Discovering my path

Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way. I didn’t know how the “call” happened. I just knew that God had chosen me, and I could see that I was different from my brothers and friends in certain ways—mostly in my desire to spend time in church and to talk to God.

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I felt a closeness to Jesus, and I knew instinctively that he was with me. I thought of him as a brother who “got me,” who related to my vulnerability and my feelings of helplessness.

When he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I heard an echo of my own cry. Like me, Jesus was an innocent victim. And even though I felt chosen by God and closely connected to God, I still went through my life experiences on my own.

Knowing that God was with me was a comfort, but I understood that God was not going to take away the difficulties of my life. God was not going to make my dad stop drinking or make my mom protect me. God was not going to change my “bad-touch” uncle or prevent my being abused.

Yes, God was with me, Jesus was with me, and I was also on my own. It was a mystery.

Why God had chosen me was a mystery, too. Why me? A poor girl from the east side of Detroit who had no special talents or skills.

At one point, I thought I could escape to a convent, but I have a lousy singing voice and I thought being able to sing was a requirement of being a nun. (I did not go to Catholic school, so I had no first-hand experience with nuns.) I was stuck living the life I had, playing the hand I had been dealt.

I envied Jesus because he had a clear sense of his mission, of why God had sent him. Me? I had no sense of my mission.

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Finding the path I was meant to walk has been a life-long quest.

When I read St. Paul’s letters about our different gifts (Romans 12:6) I could hardly relate. What gifts did I have that could help build God’s kingdom? I wasn’t a teacher, a healer, a prophet or a preacher. What was my gift? Another mystery.

Now, here I am at seventy years old, looking back on the path I have walked. Over time, my gifts and talents revealed themselves through the events of everyday life. Over time, I have been able to let go of unrealistic expectations, the “shoulds” and “oughts,” and accepted what is.

I am now comfortable in my own skin and grateful for my life.

I recently completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and hope to help others discern the path God is inviting them to walk, to help identify their gifts and to affirm that God can be found in all things.

Critters in my garden

Yanking some of the Golden Alexander in my garden (which is technically not invasive, but does spread and needs some aggressive yanking to control it), I happened upon this little critter enjoying one of the leaves. I was happy for the help in keeping the plant under control.

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Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

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The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

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Wonderful wildlife

At 3:00 p.m. yesterday, with school back in session, the Lake St. Clair Metro Park had few people but lots of wildlife, including these Canada geese, a crane and heron. I always feel fortunate to see a crane or heron, but to see both in one day was a joy.

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Canada geese

Crane at the shore of the lake

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Heron in the canal

Living excessively

My daily walk includes a path through a park along the shore of Lake Saint Clair, a lake so large I cannot see the opposite shore. The other day, the sky was overcast and the lake a dull gray, when, all of a sudden, the sun broke through the clouds, shining on the water, and the water shimmered. Where seconds before there had only been dullness, now the water sparkled, and I stopped to look.

Three words popped into my mind: Think BIG thoughts!

Vast is the sky overhead and the water at my feet, inviting me to be expansive, to live in the abundance that our God offers us. It was a mystical moment.

Our culture encourages people to think big thoughts about success, possessions, money—building financial portfolios, expanding business, growing wealth—all with an eye toward more money and bigger things—houses, cars, etc. Excessiveness is a word we tend to associate with wealth and the way wealthy people spend their money—mansions, yachts, elaborate vacations, expensive clothes.

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But what if we focused our big thoughts on building, expanding and growing love, forgiveness, acceptance and compassion. What if we were excessive with kindness, gratitude and mercy? What if we focused our wants on others instead of ourselves? What if we thought big thoughts about goodness, curiosity and generosity? Pie in the sky? Perhaps.

As I walked home from the lake that day, I passed the elementary school near my house and noticed words stenciled on the sidewalk. The school district has a character-building program focused on developing positive habits in the children and more than a dozen sidewalk blocks had words on them.

I remembered back to the beginning of the pandemic when children wrote messages of hope in sidewalk chalk.

We all need daily reminders to develop positive character traits.

What does all this mean for me? What BIG thoughts am I meant to be thinking? What positive character traits am I meant to be developing? What can I do that will help spread the message of Jesus to love, forgive, accept, hope, trust, persevere?

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.

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Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  

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Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.

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About love

Soon after we met,

Ted asked me out to dinner.

I said “yes;”

he heard “no,”

and forever after he was convinced

that I was not interested in him romantically.

Maybe I wasn’t,

because we became just friends.

Good friends,

travelling companions,

confidants,

soulmates in a way,

but never lovers.

In some ways, I think he knew me better than I knew myself.

He would tell me that I was crushing on someone before I had any idea—

or was it rather that because he suggested a crush, I developed one? Hmm.

He was always generous in his gift-giving

(I remember the day, soon after moving into my new house,

arriving home from work and seeing

a gigantic Tiffany’s box on my patio).

Ted ate at fine restaurants, traveled first-class and generally lived large.

But he never forgot his working-class roots—

he claimed to be the first man in his family to wear a tie to work

(having been a lawyer before he opened his bookstore).

He supported numerous non-profits and schools, usually requesting anonymity.

“Don’t let your right hand…”

Ted was a fan of all things Hitchcock.

One time, we met up in San Francisco to recapture the scenes in Vertigo.

We visited all the sights and stayed at the hotel in the movie.

He thought because I am a Madeline,

I should pose for the Madeline shots

(like pretending I was going to jump into the water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge).

He would have been happy if I wore a blond wig for the picture,

but I drew the line.

He wanted me to move to southern Oregon

and work with him in his bookstore.

If that was a test, I failed.

Oregon?

Too far (three flights each way).

Still, we talked several times a week

until he got esophageal cancer,

and then we talked several times a day

until he had to get a trach

and talking was too difficult for him.

Then just I talked.

We only argued once in the thirty-two years I knew him.

Mostly, he made me laugh and helped me enjoy life.

He trusted me, and he loved me.

I loved him, too,

and I miss him every day.

Feeling blessed

I had another dog-sitting gig this week, with a sweet Brittany Spaniel pup who happens to live on a lake, so it was like being on vacation. Just before coming to the lake, my sister brought me a box of chocolates from Paris, and so I enjoyed them while watching the dog play by the water. Life is good.

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Looking out the window onto the lake.

All week, I felt incredibly blessed. It seemed that one good thing after another kept coming my way. I finished my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, a two-year program with quite rigorous requirements; got invited to speak at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit; was asked to consult on a project; the last of my home-improvements projects was completed; and I got to share the lake view with several friends who came to visit. A very good week.

At the same time, a cough has settled in my chest, and I can’t seem to shake it. It worries me because I am someone who rarely gets sick—and when I do, I usually respond to medicine. Not this time, though.

I am doing what I can about the cough, following doctor’s orders (getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, taking my medicine) and, at the same time, trying to focus more on the good things happening in my life.

Balancing life’s challenges with life’s blessings is a work we are all called to.

Being grateful for the good in my life and putting more energy into the positives helps tip the scales toward the blessings. I can’t ignore the challenges, but I can keep them in perspective.

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And I can remember that most growth comes from challenges. I am where I am because of the struggles I have gone through.

After a particularly difficult time in my life, I came to believe that God holds all the cards, and my job is to play the hand I am dealt. Sometimes that hand is a winner, and other times I just want to throw in the cards and ask for a re-deal.

God invites me to stick with it, even when my cards are lousy, to keep looking for glimmers of hope and to remember that God is with me through it all.