My One Precious Life

Red Tent Living

Flipping through my ninth-grade classbook, one photo in particular surprised me. It was the Future Teachers Club, and I was in it. Me? A future teacher? Joining this club must have been something my counselor suggested, because I never would have thought of myself as a teacher.

I never thought of myself as much of anything.

View original post 567 more words

Advertisements

I desire

A friend and her husband recently joined a new group at their church for couples who are seeking to deepen their relationship with one another and with God.

The monthly meetings include a meal, Scripture, prayer and sharing.

My friend told me she and her husband want to pray together every day and are hoping the support of this group will help them to deepen their faith individually and as a couple.

As I listened to her talk about this group and what she and her husband hope to gain, the phrase I desire popped into my mind.

God-Lent-love

I think that many people can live on the surface of their spiritual lives, perhaps attending Sunday Church services, maybe saying grace at meal times—but not giving much attention to God the rest of the week.

I know I can fall into that trap. I can get caught up in the details of work and daily life—and fail to step back to notice where God is trying to connect with me. I can shift my focus from God to my routines—and lose sight of what really matters in life. Busyness can keep me occupied and distracted from tuning in to God.

And then I remember the words of St. Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Or a Scripture reading or words of some wise person pop into my mind, and I know God is nudging me to shift my focus and inviting me to live from a deeper place.

God-Lent-love

Jesus tells us that a relationship with God can be quite demanding. Stories of narrow gates (Matthew 7:13) and not looking back once we have decided to follow Jesus (Luke 9:62) practically dare us to take a step closer. And then there is taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23) and the actual cross of Jesus.

A relationship with God can be a daunting challenge. And yet…

If, as St. Augustine said, God made us for God, it is only natural that we continue to turn and return to God time and again.

Every year, Lent extends the invitation to step back from my daily life, look at where I am in my relationship with God and realign my priorities. Lent is an ideal time to recall that I am dependent on God and that my true self—my best self—is attentive to God throughout the day.

I desire to be in right relationship with God and to be open to new opportunities to grow in that relationship.

I believe that God desires to be in relationship with me, to change my heart, heal my brokenness and make me whole. God desires that I open my heart so that my attitudes and actions can be more loving, forgiving and accepting.

My friend reminded me of my desire to be more attuned to God—and of God’s desire for me to be more attentive to what I desire.

Temptations

Thirty years ago, my co-worker and I were part of an evaluation team for a nonprofit organization in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We were to spend a week there in mid-October, and we packed work and casual clothes—plus winter gear, since Winnipeg in October was as cold as mid-winter in Philadelphia.

Our evaluation team spent the first day in intensive interviews with the nonprofit’s staff and then the next three days meeting program participants. Part of each day involved time with the staff, and we got to know them fairly well in a short period of time.

On the third day, my co-worker confided in me, “I think I packed more clothes for this one week that the staff have in their whole wardrobes.”

I could see her point. She had brought at least two different outfits for each day—complete with shoes and purses—while the staff wore the same shoes every day and on the third day were wearing what they had worn on the first.

I was somewhere in the middle of this wardrobe continuum.

Later, when I moved to Winnipeg, the contrast became even clearer to me. The truth was that people who earned about as much money as I did bought fewer clothes. When I returned to the States after living in Winnipeg for a few years, all of my clothes fit into one small closet.

This memory came back to me the other day when James Neal invited his readers to reflect on modern-day slavery and to take a survey at End Slavery Now.

We begin Lent reflecting on the temptations of Christ in the desert and how those temptations appear in our lives. I think of the temptations as the accumulation of material goods, the desire for power and the worship of idols; and I could spend more than the first week of Lent gaining a deeper understanding into how these temptations infect and affect my life.

Each day this week, my Lenten reflection book has offered insight into different ways we might get hooked by the temptations and how cleverly those temptations may be disguised—tricky business dealing with evil.

As I moved through the survey at End Slavery Now, I started thinking of how much stuff I have and, even more importantly, why I have as much stuff as I have. I certainly don’t need my 75 scarves or 50 pairs of earrings. So why have I accumulated them? What is the attraction? The temptation?

Whatever things we collect—clothes, electronics, books, gadgets, etc.—Lent invites to reflect on the why of our collections.

The survey James Neal invited me to take raised my awareness of the human cost in the global market. It also invited me to greater awareness of my own attachment and enslavement to things and made me wonder how free I am. Could I lose my scarves and earrings and still be ok? Could I lose all my possessions? How attached am I?

