Tag Archives: discernment

Should I stay or should I go?

The first reading for Tuesday’s Mass was Acts 16:22-34. The story is about Paul and Silas being arrested, beaten and jailed. During the night, “there was such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open and the chains of all were pulled loose.”

Two things caught my attention. The first is that even after the doors flew open and the chains were pulled loose, Paul and Silas stayed in the jail.

The second is that the jailer slept through the earthquake (“When the jailer woke up….”)

As I imagined this scene, I wondered if I would have stayed as Paul and Silas did or would I have run to freedom.

That provoked remembering other times when I have been faced with the question, Should I stay or should I go?

That question has arisen in relationships, work and volunteer involvement, and I thought about what helped me decide whether to stay or go.

Sometimes it was a commitment I had made that I felt I needed to keep, even though circumstances had changed and what had initially seemed good had become unhealthy. I have often stayed in jobs and in relationships long past the time when I should have left, but I have a strong sense of loyalty that can override common sense.  


Would I have slept through an earthquake so powerful the doors flew open? I hope not, but as I reflected on those times that I stayed when it would have been better to go, I wondered if I was in some kind of sleep, perhaps caused by denial.

I admit I can be clueless. Like the time I was planning to marry someone who was cheating on me. I didn’t know he was cheating but how did I miss the signs? Asleep like the jailer?


My most recent conundrum has been with my church, which I joined when I moved here ten years ago. I like my parish and have been comfortable there. But about three years ago, there was an issue with my donation record—more than half of my donations did not make it to my annual report. I followed the proper steps to rectify the issue (hoping that it was a data-entry error and not a misappropriation issue).

Having worked in the nonprofit sector, I know the importance of correct donation recording and reporting.

I gave the pastor a printout of my bank statement showing all my contributions, so all he had to do was issue a corrected letter with the dates I had provided, but he did not. I stopped contributing but was left feeling dissatisfied and distrustful.

The pastor is beyond retirement age and in poor health. He is wobbly and will not use a cane; and I have seen him fall. Throughout Mass I am preoccupied with his unsteadiness, and I leave Mass unsettled and irritated—and asking myself why I stay.

Should I stay or should I go?

I have decided to go.


What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  


I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.


These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.


Do it now

“Will this matter at the end of my life?” was a question posed in a book on prioritizing where I spend my time and energy. I read that book at least thirty years ago, but now that I am getting nearer to the end of my life, that question has taken on greater significance.

What will matter at the end of my life?

One thing I know is that I do not want to have regrets because I did not do something I had wanted to do.

While working at a cancer support center for the past seven years, I have met so many people who said things like, “I really want to see the Grand Canyon before I die,” or “Going to Europe is on my bucket list” or “I want to sky dive” (or any other risky activity). You get the idea—those things we think about and daydream about doing or seeing—and sometimes don’t get around to.

When I write my story, “What I have learned from working with people facing cancer,” one of the top things will be the importance of doing what you want to do now (NOW) while you still can. No one knows when cancer will be diagnosed, so if you have an impulse to do something, do it now.

My friend Ted wanted to visit the Missions in Southern California and Jim wanted to see the Grand Canyon. So why didn’t they? The answer is that they waited too long and then cancer stopped them.

So, the take-away is do it now. See the places you want to see. Write the book you want to write. Gather your courage and jump from a plane or zip line in a jungle or raft down a river. Or learn to fly fish or develop a meditation practice. Whatever it is that catches your fancy and occupies your daydreams—act on the impulse.

Making our dreams a priority will make our dreams come true; postponing dreams can easily lead to regret.

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…


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.


Spiritual direction

Forty years ago, when I was considering becoming a religious sister, the Sisters required me to have a spiritual director to help guide my discernment process. That discernment process led me to say “no” to life as a vowed religious and “yes” to ongoing spiritual direction, and I have had a spiritual director ever since.

Whenever I have moved to a new city, finding a spiritual director has been one of my top priorities, right up there with finding a good bakery, a hair stylist and a doctor. Spiritual direction is an integral part of my life.

Perhaps because my spiritual life is so important to me, people have often come to me to talk about their experiences of God or spiritual dilemmas, and I have been an enthusiastic listener. I love hearing how God moves in people’s lives and I also enjoy the challenge of offering suggestions to reframe difficult situations, of inviting people to look from different perspectives.

About fifteen years ago, I took an introductory course to become a spiritual director, but the timing was not right. Now, though, I am enrolled in an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality at a local retreat center, and I am learning about the practice of spiritual direction, which is mostly about listening.

I am reading books written by people who have many years of experience as spiritual directors, and I am learning from their wisdom.

Something that continually surprises me in these books is how many people seem to have an image of God as harsh, demanding and judgmental, something they were taught as children and have carried into adulthood.

It surprises me because I somehow missed that lesson; God has always been loving and forgiving to me.

The image of God I have carried into adulthood is from when I was eight years old and God rescued me, pulling me into a loving embrace and whispering to me, “He can’t hurt you.” My God loves me and wants what is best for me.

