Tag Archives: change

Life is changed in an instant

On Wednesday, April 6, my tour group traveled from Angers to Sarlat, France, with a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane. As I walked the deserted streets of this devastated village, I was taken back to September 11, 2001.

I was in New York City that day, having stayed overnight for work. I walked out of the apartment building on the east side a little before 9:00 a.m., planning to walk to Chinatown. I remember looking up at the sky and thinking, “what a beautiful day for a walk.” I didn’t know a plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center; I learned that one minute later when I walked across the street and into the office.

Life changed in those few minutes.

On June 10, 1944, life in Oradour-sur-Glane changed for the village’s residents. I could imagine the residents waking up that morning thinking it was like any other morning, and then some 200 Nazi’s surrounded their village and massacred the residents and destroyed the buildings. Only one woman survived.

The village has been left as it was that day, a memorial to the massacre.

Travel-Oradour-faith
Memorial plaque in the village.

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Travel-Oradour-faith

Later that day, I heard about atrocities in Ukraine and thought of the people there who had woken up one day in February not knowing their lives would never be the same.

The stop in Oradour-sur-Glane was sobering, and for the next few days, my mind was preoccupied with the evil in the world—past and present.

Other times when life changed in an instant kept popping up—the day Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer, the day I was raped, the day Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia, the day I learned my husband had been unfaithful, the day my cousin was raped…a parade of life-altering events.

I allowed myself to feel the sadness for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane and the people of Ukraine—and for myself. In the middle of this wonderful, month-long trip to Europe, I held deep gratitude for this opportunity to see and learn.

I recognized the parallels in France’s life-altering events and my own, and I came to a deeper understanding of the need to honor my past, no matter how painful it might have been.

France is still coming to terms with their role in World War II. Likewise, I am coming to terms with my own history. I want to reveal the secrets I have held and move past the shame I have carried.

Walking the deserted streets of Oradour-sur-Glane reminded me to look at my past realistically and to acknowledge what happened to me. I remembered three questions from a grief retreat I attended: What was lost? What remains? What is possible?

To be chosen

Were you one of the kids who was a top-pick when teams were chosen or a last-choice?

I think I was chosen early because I was tall and athletic, but what I remember most about the choosing process was the anxiety of waiting to see what would happen.

I would stand in the back of the group, both because of my height (not wanting to stand in front of anyone) and also my fear that I would not be picked (it would be less obvious that I was not being picked because no one had to walk around me). I wanted to be picked so I would know I was seen and valued, and I was also anxious about whether I would be a help or a hindrance to my team.

That memory came back to me when I was preparing to write an Advent reflection for my alma mater based on the readings for December 8.

In Luke 1:26-38, the phrase “…you have found favor” made me think of Mary searching, trying to find favor with God. I thought of people who talk about seeking or searching for God, as one might search for clues in a scavenger hunt. 

But the reading from Ephesians (1:3-6, 11-12) tells us that it is God who chooses us, that “in love he destined us for adoption.”

Advent-faith-vulnerability

Finding favor with God, I believe, is more about being pleasing to God and about receptivity—being open to the goodness God wants to give. We don’t have to search for clues to find God; we have already been chosen.

We can put up roadblocks to receiving God’s favor—perhaps a resistance to change or a sense of our unworthiness. I think back to my anxiety about being chosen for a team as a child and see how my fears and insecurities probably blocked my ability to be my best. And I can look at other moments and events in my life and see where my resistance served as a shield to block God’s favor.

As I thought of Mary hearing that she had found favor with God, that God was pleased with her, I thought again of the prayer a friend had given me: Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. Mary, I think, accepted the truth about herself and was able to be open to receive God’s favor.

Is there anything that is keeping you from being open to receiving God’s favor?

Advent-faith-vulnerability

At home

Something stirred deep inside me

as I drove through the streets

of the city where my life began.

Feelings of familiarity and belonging,

rootedness.

My body relaxed into who I once was,

the girl who played in these streets and

later took the bus to the Main Library and

then hitchhiked with my cousin when we were young teens,

which, even back then, was quite risky.

The shops lining the streets are unfamiliar—

African braiding salons and check-cashing stores—

but the names on the street signs conjure up

memories from a long ago past.

As much as the city has changed,

so have I.

