Tag Archives: courage

Taking Risks

The other day, my dog did something she has never done before—she ran out the front door and onto the lawn. I was shocked and shouted, “Get back in the house.” Instead, she ran halfway down the drive and then headed toward the back yard.

She reminded me of a child at the shore of a lake or the ocean, testing the waters with tentative steps, and then seeing a wave rolling in, running back to the safety of the shore.

Seeking safety and a solid foundation is something most of us know instinctively. We tend to crave security.

But Jesus calls us to put out into the deep… (Luke 5:4), which is the opposite of seeking safety.

God-vulnerability-faith

Taking risks and trusting that Jesus will be there to catch me when I fall can be a challenge—whether the risk is large or small.

During this Easter season, I have been pondering how my life compares to the early Christians. Am I on fire with the excitement of the resurrection? Am I bringing things to life (as Peter brought people back to life)? Am I spreading healing, hope and forgiveness? Am I witnessing to the restorative power of love?

I am trying to be open to how God is calling me to spread Easter joy.

One recurring thought is about unity and the way I relate to Christians of other denominations. Am I curious about how others practice their faith? Am I respectful of the ways that other Christians live out their faith and mindful that we are all seeking the same God?

I have been trying to be more conscious of my reactions to how others express their faith.

God-vulnerability-faith

Then, while driving to a nearby park for a walk last week, I heard a piece on the radio about the beginning of Ramadan. The interviewer asked what the appropriate greeting is for someone observing Ramadan. What is the Muslim version of Merry Christmas? Among the list of greetings was Happy Ramadan.

Just minutes after I arrived at the park, I noticed a woman wearing a hijab, a head scarf worn by Muslim women.

Maybe God is calling me to be mindful not just of Christians seeking God, but also to a deeper awareness of people of other faiths.

As we walked laps around the park, I wondered if I could muster the courage to wish this woman a Happy Ramadan.

I had said hello, but acknowledging her faith seemed to be crossing a line. I was afraid—would I say the wrong thing? Could acknowledging her faith somehow be offensive?

I watched her walk out of the park.

But then, feeling like Phillip running to the Ethiopian in the carriage (Acts 8:29-30), I ran up to the woman and asked if it was ok to wish her Happy Ramadan. She smiled broadly. “Yes, yes,” she said. “Thank you so much!”

She seemed happy, and I was grateful that I was able to step out of my comfort zone.

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God-spirituality-prayer

My prayer

I start my mornings with an hour of quiet time—journaling, reading scripture, praying and writing. My missalette includes a Prayer for each day, written by saints or taken from a variety of Sacramentaries.

The diversity of sources intrigues me, and many are new to me. This month, I have been introduced to the Gelasian Sacramentary and Saint Makarios of Alexandria.

These prayers often spark a prayer of my own.

Recently, I have begun to ponder how I pray and what words I would use if I were writing my prayers down instead of just saying them.

God-spirituality-prayer

Knowing I spend time in prayer each day, people often ask me to pray for them and those they love. My friend Ted believed I have hot line to God because the things he asked me to pray for turned out the way he wanted. I was nine for nine when he asked me to pray for his friend Adele.

Instead of getting better, though, as Ted had wanted, Adele died. When Ted called me to tell me Adele had died, he said, “Your prayers didn’t work.”

Ted had never asked me about the specifics of my prayer, so I took this occasion to tell him that I had not prayed for Adele to get better. I had prayed that God give Adele the grace and strength to face her difficulties, that her faith remain strong and that God grant her peace.

“Why didn’t you ask God to cure her?” he wanted to know.

“That is not how my relationship with God works,” I answered.

When my friend Jim got brain cancer, many people prayed that he would be cured, and they were certain God was going to comply with their wishes. It would have been miraculous because there is no known cure for the type of cancer Jim had.

“What will those people do on the day you die?” I asked Jim.

My prayer for Jim was that he get right with God, that he have the strength to face what was happening to him and that he be at peace. It was my prayer for him whether he was to live or die.

I share Ted’s confidence that I have God’s ear, but my concern is more focused on acceptance.

If I were to write a prayer, it would go something like this:

God, give me the strength to endure whatever hardship comes my way with grace and peace. Help me to let go of my own expectations and accept the truth of what is. Give me the wisdom to remember that my vision is limited; help me to trust that you see the big picture. Help me to be grateful for all that has been and to say “yes” to what is yet to be.

