Tag Archives: change

God-vulnerability-faith

Suddenly

One of the readings at Mass on Pentecost Sunday was Acts 2:1-11. When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly…

The word suddenly caught my attention—and held it. Throughout the rest of Mass and in the days since then, I have been repeating it.

Everything changed for the disciples on the first Pentecost. In one moment, the old life was gone; a new life started.God-vulnerability-faithI thought of times in my life when suddenly everything changed. My own Pentecost experience on March 7, 1973, was a life-changing encounter with the Spirit. I had new hope and vision after that encounter. Life looked different; the possibilities seemed endless.

That was a good suddenly.God-vulnerability-faithThere have been other times, though, when things changed suddenly, but not in a positive way. Jim’s cancer diagnosis was like that. One day, he was fine and then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Life looked different, but the possibilities were not evident.

Fortunately for me, in between those two events—the first when I was twenty-one and the second when I was fifty-nine—I had plenty of other times when my life was going in one direction and then changed course. All of those course shifts taught me the importance of restoring balance as quickly as possible—and of trusting that no matter the direction, God was always with me.

But, why now did this word take hold? What is the significance?

I prayed for insight. Every time I found myself repeating the word, suddenly, I would ask God, “What is the invitation in this word?”

The next weekend at Mass, our pastor talked about personal missions—not going on mission or being a missionary—but rather having clarity about my specific mission, God’s plan for me with my exact history, gifts, skills and talents.

One would think that by my age, I would have great clarity about my life mission, especially since I have spent most of my life working in mission-driven nonprofits.

But then I think of Sarah and Elizabeth having babies in their old age, and I know that God does not have the same expectations of age that we do.

The thing about sudden events is that there is no way to anticipate them or to plan for them. But there is a way to live that makes it easier to receive them.

For me, that means letting go of expectations, dropping my defenses and keeping my cynicism in check. It means being open and vulnerable and willing to be born again in the Spirit.God-vulnerability-faithNext Friday is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an invitation to ponder unfathomable love and an invitation to keep my heart open to receiving and giving love. If I can do that, the Spirit’s sudden movement will be a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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fear-trust-faith

Trust

I think that my blog post last week sparked my thinking about the ways fear has impacted my life. Since writing about love lost, I have been flooded with memories of other occasions when I made decisions based on fear rather than trust.

How many times have I lost love because I was too scared? How many missed opportunities for love have there been?

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, I tell myself over and over. But living those words continues to challenge me.fear-trust-faithI recently watched Inside Out, an animated film about the emotions that influence our lives—joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Riley, the girl in the movie, grows up in a loving family; when she is eleven, her father’s work takes the family from Minnesota to California. Everything changes, and she goes from primarily being joyful to being terribly angry. In her anger, she loses trust in her parents and makes decisions that are clearly misguided.fear-trust-faithAs I watched the movie, I wondered about my own decision-making history. I wondered how many times my family and friends have watched me make decisions based on fear or anger—and stood by shaking their heads at my misguided choices.

After I had lived in l’Arche for about six months, I came back to Pennsylvania for a two-week holiday. My friends were shocked at my appearance. In those six months, I had lost twenty pounds or so and apparently looked unhealthy. I knew I was fatigued and generally unhappy, but my friends’ reactions were alarming.

“You can’t go back there,” one friend after another told me.

Not go back? I had to go back. I had made a commitment.

But, like Riley in the movie, I was having a really tough time. Change can be so difficult.

How could I admit—after just six months—that I had made a mistake or that I could not do what I had set out to do? Pride and fear paralyzed me.fear-trust-faithGoing back meant my health would continue to suffer. Moving back after six months felt like a failure. Neither option held much hope for me; either way, I felt like I was a disappointment.

Looking back on that time, I can now see options and possibilities that were not clear to me then.

Back then, fear was motivating my decisions. Fear of failure, fear of looking weak, fear of disappointing. My judgment was clouded.

Inside Out shined a light on how memories stack up to create a preference or inclination. If I have lots of joyful memories, I am more likely to expect joy and to look for it. If my memories are sad, fearful or angry, I am more likely to see through that lens.

Moving from fear to trust is a conscious decision, and I have decided to recall two joyful memories every time sad or angry memories surface. Hopefully this small exercise will help tip the scales away from fear and toward trust.fear-trust-faith

 

Being open to something new

“I’m glad you’re willing to try new things,” a friend said as we kayaked across the lake at her cottage.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“So many people our age won’t try new things,” she said.

It was my first visit to her cottage and just before we got into the kayaks, I had learned to paddle board.

I think I come by it naturally. My mother, at ninety years old, is still trying new things. She tries new recipes, new card games, new stores, and she wants to get a rain barrel. I love that she continues to be open. Trying new things—like learning to kayak and paddle board in my sixties—does not seem so unusual to me.

