Tag Archives: acceptance

Where there is injury, pardon


My pastor gave me a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis when I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent, and I have been praying it every day since. The words that jump out at me almost every day are: Where there is injury, pardon.

Why those words? I ask God, and what does injury mean?

I usually think of injuries as resulting from accidents—wounds that need stitches, casts or surgeries. But what kind of injuries need pardon? In St. Francis’ day the word probably had a different connotation.

As I pray these words every day, I ponder injuries. I tried replacing the word injury with other words to see if it makes more sense to me—sin, hurt, harm, betrayal, etc.—what would warrant pardon?

And is pardon synonymous with forgiveness?

Perhaps it was this prayer that predisposed me to ponder forgiveness this Lent.

I struggle with forgiveness for several reasons, and perhaps the biggest is my fear of looking foolish. I can hear my father’s voice in my head discouraging me from being taken advantage of and encouraging me to stand my ground. It was important to him not to look weak and he was slow to forgive those who had crossed him. To him, forgiving equaled vulnerability and weakness.

Vulnerability was not something he valued.

It took me a long time—and a fair amount of prodding by God—to consider vulnerability as something valuable, something desirable.

I once befriended a women who had committed a horrific crime. She was vilified and hated in our community. The newspapers and television media portrayed her as a monster.

But God placed her on my heart, and I could not stop thinking about her—and feeling compassion for her. It was as if God was showing me how God saw her—not the monster she was portrayed in the news, but as a person who, no matter what she had done, was still a child of God.

Not many people knew about my visits to her in prison or of our friendship. Sometimes, the things God asks of me seem outrageous even to me.

This particular friendship has been resurfacing this Lent. She was a woman who needed pardon, forgiveness and acceptance.

Perhaps she has been coming to mind because of all the mass shootings in our country. My friend had a history of mental illness and a record of multiple hospitalizations related to her mental illness. Yet she was able to walk into a store and buy a gun. No questions asked. No thought to why she wanted a gun or what she might do with it. No concerns that she would walk into the mall and open fire.

Or perhaps she has been coming to mind because she taught me so much about vulnerability and forgiveness.

I suppose God has been nudging me toward acknowledging my vulnerability for a long time, teaching me that embracing my own vulnerability puts me on the path to pardon.


Abide in love

My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:

Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.

~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.

~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…

~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…

 As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:

~I am the failed shepherd.

~I am the older son, resentful and angry.

~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.

It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.spirituality-forgiveness-LentPreparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.

Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.

God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?

And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?spirituality-forgiveness-LentAbide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.

When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.

My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.spirituality-forgiveness-LentLent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.




Giving thanks

For seven years, I was the director of an adult literacy program in suburban Philadelphia. Immigrants from many countries filled our English as a Second Language classes, but most of the students in our family literacy program were from South Korea.

As part of this program, we hosted an American Thanksgiving dinner each year. It was a way to introduce immigrants to this cultural holiday and teach them some of our customs, including the foods we traditionally eat on Thanksgiving. Our staff prepared most of the food, but students were given recipes for side dishes and invited to contribute if they wanted.

Invariably, a few of the students would bring dishes from their culture, and we would include the kimchi and rice in our Thanksgiving meal.

Our guests at the literacy council Thanksgiving dinners would gingerly try bites of turkey and cranberry sauce, and I loved watching them register the different tastes and textures. Food is an important part of any culture, and this dinner was a wonderful opportunity for people to try something new.

I wished my parents had attended such a class.

Growing up, we never had turkey for Thanksgiving; apparently turkeys were not available in Poland. We had ham or kielbasa or stuffed cabbage and a duck soup that I fear most Americans would not even try. Mashed potatoes were probably the only thing our Thanksgiving dinners had in common with the rest of America.


My mother did not care when I came home from school excited about traditional Thanksgiving dinners; she had never cooked a turkey and did not see the need for it.

Being thankful was what the holiday was about to her, and I could see her point. But I always felt a bit odd when kids talked about turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce—and I had nothing to contribute.

I have since come to understand that while we tend to think of one “traditional” American Thanksgiving dinner, the truth is that people in different regions of the country and from different ethnic backgrounds personalize Thanksgiving dinner. A simple Google search of “turkey stuffing” brings up hundreds of different recipes.

Merging cultures is part of the American tradition, and kimchi would have been as foreign to our Thanksgiving dinners growing up as the creamed onions I once had at a friend’s home in suburban Philadelphia or the Southern cornbread stuffing I was served in Virginia.

Recalling all those dinners this Thanksgiving made me think of the ways Americans can segregate ourselves into groups that reinforce our beliefs and allow us to stay in our comfort zones. We can tell ourselves that the Norman Rockwell portrait of a Thanksgiving dinner is the only true portrait, but that is just not true. Our country is made up of people from many different cultures and the blending of those cultures makes our country unique.

