Tag Archives: change

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.

God, turn me toward you

Lent is coming, and I find myself pondering where I am being invited to grow. A couple of recent dreams and one of my poems seem to be offering some insight.

For many years, I was in a dream group, meeting regularly with a couple of friends to share our dreams. I believe that God speaks to me through my dreams in the same way God spoke to people during Biblical times, so I try to pay attention to my dreams.

Belonging to a dream group helped me to be disciplined about recording my dreams, and the questions and insights of the other group members helped me gain understanding of the messages in my dreams.

I also learned from those groups that sharing dreams makes me vulnerable because dreams often reveal something of which I am unaware in my waking life; dreams uncover my blind spots and reveal what is hidden to me.

I recently had a couple of dreams that seemed significant because I remembered the emotions I felt while dreaming and a great deal of detail. I wrote out and emailed one dream to a former dream group member and asked for her insights. After a first reading, she asked if I was resisting some change in my life.

Upon reflection, I could see that I was. I am ready for a change and also fearful about it.

God-Lent-dreams

And then last week, a comment about one of my poems connected with the dream I had sent my friend.

The poem was about encountering a homeless person in a park, and the comment was from someone who had had a similar experience. But the truth is that I had not encountered a homeless person in a park.

So why, I asked myself, was I writing about a homeless person? Was this really about some part of me or my life being represented by a homeless person? The poem contained the same kind of hidden message as a dream might, and I realized how my writing can sometimes come from that same place within—that place that can reveal my blind spots.

God is doing something new, I thought, and using different ways to show me what it is.

God-Lent-dreams

Upon reflection, I can see that I am nurturing a tiny spark inside me, barely a flicker, and oh so vulnerable. It is like the vulnerability of being homeless—uncertain, unfocused, on the fringe. I fear the unknown-ness of this tiny spark.

And at the same time, I am drawn to it, wanting to protect it and watch it grow into something bigger and brighter. I want to acknowledge this spark is there, waiting patiently for me to notice it and to anticipate what it might become.

God speaks to me in many ways—through people, nature, dreams and writing—and in every moment, wishing to communicate with me. I need only to be open.

God-Lent-dreams

Developing new habits

“Stop apologizing,” a friend said to me.

“It is a bad habit,” I replied.

She is reading a book about over-apologizing and trying to change her own habit; I am caught in her new-found awareness.

I am grateful for her insight, though, because it is helping to develop my own awareness. When I am with her now, I swallow every “I’m sorry” that attempts to escape my lips.

But, why do I apologize for things over which I have no control?

Bad weather? I’m sorry.

Bad hair day? I’m sorry.

You didn’t see my text? I’m sorry.       

Trouble with your car? I’m sorry.

The store was out of your favorite whatever? I’m sorry.

On and on it goes. At first, I had thought to count the number of times I apologize in a day, but it quickly became apparent that the number was just too many.

So why do I apologize?

I don’t really feel responsible for the weather or car trouble or most of the other inconveniences of life. I know I am not that powerful that I can control any of it.

In the bigger scheme of habits, this one may seem inconsequential, but I am beginning to see how my over-apologizing is connected to my self-image.

I grew up feeling invisible and believing that being invisible was the best I could be. If someone saw me—if I became visible—that was a bad thing, as if I was the inconvenience and I needed to apologize for being a bother. It was as if my very presence was the problem.

Therapy helped me understand the flaws in this belief system. But changing the habits I developed during those early years has taken a lifetime, and obviously, I still have a way to go.

What I need is another way to express my concern that something bad has happened or that someone has been troubled in some way—without taking responsibility for what has happened. I need to develop a new habit that expresses empathy or sympathy.

I hadn’t anticipated this as a New Year’s resolution, but it is the gift that has come to me, and I will try to honor it.

What habits are you trying to change?

What I learned from unexpected events

This week, Christians celebrate that God became human in the form of an infant child. The story is full of unexpected twists and turns—Mary becomes pregnant even though she is a virgin; Joseph stays true to his commitment to marry her because an angel appears to him in a dream; and Mary and Joseph trek to his hometown for a census, only to find no room for them at the inn.

It is easy to imagine the people in this story saying, “I didn’t expect that” or “I didn’t see that coming.”

