Tag Archives: expectations

hope-cancer-God

Hope transformed

Spirituality was the topic of one of the presentations at the recent cancer caregivers workshop I attended. About two-thirds of the way through her talk, the speaker told the story of a family member who had been in treatment for cancer. When the doctor told them there were no more treatment options, the presenter said, “We gave up hope.”

Gave up hope? How could they give up hope? Without hope, we despair.hope-cancer-GodHer words were so jarring to me that I had difficulty listening to the rest of her talk. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Go back to that part about giving up hope.” But I didn’t.

Instead, after the talk, I composed my thoughts and shared with her how upsetting her words had been to me.

I suggested that hope is not restricted to life versus death, that it is not a one and done kind of thing. Hope can be transformed; it is malleable, adaptable.

I told her that when my friend Jim was diagnosed with a very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer, I had no hope he would survive it and accepted that he was going to die. His neurosurgeon was quite clear and definitive—short of a miracle, there was no way that Jim would survive Glioblastoma.

Some people grabbed onto that hope of a miracle and were convinced Jim would be miraculously cured.

I chose to accept the neurosurgeon’s prognosis; I am actually better when I accept the reality of a situation. Ambiguity and abstraction can make me anxious; facts steady me.

If a miracle had happened, I would have been absolutely ok with that; but, in the face of scientific fact, my hope went in a different direction.

I hoped Jim would survive surgery and live long enough to understand what was happening to him. I hoped he would have the strength and grace to accept his condition and to make peace with himself and God. I hoped he would be able to look back on his life with gratitude. I hoped that he would die peacefully.

I also hoped that I would be able to step up to the challenge of caring for him and helping him to live out the rest of his life as fully as possible. I hoped I would see God’s invitation to me and be able to respond.

I believe that in the cancer journey, hope must be transformed—again and again—to meet the challenges of the roller coaster ride of cancer. Giving up hope means giving in to despair.

Correlating hope with cure can put so much focus on the future that the present is overlooked. All of the goodness and blessings that are happening right now can go unnoticed.

For me, accepting the reality of Jim’s situation helped me to focus on the present and live in the moment. I knew every day might have been his last, and so I tried to make every day our best.

Death is inevitable; hope brings life.hope-cancer-God

 

 

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love-hope-fear

Love lost

A few weeks ago, the movie Letters to Juliet popped into my mind and I couldn’t seem to let it go. I’d seen it before, but I decided to rent it.

The movie is based on a non-fiction book about notes posted on the wall outside the house of Juliet of Verona and the “secretaries” who respond to the notes. I have never been to Verona, but apparently there really is a house called Casa di Giulietta—Juliet’s House—at Via Cappello, 23, Verona, with a courtyard where people leave letters.love-hope-fearThe movie is about an English woman who abandoned her Italian lover fifty years earlier and returns to search for him.

As I watched this movie the other night, I remembered a man I had met more than thirty years ago.

I had gone with a friend to upstate New York to support her at the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. I was against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, so I resonated with the anti-nuclear message of this group.love-hope-fearBut the encampment challenged me in ways I had not expected, and my discomfort intensified throughout that first day. I was too conventional for this kind of demonstration and found myself thinking of how I could get away.

By the end of that first day, my inner voice was saying, Leave now and don’t come back.

My distress continued into that evening, and I went for a run to regain my equilibrium.

We were staying with my friend’s cousin at his farm. The countryside was beautiful—rolling hills, farmlands and forests. The run was somewhat strenuous, but it felt good to exert myself physically as I grappled with my emotional dilemma.love-hope-fearAnd then on a steep hill, something snapped in my back and pain shot down my leg. I stood on the side of the road, bent over in agony, sobbing—and far from where I was staying. Somehow I managed to hobble home and then crumpled to the living room floor. Someone brought me an icepack and aspirin.

For several hours I just lay there, feeling relief from staying still.

At some point, a man came into the living room and introduced himself as Ross, a friend of the people I was staying with; he lived in their renovated chicken coop.

For the rest of that day, Ross kept me company. He was a landscaper by trade, but a poet by temperament. We talked for most of the night.

The next day, my host took me to a chiropractor; one adjustment eased the pain enough that I was able to sit in a car for the ride home.

Ross wrote beautiful, romantic letters to me and even came to visit. He was smitten; I was scared.love-hope-fearI said the distance between Ithaca and Philadelphia was too great—and our relationship ended before it really got started.

And yet, there he was in my memory as I watched a movie about love lost and found.

 

 

 

Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent

Loving our enemies

The perfection of brotherly love lies in the love of one’s enemies –Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot

In college, my Christology professor asked the class, “Do you think you will see Hitler in heaven?”

It was a trick question, but a number of my fellow students fell for it. “No,” they shouted, indignant that he would suggest something so horrific.

“But what if Hitler, at the very end of his life, repented?” the professor asked.

Hmm.