Good questions for Lent.

God of abundance

I spent several years in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, as a full-time volunteer, and for part of that time, I worked in an office downtown. My walking route to work took me past a shoe store a few blocks from my building.

Usually, I am not much of a shoe person, so the window displays offered only a passing interest.

Then one day, I noticed a pair of brown leather boots. They were ankle high, medium brown, with thick, cream-colored fleece rimming the tops. I could imagine the soft leather hugging my feet and how the fleece would keep snow out. From the first time I saw them, I loved them and knew I had to have them. I began to plot how I might make them mine.

The problem was that the boots cost nearly $200, and my monthly stipend was $50—and that had to cover my food, transportation, clothing and fun. I was living very simply, walking the three miles to work and packing a PB&J sandwich for lunch every day. Breakfast was oatmeal and dinner was usually rice and beans or homemade soup. I didn’t mind the simplicity of my life because I am frugal by nature. So why had these expensive boots caught my fancy? And why did I feel such a need for them?

Day after day I stopped by the window to stare at “my” boots.

My infatuation continued to grow as the days went on.

At my next monthly meeting with my supervisor, I told him about the boots and my compulsion to have them. Material things did not usually grab hold of me in this way, and I was honestly confused about the attraction of this particular pair of boots.

During that conversation, though, I had an “aha” moment and realized the boots had come to symbolize the things I was denying myself because of my limited income. As we talked, I came to see that I was adopting a worldview of scarcity. I explained to my supervisor how my God had always been so abundantly generous to me, and I rarely had the experience of “wanting.” But, there I was, coveting a thing.

abundance-God-Lent

This memory came back to me during Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Twice this week, I heard the Lenten journey compared to a space mission (pre-set time, limited activities, etc.). I wondered if astronauts use their time in space to look inward. Do they reflect on their actions and process the events of their lives to see if they need reconciliation? Do they set new goals? Do they seek a different perspective?

Preparing for Lent, I wondered if I could view Lent like a “space mission” and take a step back from life and gain a different perspective.

Perhaps the “boots” memory came back to me because it reminded me of the abundance of God. During Lent, I want to try to live out of abundance and not scarcity—faithful in prayer, fasting from negativity and generous in almsgiving.

abundance-God-Lent
God-spirituality-prayer

My prayer

I start my mornings with an hour of quiet time—journaling, reading scripture, praying and writing. My missalette includes a Prayer for each day, written by saints or taken from a variety of Sacramentaries.

The diversity of sources intrigues me, and many are new to me. This month, I have been introduced to the Gelasian Sacramentary and Saint Makarios of Alexandria.

These prayers often spark a prayer of my own.

Recently, I have begun to ponder how I pray and what words I would use if I were writing my prayers down instead of just saying them.

God-spirituality-prayer

Knowing I spend time in prayer each day, people often ask me to pray for them and those they love. My friend Ted believed I have hot line to God because the things he asked me to pray for turned out the way he wanted. I was nine for nine when he asked me to pray for his friend Adele.

Instead of getting better, though, as Ted had wanted, Adele died. When Ted called me to tell me Adele had died, he said, “Your prayers didn’t work.”

Ted had never asked me about the specifics of my prayer, so I took this occasion to tell him that I had not prayed for Adele to get better. I had prayed that God give Adele the grace and strength to face her difficulties, that her faith remain strong and that God grant her peace.

“Why didn’t you ask God to cure her?” he wanted to know.

“That is not how my relationship with God works,” I answered.

When my friend Jim got brain cancer, many people prayed that he would be cured, and they were certain God was going to comply with their wishes. It would have been miraculous because there is no known cure for the type of cancer Jim had.

“What will those people do on the day you die?” I asked Jim.

My prayer for Jim was that he get right with God, that he have the strength to face what was happening to him and that he be at peace. It was my prayer for him whether he was to live or die.

I share Ted’s confidence that I have God’s ear, but my concern is more focused on acceptance.

If I were to write a prayer, it would go something like this:

God, give me the strength to endure whatever hardship comes my way with grace and peace. Help me to let go of my own expectations and accept the truth of what is. Give me the wisdom to remember that my vision is limited; help me to trust that you see the big picture. Help me to be grateful for all that has been and to say “yes” to what is yet to be.

This is my prayer for myself and also how I pray for those on my Prayer List. Not miraculous cures—although I thank God when they happen—but hope for wisdom, courage, strength and peace.