Christmas-spirituality-faith

“How was the past decade for you?” someone asked on a radio show this week.

My first reaction was “Ugh!” The past decade was a tough one for me—full of unexpected twists and turns. Many times, I said, “I didn’t expect that” or “I didn’t see that coming.”

If someone had asked me at the end of 2009 to predict what the next decade would bring, I would not have been able to guess most of what happened over the past ten years.

It started in December 2009, when my cousin died from pancreatic cancer. Her death rocked my world on several levels. She was near my age (too young to die) and she lived away from family (as did I). She was unwilling to talk about her illness and seemed to be in denial that she was about to die.

I grew up in a house where denial was a way of life. Years of therapy have helped me learn a different way, but my cousin’s death made me wonder if I would revert to the fallback position of denial if something catastrophic happened to me. I began to ask myself how I would react if I was diagnosed with cancer or another terminal illness.

Of course, we only know what we will do when we are faced with the situation, but my cousin’s death made me face my own mortality.

Over the next six years, five friends died from cancer and one (who was only twenty-six) died from a heart attack.

Plus, I moved back to my home state to be near my family.  

It was a decade of change and loss, and I am happy to put it behind me.

At the same time, I learned a lot during this decade.

I am not the same person I was ten years ago and much of that change happened because of the challenges I had to face.

I learned that I really would step up in a crisis, take someone into my home and help him to have the kind of death he wanted.

I learned to be more honest and realistic, to let go of unmet expectations and accept reality.

I learned to spend more time and energy on what really matters and give little time or energy to petty problems or contrived dramas. “Is it brain cancer?” I ask.

Unexpected events happen; how we respond to them is what makes the difference.  

Christmas-spirituality-faith

Spread joy

After a change in travel plans, I called the airline to see if I could get on an earlier flight, but I had bought a “no changes allowed” ticket. The airline representative told me, though, that the gate agent could let me board an earlier flight, so I decided to go to the airport early to see if the I could make the switch.

It was my birthday, and I thought that if the gate agent knew, it might help my cause. So, I bought a button that proclaimed Birthday Girl and pinned it to my coat.

Birthday-joy-travel

I am happy to be alive and grateful for every birthday. I have never lied about my age because every birthday reminds me how blessed I am and gives me the opportunity to think of family members and friends who died young, all those who did not reach my current age.

In the shuttle from the car rental agency to the airport terminal, several people wished me happy birthday. A man across from me asked me how old I was, which startled me since people don’t usually ask. I told him I was sixty-eight, and he said, “You look great.”

I don’t know what sixty-eight is supposed to look like (or act like, for that matter), but I appreciated the compliment.

The TSA agent looked at my birthday girl button and checked my driver’s license before wishing me a happy birthday. “Just checking?” I asked. “I didn’t want to be made a fool,” he said.

The surly cashier at the donut shop looked at my button and asked, “Is it really your birthday?” I assured her it was. She broke out in a big smile and wished me a happy birthday.  

The birthday wishes continued as I walked through the terminal to the gate, and it made me happy to think of the impact of one little button.

When I got to the gate, the monitor indicated that there were fifty open seats on the earlier flight.

I approached the gate agent and explained my situation and asked if she could help me. She said there was nothing she could do. I relayed my conversation with the airline representative on the phone, but nothing—not even knowing it was my birthday—softened her. 

I wondered what had happened to this woman that prevented her from doing this act of kindness. Had she just gotten some bad news? Was she preoccupied with her own problems? Had someone said “no” to her that morning?

I understood that she was just doing her job, that she had every right to deny my request, and so I walked away. I was sad for her and prayed that she would find joy.

And I didn’t allow her surliness to impact my happiness. As I boarded my flight, the flight attendant said happy birthday and asked if I was thirty-nine. “I crossed over to forty this year,” I joked. Complimentary bubbly and extra cookies added to my birthday celebration.

Birthday-joy-travel

Change is inevitable

A former neighbor came to mind on the second night of my recent retreat.

Most Saturday mornings, Margaret and I would hang our laundry on the lines behind our rowhouses in Eddystone, PA. She lived three doors down from me, which was about forty feet away.

The first to empty a laundry basket would walk over to the other, and we would catch up on the past week.