And yet, my body still recognizes this place as home.

Silver linings

Joy is a sign of a generous personality, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Since the pandemic began a year and a half ago, I have been on the look-out for “silver linings,” those unanticipated good news moments. (It must be my tendency toward optimism!)

Anyway, due to some odd things that happened in my old church during the pandemic, I started thinking about looking for a new church. I have been going to my old church for seven years, and I tend to feel a sense of loyalty to my parish, but last weekend, I visited a new church.

There I sat in this new church, surrounded by strangers, observing how things are done here.

The first thing I noticed was the music. There were several people leading the singing and in addition to the pianist and guitarist, there was also a flautist and a violinist. The sound was rich, and it pulled me into a sense of community worship.

At the beginning of Mass, the priest called the children up front for children’s liturgy, and about a dozen children happily approached. He said a few words to them and then began singing, “If you’re happy and you know it….” The kids and the congregation joined in, singing and clapping their hands. The priest added a silly bit, and everyone laughed.

And then I realized I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in church for a while—I was feeling joy.

As Mass went on, the sense of joy continued. Two children were baptized during Mass, and I found myself smiling, happy for these two young families and their extended families.

The priest included the congregation in his sermon by asking questions, and he called people by name. His sermon was relatable—he talked about spiritual healing and physical healing, and days later, I am still thinking about the message.

Perhaps none of this seems extraordinary to you, but all of this indicated to me that I have probably stayed at my old church too long. Church is one of those places that can get comfortable, and the habit can make it easier to stay than to go. The pandemic shook that up for me—I only attended Mass once in-person, and I found my church too casual about Covid guidelines for me to be comfortable.

This has been a year of many changes for me, with my mother’s death and leaving my job, and I feel I have been living in a liminal space. Here, where routines have been tossed aside and everything is new and different, it seems a good time to explore.

What silver linings have you noticed because of the pandemic?

pandemic-faith-optimism

Letting go of what was to be open to what is to come

The image of the trapeze artist letting go of a swing, suspended in air before grabbing onto another trapeze artist, has been appearing to me lately, perhaps because I have been practicing letting go of both my job and my daily routines around my mom. I am like the trapeze artist in mid-air—I have let go of what was, but I have not yet grabbed onto what is to come. I am in transition between what was and what is to come.

vulnerability-grief-transition

I think this situation is common in grieving a death. We are forced to let go of how the relationship was because the person is no longer physically with us, but imagining what the future will be like without that person can be a challenge.

This kind of letting go happens in other situations, too—divorce, change of location, loss of job, illness, leaving school, etc. What once was is no longer, and what is to be is still unfolding.

Sometimes we hold on for too long to what has been, past the time when it is good or healthy for us. I have tended to do that with relationships that would have been better off ended, but because of loyalty, guilt or fear, I have stuck around. I have also done that with jobs—stayed past the time when I knew the job was not working for me, that it was constricting or toxic.

Letting go and the changes that come with it can be difficult. I crave what is familiar, even when I know that the familiar is not in my best interest. I like routines and traditions and often cannot see another way.

When I left my job, I prayed to be open. I want to see what is possible, and the best way to do that is to stop clinging to what was, to let go and to allow myself to live in this in-between place, to become more comfortable with a lack of routine, with the unknowing. I keep reminding myself that I can only receive something new when my hands are open and empty.

Letting go of what was to be open to what is to come

The image of the trapeze artist letting go of a swing, suspended in air before grabbing onto another trapeze artist, has been appearing to me lately, perhaps because I have been practicing letting go of both my job and my daily routines around my mom. I am like the trapeze artist in mid-air—I have let go of what was, but I have not yet grabbed onto what is to come. I am in transition between what was and what is to come.

I think this situation is common in grieving a death. We are forced to let go of how the relationship was because the person is no longer physically with us, but imagining what the future will be like without that person can be a challenge.

This kind of letting go happens in other situations, too—divorce, change of location, loss of job, illness, leaving school, etc. What once was is no longer, and what is to be is still unfolding.

Sometimes we hold on for too long to what has been, past the time when it is good or healthy for us. I have tended to do that with relationships that would have been better off ended, but because of loyalty, guilt or fear, I have stuck around. I have also done that with jobs—stayed past the time when I knew the job was not working for me, that it was constricting or toxic.