When I mess up, God is there to welcome me back, like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God may not always be pleased with my actions (or sometimes my lack of action), but God always loves me as I am, accepts me as I am and forgives my shortcomings. I am much more likely to be critical and demanding of myself than God is.

Most of us have things from childhood we need to reframe as adults, things we learned that were just plain wrong or at least not helpful. Mine tend to be connected to issues of trust and low self-esteem, and I am continually working to change what I was taught that turned out to be false.

What has been your experience of God? Can you recall a time when you felt God’s delight in you? Can you imagine a conversation with God and hear God call you beloved? Do you ever talk with someone about your spiritual life?

The next chapter

“Don’t buy me any green bananas,” my mother likes to say. We are celebrating her 95th birthday tomorrow, and she jokes that she might not live to see green bananas ripen. On the other hand, she bought a new dishwasher this week.

Her optimism is a constant reminder to me to welcome each day, to embrace what life brings and to look forward to whatever is coming down the road.


For the most part, my mother does what she wants; she is fiercely independent. When I once called her stubborn, she said, “Don’t call me stubborn. I am not stubborn. I just know what I want.”

And when she knows what she wants, she goes for it with gusto, not caring one whit what others think.

In many ways, I am like my mother (my younger brother likes to point to us and say, tree…apple), but I don’t have her self-assurance in going after what I want; I am easily swayed by the desires and opinions of others.

I am at a crossroads in my life. It is a familiar place because I was basically at the same place a year ago. I made a decision then, announced my decision and then did not follow through because I was dissuaded by what someone else wanted. Ugh.

Again this year, I have come to the same decision about my future, and when I told a friend, she said, “You already made that decision,” sounding like she was speaking to a fickle child. Yes, I make and remake the same decisions. I move toward a new direction and then step back; it is tedious.

I feel stuck at the crossroads. This is one of those ways I wish I was more like my mother—decide and then do it, others’ opinions be damned.

I recently found a note I had written at the beginning of last year, asking, What do I need to do, believe in or allow for myself? It was probably a message to bolster my decision, and it is still relevant.


Coming home

“That sounds like reading tea leaves,” my spiritual director said. We were talking about discernment and how I discerned God’s will for me in major life decisions. I had just told her the process I had used at twenty-five to decide whether to move to Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My decision was made when my car radio play Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John. Not very prayerful, perhaps, but I took it as a sign.

Most of my major life decisions have been made in a similar fashion. When deciding to move to l’Arche, for example, I had wanted to go to l’Arche Toronto, but then a man from Winnipeg randomly appeared and said there was a l’Arche community in Winnipeg. It was a sign.

Or when someone from Midland, Michigan, tracked me down during a time I did not even have a phone and was staying with friends. Their persistence in pursuing me for a job seemed like a sign from God. Off to Midland I went.

When I look back on my life, I look a lot like a leaf blowing in the wind.

But my life also looks like a great adventure that has taken me to places I never would have considered.

Growing up, my future seemed predetermined—after high school, I would work as a secretary for a while, then get married, have babies, be a mom and then a grandmother—all very straight-forward.

But, I stepped off that path early on. I continued working as a secretary at the FBI until I was twenty-seven. Then a new plan formed—I would become an FBI Agent. It made sense; I had worked for the Bureau for eight years and becoming an Agent was a logical move.

Then I was raped, and all plans flew out the window. I spent my thirties bouncing from one job to another and one place to another. Even decisions I made in my forties and fifties were “like reading tea leaves,” once leaving a perfectly good job because of a picture I saw in a newspaper (it was a sign). I can only shake my head!

Now I am learning more about discernment and how to make decisions that are based on what I want and need.

Moving “home” to Michigan seven years ago has felt like I dropped anchor.

I wanted to come home; I needed to come home. Since moving here, I have had offers to move to other places (often to go back to Philadelphia) and I say “no” with confidence. Even if I heard Elton John singing Philadelphia Freedom or the twenty-first century version of that song, I don’t think I would be swayed.

Now the roads I want to travel all start and end here. I can visit other places, and I look forward to the time after the pandemic when that is possible to travel safely, but this is home. This is where I have decided to be.

I only want to be…

I only want to be a SPP, a priest friend used to say. SPP stood for simple parish priest.

I was reminded of that when I read that Padre Pio used to say, I only want to be a poor friar who prays.

Both of those statements got me to thinking of what I want.

Growing up, I had no idea of what I wanted to be. Teachers would suggest possible careers for me—writer or teacher being two of the most popular—but those suggestions sounded beyond my capabilities. My low self-esteem was deeply ingrained.

I was not allowed to go to college after high school, and looking back, I imagine that may have been where I might have discerned my desires.

In my mid-twenties, when I was very involved in my church and attending Mass every day, many people suggested I become a nun, and I did explore that option. But again, it was not something I had always dreamed of (although I did once have a nun doll that I rather liked).

