Tag Archives: dreams

Leaning into vulnerability

The day after my neighbor Margaret came to mind while on retreat recently, I walked the labyrinth. At the center, I stopped and prayed for insight: Why had the memory of my pledge to Margaret come to mind?

The words from Psalm 89 came to me: “I have made a covenant with my chosen…”

I walked back through the labyrinth repeating those words.

I have made a covenant with my chosen.

What are you trying to tell me, God?

And then I remembered that when I was fifteen years old, I had said to myself, “One day I am going to write a book about my life, and it will start like this: From the time I was eight years old, I knew God had called me in a special way.

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I didn’t know exactly what it meant that God had called me, how it had happened or why God had picked me, but I knew it is true. God had chosen me when I was eight years old.

At that early age, God had somehow made a covenant with me. And now, on retreat almost sixty years later, God was reminding me of that covenant.

The thing about the pledge I made to Margaret is that it was made with my full knowledge and consent. God’s covenant when I was eight was one-sided; God initiated it. I didn’t fully consent.

For many years, I was noncommittal about God. Having been chosen by God only seemed to make me different and somehow weird—I was the kid who loved going to church.

Church was my refuge. As I inhaled the smell of burning beeswax candles, I also breathed in the mystery of God’s grace. I loved the hushed quiet and the space to retreat into myself.

Inside church, I felt close to God. It was there that I experienced God’s desire to be in a relationship with me, where I heard God asking me to say yes to the covenant God initiated.

Inside church, I could be God’s but once outside, I did not know how to trust that relationship or to live it out.

While my fifteen-year-old self knew that something significant had happened to me when I was eight, my adult self has been clueless as to how that could be of interest. On retreat, God gave me an insight.

I went back to the first piece I posted on this blog more than six years ago. God is doing something new.

Much has changed over these past six years—new home in a new state, working in a near field, new friends.

But the most significant change is being vulnerable enough to share my story—with all its difficulties and traumas. I am learning to move beyond shame and to trust that the sky will not fall if I reveal something long kept secret.

My part of the covenant is to tell how God’s grace has infused my life and transformed pain into compassion, fear into trust.

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Why words matter

The last thing you say to someone might be the last thing you say to him. These words came to me as a memory from the day my friend Jim had a seizure which left him unconscious. That day ended with a diagnosis of a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer.

In the midst of being told that Jim may never regain consciousness, I wondered, “What was the last thing I said to him?”

Fortunately, I had spoken to him shortly before the seizure and my words were positive.

I know, though, that I don’t end every conversation, every interaction on a positive note. Sometimes I speak out of frustration or anger. Other times, I am distracted or tired or…God-cancer-hopeThat question, though, from the day Jim had a seizure has stayed with me and is a reminder to try to end every conversation on a positive note. That is particularly significant because I work at a cancer support center.

One of the women who came to the center for a couple of years had not been around for a while. Phone calls and messages went unanswered. We knew she had stopped treatment and began to wonder if she was still alive.

Sometimes families don’t notify us for weeks or even months, so we often live in a kind of limbo. But, we learned of this woman’s death within a few days after she had died.

Remembering this particular woman, I wondered what had been my last words to her. I hope they were something that let her know that I was glad to see her and that I cared about her. I hope she felt accepted, consoled and even uplifted.

She had been very realistic about the path she had chosen. She knew that without treatment, the cancer would end her life. But, I don’t think she knew that the last time she came to our center would be the last time. I did not know that the last words I said to her were the last words I would ever say to her.

Some days, I am overwhelmed by the sadness of my work. People learning they have cancer, enduring treatment, anxious for results from scans, some of them dying—it can be so sad.

Other days, though, I am overjoyed by the good news of my work. People learning that the cancer is in remission or that they are cancer-free, optimistic that life holds promise, hopeful for a future they once feared would never come.

Balancing these emotions, this ups and downs of cancer and its many ripple effects, can be difficult for me. God invites me to hold both the joys and sorrows.

I am reminded of St. Paul’s words: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Strengthen me, Lord.

Gratitude for what is

Last week, I wrote about one particular day in my life when a cancer diagnosis rocked my world. After posting it, I began to think about other major events that can bring about change—meeting a new love interest, a wedding, the birth of a child, landing the perfect job, the ideal vacation, etc.

