolutely anyone, no matter how standoffish or introverted, and within a matter of moments, make them feel comfortable. She made others feel important, and it’s a sure thing to say that if she knew you, she loved you.  Her joy came from those in her life, and where she came from.  

Growing up in Florida, my brothers and I heard stories about Inwood, and it seemed almost like Neverland to us: a place where that was more family than community, and every day brought a new adventure.  To my mom (and I know she was not the only one), Inwood was not only a place on a map; it was a source of life, a spring where she drew love that sustained her.  No wonder she had to be close to it, even if it was across the Hudson River from her home.  She could feel that love emanating from it even then, the love that made her tough enough to endure years of surgeries and procedures and chemotherapies that scarred her body, took her energy, and dimmed her light.

But through it all, she never complained.  Through the overwhelmingness of it all, each time I’d ask her how she was doing, she’d say “good.”  I knew it was a bad day on the days she’d say “I’m doing okay.”  Like Saint Paul wrote in the Epistles, she was constantly beaten down, but not broken; constantly wrapped in flame of pain, but never consumed.

What was she really consumed by? The love she felt for her husband; a love that had been tested and tried and found to be stronger than the greatest steel.  She was propelled by the love and pride she had for her children and her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews and their children.  She was energized by the love she had for her sisters. She was uplifted by the joy she found in the presence of her friends.

She loved her life, as hard as it was; and as joyful as we are that her suffering is gone, the most pain lies in the hard reality that the world doesn’t get another Janie Guerra.

Saint Paul writes in the second letter to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” My mother’s race was filled with hardship on a road paved with the sharpness of suffering, of uncertainty, doubt, and fear.  She was, like all of us, just a human being.  But her ability to run it – and to run it so well – said so much not only about her, but about the God she so fervently believed in and loved so much: a God who knew suffering, who knew the value it holds.  There truly is no crown without the cross.  Her suffering had redemptive meaning; it was the manner through which she obtained her glory.  Her last days were flooded with palpable grace.  Death looks so ugly from the outside, but there is such beauty to be found in it.  There is so much about our world today that is ugly, but you and I – and my mother certainly knew – the awe and wonder that is in it as well.  How lucky we are to have known her, to have loved her.

So where does that leave us? She is in a place where we can know she is with God; where her beauty has been restored to her.  In a place where her smile is no longer crooked, where her face is full again, where her voice is once again strong and clear, and sitting on a stoop that looks suspiciously like the one on Park Terrace West.

Her life here is over, but ours continues.  Our responsibilities have not gone away; we still have jobs to go to and bills to pay and hard things to endure.  But we can draw strength from the knowledge that the love of God that sustained her belongs to us, too.  We can spend our days remembering it and living in it; and living our lives to their fullest is what will honor her best.

In the words of Mother Teresa, “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not yet here.  Let us begin.”


Some news.

My mom was diagnosed today with Acinic Cell Carcinoma, a cancer of the salivary glands. She’s without health insurance and the money for her biopsies were donated by their church and by friends, so it’s a worrisome time for more than a few reasons. We’re praying that her Federal Disability application goes through so she can get treated, and mostly we’re praying that she doesn’t give up hope and keeps trusting in God through this time.

After I got off of the phone with her all I could think about was a song by a Christian band called the O.C. Supertones, and their song called “Jury Duty”:

Though I haven’t had the best of days
Still I want to stop and thank You anyway
Every single moment, whether sleeping or awake
is Your creation, and what You’ve made is good

I don’t always thank You for the rough days
and the hard times in my life,
even though I should

Everything is God’s, the good days and the ones that aren’t worth saving. Thanks so much for your continued prayers for her and my family. 🙂

How Far Is Too Far?

…No, I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about hope versus expectation.  How do you hope?

This might sound weird, but bear with me.  Let’s say you’re struggling with something — a lot.  You know Jesus has the ability to help you get through it (I mean, He’s God); but how do you pray for it? Do You try to believe that He will help in some general positive fashion that doesn’t allow for too much detail – you just believe it’ll be a good outcome (hope), or do you want a certain thing to happen – and when it doesn’t, you feel dejected (expectation)?

Can we expect anything from God? Is it bad to? Or should we just hope?

Because I gotta be honest with you guys – I want to do the right thing – but I find myself using language in my prayer that suggests that I expect way more than I hope.

For example:

How I pray:
“I prayed really hard for my friend, but her test results still came back positive for cancer.”

(I expect that because I prayed, God will act on that and heal my friend.  God, you can like hear the pride dripping off that prayer, lol.  Yikes!)

How I should probably pray:
“I pray for my friend, that God will heal her; and if He doesn’t, that He uses her illness for a good purpose and to draw her closer to Himself.”

(I hope that God will bring my friend to good health, but if He doesn’t, I can trust that He will work things out for good, because God is good.)

How I pray:
“I bought a lottery ticket, and I pray that I’ll win the lottery so I can finally get rid of all my soul-crushing debt.”

(I really crack myself up sometimes.)

How I should probably pray:
“I pray that God helps to provide the means I need to pay down my debt and to use my money wisely.”  (The lottery ticket doesn’t really matter so much here.)

(It sucks to admit this, by the way — I’m like super embarrassed — but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.)

Why do I do this? I’m afraid.  Hoping is far too vague for me — I like my dreams concrete, my visions clear-cut.  I’m afraid that if I truly let go and hope that God will work all things out for good, that I won’t be able to know when it’s coming.  I won’t be able to plan for it.

Which leads to the idea of Grace, which I still have so much trouble with.  I have issues with God taking care of me when I can’t, but…that’s a post for another day, haha.

So I guess I’m asking for advice, and prayers.  What are ways that have worked for you? How have you moved from expectation to hope?