Speaking of miracles

One year on my annual silent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director a memory that surfaced during my prayer time. He suggested that memories often hold invitations for some new insight or understanding, and he encouraged me to spend some time with the memory to see if I could learn something new.

Since then, I have tried to pay closer attention as memories surface. I often write to the person in the memory—even just a note to say, “I am thinking of you”—and I try to keep the memory present to see if it is offering some insight or invitation.

Over the years, I have come to see a similar invitation when random conversations or events happen more than once in a short period of time. This past week was such a week—three times, I found myself talking about miracles.

I believe miracles happen, but I don’t often think about them or talk about them. Yet, three times in one week…I decided I needed to pay attention.

While pondering these conversations about miracles, a woman I once lived with came to mind.

Her name is Catherine, and we lived in a housing coop designed to bring together people who have developmental disabilities with those who don’t. Catherine was in her thirties, and she relied on others to meet her basic needs. She lived on the first floor of a large house with a couple who saw to her daily needs, and I lived in an upstairs apartment.

A year or so after I had moved out of Catherine’s house (and to another state), I attended a healing service at a local church. I wasn’t looking for healing for myself but went more to support the person who had organized this event.

During the service, we were all invited to come forward to be prayed over. The presider said that even if we were unaware of where we might need healing, we were welcome to come forward. Or, he said, we could call to mind someone else who needed healing and think of that person as we were prayed over.

Just then, Catherine came to mind. I hadn’t been in touch for months, so I did not know if she was actually sick, but I walked forward thinking of her.

A few months after that prayer service, I was talking with Catherine’s mom, and she told me Catherine had been in hospital for an extended period and no treatment seemed to be helping her get better; they believed she was going to die. And then, miraculously, she said, Catherine got better.

I remembered the healing service from a few months earlier and asked when this had been.

Catherine’s mom remembered the exact date because the change in Catherine’s condition occurred in an instant—it was the same time I was thinking of Catherine and being prayed over.

I don’t know why these conversations about miracles occurred, but I am grateful for the reminder that miracles do happen.

I am on the case

Last week, I went to Lewes, Delaware, to help a friend settle into her new condo; she had moved from Newport News, Virginia, two weeks earlier.

“I’m on the case,” I said when she could not find her house keys.

I love solving mysteries. Where were her keys? She knew they were in the house but where could they be?

Mystery-God-faith

We retraced her steps, with no luck. We searched the garage and kitchen. She searched her bedroom. I asked if I could go through her coat closet, and she said yes. And there, inside the pocket of her white coat, were the keys. She hadn’t remembered that she had worn that coat earlier in the day. Mystery solved.

We had several other mysteries during my time with her—mostly moving related (“where did I put…?” “which box has…?”).

My younger brother also loves to solve mysteries, like tracking down the guys who broke into his garage and stole some equipment—he followed Craig’s List until he saw his equipment listed and then called the police, who set up a sting.

He attributes our doggedness in solving mysteries to the fact our dad was a cop; I attribute it to our mother’s insistence that we never give up when we were searching for something.

I remember a friend in college marveling at my persistence when she could not find something, and I was unwilling to let go until the mystery had been solved. She had been raised to let go and replace.

I love most everything associated with mysteries—novels, plays, movies and television shows.

The funny thing is, though, that despite the fact that I love to follow the clues and solve the mysteries in my everyday life, there are many other mysteries with which I am completely comfortable.

For example, mysteries of faith and miracles I can accept with complete confidence. Somehow, I can trust that there are some things we cannot solve or unravel; acceptance is the only solution.

In that way, I think I am contrary to most people—those who can let go when something is lost (and rush to replace it) and yet question faith and distrust miracles.

I think my comfort with mysteries of faith helps me be able to sit with people who are suffering and dying. I don’t ask why someone is ill or why there is suffering. I accept that suffering, illness and death happen. They are part of life. I appreciate that there is nothing to be done, no answers to be found and no clues to follow.

At times of sorrow and grief, I believe that acceptance is more helpful than questioning. Finding meaning in loss is more about being grateful for what has been and gathering the gems of good memories to cherish.

I am grateful for my approach to different kinds of mysteries because solvable mysteries, while they may take a great deal of time in the process, are solvable. Mysteries of faith are just that—mysteries.

Mystery-God-faith

Reinventing myself

An entry on my affirmation calendar read, I enjoy reinventing myself. It’s like giving my identity a makeover!

When I moved back to Michigan almost nine years ago, I had planned to use my Polish name instead of the English translation—Magdalena instead of Madeline, or Magda for short. I had recently been to Poland and everyone there called me either Magdalena or Magda, and I liked it.

My grandfather used to call me Magdusha—a twist on my Polish name and a term of endearment. I liked that, too.

But I was deep in grief when I moved here, and I forgot to introduce myself as Magdalena or Magda, and before I knew it, everyone called me by my English name.

A few years later, though, I started taking Polish classes at a nearby Polish church, and there I was known by my Polish name. Happy day!

This calendar affirmation took me back to that desire to reinvent myself more in line with my Polish heritage. As I reflected on that identity, though, another reinvention occurred to me—to be reinvented in the image God holds for me.