If God is love (1 John 4:8), then God’s mercy is limitless and certainly not constrained by our sense of who is deserving of God’s love and who is not. No matter how heinous someone’s crimes were, there is always the opportunity to repent and receive God’s mercy.Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent“Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakable serenity—Father, forgive them—and hesitate to embrace his enemies with overflowing love?” (Mirror of Love by Saint Aelred, abbot.) I think Saint Aelred was onto something when he encouraged his brothers to look at how Jesus forgave those who put him to death.The very night that Jesus was betrayed, he gave thanks—and the next day, he asked God to forgive those who did him harm.

Being grateful and forgiving in the face of betrayal might seem to be the kind of thing only the Son of God could do, but…

Who of us does not want to be forgiven when we betray someone we love? When we make a poor decision that has unintended negative consequences? Who of us wants to be separated from our communities? Unforgiven? Unforgivable?Vulnerability-forgiveness-LentI can tend to be more like Jonah than Jesus—wanting God to carry out his threats of punishment on people who are living in sin. Jonah was angry at God for relenting in his promised punishment of the people of Ninevah.  He felt betrayed by God; he was humiliated and he sulked. But he did not die from any of that.

Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent
Pamela Holderman

I wonder if Jonah ever came to a place where he gave thanks for God’s mercy. I wonder if he ever came to see his own betraying ways and was grateful that our God is merciful to everyone.

When Jesus was betrayed, it literally cost him his life, which makes my having been betrayed pale in comparison. I survived the times I have been betrayed and maybe even grew from them.

Lent invites me to reflect on my attitudes toward forgiveness.

Thinking of how quickly Jesus was able to let go of being betrayed, of how he could give thanks when he knew he was on his way to the cross, invites me to do the same—to turn around and give thanks and blessing when I have been hurt.

I imagine that Jesus had spent his life being grateful and forgiving—he had been practicing. The invitation to me is to practice letting go of betrayals, hurts and disappointments and readjusting my expectations of myself and others.

 

 

expectations-family-letting go

Unmet expectations

So Abram said to Lot: Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. (Genesis 13:8)

“You have a perfect family,” my friend Jim used to tell me. Of course, he knew the quirks and dysfunctions of my family, but it was his way of reminding me to intentionally look for the good—and to be grateful.expectations-family-letting goI was reminded of this the other day when I was praying for the people on my prayer list—a hand-written list I keep in my Liturgy of the Hours book. Some people on the list are very close to me—family and friends—and others are people I have been asked to pray for, people I often don’t even know, but who have undergone some great suffering—divorce, illness, job loss, etc.

Several of the families lost children to drug overdoses or suicides. Others have been shattered by misunderstandings, betrayal, or some other dysfunction. Illness, accidents, drugs, alcohol, mental illness—the list of things that can go wrong in a family is long.

Four years ago, I moved home to be near my family. It was a good move for me, and I am deeply grateful for the way my family (both immediate and extended) has welcomed me and created a space for me in their lives. I feel blessed by my relatives, but I know that not everyone has that same experience.

Sometimes families are like Abram and Lot who “could not dwell together.” (Genesis 13:6) Abram was wise to recognize the issues and address them, but I am not sure that happens very often. More often, I think people hold onto an image of what they think a family should be.expectations-family-letting goA friend recently told me that her brother had manipulated their mother into taking $10,000 from the bank and giving it to him. It is, of course, not about the money—whether it is $10,000, $100,000 or $10—it is about the manipulation and sense of betrayal.

Letting go of unrealistic expectations can be so difficult, but holding onto them is much more painful. Wishing and hoping that people will act in a certain way is a set-up for disappointment.expectations-family-letting goBut it must be fairly common to have high expectations for our families, because I keep meeting people who are surprised by some relative’s actions—like my friend who expected her brother to keep his hands off their mother’s money.

My family was perfect in that it was a great training ground for me in letting go. As a young child, I learned that more often than not things were not going to turn out as I hoped, so I needed to readjust my expectations. Over time, I have learned to ask God, What is the invitation in this? What am I to learn when my expectations are not met, when I am disappointed?

The lesson is usually about my unrealistic expectations, and the invitation is to let go.expectations-family-letting go

 

 

 

 

spirituality-prayer-lent

Change my heart

Recently, I have spoken about my work at a cancer support center to several Optimist Clubs, and every time I hear the Optimist Creed, this line stands out:

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

One of my Lenten plans was to see the people in front of me. Sometimes I don’t actually see the person standing in front of me, but rather I see a version of that person which is based on my past experiences with him or her, and I know that is not always accurate.

Instead, I want to try to see as God sees—to see the potential in each person, to see the best in each one. I want to be less critical and more hopeful about the people in my life.spirituality-prayer-lentUsually, though, I form an impression of someone when we meet. If someone is prickly, I tend to think, “This is a prickly person.” I can then find it difficult to change that initial impression, to let go of my expectations that someone will act in a particular way. I can easily devote attention and energy to the faults of others while conveniently overlooking my own. spirituality-prayer-lentI know, though, that when I get a glimpse of myself as God sees me, it is a better version of me. From God’s perspective, I am capable of being my best self—loving, forgiving, accepting and merciful. When others see the best in me, and let me know that, I am more likely to be that person (or at least be more aware when I am not). The ability of others to see the best in me helps me to grow into the person God created me to be.

