Tag Archives: despair

Transformation

“That must be so difficult,” people often say when they learn I work at a cancer support center.

“It can be,” I reply.

Every day, people tell us of their fears and anxieties, stories of their financial troubles because of the cost of medical care and the difficult decisions they face regarding treatment options.

Where can they get money to relieve their financial troubles? Should they continue with treatment knowing it is only prolonging life for a short time? Should they try an experimental treatment when traditional options have failed?

Dealing with vulnerability can be very challenging and even difficult.

But my work can also be very gratifying.

I get to see fears and anxieties melt away when people feel heard and their concerns validated. I am privileged to watch people support one another and see them move from fear to trust, from despair to hope. Every day, I see transformation.

God-vulnerability-spirituality

During the nine months my friend Jim had brain cancer, I had a few “melt-downs,” moments when my patience ran out or my fears overwhelmed me. Sometimes I yelled. Other times, I collapsed in a heap and sobbed. Afterward, I felt guilty. Here was Jim, facing his death—and there I was, wallowing in self-pity. Remorse and shame engulfed me.

Then one day at the grocery store, I met my neighbor’s daughter who was caring for both her ill husband and aged mother. It must have been just after a melt-down, because I confessed my bad behavior. Delores waved me off. “It happens,” she said.

She went on to tell me how she, too, gets tired and frustrated, and how she, too, has been known to yell or cry.

“It’s normal,” She said. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Before that encounter, I had felt like a terrible person, the only person in the world who would yell at a man dying from brain cancer. Talking with Delores, though, gave me a different perspective and helped me let go of the high expectations I had for myself.

I walked away from that encounter telling myself, “You are not Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” and then realizing that even Mother Teresa probably had melt-downs. We are all human.

God-vulnerability-spirituality

The value of sharing our human fears and weaknesses is not restricted to cancer care.

I have also seen it when adults walked into the literacy center where I worked in Pennsylvania, feeling inadequate and shameful because of their lack of literacy skills—and then meeting other adults are in the same boat.

I experienced it the first time I attended a gathering of adult children of alcoholics and realized I was not alone, that others understood my experience because they had gone through something similar.

Once that understanding of a shared experience happens—whatever the experience—healing can begin.

Admitting my fear, confessing my shame or giving voice to my secret can be cathartic and can lead to greater compassion—for myself and for others.

When has that been true for you?

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Standing in my beliefs

“I guess I didn’t go there enough,” a friend said after her favorite restaurant closed. She wasn’t being arrogant, as if she alone could have saved the restaurant; she was talking about the choices she had made and the consequences of those choices.

My friend’s comment got me thinking about the choices I make and if my choices give witness to what I say is important to me.

I began to pay more attention to where I spend my time and money, and I came to see that where I go—the places where I literally put my body—gives witness to what I value and believe.

God-vulnerability-faith

Matthew 25:31-46 shaped my early relationship with Jesus. This scripture passage instructed me to put my body at the service at the most vulnerable people in my community, and I took seriously the call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit those in prison. I wanted to live this scripture faithfully, and after college I explored different options.

On my first visit to l’Arche, while praying in the chapel, I asked God for a sign if I was meant to live in this community. Two community members entered the chapel and sat on either side of me. They closed their eyes and bowed their heads in silent prayer.

It felt like a sign.

At the time, I thought that my deep desire to live the mandate of Matthew 25:31-46, along with past training and work experience, made me an ideal candidate to live in l’Arche. I saw myself as some sort of bearer of the Good News, bringing all my knowledge of what people with disabilities needed to make their lives more meaningful.

It didn’t take long after moving to l’Arche, though, to realize that what I thought of as my gifts were really stumbling blocks.

I had some dark days in l’Arche, when I felt completely powerless and near despair, and I cried out to God, “I didn’t have to move here; I could have learned this from a book.”

But the truth was that I needed to be in that place, stripped of my professional reputation and public persona, so that I could see that I, too, am one of the “least” that Matthew was talking about—that I, too, needed to be fed and clothed and cared for.

One particularly dark day I told my spiritual director that I felt like I was falling apart. 

“No,” she said. “I think you are falling together.”

“Let go,” God seemed to be saying to me—of my need to be in control, to be right, to know better.

God-vulnerability-faith

Once I accepted myself as powerless, God could work with me.

l’Arche taught me that Matthew 25:31-46 invites me to do more than stand beside vulnerable people; it invites me to see myself as one of the “least,” because standing is my vulnerability allows God to love and heal me.