Tag Archives: challenge

Lessons from travel

“Piano, piano,” our tour guide Giacomo advised our group of ten as we navigated the cobblestone streets of medieval towns in Tuscany and Umbria. “Piano, piano,” he repeated as we climbed stone steps that have been worn down by centuries of use and had no handrails to steady us.


Piano, piano means slowly, slowly in Italian.

Good advice, I thought. Not just for traversing medieval towns in Italy, but for me, good advice for daily life, because I tend to move too fast, rushing as though I was always running late.

Travel makes me slow down, because I am aware of how dangerous rushing across cobblestones can be.


Traveling with a group makes me slow down because I sometimes need to wait for those who can’t move as quickly as I do.

It is good for me to slow down, and every time I had to stop and wait for someone to catch up, I felt invited to look up and take in the sights around me (walking on cobblestones requires lots of looking down). Those moments of waiting were invitations to notice what was in front of me, like little carvings in walls or unique shapes of doorknockers.


Slowly, slowly invites me to appreciate the here and now.

Travel also shakes things up. It is like a snow globe where I am tossed around a bit and when the snow settles, everything looks different. The people, places and food are unfamiliar, and my equilibrium is off. I join Dorothy in saying, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.


A man at church recently toured the Holy Land. Before he left, he told me he had been nervous about traveling to such a potentially dangerous place until he learned they were staying in a Westin Hotel and then he thought, “If I didn’t know any different, I could still be at home.”

“Then what is the point of going?” I asked.

When I travel, I want to be shaken up and to experience what is different. I want to know how it is for people who live in that place and to have my assumptions and stereotypes challenged. I want to be changed by my experiences, to learn something about another people and place—and about myself.

One of the features of touring with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) is that we visit people in their homes. On this tour, our group was split up among three homes in Carrera (after a tour of the nearby marble quarry). My small group had lunch with a couple and one of their sons.

Later in the tour, we visited Spello and were entertained by an Umbrian folk music group in the home of one of the musicians.

Massimo Liberatori & La Società dei Musici

During my two weeks in Italy, slowly, slowly became my go-to gear, and I pledged to myself that when I got home, I would try harder to stay in slow gear, to remind myself every day (and even multiple times a day), piano, piano.

Our Overseas Adventure Travel Group Tour Leader, Giacomo, aka Captain America

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.

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.


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.

Whatever’s easiest

Whatever’s easiest,

I tell myself.

Dodging drama and sidestepping hurdles,

ignoring naysayers

in favor of hope.

Embracing peace and tranquility.

Paying attention to my breathing and seeking balance.

Wanting to be in alignment—mind, body, spirit.

But after a life of accepting challenges and

facing obstacles,

of double dares and digging my heels in,

of resistance and standing up for people and causes,

this new way of life can seem

just too easy.

Where is the struggle?

The overcoming?

The sense of achievement?

How do I measure success when it comes too easily?

How do I know accomplishment if there is no pushback?

How do I walk side-by-side, instead of turning to confront head-on?

How do I let go and allow others take up the battle cry?

Can I settle myself in for a time of serenity?

Perhaps this is the wisdom of aging.

Having faith

A friend had surgery last summer and post-operative complications led to lots of pain and additional surgeries. She is frustrated, fearful and depressed.

One day she said, “I keep asking God to take the pain away, to fix this, and God does nothing. How can I have faith?”

“That is not the kind of God I have,” I said.

My God is not like a plumber, someone to whom I show a problem and say, “just fix this.”

My God, like my family and friends, is someone with whom I have a relationship. In the same way I would not expect my family or friends to fix my problems, I don’t expect God to either.

My relationships are more about listening, accepting, supporting and loving.

And just as I don’t blame my family and friends for my troubles, I don’t blame God either. My God is not a punishing God, and I don’t believe God causes pain or suffering; I believe that pain and suffering are part of life. When I am facing a challenge, I approach God with the question, “What am I to learn from this?”

Often, the answer is to let go.