Isaiah 62:3 came to mind: You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

I remember the first time I read these words as a young adult and felt they were being spoken to me and about me. The image of myself in the hand of God, something bejeweled and beautiful, sparkling diamonds and deep green emeralds. That was how God saw me—as something to behold, someone who took one’s breath away.

Living as if I see myself as a crown or diadem is a stretch. I have usually seen myself more as a dull pewter, so adapting a shinier persona calls for a shift in my thinking.

Perhaps being connected to my Polish heritage is part of that new image because when I am connected to my ancestors, I have a wider and deeper understanding of who I am and where I came from—and a different way of knowing myself.

Perhaps leaning into the image of myself as being held in God’s hand is also key, because that image leads me to live in trust rather than fear. God has me, I tell myself.

Not having a job has reinvented me into a woman with time and freedom to structure my days as I please, to do the things I want and not do those I don’t.

The passing years are reinventing me into an elder, and aging has its own reinvention process.

Speaking publicly about my abuse history has shown me a courage I did not know I possessed—add that to the mix.

These past six months, I have been on sabbatical, resting, reading, writing—and pondering who I will be and how I will live this next chapter of my life.

Reinvented, sparkly as diamonds on a tiara—I want to be brilliant.

God-reinventing-affirmation

I carry them with me

Leave the old behind,

look to the future,

I have heard many times,

from the likes of St. Paul

and others.

I see the wisdom in it.

Fresh start.

Blank slate.

Clean sheet….

Did I tell you about my friends

who died young,

some of them very young,

some before they even got much of a chance to live?

I carry them with me,

year after year,

these old friends,

some from a very long time ago,

when I was still a child,

to remind me that every day of life is precious and

that I have what they did not—

another day and year to try to make a difference,

to try to be the best me I can be,

to become the person they imagined I could be.

Perhaps I can leave behind all that was ugly in my past,

and carry with me

all the beauty of those who died too young

and their hopes for me.

Joy

Like many people, my life seems to have become limited during the pandemic. I get together with family and friends less frequently and now am only going to restaurants and stores that require the staff to wear masks. I have spent lots more time alone, especially these past six months since my mom died.

One thing I have noticed during this increased alone-time, though, is how often I see silver linings and notice joy.

I am much more aware of the little things that make me smile—my lighted Christmas tree outside my picture window, every dog I meet on my daily walks, funny videos friends send. I seem to be more aware of how often I feel joy.

Perhaps joy was always there, but I was too busy and distracted to take note of it.

Now, though, with my life less cluttered with outside activities, I have the time, space and focus to notice the little things that make me happy. 

A reflection in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening recently cited this quote:

God-joy-faith

Nepo went on to say that responding to need is a “way that scarcity can direct our lives,” and he encourages “finding what we love” in order to build a “life of passion.”

I have been pondering what brings me joy, what stirs my passion, what makes me come alive.

I think that at my heart, I am a caregiver, and I am quite happy when I can help someone. Also, by nature, I am a connector, and it brings me joy when I can bring together two people for their mutual benefit.

In the past, I have tended to diminish the little things I have been able to do, small ways I was able to help, but now I am more inclined to value the benefits of those little efforts. It is the starfish story of helping this one in front of me.

God-joy-faith

During the Solstice Gathering this week, Krista Tippett invited us to ponder the questions we are living. Here are some questions I am asking:

How do I live my best self?

How do I use what I have learned in life to help others?

How do I grow into the person God created me to be?

How do I let go of fear and grow in trust?

What questions are you asking? Where are you finding joy?

Love heals

Love healed me.

Sometimes poured out generously,

like the snow that covers everything in its path as it falls,

until what was there before has been transformed into

something unrecognizable,

something pure.

Love healed me.

Sometimes with strings attached,

doled out sparingly

as though there is not enough,

as though the love that is given to me robs someone else.

I snatched those bits of love tossed my way and

gathered them together until there was enough to cover me and my brokenness.

Love healed me.

Imperfect love.

Whether abundant or scant,

overwhelming me or nibbling at the edges of my brokenness,

all love heals.

Adding color to the world

Last week, a friend came over to bake Christmas cookies, and she brought a bouquet of winterberries. I might have seen these berries growing somewhere outside at some point in my life, but I could not recall when or where.

I put the dark brown stems with their bright red berries into a vase that looks like a birch tree and put them on my kitchen counter. Every time I walked into the kitchen, their vibrant color brought me joy.

God-hope-joy

A few days later, I travelled to a rural area in Pennsylvania, and alongside the house where I stayed was a winterberry bush, with its bright red berries.

God-hope-joy

Twice in one week, I thought.

Perhaps they are a reminder that even in the coldest, darkest time of year, something beautiful is still growing and adding color to the world.

In some other place

The trip seemed so far away

when I booked it.

Time seems to have a way of moving at its own pace,

sometimes too fast and

sometimes too slow.

The mindfulness people tell us that

today is all we have,

and I know what they mean,

but I like to have things to anticipate,

plans and dreams.

I suppose I live in the future,

creating my packing list,

immersed in my daydreams and guidebooks,

imagining myself in some other place,

on the other side of the ocean,

visiting museums and historic spots,

being in buildings erected

before the first ship sailed west.

It seemed so far away

when this trip was just a dream,

and now it is here.