Margaret lived a Christian life, and she inspired me.

My first Thanksgiving in Eddystone, both she and her husband were out of work, so I offered her the turkey I had gotten from the local grocery store. She thanked me—and then added it to a basket she was preparing for a neighbor. Margaret looked at the world through eyes of gratitude, and she always knew of someone whose needs were greater that her own.

God-change-acceptance

The memory that came to me, though, was about a pledge we had made one day as we chatted by the clothes lines. We vowed that we would stay in our homes and grow old as neighbors.

At the time, our neighborhood was changing. The last original owner was in her nineties, and although there were still some people who had grown up in Eddystone, more newcomers were moving in every year.

I had been one of those newcomers, so I did not mind others joining me. But for those nostalgic types, “new” usually meant “not like it used to be.”

I had listened to more than one neighbor complain about the new people moving in and “changing” the neighborhood. Pointing out that I was one of those new people did not stop their grumbling.

Margaret was different; she welcomed everyone and never complained about changes.

God-change-acceptance

I had no plans to move. I loved my house and the town, located near two expressways and only minutes from the airport. We had a grocery store, a couple of restaurants and our own public safety department. Why would I leave?

Then Margaret got pancreatic cancer in October 2010 and died six months later.

Our pledge was broken.

Three months after Margaret died, my friend Jim was diagnosed with a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer. He died nine months later.

My pledge to Margaret and my friendship with Jim were major reasons for my living in Pennsylvania. With both of them gone, I decided to move home to Michigan to be near my family.

I don’t know why the memory of Margaret and our pledge came to me now.

Earlier that day, I had walked along the creek that flows through the retreat center’s grounds. I watched the water tumbling over rocks and around fallen trees. I listened to it gurgle as it rolled over itself—rushing on its way to a destination I could not see.

My life has felt a bit that way in recent years—tumbling and rolling, taking me to new destinations.

Perhaps the memory was meant to remind me of the inevitability of change.

Surrender

The post-resurrection stories in Mark 15:9-15 depict Jesus’ disciples as doubters, as people resistant to change.

After hearing the accounts of how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and two others, Jesus’ companions did not believe. Not until Jesus appeared to them did they believe. Jesus rebuked them for “their unbelief and hardness of heart.”

Why do we resist? Why do we stick with our own certainties and refuse to see things in a different way? Why do we close ourselves to new ideas?

Jesus had predicted that he would die and rise, so it wasn’t as if this was completely new information for the disciples. But still, they dug in their heels and refused to be moved.

My word for Holy Week was surrender. During prayer times and church services, that one word kept coming back to me: surrender.

What, I wondered, is going on in my life right now that I am resisting? What certainty am I clinging to irrationally?

We, like the disciples, can find change difficult. Change is a kind of betrayal—it is as if the truth we knew and believed wasn’t really the truth. Changes shifts the ground upon which we have been standing—like an earthquake—and when the shifting stops, nothing looks the same.

How do we make sense of it?

In the disciples’ situation, Jesus appeared to them to dismiss their doubts. That is unlikely to happen to us in such a dramatic fashion. So how does it happen?

I recently attended a talk on mindfulness and the speaker talked about trees and how they change four times a year. Trees appear dead in winter, but then bud and leaf, before losing their leaves and appearing dead again. Every year, the same cycle of change. But, she noted, the tree does not resist. Rather, it simply changes.

God-mindfulness-surrender

Be the tree, I said to myself. Embrace change. Lean into it. Welcome it. That is what it means to surrender. Not insisting on my way or my beliefs but living in the kind of openness that invites change, living in the reality of every moment instead of getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future.

If I had been one of Jesus’ companions in Mark’s Gospel, how would I have reacted to Mary Magdalene or the two people who met Jesus on the road? Would I have been quick to believe? Or would I have been incredulous and cynical? Would I have needed to see for myself? Would Jesus chide me for my lack of faith and hardness of heart?

I fear the latter. But I want the former. I want to be like a tree that moves smoothly through the changes in life, that welcomes and celebrates every season and sees the beauty of each. I want to let go of my certainties and be quick to believe.

Surrender is a discipline to be practiced—letting go of the past and living in the present with a heart open to change.