This is my prayer for myself and also how I pray for those on my Prayer List. Not miraculous cures—although I thank God when they happen—but hope for wisdom, courage, strength and peace.

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God-wisdom-courage

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

 

God-caregiving-cancer

Lessons from caregiving

During my friend Jim’s illness, we received many cards expressing care and concern; and then after his death, condolences. I recently came across one of the condolence cards. The message read:

I know Jim was/is a good man…a good friend and is sorely missed. But for you a great source of comfort must be what a friend you were to him.

 “What you do for the least of my brethren that you do unto me” really resonates—not that Jim could ever be considered the least but he was/is a beloved friend who needed help and you certainly gave it.

 You also deserve and I’m sure will have a high place in heaven when you meet again. Thank you for a wonderful lesson.

I had read this note six years ago, but reading it now, the last line caught my attention and I felt invited to a deeper understanding of my taking care of Jim.

For me, being a caregiver meant thinking of Jim first. When asked about anything else, I would say, “Right now, my focus is on Jim,” while gesturing with my hands to show my tunnel vision.God-caregiving-cancerI was committed to giving Jim as much independence as possible and letting him make as many decisions as possible.

I had learned this lesson from my mother. When I was a child, my Uncle Steve came to live with us when he got cancer; my mother cared for him until he died. The sacrifices she made for him, her brother-in-law, showed me what caregiving was all about.

Similarly, when my dad had a major stroke, my mother honored his wishes not to go to the hospital. We called in hospice, and my dad spent his last three months of life at home.God-caregiving-cancerSo, what I did for Jim was what my mother modeled for me. I was certainly not thinking of any lesson; I just did what I could for him. Only recently have I started to consider the magnitude of my caring for him.

The cancer in Jim’s brain weakened the right side of his body. Early on, he said, “I guess I have to become a lefty.” For most of the time he was sick, I was his right hand—bathing, dressing, shaving and feeding him. We walked up the stairs in tandem—his right foot resting on my left.

Jim was both very private and very proud. He did not want anyone else to help him. When he started to fall (one of the signs of end-stage brain cancer), it could take me up to forty-five minutes to get him up because he had so little strength to help. Once he was up, I would flex my biceps and joke that I was going to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger to an arm-wrestling match.

Taking care of Jim was physically demanding; knowing that he was going to die soon was emotionally taxing; and putting his needs ahead of mine was spiritually enriching. So many lessons in one experience.God-caregiving-cancer

vulnerability-courage

Moving from safe spaces to brave spaces

Last week, I facilitated a retreat session for eleven young adults who are spending a year of volunteer service in Detroit. They live in community and work at a variety of nonprofit organizations.

Their orientation in August introduced them to the concept of brave spaces as opposed to safe spaces.

I think most people commit to a year of service because they want to be a catalyst for change. They believe they can help people who are marginalized or change systems that have become corrupt.

It can be daunting to speak of our convictions on behalf of people who have no voice, especially when we are speaking to those who claim to have the same vision as we do. This often happens in large institutions where upholding rules and regulations can take precedence over individual needs, but it can happen anywhere.

People tend to habituate to their environment; a new person with a fresh perspective can shake things up—which can be seen as a threat to people who are comfortable in their certainty that they are already doing a good job.

Courage is needed to step into these situations, and these volunteers will be called upon to step out of their comfort zones to speak truth to power.

Unlike the nonprofits which are already established, however, living in community is different because they are creating it as they go. By its very nature, community living can be intense, and being able to state our own needs while being sensitive to the needs of others can be a challenge.

I invited the volunteers to recall one of those challenging moments in community as a starting place for their reflection.

Living in community offers many opportunities for self-reflection. Other community members are wonderful mirrors, offering insights we may not have seen before.

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When I lived in l’Arche, I would say that I met myself every day—and it was ugly. What I saw reflected back to me was my worst self. I saw my fears and insecurities, my need to control and my need to be right. I saw how petty and judgmental I could be.

And when I saw these things, I became defensive, because this safe space was all I knew.

But God was inviting me to let go of my false self and discover who I was meant to be.