My truth was that I never thought of myself as having a dream; I don’t remember ever saying, I only want to be.…

I tell myself that lots of people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and I have learned that lots of people start out as one thing only to discover that is not what they really want after all.

Nurses become pharmaceutical sales representatives, teachers become real estate agents, and businesspeople become nonprofit leaders (or vice versa). I even know a doctor who had been an architect. Imagine all that schooling only to discover it is not what you really wanted.

I know several lawyers who discovered they did not want to be lawyers. Two are now elementary school teachers, another opened a bookstore, and another works in fundraising.

Now, deeply in the third third of my life, I can see that life plays out in ways I and many others could not have imagined. I suppose having a dream, an idea of what one wants to be, can provide a base, but sometimes that dream can get in the way of using our gifts and talents to their fullest.

Padre Pio is a good example of someone who allowed himself to become what people (and God) needed him to be—a sought-after spiritual advisor and confessor. Perhaps he imagined he would have more time for prayer, but he seems to have adapted to the needs of the people who came to him.

A neighbor recently attended a function at my work and commented that she could see that my work is more than a job. You belong to those people, she said, and they belong to you. Growing up, I may not have known what I wanted to be, but my life has worked out better than I probably could have planned.

Have you ever said, I only want to be…? Has the dream changed over time?

Living the life I was meant to live

My Rose of Sharon shrub is finally blooming—a month later than usual—and bees are visiting every morning to gather pollen. As I watch them crawling into the flowers, I wonder where they have been during these weeks of waiting for the flowers to bloom. Do bees anticipate nature the way I do?


Nature has been snagging my attention this year more than in other years—probably because I am home all the time instead of spending my days in an office. My sunporch is now my office, and the life beyond the windows fascinates me.

Watching the bees gather pollen this morning, I wondered if they gather only what they need and then leave the flower, even if it means some pollen has been left behind. Will another bee enter the same bloom to retrieve the remaining pollen? Do bees have deadlines for the work they need to accomplish?


The pandemic has given me lots of time to ponder all sorts of things I had not thought of before—like the habits of bees—which has led me to think of how I am going about my work and living my life.

I wasn’t feeling well the other day, and as I rested on the sofa, I thought about the possibility of getting the virus and my possible demise (I am well into the age group most likely to die from the coronavirus).

What is left undone? I asked myself.

Some of the answers are predictable—places I still want to visit, renovating my kitchen, finishing the new garden bed, books I want to read and becoming more proficient in Polish (which is connected to the aforementioned travel—I have a dream of living in Poland for at least a few months after I retire. It is the country of my ancestors, and I love the feeling of connection I have when I am there).

All of these, though, are desires, and I think I could let go of them.

What do I still need to do?

This question gets more to the heart of the matter. Like the bees, I, too, have a job for which I was created. Have I done it? Am I doing it? Am I as determined to fulfill my personal mission as that bees?

After one of my earliest retreats, I read a book about extending the benefits of retreat time, which suggested asking these questions when making decisions:

Is this what I really want?

Will this matter tomorrow? In ten years? At the end of my life?

What do I think? Feel? Need? Want?

It can be easy to get caught up in the daily activities of life, but this pandemic has stripped away much of that casual activity and I am left with a great deal of solitude.

What do I want out of my life? What really matters?

The words from Micah 6:8 come to mind.


It is both simple and challenging.

What are you pondering during this time?

Telling our stories

I had a dream the other night that I was facilitating a writing workshop, and I woke up remembering a workshop I facilitated about fifteen years ago called Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. I enjoyed doing it, but I only did it once. Why is that? And why am I dreaming about a writing workshop now?

As I enter 2020, and get closer to retirement age, I am thinking more seriously about my next act. Is my dream offering direction? Is facilitating writing workshops part of my next act? Does the dream have something to do with my own writing?


The thing about my dreams is that they are not usually as clear as when an angel appeared in Joseph’s dream and told him to flee to Egypt. My dreams usually need some unpacking; the message is in there somewhere and it is up to me to figure it out.

I used to be in a dream group, and I loved sharing my dreams and having others ask probing questions to help me suss out the meaning of my dreams.

Now when I am trying to figure out the meaning of a dream, I imagine what probing questions my dream group members might ask, and I try to look at my dream through their eyes to see if I can get a different perspective.

I believe dreams carry messages for my waking life, and I try to honor my dreams as part of my spiritual practice, as much as I do prayer and meditation.


So, about writing.

I have been writing this blog for close to seven years, sharing my story in bits and pieces and gaining clarity about what parts of my story are most important to me.

I know my writing has themes, and that the stories I tell and retell have a message and an invitation to me. Those are the stories that I need to hear because those stories hold deeper meaning and healing for me.


Each of us has a story to tell, and each of our stories holds healing messages. Sharing our stories helps others to get in touch with their own blessings and brokenness and to gain insight into their own healing.

What invitation do your stories hold for you? How are you sharing your story?