Being open to new things is also part of my spiritual life. “I am doing something new,” God promises in Isaiah 43:19, and Jesus invites us to change direction time and again. Think of the apostles who were living their lives and then changed course or of St. Paul and other holy people throughout the ages. The openness to hear God’s voice and move in a new direction is one of the hallmarks of the spiritual journey.

My life has undergone so many changes in the past five years, and I can’t say it has always been easy to embrace the new. But God keeps inviting me to be open, to let go of the past and move into a new future. Trusting that God is with me through it all makes accepting and adapting a bit easier. Letting go of expectations of how things “should be” also helps.

Still, it can be scary to step into the unknown and to feel vulnerable and uncertain. I think my paddle board lesson offers a good model, though, for moving into the future.

I started in shallow water with someone holding the board. First, I knelt on the board and paddled around a bit to get a feel for it. Then I stood and found my balance. I paddled in the shallow water first and then venture further out.

Starting out small and building confidence makes the change easier.

Of course, not all change is voluntary. Aging brings about physical changes that can be difficult to accept—failing eyesight, less stamina and the effects of gravity, to name a few. Disease or disability can also cause changes and present challenges. Not all of “the new” is positive; God does not say it will be.

I think that practicing a willingness to try new things sets up an openness to change that can help when the involuntary changes happen. When brain cancer limited my friend Jim’s use of his right hand, he said, “I guess I’ll become a lefty.”

Being unwilling even to try anything new results in missed opportunities. I am not advocating recklessness (like sky diving or extreme sports), but rather an openness to experience whatever new God is presenting.

Once I get the hang of it, I just may try paddle board yoga.

paddleboard yoga

Lamenting the end of Downton Abbey

A friend recently told me she and some friends had gone to tea at a local pastry shop to mark the end of Downton Abbey. They enjoyed tea and scones while sharing their favorite episodes and characters from the show. Among the items discussed was which character each of them would want to be.

I have watched all six seasons of the show, and I loved getting to know the characters and their relationships, but I never thought about which character I would want to be.

I asked which character she would want to be.

“Lady Mary,” she said without hesitation.

Lady Mary

“Why?” I asked incredulously. “She is such a b–ch,” I added.

My friend explained that she wished she could be as­­ direct as Lady Mary and as determined to get what she wants. She liked how Lady Mary was unapologetic in her quests and conquests.

She concluded with, “Everyone wants to be Lady Mary.”

“Not me!” I declared.

I then listed Lady Mary’s negative character traits—she is bossy and demanding and cold to her sister.

My friend saw Mary as indomitable and sure of herself. She saw Mary’s reconciliation with Edith at the end of the series a sign of Mary’s ability to be compassionate. I conceded that their reconciliation was a good sign, but Lady Mary still had a long way to go in my opinion.

We seemed to be looking at the same person through a different lens. What I saw as character flaws, my friend saw as admirable traits. What I saw as things that needed to be worked on and changed, my friend saw as attributes.

And then it occurred to me—as I was enumerating what I saw as Lady Mary’s negative traits, I was also listing my own. I can be bossy and demanding and I have been called some version of one tough broad more than once. I am not comfortable feeling vulnerable and I hate being blindsided and looking stupid.

“Maybe I already am Lady Mary,” I blurted out. My friend did not disagree.

I could see it. The tough exterior, suppressed emotions, keeping everything under control, her loyalty, and the way Lady Mary protected those she cared about. Yes, I could see why my friend did not contradict my declaration. I really am quite like Lady Mary.

In the final episodes of the show, Lady Mary does soften somewhat. She and her sister reconcile and she listens to Tom’s wisdom and advice about love. She allows herself to be vulnerable and risk love again.

Maybe there is hope for me yet.

But, upon reflection, the character I would want to be is Mrs. Crawley. She is so wise, sensitive, understanding and insightful. She is accepting of most everyone (except Lord Merton’s wicked sons) and loves her cousin Violet despite the Dowager’s sometimes acerbic tongue.

Maybe I will watch the series again—through a different lens.

Brussels sprouts and loofas

God promises to do something new (Isaiah 43:19), and I believe the promise. I have been praying to be open to the something new God wants for me, but I sometimes wonder how God can do something new if I am clinging tenaciously to the old.

So I have also been praying to be more aware of what I am holding onto and where I am resistant to change.

The prayer seems to be working; almost every day I am aware that I am being resistant to something. I catch myself saying, “I don’t like…” or “I don’t do…” or “I don’t eat…” or some other words which express that I am being obstinate.

For example, I tend to be fairly adventurous when it comes to trying different foods. My one disclaimer is that I don’t eat Brussels sprouts. (Ok, full disclosure, I also don’t eat those baby chicks on a stick they sell in the Philippines, and I get a bit queasy about some of the greens I have had in Africa, but otherwise, I am willing to try just about anything.)

A few weeks ago at dinner with a friend, she suggested we share a Brussels sprout salad. “I don’t eat Brussels sprouts,” I said. She was willing to order a different salad, but the restaurant was known for this particular one, so I moved against my resistance and agreed to try it. I am not sure what they did to alter the taste, but these Brussels sprouts were very good and I actually enjoyed the salad.