Honoring our heritage is important, but moving beyond our comfort zones makes life more interesting. Maybe it is time to try some kimchi.

Vulnerability Part II

I wondered what it takes to get people to admit that they have been hurt or frightened or felt vulnerable. I wondered what fear prevents us from speaking these deep truths.

 Another blogger reposted these statements from my previous post, and when I read them, I realized they were really rhetorical questions for me. I know what fears keep me from showing my vulnerability—fears of disappointing someone, of looking weak, of seeming needy and incapable of taking care of myself, fears of being rejected.

I have learned, though, that those fears are unfounded and that, in reality, when I show my vulnerability, instead of being rejected, I am much more likely to be embraced, a lesson I learned most clearly after I left l’Arche.

Living in l’Arche was the most difficult thing I had ever done, and when I left, I was broken—emotionally and spiritually. I had failed at living in l’Arche, failed miserably, and was too embarrassed and too proud to return to Pennsylvania, despite friends’ encouragement to come back. My shame was overwhelming and paralyzing; I was in a deep funk.

Then a friend invited me to live in her community and made arrangements for me to live in a house down the street from her. I was welcomed into this home and given a second-floor bedroom in the front of the house. My room had a big window that let in lots of sunlight and I remember being deeply aware of the contrast between the light streaming in from outside and the darkness I felt inside.

My energy level was very low and I did not have much to give to this new community. Mostly, I moped around during the days, and in the evenings I watched the community members enjoying their time together. Because my sense of self-worth is closely connected to what I am contributing—and I was not contributing anything of value—I had no expectations that these people would accept me.

But they did not seem to mind if I needed to sit at the kitchen table and look out the window for hours on end or if I sat in my room feeling the warmth of the sun pouring in. They kept extending invitations to join in their community activities, but without pressure. Eventually, I started to join in, and their welcome and acceptance started to heal me.

My image of my life at that time was that I was drowning when I left l’Arche and my friend had tossed out a life-preserver. For a while I clung to that preserver, and it kept me from going under. In time, I started to float, and then bit by bit, the community members pulled the rope ever so gently and I came closer and closer to them.

I recall that time whenever I am feeling vulnerable and fears start to surface. I remind myself that fear is useless, and what is needed is trust.

What I learned about shoveling snow in Michigan

I grew up in Michigan, but spent twenty-eight years of my adult life in Philadelphia, where the winters are relatively mild.

I remember one winter, maybe 1986, when a January blizzard blanketed us with three feet of snow. I bought snow boots. Within a couple of weeks, the snow had melted and I put away my boots. Eight years passed before I looked for them again and by then, my boots were dried up and disintegrating. I decided to get by without snow boots.

Before moving back to Michigan last year, though, I bought new snow boots.

Last winter in Michigan was a record-setter in terms of cold and snow. We had more snow in one Michigan winter than I had seen in twenty-eight Philadelphia winters. I shoveled snow more times in one Michigan winter than I had in all twenty-eight Philadelphia winters combined.

And I learned a few things about shoveling snow.

Before last winter, the only method of snow-shoveling I knew was to fill the shovel, lift it up and dump the snow onto a pile. Here, I learned of the “snow-plow” method where the shovel is used like a plow, pushing the snow out of the way. It is much easier to push snow than to lift it!

For the first two-thirds of last winter, I actually enjoyed shoveling. It was good exercise—and about the only exercise I was getting. It was too icy, cold, windy, snowy to walk the dog very far, so the shoveling helped keep up my daily step count. Plus, I liked the peace and quiet that accompanied snowfalls.

By the middle of February, though, I had run out of places to push the snow and ended up having to lift the shovelfuls of snow over the existing piles, some of which were three feet high.

Lesson two was that late winter snow tended to be heavier than early winter snow (or maybe there was just more of it and I was just getting tired of it).

“Next year,” I said to myself, “I will make wider paths in the beginning of winter.”

We had our first snowfall the other day, a few inches of light, powdery flakes. As I shoveled, I remembered last winter’s lessons and pushed the snow an extra foot or so onto the grass. Shovel wide, I kept reminding myself. I felt like I was working with the snow, accepting its inevitability and creating more space for it.

My walk with God is so often about creating space and being open to how God acts in my life, even when those actions may at first seem like annoyances or even hardships. Shovel wide is a good reminder, and my snow-covered yard—with its wide margins—is a great visual about creating space and being open.

Hopefully, we won’t have another record-breaking winter, but even if we do, I have already started to create a bigger space to accommodate whatever comes.