I needed to step out of my safe space where I had convinced myself that I had control and could manage my life on my own, and into that brave space where I faced my fears and insecurities. It was painful to truly see myself and to accept that reality. I had to be open and vulnerable every day so God could heal me.

I invited these volunteers to look at their interior safe spaces to see where they need courage to step up and speak truth to themselves, because standing in that brave space is perhaps the change that will make the biggest difference in their lives.

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Kind and merciful

The Lord is kind and merciful. Psalm 103

Merciful is not a word that I either use or hear often. The word kind, on the other hand, is much more common. “You are so kind” and “That was such a kind thing to do” are two familiar phrases.

One of the good things about having a dog is that she has helped me get to know my neighbors. On our daily walks, we often meet up with people who happen to be outside.

That is how I met Audrey, a woman who lives a few blocks away and is usually sitting on her back porch in the mornings. She is an animal lover who tends to stray cats, and she took an instant liking to my dog (who took an instant disliking to her cats). On my way to the grocery store one day, I stopped at her house to ask if she wanted anything. “You are so kind,” she said.

I brushed aside her compliment; I thought I was just doing what anyone would do. But each time I stop and ask if she needs anything, she gushes about my kindness.

Perhaps random acts of kindness are not as common as I imagine.

Just before Christmas, I came out of a store and noticed a note on the windshield of my car. The note explained that the wind had blown open the door of the car parked next to me and it had smashed into my car. The owner left her name and number. There was a mark on my door, but I am not one who would be too concerned about the looks of a car—I care more about its ability to get me where I am going. I called the woman, thanked her for her note and assured her my car was fine. Her voice caught as she thanked me. “You are so kind,” she said, her words full of emotion.

I try to be aware of opportunities to perform acts of kindness. Opening doors, paying the toll for the car behind me and letting someone go ahead in line are all easy to do. But, sometimes acts of kindness call for more courage.

I remember during Mass one day, the priest’s shoelace had become untied and when he bent over to tie it, he had difficulty keeping his balance. I thought of going over to help, but I feared he might shoo me away and I would be embarrassed. We all watched him struggle with his shoelace and no one went to his aid. I was then embarrassed by my timidity and trepidation, and I vowed to be more courageous.

I’m not sure if this is exactly what Pope Francis had in mind when he proclaimed a Year of Mercy, but for my part, I pledge to do at least one random act of kindness every day as my little way to make the year more merciful.

 

 

You can’t always get what you want

Mick Jagger was popular when I was a teen, and he was my favorite rock star. When he sang, You can’t always get what you want but…you get what you need, I knew he got me.

Growing up, I rarely got what I wanted. I was the invisible, second child in my family, and mostly what I wanted was to be seen.

By high school, I had become accustomed to being invisible and resigned to it. I had given up on wanting much of anything. Instead, I tried to make peace with what I got and worked on readjusting my expectations to meet my reality. I had realized that the way to get what I wanted was to want what I got.

My lowered expectations meant I was rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. I learned to accept what was and tried to make the best of every situation.

It has not always been easy.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” was a thought I had early on in my friend Jim’s illness. When we first became friends, some twenty-five years earlier, I could not possibly have foreseen that this was how we would end up—Jim having brain cancer, moving in with me after his surgery and me becoming his primary caregiver. Those were very difficult days—taking care of him and knowing that he was going to die soon, all the while keeping my full-time job. It was not what I would have wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to step up to help him and it was my pleasure to care for him. It was just not the way I would have wanted things to be—not the cancer nor the caregiving nor the dying.

But I learned so much from that experience—about Jim and myself and cancer. I became much better at asking for help and accepting what was offered. I learned to let go, and I discovered a deep well of courage that I could dip into for Jim’s sake. Perhaps most important for me was that I learned I was the kind of person who would step up—something we only find out when we are actually presented the opportunity.

Lots of people have life experiences they didn’t sign up for—accidents, illnesses, lost jobs, betrayals—just to name a few. Accepting the situation, adjusting expectations and creating a new normal are key to being able to learn from those experiences and move on.

Someone recently said to me, “I am grateful for my cancer because it has taught me what is important in my life.” It was a reminder that we don’t always choose our teachers, and our teachers are often those very things we wouldn’t want.

That Mick was a smart man. We might not get what we want, but if we try, we can see that we got what we needed.