God invites me to focus on improving myself, on fixing my own faults before I start looking at others.spirituality-prayer-lentWhen I am aware of my own flaws, I am less likely to be critical of others. When I remember that I grow and change, it is easier to believe that others also grow and change—and also easier to see their potential.

Practicing seeing as God sees also makes me more compassionate. Seeing the potential in others and allowing them the space to grow into their potential reminds me we are all on the path to discovering who God created us to be. Hoping that I and others can live up to the vision God has for us shifts my vision from pessimism to optimism; God’s vision is always hopeful and expansive.spirituality-prayer-lentEvery person who stands before me has the potential to become all that God intended. My desire is to accept the people who come into my life without criticism or judgment and to imagine them as their best selves, the selves God created them to be.

 

Advent-hope-expectations

Say “yes” to something new

Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new….And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there….You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you….You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness…you put to flight my blindness….You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.” ~St. Augustine

I am a late bloomer, and I take great comfort in St. Augustine’s finding God late in his life.

He reminds me that God’s time is not the same as our time, and God’s expectations are not the same as ours. With God, there is always time to discover God within, to gain insight and wisdom, to start something new. God continually calls us to move beyond our limited expectations.

Advent is a time of preparation for something new. It is a good time to check my eyesight—to notice where I am looking—and to review my expectations to see how they align with what God asks of me. Like St. Augustine, I can be looking outside, when God is calling me to look within.

This Advent, Elizabeth and Zachariah have caught my attention in a new way. Perhaps it is because they were advanced in years (as am I) when God did something completely unexpected and entirely new for them.

Most often, we think of the later years as a time of slowing down, doing less, taking it easy. But God brought a baby into their lives—new life with new demands and responsibilities. I imagine they were thrilled and celebrated their good fortune.

But, it could not have been easy; there must have been a period of adjustment. I imagine Elizabeth and Zachariah had to steel themselves against gossip and judgment and can picture the scene when their neighbors gathered at the well: Did you hear that Elizabeth is pregnant? At her age? What were they thinking?

Being old and doing something new can cause a few raised eyebrows and questioning looks. Really? You’re going to do what?

Advent-hope-expectations

As if there is some old-age line that we cross and then it is time for retirement homes and rocking chairs with nothing new on the horizon.

One of my favorite books is The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. It is the story of his young life as a Jewish immigrant in England. He wrote the book when he was in his nineties—his first book—but the story had been with him a lifetime. I love that he took a chance and dared to write and share his story.Advent-hope-expectationsI feel like I am just growing into my own skin and coming to a deeper sense of God’s desires for my life. Like St. Augustine, Elizabeth and Zachariah—and Harry Bernstein, I want to stay open to God’s invitation to create. I want to say yes when God surprises me with something new..Advent-hope-expectations

Five simple rules to be happy

My friend Jim kept a small slip of paper taped to the shelf above his desk, with six typed lines:

Remember the five simple rules to be happy.

  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.

I don’t know if he consciously read these rules every day, but that would probably be a good way to start the day.

I, though, would add a sixth rule: be grateful.

Gratitude is the path to contentment for me, and contentment is the foundation for happiness. When I focus on what I have and am grateful for it—no matter how meager it might be—my expectations are automatically lowered and I can see that I actually have quite a lot. When I pay more attention to what is rather than what isn’t, I see how abundantly God has blessed me.

Living in gratitude has been my prayer for as long as I can remember.

Before receiving communion at Mass, I pray, Lord, help me to be grateful. Being able to freely practice my faith and to receive nourishment from my church and the sacraments is a starting point for a litany of gratitude for all I have—and prayers for those who have less.

Many different factors have helped move me along the path to living in gratitude, especially the opportunities I have had to travel to communities where people have fewer material goods than I have.

One memory that stands out for me is from a trip to Swaziland, Southern Africa, when I was the director of a lay mission program. St. Phillip’s Mission has a medical clinic and on one of my visits, I was standing near the clinic when a man came walking out of the surrounding bush.

Swaziland bush

On his back, he was carrying his brother, a grown man so weak he could not walk. I had only once before seen someone so emaciated, and seeing these two men emerge from the bush brought back memories of my Uncle Steve just before he died from stomach cancer many years earlier.

I don’t know how far this man had walked through the bush with his brother on his back, but the nearest homestead was probably a mile away. His search for medicine for his dying brother painted a compelling picture. His love and dedication were obvious and poignant. In what seemed a hopeless situation, this man still held hope that someone could help his brother. Tears filled my eyes, and I prayed for these two men, even as I could see that the brother was near death.

Fortunately, the clinic was able to help the brother, and on my return visit a year later, I saw this man who had been emaciated almost to the point of death, now standing strong and healthy—and joyously grateful for the help he had received at the clinic.

How can I not thank God for this miracle and all my blessings!

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