Looking back, I can see that many of my struggles have been exacerbated by my pride or stubbornness or belief that I am strong enough to handle anything. I tend to hold on too tightly to my expectations and my image of myself as being in control.

God-vulnerability-letting go

Sometimes it is difficult to learn lessons when I am in the middle of a painful situation, and I have to wait until the situation has passed to gain clarity.

Other times, though, I can see that if I let go of my pride and admit my vulnerability, the pain lessens. Just by surrendering my ego, by admitting that I need help, I can ease the burden.

I have learned that it is not only ok to accept my vulnerability, but that accepting my vulnerability is the way forward. I am human; I need help.

After I left l’Arche, brokenhearted and humiliated, I had an aha moment. “God holds all the cards,” I said one day, and as soon as I said those words, I was comforted by the truth of God’s presence in my life—not to take away difficulties, but ready to catch me when I fall, to console me and help me stand again.

I have always loved the image of the potter creating and re-creating. I think of God that way, always ready to send a Spirit of hope and new life to get me back on my feet.  

God-vulnerability-letting go

Each of us faces challenges—health troubles, job losses, unmet expectations, etc. My faith tells me that God does not give me these challenges, nor can I expect God to remove them. My faith tells me that God will be with me through them, loving me, believing in me and wanting me to remember to let go of the illusion that I am in control.

God-vulnerability-letting go

Growing in resiliency

I work at a cancer support center that is part of a national organization which hosts an annual conference. Last year, it was in Philadelphia and this year it was virtual. The keynote speaker talked about resilience.

This speaker shared that fifteen years ago, he was working in a toxic environment which led to a deep depression. One day, when he could not take it any longer, he tried to kill himself by driving off an overpass on the expressway; he thought he could make his death look like an accident. Fortunately, the guardrail held, and he lived. Now he spends his life sharing messages of hope, positivity and resiliency.

The incident he shared reminded me of a time in my late thirties when I was living in a toxic situation that had drawn me into a deep depression.

One day, I was stopped at an intersection, waiting for a Mack truck to drive by. I remember thinking that if I pulled out at exactly the right moment, the truck would hit me with enough force to kill me. My second thought, though—and the one that saved my life—was that I had a passenger in the car, and it seemed completely unfair to risk her life to take my own.

Before that moment, I knew I had been struggling with feelings of hopelessness and a deep sadness, but I could not see a way out. The vortex of negativity had a strong grip on me, and I felt like I was being sucked under.


The incident with the truck frightened me so much that I called a therapist the next day. I also moved out of the toxic living situation that was fueling my depression.

The conference speaker talked about depression and getting professional help; he also talked about the keys to developing resiliency skills.

Resiliency is important for people facing cancer, and, like depression, can be the catalyst for developing new skills.

Not long after that Mack-truck incident, I remember telling my spiritual director that I felt like I was falling apart, and she said it seemed like I was falling together. I got her point—sometimes we have to be completely shattered before we can begin to rebuild.

I believe that every curse has a blessing, and my task is to seek the blessing.

The isolation brought on by COVID19 seems like an invitation to reflect on the people and experiences in my life that have helped me grow, and this conference talk was a catalyst for remembering a difficult time that ultimately led to deeper healing.

I feel blessed to have not only survived the difficult and sometimes devasting events in my life, but also to have grown because of them. Wonderful therapists and spiritual directors have guided me, and faithful friends have supported me. The grace of God nudges me toward forgiveness—of myself and those who have hurt me—and letting go.

Where do you find hope in the midst of life’s challenges?


Adventures in Britain

My first trip to England was to hike in the Lake District with three friends. One friend had been to Grasmere several times for Wordsworth conferences, and he was our leader. With his trusty guidebook in hand, we set off.


Unfortunately, he neglected to take into account that the length of days in summer (when the conferences were held) was different from the length of days in November, when we were visiting.

