Tag Archives: balance

God-vulnerability-faith

God is in charge

Surrender to God and he will do everything for you. Antiphon in the Liturgy of the Hours Office of Readings for Tuesday of Holy Week.

I can easily forget that God is in charge. In my relationships, my work, my volunteer activities and life in general, I can think that I am running the show and that everything depends on me. And then I can feel burdened, pressured to perform and sometimes overwhelmed.

Breathe, Madeline, I tell myself when I am feeling overwhelmed. You are not God. Everything does not depend on you. Surrender. Let God be God. Trust God.God-vulnerability-faithGod reminds me all that I do really belongs to God. I have a part, but it is just a part. My job is to add my piece to bringing about the Kingdom—in some small way. I need to remember that God holds the whole picture.

Letting go and believing that God really is in charge challenges my trust and control issues.

I am a doer by nature, someone who jumps in and gets things done. I like accomplishing things, and I like challenges. The bigger the challenge, the more I enjoy it.

There is a line, though, between using my gifts and talents to further a mission and believing that my gifts and talents are the only thing that can accomplish the mission.

My personality type on the Enneagram is the Eight, also known as The Challenger. The Eight is said to be “powerful, dominating, self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational.”  Oh yeah, that’s me for sure.

God seems to play off my Eightness, my innate love of a challenge. My work life has been a succession of small nonprofits that were facing uphill battles. It is as if God hears me repeatedly saying, “Put me in, Coach,” even though I don’t remember ever saying it. But, once I am in, I am all in, taking responsibility and getting things done.

When I start to feel overwhelmed, though, I know that I have moved from being a doer to being a controller. It is then that I need to surrender to God and trust that he will do everything for me. It is then that I need to remember that God is really in charge.God-vulnerability-faithMy goal is to keep balance—to acknowledge my gifts and skills while remembering that the work is ultimately God’s. When I can let go and trust that God is in charge, my work and my life run smoother. Obstacles diminish; perspective is restored.

A Biblical image that helps me regain balance and trust is of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were put into a fiery furnace because they would not turn from God and bow to the King. But rather than being burned God sends an angel to deliver them because they trusted God (Daniel 3:95)

Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him. God, send your angel to me.God-vulnerability-faith

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God-cancer-hope

Why words matter

The last thing you say to someone might be the last thing you say to him. These words came to me as a memory from the day my friend Jim had a seizure which left him unconscious. That day ended with a diagnosis of a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer.

In the midst of being told that Jim may never regain consciousness, I wondered, “What was the last thing I said to him?”

Fortunately, I had spoken to him shortly before the seizure and my words were positive.

I know, though, that I don’t end every conversation, every interaction on a positive note. Sometimes I speak out of frustration or anger. Other times, I am distracted or tired or…God-cancer-hopeThat question, though, from the day Jim had a seizure has stayed with me and is a reminder to try to end every conversation on a positive note. That is particularly significant because I work at a cancer support center.

One of the women who came to the center for a couple of years had not been around for a while. Phone calls and messages went unanswered. We knew she had stopped treatment and began to wonder if she was still alive.

Sometimes families don’t notify us for weeks or even months, so we often live in a kind of limbo. But, we learned of this woman’s death within a few days after she had died.

Remembering this particular woman, I wondered what had been my last words to her. I hope they were something that let her know that I was glad to see her and that I cared about her. I hope she felt accepted, consoled and even uplifted.

She had been very realistic about the path she had chosen. She knew that without treatment, the cancer would end her life. But, I don’t think she knew that the last time she came to our center would be the last time. I did not know that the last words I said to her were the last words I would ever say to her.

Some days, I am overwhelmed by the sadness of my work. People learning they have cancer, enduring treatment, anxious for results from scans, some of them dying—it can be so sad.

Other days, though, I am overjoyed by the good news of my work. People learning that the cancer is in remission or that they are cancer-free, optimistic that life holds promise, hopeful for a future they once feared would never come.

Balancing these emotions, this ups and downs of cancer and its many ripple effects, can be difficult for me. God invites me to hold both the joys and sorrows.

I am reminded of St. Paul’s words: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Strengthen me, Lord.

Keeping things in perspective

Brain cancer became my reference point after my friend Jim was diagnosed with a non-curable and very, very aggressive form of it. While Jim was sick, any drama at work led me to ask, “Does anyone here have brain cancer?” It may seem harsh, but I did not have the energy to deal with what often constituted a crisis at work, and I would tell my staff to “work it out among yourselves.”

That brain cancer standard has served me well these past five years and has helped me to let go of things that might once have upset me. If nobody is seriously ill or in imminent danger, I can have a more realistic perspective on what really matters. I can step back and reassess most situations quite quickly.

calm

Last night at church, for example, a man came in terribly upset that one of the side doors was locked. He had parked near that door and had to walk to the next door (approximately fifty feet). “Someone has to do something,” he demanded. Another man standing nearby shook his head and said to me, “Some people.” He then told me that he had had a bout with cancer last winter and now he knew that a locked door was not really that big of a deal. I agreed, and I felt sorry for the man who was investing so much energy in such a small matter.