A cancer diagnosis usually produces a negative response, while these happy occasions conjure up images of joys and blessings. Who wouldn’t want their dreams to come true?

My friend Ted was a successful lawyer who loved books. His dream was to open a bookstore and share his love of books. I think he imagined days filled with like-minded book-lovers discussing ideas, books and authors. He could picture a customer’s joy when he (Ted) was able to help find the perfect book for that person. With a passion for books and enough money from his law practice, he retired from law and built a bookstore in Oregon.

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One day, a friend of mine in Ireland was lamenting that he could not find a particular book about the river where he fished in County Cork. It was long out-of-print, but my friend was desperate to get a copy for his fishing partner. I asked Ted if he could help, and he gladly accepted the challenge. It did not take him long to find a copy of this obscure book at a used bookstore in England. My Irish friend was thrilled, as was his fishing partner when he received the book. I think that before he opened the store, Ted imagined these were the kinds of moments that would fill the days of a bookstore owner.

Unfortunately, running a business involves many more mundane tasks, and Ted would often call to discuss some aspect of his day that had not gone as he planned. “Remember,” I would say as gently as possible, “you are living your dream.”

Even when our dreams come true, when we land the perfect job or take the ideal vacation or meet Mr. or Ms. Right, every moment of every day is not bliss. Life is full of ups and downs, and finding balance is essential—not holding on too tightly to either the joys or the sorrows.

St. Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

To be content with and grateful for what is—not just the happy times, but also the difficult, heartbreaking times—requires the strength and grace that Jesus offers. Any day can bring news that can rock my world, and I can feel like a weeble wobble that tilts off kilter.

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Daily prayer reminds me that I am in God’s hands, and God will help me find balance. I am grateful.

 

Find another way

I awoke this morning with the image of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz crying, “I’m melting,” as she dissolved into a puddle. “I’m melting” I said, and immediately the image changed from the wicked witch to an image of a thick coating falling away from my heart.

In another dream I had recently, I was kayaking down a river and the passageway was blocked so I had to backtrack a bit and find another way. Find another way was the phrase in my head when I woke up.

Dreams have a way of letting me know what is happening interiorly and offering direction and guidance.

Is my heart more open? Am I seeking other ways? My dreams seem to be saying yes.

It can be difficult to move away from old ways, though. Old habits and familiar patterns can easily drag me right back to unhealthy ways of thinking and relating. Fears can creep back in, no matter how many times I shoo them away.

But my dreams hold out a promise of something different, the promise of moving beyond my fears into freedom.

Three things I can do to respond to the invitations of my dreams:

Live in gratitude. Fear and gratitude are mutually exclusive for me. Gratitude leads to a greater awareness of abundance, whereas fear is about scarcity. There is no room for fear when I am conscious of all that I have—and grateful for all that I have.

Live in trust. Trust shatters fear. Trust is about hope and receptivity. A trusting heart is an open heart.

Let go of negativity. Freedom comes from letting go of old hurts and negative messages. Only by letting go of the past can I be open to the promise of the future.

Looking ahead to the New Year, I want to be more open to another way, living in greater freedom and loving with an unguarded heart.

Getting ready

“When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he withdrew….From that time on Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 4:12-17

I have always been intrigued by how people can have vastly different reactions to the same experience. I saw this growing up. My brothers and I lived in the same house and saw the same things, and yet we came away with different understandings of what had happened. I remember one time when I was in my late twenties, getting together with my older brother and sharing memories. At some point in that conversation, I asked “Did you grow up in the same house as I did?” so different were our memories.

This line from Matthew’s gospel reminds me of that phenomenon. Lots of people knew John had been arrested, but I wonder how many others came away from that experience with the same reaction as Jesus—first to withdraw and then to take up John’s message and make it his own, to pick up where John left off.

I imagine that many people who heard of John’s arrest said, “If that message is going to get me arrested, I am not going to repeat it.” But not Jesus. After spending some time apart, he then took up John’s work and even added healing and curing. Jesus’ reaction to John’s arrest was total commitment to carry on building the Kingdom of God. If he had fears about possible consequences, he did not let those fears stop him.