Later that same week, I received a gift bag full of spa-type products, including a loofa. I have received loofas before, but not used them; I use wash cloths. This time, though, I decided to try the loofa. When I went to work and gushed about my discovery of the wonders of the loofa, my co-worker looked at me quizzically. She has been using loofas for a long time. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I asked. “Why didn’t I listen?” is probably the better question.

The habits, patterns and guidelines I have created to give structure to my life can lead to a rigid rejection of anything different. That which is familiar and comforting can get in the way of receiving the new that God is offering.

Whether it is trying a new food (or one I have previously decided I don’t eat) or trying a new endeavor or welcoming a new person into my life, whenever I hesitate or hear myself say no, I know I am  being resistant. My little resistances are signs that I am not free, that I am holding too tightly to something.

Every day, God offers me the opportunity to live my life in a different way. Brussel sprouts and loofas are just two steps along the path to freedom.

I have no voice

“I have no voice,” I said to myself. I would have said it out loud, but I literally had no voice—just a tiny whisper.

A sinus infection was probably the cause of this temporary loss, but I have had sinus infections in the past and never lost my voice.

Believing in the mind-body connection—that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our physical health—I wondered if losing my voice meant something on a deeper level.

In the hours before losing my voice, I had been talking about some of the events that led to my moving back to Michigan—maybe losing my voice was an indication that it was time to let go of my life in Pennsylvania and invest myself more fully in my new life.

Then another possibility occurred to me. Years ago, I remember writing in my journal that I hoped I would get to a place in my life where I no longer talked—not because of a stroke or some kind of cancer, but rather that I would have said all I needed to say.

When I shared that reflection with a friend, he chortled, incredulous that I could imagine I would ever stop talking. I talk a lot; being an extrovert, talking is usually how I process things.

I can be quiet, though. Every year, I go on a week-long silent retreat and my dream is to go on a thirty-day silent retreat.

When I went to Poland for two weeks of language school, I pledged to speak only Polish. Being a beginner in my language skills, I rarely spoke outside of the classroom. It felt like a two-week silent retreat.

And, since I moved to Michigan two years ago, I have spent more time in quiet than at any other in my life. Whole days pass without my having spoken to anyone but the dog. Often, I don’t even turn on music or the television. I like the quiet. I find it soothing.

Is it possible that my journal entry was coming true, that I am at that place in my life when I had said all I needed to say?

I hope not, because I think that I am really just finding my voice. I resonate with the phrase winter artist, because after so many years of living and learning and gaining experience, I finally believe I have something to say, something that might actually be helpful to someone.

My voice returned within a few days, but the experience has left me mind mindful of my words—and more grateful for my voice.

Big girl panties

Whenever she is faced with a daunting task, my friend Patty says, “I’m going to pull up my big girl panties and….”

That expression resonates with me as I can feel like a scared, little girl when I have something to do that seems beyond my ability—or at least beyond my comfort zone.

Two years ago, I moved to Michigan where we are surrounded by lakes and have plenty of rain and snow. Water conservation is frequently in the local news, though; caring for our lakes, rivers and streams matters here.

Wanting to be a responsible citizen, I bought a rain barrel. The purpose of a rain barrel is to collect rain water from a downspout rather than letting it run off directly into the ground. I planned to use the collected rain water for my potted flowers.

My barrel came with instructions, but those instructions did not provide much detail. For example, step one was “decide where you will place your rain barrel,” and then suggested placing it on top of a pile of bricks or a tree stump. There are no tree stumps in my yard, so I was left to wonder how high the pile of bricks should be and how near or far from the downspout.

Another step was to drill a one-inch hole for the overflow valve. One inch? I own a drill, but my largest bit is nowhere near one inch. I felt defeated before I even started. And so my rain barrel sat in the garage, collecting dust instead of water.

Every time I saw that barrel sitting in my garage, it was a reminder that I was afraid—afraid to try something I had never done before, afraid to fail.

After a fair amount of hand-wringing, I finally asked my brother if he had a one-inch drill bit I could borrow. He did, and he gladly loaned it to me, along with the hacksaw I needed to cut through the downspout.

But even though I now had the proper equipment, I was still intimidated.

So I googled the company that made my barrel and emailed the president. I explained to him that his installation instructions assumed too much to be useful to me, and then I presented him with my list of questions

He responded quickly and provided more detailed information on the installation process.

With his instructions and my brother’s tools, I decided it was time to “pull up my big girl panties” and install my rain barrel. I hit a glitch when my brother’s drill bit would not penetrate the thick plastic, but I turned to a neighbor who has a rain barrel, and he loaned me a different style of one-inch drill bit. It worked, and my rain barrel is now collecting rain water.

Fear conquered.

Now, onto installing an outdoor clothesline—which requires digging a deep hole and pouring cement!