Tag Archives: blessings

A visit to Lyon, France

Last spring, I spent three weeks touring France, and Lyon was my favorite city (sorry, Paris). I decided to visit Lyon again in the fall and just spent another week there. The City still enchants me. Here are a few photos:

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A florist shop in the Old Ciity

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A fruit and veggie market next to the florist shop

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Doors of Lyon’s Old City

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.

Soften my edges

Wispy pink clouds,

fluffy puffs,

like cotton candy,

dot the morning sky.

They speak to me of dreams and hopes,

of things delicate and precious,

of fairy tales come true,

and remind me of  

the people who bless me

with kindness and generosity.

Every pink sky is an invitation

to soften my edges and receive

what the world offers.

On retreat–pondering my blessings

The weather while I was on retreat was perfect for spending time outdoors, and the retreat center has beautiful grounds—grassy areas, a labyrinth, and trails through a wooded area.

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The labyrinth at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House

I had not been on retreat here in two years and was startled by the number of fallen trees in the woods. The undergrowth was so dense I wondered how deer could make their way through, and then I wondered what undergrowth might be preventing me from moving forward. What is tripping me up?

Time on silent retreats is different from daily life in that there is nowhere to go and not much to do. A schedule develops around meals, Mass, meeting with a spiritual director once a day, and prayer times.

Retreat time allows for being able to stay with one image, idea, word or phrase for a whole day—or two or three; there is no need to move on. Rather retreats invite and encourage dwelling with words and images, letting the richness surface, and then going deeper.

On the third day of retreat, I woke up with the words of the Magnificat running through my mind, and I wrote this prayer in my journal, noting which words or phrases created some reaction in me. I prayed the words as though they were my own, as though I was the one offering up this prayer from my life experience, as Mary once offered it when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth.

On one of my walks, I stopped by a statue of Mary and sat on the bench facing Mary. I played out the scene of Mary visiting Elizabeth and heard Elizabeth ask, “Who am I…?”

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Statue of Mary at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House

Who am I? I asked, that I have been so blessed. I thought of how many times I have said, “I am the luckiest girl in the world,” because of all the wonderful opportunities I have had.

A litany of blessings started coming to mind, those experiences that were seemingly beyond the scope of possibility for a poor girl from the east side of Detroit.

For example, I was one of five people on a private tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, when the Basilica was closed (the Basilica closes when the Pope celebrates Mass on the Square).

I was one of three people on retreat in a cottage on the coast of the Irish Sea.

I was the only person on retreat in a hermitage on the grounds of a monastery in the desert, being directed by priest who has published books about spiritual writing.

I was one of three people on a night safari in Kruger Park in South Africa, which included a barbeque in the bush, complete with cloth napkins and candlelight (and armed guards watching out for lions).

I was one of eleven people on the shores of the Hudson Bay, 150 miles south of Churchill, Manitoba, watching polar bears migrate.

The list goes on and on.

Who am I that God has so richly blessed me?

Breakthrough

I recently did a “the first four words you see will be your words for 2021” game on Facebook. My words were connection, self-care, money and breakthrough. Self-care is the one that resonated most strongly with me, because it is an area that challenges me.

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The other three, though, who knows what they might mean?

Then this week in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, I had a breakthrough.

We are doing a mini-course on Jesus and because of the pandemic, the presentations have been videotaped and we are watching them on our own. The first session was an overview of the Bible.

The priest who did the presentation shared that his favorite Bible is the Harper Collins Study Bible, which was a new one to me, and I made a note to check it out. The session ended with a Lectio Divina prayer time using Isaiah 40:1-2: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and…

This reading is very familiar to me, and my mind started filling in the next words. But this was a different translation, one I had never heard before, and after those first few words, I had to stop the video and go back to listen to what was being read, rather than listening to the words in my head. This translation read:

…cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins….

I actually laughed out loud because I almost missed this message by filling in what was familiar.

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Plus, these words are similar to what friends have been telling me for years, things like, you have done more than your share and you have atoned.

I stopped the video to spend more time listening to God telling me that I can let go of feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and to thank God for all I have received.

I am a loved sinner, I reminded myself.

Then I personalized the words:

I have served my term. My penalty is paid. I have received double from the Lord’s hands for all my sins.

On Wednesday of this week, I had cataract surgery, and the pre-op nurse and I chatted as she administered a series of eye drops. Her husband is from Italy, which led to us talking about our trips to Italy and my plans to return next year. She asked where I worked and when I said Gilda’s Club, she placed her hand on my hand and said, “Thank you for your work.” I could tell she knew the importance of support on the cancer journey.

I entered the operating room feeling blessed by my life. I have been fortunate to have meaningful work that touches the lives of vulnerable people, to have dear friends who love and support me, and adventures that broaden my life. I have received double and even triple blessings from God.

Now onto connection and money.

August flowers

The purple coneflowers

have been blooming for weeks

and are now losing their color in the August sun.

Their petals have begun to drop to the ground,

leaving only the dried-out brown pods.