Recently, though, I have had two events in my own life that required me to step back and evaluate my reactions.

One was in my personal life and the other at work. Both involved unmet expectations.

One thing that can help me let go is to reframe the experience, to step outside of it and look at it from another angle. I am an extrovert and it helps me to talk through what happened in order to begin looking at the event from a different perspective. For both of these events, I called a friend who is an introvert; I find an introvert’s viewpoint opens up different options, often options I had not considered.

The personal event had made me angry because I had wasted some time and money. But no one had brain cancer, no one was going to die, and in the bigger scheme of things, wasted time and money are not that big of a deal. I asked myself, “Will this matter next month? Or in a year? Or at the end of my life?” Probably not. Let it go. I refocused my attention away from what was lost (time and money) to what was gained (the positive aspects of the experience).

perspective

The work event, though, has a broader impact and I needed to consider not just my unmet expectations and disappointment but that of others, too. I am still working on it.

Wise people throughout the ages have advised keeping things in perspective and maintaining balance—not holding on too tightly and not making more of something than it is. That is how I want to live.

balance

Gratitude for what is

Last week, I wrote about one particular day in my life when a cancer diagnosis rocked my world. After posting it, I began to think about other major events that can bring about change—meeting a new love interest, a wedding, the birth of a child, landing the perfect job, the ideal vacation, etc.

A cancer diagnosis usually produces a negative response, while these happy occasions conjure up images of joys and blessings. Who wouldn’t want their dreams to come true?

My friend Ted was a successful lawyer who loved books. His dream was to open a bookstore and share his love of books. I think he imagined days filled with like-minded book-lovers discussing ideas, books and authors. He could picture a customer’s joy when he (Ted) was able to help find the perfect book for that person. With a passion for books and enough money from his law practice, he retired from law and built a bookstore in Oregon.

GBB logo

One day, a friend of mine in Ireland was lamenting that he could not find a particular book about the river where he fished in County Cork. It was long out-of-print, but my friend was desperate to get a copy for his fishing partner. I asked Ted if he could help, and he gladly accepted the challenge. It did not take him long to find a copy of this obscure book at a used bookstore in England. My Irish friend was thrilled, as was his fishing partner when he received the book. I think that before he opened the store, Ted imagined these were the kinds of moments that would fill the days of a bookstore owner.

Unfortunately, running a business involves many more mundane tasks, and Ted would often call to discuss some aspect of his day that had not gone as he planned. “Remember,” I would say as gently as possible, “you are living your dream.”

Even when our dreams come true, when we land the perfect job or take the ideal vacation or meet Mr. or Ms. Right, every moment of every day is not bliss. Life is full of ups and downs, and finding balance is essential—not holding on too tightly to either the joys or the sorrows.

St. Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

To be content with and grateful for what is—not just the happy times, but also the difficult, heartbreaking times—requires the strength and grace that Jesus offers. Any day can bring news that can rock my world, and I can feel like a weeble wobble that tilts off kilter.

weeble wobble leftweeble wobble 2

Daily prayer reminds me that I am in God’s hands, and God will help me find balance. I am grateful.

 

There are Trees

“There are trees,” exclaimed a cousin from Poland on her first visit to Detroit forty years ago. “Of course, there are trees,” my aunt responded. It seems, at that time, people in Poland were being told that all the trees in the U.S. had been cut down. This cousin had expected a wasteland. Throughout her visit, she kept up a running commentary on all the trees, flowers and animals she saw, trying to reconcile her pre-trip expectations with what she was actually seeing.

I was reminded of that incident when a friend and I drove into Detroit the other day. “There are buildings,” she exclaimed as downtown Detroit came into view. “Of course, there are buildings,” I responded. It seems that the message about Detroit these days is some kind of post- apocalyptical shell of a city.

In reality, downtown Detroit is thriving—buildings, culture and entertainment. (My first assignment for my new job was attending the annual dinner of the Michigan Women’s Foundation—700 people at a downtown convention center.)

I won’t claim that Detroit has no issues. Like many older U.S. cities, some neighborhoods are deeply troubled, with abandoned houses dotting the landscape and residents struggling to retain a sense of community.

As with most places, though, Detroit has strengths and weaknesses, assets and deficits. I tend to focus on the assets of a place. Knowing that no place is perfect, I accept the imperfections as part of the package. I seek out the good things a city has to offer. This has been true for me wherever I have lived, and I think it has helped me get to know cities, to appreciate what they have to offer and to enjoy what is available.

I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with Detroit, the city where I grew up, the first city I loved. I am grateful for this opportunity to fall in love with Detroit for a second time.

Yes, there are buildings in downtown Detroit and there are still trees—and now this is the place I call home.