Letting go and the changes that come with it can be difficult. I tend crave what is familiar, even when I know that the familiar is not in my best interest. I like routines and traditions and often cannot see another way.

When I left my job, I prayed to be open. I want to see what is possible, and the best way to do that is to stop clinging to what was, to let go and to allow myself to live in this in-between place, to become more comfortable with a lack of routine, with the unknowing. I keep reminding myself that I can only receive something new when my hands are open and empty.

The best is yet to come

My life has been turned a bit upside down recently by my mother’s death and my leaving the job I have had for the past seven years. Two big losses at the same time and lots of empty space in front of me.

No more dinners with my mother or shopping for her or calling or stopping by to check in.

And no more work emails or office to go to or meetings to attend.

I have to admit that it is a bit scary to stand in front of this vast empty canvas without the commitments that have structured my life for the past years. And yet…

God-vulnerability-transition

I have decided to view the coming year as a sabbatical, a time to pause after thirty-five years of working in nonprofit management, to reflect on and say goodbye to what has been, and to prepare for what is to come.

Almost as soon as I made that decision, two retreat opportunities presented themselves—one is focused on discernment for people in transition and the other is for writers. I had not been looking for either one, but both seem opportune, and I signed up for them. One is virtual, and the other is in Texas—my first flight since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020.

As a child, I had no idea what I might be when I grew up—no passionate hopes or dreams to be this or that. As an adult, I tended to fall into jobs more than selecting them with a goal in mind.

So here I am in the third third of my life, still deciding what I want to be when I grow up. Only now, I have lots of experience and a pretty good idea of my gifts and talents.

And that knowledge and awareness energizes me—standing on the precipice of the next chapter in my life is thrilling.

My friend Jim used to say, “The best is yet to come.” I am in total agreement, and I am looking forward to what the next chapter of my life holds.

God-vulnerability-transition

Turning the page

I was convicted the other day by Jake Owensby’s post about unity.

Full disclosure: I don’t watch the news or read a newspaper or listen to the news (other than if I happen to be in my car and it comes on). I am an ostrich when it comes current events. I know the headlines, but not much else.

Friends fill me in when something monumental happens, but for the most part, the divisiveness and aggression in our country burdens me, and I choose to opt out.

It all started when my friend Jim got brain cancer and there was no room in my psyche for what was happening in the world. All my energy went into taking care of Jim and holding onto my job. Jim watched the news and would brief me on what was happening, and I found that this system worked for me. I became a news dabbler.

After Jim died, I grieved, and my pain was enough; I did not need to hear about crime, war or political spats.

Then I just got used to living shallow when it came to the news. It all just seemed like “different day, same story” and I did not find it helpful to my mental health to tune in.

I don’t like being angry, and that is mainly how I feel when I hear the news. I am tired of how little progress we make as a society.

For example, in the 1960’s and 1970’s many women campaigned to change language that excluded them. It was common for “men” to be used as the word for “people,” and men would say women were included in that word, which never made sense to me. By that argument, the word “women” should have been used because it does include “men.”

Over time, the use of “men” to mean everyone changed. In church, we went from saying “brothers” to “brothers and sisters” and from “brethren” to “people.”

But here we are, fifty years on, and “men” has been replaced by “guys” which is just another word for “men.”

God-unity-kindness

There are no female guys, but I cannot tell you how many times restaurant servers have called me a guy. It infuriates me, and it infuriates me that women are complicit in it, that women exclude themselves by calling other women “guys.”

It is no mystery that we still have a gender wage gap and that women are excluded from many positions of leadership in our society. Words matter, and calling women “guys” reinforces the message that men are the top dogs.

And don’t get me started on racial injustice or the demeaning treatment of people who have disabilities or who are elderly or any number of issues I have cared about for the past fifty years.

So please forgive me if I am impatient, but my impatience does not excuse using words that tear down rather than build up. I will try harder to seek unity in what I say and do.

Tethered

Tethered to the past by memory and history,

moored to what will never be again.

Like a boat bobbing on the water,

rocking gently,

comfortable in its lethargy.

Time passes by.

I look around,

hoping to find what has been lost.  

Who will I be if I let go of what was?

Cut the rope and

let the current carry you to new shores.