This became apparent on our first hike. We went out in early afternoon, when he thought we would have six hours to ramble through the countryside. But the light quickly began to fade around 4 p.m. and we were soon plunged into darkness. We had no flashlights and this was before cell phones, so when I say darkness, I mean darkness. There were no visible lights from houses and no streetlights to guide us to a road. We were sunk.

I remember telling myself that I was on an adventure with three friends and had nothing to fear.

Somehow, we got back to town safely.

The next day, we left much earlier and remained cognizant of the time.

After two days of hiking, though, I decided to stay in town to poke around the shops and visit Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home. When I announced my plan at breakfast, our leader said, “You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?”

“We came to hike,” he said emphatically.

“And I have hiked,” I replied.

He found it incomprehensible that I would take a day off from the very purpose of our trip. But I was not deterred.

Don’t get me wrong—I like to hike. But hiking in the Lake District is arduous.


When the book instructed us to scramble across a brook, it neglected to mention that in November the rocks in the brook would be covered in ice. The same with scaling rock faces. After two days, I had had enough and wanted a day off.

Besides, I enjoy poking around in little shops and visiting museums.

At the end of that day, I met up with the other three for drinks at the local pub.

Intermittent rain had made their hiking even more challenging (and less enjoyable), and they were exhausted.

I was happy I hadn’t gone hiking, as I enjoyed shopping in the village, visiting Dove Cottage and walking around Lake Grasmere.


My next hiking trip to England was to the Cotswolds where the Cotswold Way sounded much gentler than the Lake District walks. I went in the summer when the days are long, but I still had unexpected challenges—like not being able to find the gate in a field and having to climb a tree to get over a barbed-wire fence (hoping no one was capturing this escapade on video).

Being more of a city girl, both trips challenged me and gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Next year, I am going to the U.K.—this time to Wales, where I plan to walk leisurely around gardens.


Becoming courageous

“I want to be you,” a volunteer at my work recently said to me.

“Me?” I asked incredulously.

I admire your courage and kindness,” she said.

Over the years, I have told other women that I want to be them. These are women who embody the virtues I aspire to—patience, compassion, kindness, wisdom and self-acceptance. I want to embody those same virtues.

So when I heard these words being said to me, I was surprised.

I suppose most of us carry around images of ourselves that focus on our insecurities, where we see ourselves falling short and not living up to our own standards, let alone expectations others might have. I know I do.God-wisdom-courageI used to move a lot and hanging curtains was one of the first things I did to help me feel settled into my new place. I remember after one move, a woman at work asked how I was settling in and I told her I had my curtains up so I was in good shape. “Who hung them for you?” she asked, knowing that I was single. “I did them myself,” I replied with both a tinge of incredulity that she asked the question and also a sense of pride. She considered hanging curtains rods a challenge.

But, I have been in my current house for five years and only last week put up the last of my window treatments. I was nervous about drilling into the plaster wall. Drilling into wooden window frames is easy, but plaster?

I googled installing curtain rods in plaster walls and then I called my brother for further assurance. He concurred with the You Tube video.

So I charged my drill, mustered my courage, measured and began. I even used the level to make sure the rod was straight.

The finished product pleased me.God-wisdom-courageWhy had I been so resistant? So fearful?Even though others may see me as courageous, I know my inner fears. I know how I can be paralyzed by the smallest thing (like putting up curtain rods).

When this paralysis strikes, I wonder if it is a matter of accepting my limitations or being challenged to overcome a fear.In my early thirties, my therapist encouraged me to do things scared.

Act as if… my therapist advised me. We had been talking about my fears, and there were many. He suggested I act as if I had no fears, with the idea that acting as if would lead to a change in behavior, that my fears would disappear.

I was doubtful, but it actually worked, and each time I did something that frightened (or even terrified) me, I gain confidence.

From another therapist, I learned is to ask, What is the worst that can happen? In most circumstances, the worst is not so bad. (In the case of curtain rods, it would mean some repair work before reinstalling.)

Doing things scared and weighing possible outcomes have helped me become less fearful and more courageous.God-wisdom-courage