Summer is passing.

This morning, a bright yellow bird

with a dab of black on its forehead

and splashes of black splayed out on its wings

landed on a pod

and picked out the seeds.

Breakfast.

How can something so ordinary bring me such joy?

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(Photo from Virginia Department of Environmental Quality)

This day

This day starts like every other and

has the same twenty-four hours as every other.

And yet, it is unlike every other day that has gone before it.

This day gifts me with an open space, a clean slate.

How will I fill the space?

What will I write on the slate?

Will I notice the gifts of all that lays open before me?

The birds singing, blue sky, the gentle breeze?

Will I appreciate the dark skies as much as the blue?

Or the rude stranger as much as the kind one?

Will I accept the good and the bad with open hands,

allowing neither to swing me too high or too low?

Will I thank God for all the comes my way and

offer a blessing on everyone I meet?

This day lays open before me,

inviting me to approach with eager anticipation.

It asks me to add kindness and beauty,

to write words of praise and gratitude,

to live this day as if it were my only one.

If I can do that, I will know myself as blessed and

close my eyes at the end of this day

and sleep in peace.

Silver linings

Someone recently asked me: What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

As a person who believes every curse has a blessing, I have been actively looking for silver linings since this time of social distancing began more than three months ago. Some of the blessings I have seen are:

I have had more time for hobbies, and I have read more books, completed more jigsaw puzzles and knitted more than I usually would. I have already knitted two gifts for next Christmas, which is not at all like me—I am usually knitting frantically the week before Christmas (or giving a certificate for a promised knitted article to arrive sometime after Christmas).

I have exercised more than I usually would. I am a morning exerciser and have still be going for my morning walk, but I think that staying in the house all day can make me feel cooped up, so I often go for an evening walk or bike ride.

Ten years ago, I went on a two-week language immersion course in Krakow, Poland. I had worked through the first part of Rosetta Stone Polish before that trip, and I have taken a couple of Polish classes since, but this time of isolation has given me the space to focus on my Polish. Almost every day, I spend time on Rosetta Stone, and most evenings, I practice what I have learned with my mother, whose first language was Polish. She says I am “coming along.”

My garden has gotten more attention this year because I usually go away in spring—on retreat or a vacation—but this year I have been home. I have also enjoyed my garden more this year because I spend lots of time in my sunroom, looking out over the yard. My sunroom doubles as my home office, another gift of this time. I miss seeing my co-workers in person, but even after we return to work, I may hold the occasional staff meeting in my home office/sunroom.

The other day I was reflecting on how these months at home have given me the space to explore new things. I find I am more open to consider different ways of doing everyday things. One of those is my charitable giving. I receive a fair number of requests from nonprofit organizations, and usually I toss the ones I don’t already support. But over the past few months, I have had the time to look at what comes in the mail. As a result, I have sent contributions to two organizations for the first time, even though they have probably been asking me for years.

These past few months felt like a long pause, and I have taken this opportunity to step back and look at my life. Having this extended period to review and reflect has been a gift, and I hope the lessons stay with me when we re-engage.

How about you? What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

Being mindful every day

One of the joys of going on retreat is that I take the time to read the notes and reflections that I keep in the pages of my Bible. I tend to tuck things into my Bible that I want to preserve—notes of gratitude, pictures of special events, prayer requests and reflection notes from past retreats.

Flipping through my Bible this week, I came across two notes that particularly spoke to me. The first said:

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.

Seemingly so simple, but any one of these five can trip me up. I decided to make a copy of this slip of paper and put it on my refrigerator so I can read it more often and be reminded of how simple it can be to be happy. I also tucked the original back into my Bible to be rediscovered at a later date.

The second reflection was in my friend Jim’s handwriting, and it said:

This is the beginning of a new day.

God has given me this day to use as I will.

I can waste it or use it for God.

What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it.

I want it to be

gain—not loss

good not evil

success not failure,

in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.

The morning meditation I am using for my retreat this year includes a similar reflection about looking at the twenty-four hours that are before me as an invitation and a gift—a day I have never lived before, a gift of twenty-four hours stretching out before me, inviting me to live each moment intentionally, fully awake, aware and present.

It is a good way to start every day.

And at the end of the day, I can look back with gratitude for all the gifts and blessings I was open to receive.

Do you keep little treasures in your Bible?

How do you prepare for the day? How do you review your day to gather the gifts that were presented to you?

Awareness

A red streak catches my eye.

Another cardinal.

Are there more this year

Or am I just more aware?

So many birds crying out from the trees and

overhead wires,

stopping by my yard,

looking for something to eat.

The downspout on my garage has become home to a robin,

sitting in her nest,

waiting for her eggs to hatch.

I keep vigil from the rocking chair on my porch.

Today a hummingbird visited my yard,

flitting among the flowers that hang from the shepherd’s crook.

I hope she comes back every day and blesses this space.

It is a gift of isolation, to have time to listen, to watch and

to see the gifts that are outside my window.