Tag Archives: consolation


Snuggled beneath the weight of the quilt

my grandmother made for me,

the memory of her embrace comforts me.

Hours upon hours she labored

at the quilt frame set up near the potbellied stove,

in front of the picture window

that overlooked the snow-covered fields.

Long after she moved from the farmhouse,

long after her life ended,

I can still see her sitting at the quilt frame

and hear her singing softly as she worked.

Spiritual experiences

During a recent radio interview, an author talked about a spiritual experience he had when he was eleven years old, and the interviewer asked if it wasn’t “unusual” for an eleven-year-old to be thinking about spiritual things.

The interviewer’s question and tone startled me. The word unusual translated to weird or odd for me, and all I heard was judgment. I thought, “Just because it didn’t happen to you does not mean it is unusual!”

In that moment, I remembered the times I have been called some version of unusual because of my spiritual experiences and how my fear of judgment made me resistant to sharing anything about my prayer life or my relationship with God.

The courage of some people to share their spiritual experiences has always amazed me. But I have not been that courageous. When I got the “isn’t it unusual…” response, I shut down.

I always wanted to fit in—not stand out, so I learned to keep my “God things” to myself, pondering them in my heart but telling only a few people.

Now, though, I am ready to own what others might label unusual. I have finally stopped worrying about fitting in—or at least stopped letting my worry silence me—and want to share what God has shown me. I have been so blessed by my relationship with God and my spiritual experiences; perhaps sharing them will bless others.


This week I was in Philadelphia, the city where I spent most of my adult life, and I visited some old friends. I tested the waters of my newfound courage by speaking about some of my prayer experiences with friends who have known me for a long time but with whom I had not shared many of my spiritual experiences.

I told them about a particularly intense time of prayer that I call my garden year. This was after college, a time when I was uncertain about my future and was discerning what to do with my life.

During this year of prayer and discernment, I had several visions, including this one:

I saw myself in an old, stone cathedral, the kind with thick walls and no pews. I was lying prostrate on the floor and could feel the hardness of the floor and the coldness of the stone on my face and arms. Then the floor began to shift, and I was being raised up. The floor became a hand, lifting me and supporting me. “I’ve got you,” God said to me.

Reflecting on this vision, it seemed that God was telling me that no matter what kind of work I chose or where I chose to live, God would always be with me—holding me and protecting me. It was a great comfort to me during that time of uncertainty and anxiety.

In the years since my garden year, I have often recalled this vision and the message of God’s personal care for me. God’s love in that moment still comforts me.


One kind word

During the holiday season, the cancer support center where I work sets up a Christmas tree at a local Mall, and in the days leading up to Christmas, people fill the tree with ornaments bearing the names of loved ones who have died.kindness-light-Advent

Each Saturday afternoon, volunteers staff a table by the tree.

The first Saturday, while a volunteer and I were setting up the table, a woman stopped to look at our colors of cancer poster.


Colors of Cancer

“Do you know about The Lake House cancer support center?” I asked.

No, she had never heard of it.

I gave her the short version of what we do and asked, “Have you been touched by cancer?”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “My mother died from pancreatic cancer last year.”

She then picked a purple ribbon and wrote her mother’s name on it. Her daughter took pictures as the woman hung the ornament on the tree. I invited her to our weekly bereavement group, and she said, “I need it.” We hugged, and she went on her way.

“Even if no one else stops today,” I said to our volunteer, “this has already been worthwhile.”

One person, given the opportunity to acknowledge her loss and voice her grief. One kind word. One hug. One person consoled.

Of course, she was not the only person to stop, to remember a loved one, shed a few tears, hang an ornament, accept a hug—and then move on. There were others throughout the afternoon.

The next Saturday, one of the volunteers who staffed the table told me about the first person who stopped that day and shared her cancer story. Like me, this volunteer felt the power of this opportunity to offer a kind word and a hug. “I knew then that I was meant to be there,” she said.kindness-light-Advent

Life is made up of encounters like these—opportunities to listen to another’s pain, to honor it and to offer hope. Small things, really, but small things that can made a big difference.

Mother Teresa said, Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

I believe that every encouraging small thing makes a difference, even if it is just for that one person.

Advent brings our attention to small things—Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah, Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem and staying in a stable. They had no power or fame and lived simple lives; yet their lives had far-reaching consequences.

Sometimes, I can feel like I am not making much of a difference, and then I meet someone who is suffering, someone who just needs to be heard. That is something I can do. And that small act can make a big difference to that one person.

Every act of kindness, every word of encouragement and every moment of hope brings light into darkness—and bringing light to darkness is the message and invitation of Advent.


Advent wreath

Invitation to love

“Are you a grandma?” the first-grader asked me as she snuggled into my lap to watch a movie. I was visiting her classroom in a Catholic elementary school in Denver, Colorado, as part of a supervision visit when I was the director of Cabrini Mission Corps ten years ago.

“No, I am not a grandma,” I told the little girl.

“Oh,” she said, “You feel like a grandma.” What high praise, I thought.

I recalled that encounter when I was in Japan last Thanksgiving. One of the chaplains was at the USO dinner with his three children, including a toddler who reached out her arms to me. I picked her up and she wrapped her arms around my neck and snuggled into me.

A similar incident happened at church recently when a woman with her toddler sat behind me. He fidgeted some during Mass and at the end of Mass, she apologized. “No need to apologize,” I told her. I loved hearing him cooing and babbling. He then reached out his arms to me and transferred from his mother’s arms to mine. He, too, snuggled close and relaxed into me.

“He recognizes a good grandma when he meets one,” his mother said. I beamed.

I am still not a grandmother, but I did not tell her that.

I do, though, wonder at the significance of these events. These were all “third pane of the window” experiences for me—that pane through which people see something about me that I do not know about myself. Apparently to some children, I feel like a grandmother.

When I have these moments of insight, I try to step back and ask what invitation God is extending to me.

I wonder if it has to do with how I relate to God and if I feel that same sense of warmth and trustworthiness with God that these children have with me. Am I willing to hold my arms out to God and be picked up and held? Am I willing to relax into God’s embrace and to feel safe there? To bury my head into God’s shoulder and let God pat me on the back and whisper words of comfort?

And beyond spiritual consolation, am I willing to let God act through another person? Can I trust someone enough that I can allow myself to be held and cared for?

Or do these encounters point out a gift God has given me, and is God asking me to share this gift—maybe with children who have no grandmothers involved in their lives or children who are ill or abandoned.

Perhaps it is all of the above. Perhaps God is telling me that the capacity to give and receive love is not diminished by disappointment or age or loss—and that children can be the spark to rekindle love. Maybe the invitation is to love and trust, to give and receive—to say yes to the opportunities God presents me.