God-spirituality-prayer
God-simplicity-spirituality

What really matters

My mother used a wringer washer until the mid-1990’s and always hung her clothes on the line in the yard. We had a dryer, but why use it when the sun and wind would do the job for free? She prepared a full breakfast for us every morning and a meat-and-potatoes dinner every night. My parents grew up during the Great Depression and were frugal; we lived within our means, and our means were meager.

We lived simply, reusing and recycling long before it was fashionable.

I have continued some of my mother’s traditions. I still hang my laundry on the line in my yard, eat a full breakfast every morning and cook dinner more often than I eat out. By most people’s standards, I am quite frugal—wearing clothes until they wear out, baking from scratch and keeping cars until they die.

My father taught me that we all “put our pants on one leg at a time.” He respected people who had earned his respect. In his eyes, no one person was better than anyone else, and he kowtowed to no one. From him, I learned to view all people as equals.

God-simplicity-spirituality

In my mid-twenties, I spent my lunch hour swimming in a hotel pool across the street from my office. One day, another swimmer approached me. He and his friends were staying at the hotel for a few days, and he asked if I could recommend a restaurant. I explained that I was new to town so I could not help them. He asked where I was from. “Detroit,” I said.

“Hey, Bob,” he called to one of his friends. “She is from Detroit, too.” Bob came over and we chatted about Detroit for a bit.

The next day’s newspaper featured a picture of Bob and his friends—he was Bob Seger, and I had no clue. I wondered if he was offended that I did not know who he was (since he was obviously famous) or if he found it refreshing that someone who was the age of his fan base was oblivious.

Twenty years later, a friend suggested I get a television so I could tune into pop culture. He warned that the trajectory I was on would soon preclude me from social conversations. I relayed the pool incident to illustrate that I was never into pop culture, nor was I much interested in conversations about celebrities.

Trends have passed me by, and I am ok with that. I don’t know one fashion designer from another, and I don’t care.

What matters to me is more basic than celebrities, trends or labels.

I care about how ordinary people are living their lives—people who are facing challenges and difficulties—and where they are connecting with others for support. I am more interested in where people are finding God in their lives—those moments of transcendence, of peace and deep joy—and how they share their blessings.

In the end, I believe those around us are a much wiser investment of our time and energy.

God-simplicity-spirituality
God-aging-wisdom

My wild and precious life

We recently celebrated my mother’s ninety-third birthday. Her mother lived to be ninety-six and one of her brothers died a week shy of his ninety-eighth birthday. We have longevity in my family.

As I pondered my mother’s long life, Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day came to mind. It ends by asking,

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

After college, when I went into nonprofit work instead of returning to the FBI, my mother was not happy. For eight years, she had been able to say, “My daughter is a secretary in the FBI,” and people understood what that meant. She had been looking forward to saying, “My daughter is an FBI agent,” but that did not happen.

Instead, I got a job recruiting advocates for people who have developmental disabilities. My mother had no idea what that meant. My work defied easy explanation, and she could not imagine how I spent my days. She was baffled.

“Where did you ever get the idea to go into that kind of work?” she asked.

I told her that she had given me the idea by the way she lived.

My mother always made room for one more. When my unmarried uncle got cancer, he moved in with us, and my mother took care of him. When my grandmother needed a place to live after my grandfather died, my mother welcomed her into our home.

She showed me how to greet new neighbors with a prepared meal and to comfort someone in pain by being present and listening. She always has extra food prepared because no one leaves her house empty-handed. “What can I give you?” she asked as I left her house on her birthday.

That is the thing about parenting—so much of it is in the doing rather than the telling. I learned by watching.

When a friend of mine was having twins one summer, I offered to come help harvest her garden. For three days, I picked beans and tomatoes and then canned—quarts upon quarts of veggies to get her family through the winter. Toward the end of my visit, she told me she had been resistant to my coming because others had come offering to help, but they just ended up being more work for her. “You have helped me so much,” she said with gratitude and also a note of incredulity in her voice.

“You don’t know my mother,” I responded, because my mother’s example and her voice in my head would not allow me to be a burden. If you can’t help, stay home, would be my mother’s advice.

When I imagine myself at ninety-three, I hope I can look back and see that I have lived my one wild and precious life with integrity and meaning, helping more than hindering, giving more than I have taken.

Every morning, I pray the Prayer of St. Francis. That is the life I want to live.

God-aging-wisdom