How sad Jesus must have been when John was later beheaded. And what clarity John’s beheading offered: not only can preaching this message get one arrested, but also killed. And yet Jesus continued John’s work of proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God, of speaking truth to power.

I have known a few people who had that much courage and were that free that they could be true to the Gospel message no matter the consequences. They inspire me.

I am looking ahead to the start of Lent on Wednesday and thinking of what would help me to be free enough to live in total commitment to God’s will.

I think that I will get the greatest clarity by naming and facing my fears, since fear is what holds me back. Perhaps I will spend time this Lent writing about my fears—those I am aware of or can figure out by reflecting on my thoughts and actions—and those that become apparent through other means like what people tell me or from my dreams (what I tell myself when I am asleep).

I want to be more like John and Jesus and others who moved beyond fear and lived in total trust. I want to be that free.

Living Our Dreams, Part Two

I heard a song on a Christian radio station the other day about being the person God created me to be, and the idea keeps running through my mind. If I were being my true self, the self God created me to be, I would be….

As I walked Detroit the other morning, the words to that song came back to me. She is part Terrier, part Chihuahua, heavy on the Terrier. She was bred to sniff out vermin, and she is good at it.

One day in PA, she had her nose stuck under the radiator, a low growl coming from deep in her belly. I told her to “leave it,” but she would not; she was unyielding. Finally, I got a broom and while saying to her, “There is nothing under there,” I pushed the broom handle under the radiator—and out ran a little mouse. I had never had mice in my house, so I was startled, but Detroit was not. She knew a mouse was under there, and she was on the job of flushing it out.

Recently, I heard that Detroit (the city) once had a tree canopy so dense a squirrel could go from the east side to the west side of the city without ever touching the ground. That is no longer true, and to Detroit (my dog) this is a happy fault. Squirrels have to come down out of the trees, and Detroit is ready for them.

When we are walking and she sees a squirrel, she focuses all her attention on it. She crouches down and approaches slowly, creeping along until she is within five feet or so. Sometimes she freezes and watches, every muscle in her body tense as she prepares to pounce. I allow her to follow her instincts, sometimes standing still for a minute or two, because I love watching her be her true self.

Thankfully, she has never caught a squirrel, not even in the yard when she is off leash, but when I watch her stalking them, I know that this is her true self, this is what she was created to do, and it comes absolutely naturally to her. She will chase a rabbit or run toward birds, but squirrels are her true passion.

How wonderful to be so clear about one’s passion and so faithful to one’s true calling. If I were being my true self, the self God created me to be, I would be….

Living Our Dreams

I went to college to prepare for a government job that would offer me long-term financial security, but it was not a dream job. At that time, I actually had no idea of what my dream job might be; I was focused on job security.

In college, I was amazed by students who were pursuing their dream jobs. One guy wanted to be a doctor and I could see it. He was very smart, and I figured that once he completed medical school and fulfilled the necessary requirements, he would be a doctor.

Another wanted to be a television news reporter. “News reporter?” I thought, skeptically. “Yeah, right.” It seemed to me that becoming a television news reporter was more dependent on forces beyond one’s control than on one’s ability or ambition. Quite frankly, I thought he was out of touch with reality, an unrealistic dreamer. I just could not see this happening.

And then one day, years later, I was in an airport and the TVs perched overhead were blaring CNN. I heard a familiar voice and then a familiar name—reporting the news. “Wow,” I thought. “He really did it. He became a TV news reporter.”

Charles had accomplished what I had considered to be an impossible dream. I remember feeling so proud of him (not to mention that I could say I went to college with someone who was on CNN). And, at that moment, something shifted inside me.

As a child, I think I confused dreams with fairy tales. I remember wanting to fly like Peter Pan and not being able to do it. I loved Rapunzel with her long hair, beautiful voice and handsome prince; I had none of these. The things I could do did not seem very special—probably because I could already do them. Dreams, it seemed to me, were bigger than anything my life presented, like flying or being rescued from a tower.

In that airport, hearing Charles’ voice, I realized my mistake. Dreams might be bigger than my current life, but they are achievable.