When I woke up the other morning, three words were on my mind: Weather the storm.
What storm? I feel like my life is serene right now, so I had no idea what the message meant.
I had spent the previous day helping my sister with her two new grandbabies. I have no grandchildren of my own, so I was delighted when she asked for my help. Holding babies is one of my favorite things to do. I love the way they snuggle in and fall asleep, trusting that they are safe.
Every time I hold an infant, I feel invited to reflect on my own level of trust. I wonder if I could relax enough to fall asleep in someone’s arms.
At the end of the day with my sister and her grandchildren, I felt content and happy, filled with gratitude and joy.
So why did I wake up the next morning thinking weather the storm?
Then I remembered this week’s Ignite the Fire session, where we reflected on our call and the hero’s journey. We talked of the language of possibility and what keeps us hemmed in. We journaled about what internal scripts keep our worlds small. We considered what we need to lay down to make room for something bigger.
Martina said that if we are heroes, we will be admired and opposed. We will face fear, vulnerability and adversity—and know that it is part of the journey. She said that when our hearts are hammering, we are hearing our call.
That reminded me of when I was the Survivor Speaker at a fund raiser last summer for our local domestic abuse/sexual assault resource center. My heart was pounding, and my knees were weak. I felt exposed and vulnerable, and I wanted to run away. But I didn’t. I told my story, even though I was scared.
I am scheduled to share my story again, and I am probably feeling anxiety, vulnerability and fear—although I tend to minimize the emotions connected with sharing my story, downplaying how difficult it is for me. Perhaps what I need to lay down is my self-identity as someone who is strong and self-sufficient. Letting go of that self-identity would produce an internal storm as disquieting as a tornado; maybe that is what weather the storm means. Letting go of seeing myself as capable and in control of my emotions would allow me to lean into vulnerability and possibility.
Spending the day with my sister and her grandchildren was an invitation to ponder possibility and vulnerability. At one point, my sister and I each held a baby, and the two children faced one another. The four-month old looked at his two-month-old cousin and started to laugh. It was as if he just noticed there was another baby in the room, and that tickled him. We laughed along, tickled that he had noticed his cousin. Everything is new for these two babies; everything is possible. I want to be that open.
An entry on my affirmation calendar read, I enjoy reinventing myself. It’s like giving my identity a makeover!
When I moved back to Michigan almost nine years ago, I had planned to use my Polish name instead of the English translation—Magdalena instead of Madeline, or Magda for short. I had recently been to Poland and everyone there called me either Magdalena or Magda, and I liked it.
My grandfather used to call me Magdusha—a twist on my Polish name and a term of endearment. I liked that, too.
But I was deep in grief when I moved here, and I forgot to introduce myself as Magdalena or Magda, and before I knew it, everyone called me by my English name.
A few years later, though, I started taking Polish classes at a nearby Polish church, and there I was known by my Polish name. Happy day!
This calendar affirmation took me back to that desire to reinvent myself more in line with my Polish heritage. As I reflected on that identity, though, another reinvention occurred to me—to be reinvented in the image God holds for me.
Isaiah 62:3 came to mind: You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
I remember the first time I read these words as a young adult and felt they were being spoken to me and about me. The image of myself in the hand of God, something bejeweled and beautiful, sparkling diamonds and deep green emeralds. That was how God saw me—as something to behold, someone who took one’s breath away.
Living as if I see myself as a crown or diadem is a stretch. I have usually seen myself more as a dull pewter, so adapting a shinier persona calls for a shift in my thinking.
Perhaps being connected to my Polish heritage is part of that new image because when I am connected to my ancestors, I have a wider and deeper understanding of who I am and where I came from—and a different way of knowing myself.
Perhaps leaning into the image of myself as being held in God’s hand is also key, because that image leads me to live in trust rather than fear. God has me, I tell myself.
Not having a job has reinvented me into a woman with time and freedom to structure my days as I please, to do the things I want and not do those I don’t.
The passing years are reinventing me into an elder, and aging has its own reinvention process.
Speaking publicly about my abuse history has shown me a courage I did not know I possessed—add that to the mix.
These past six months, I have been on sabbatical, resting, reading, writing—and pondering who I will be and how I will live this next chapter of my life.
Reinvented, sparkly as diamonds on a tiara—I want to be brilliant.
I had flown to the East Coast to visit a friend for the weekend, and as she and I were leaving her house for a trip to the Shore, her husband said to her, “Don’t be cheap.” Of all the adjectives I might ascribe to this friend, cheap is not one of them. She is one of the most generous people I know. Already on this visit, she had gifted me with a box of chocolates, a sweater and a poncho.
To be fair, her husband is perhaps even more generous than she. I remember once when she and I were going out to dinner and he was meeting up with friends. We all ended up at the same restaurant, and he put his credit card on our table and said, “Order whatever you want. This is on me.”
I sometimes wonder if this is their competition—to see who can be the most generous. There are worse couple-competitions, and I am often the happy recipient of their big-heartedness, so I am not complaining.
Anyway, his comment came back to me a few days later after I had flown home and was on the parking shuttle. I had meant to get change for a tip for the shuttle driver but had forgotten. Normally, I would give a $3-$5 tip (which I think is the going rate), but a $10 bill was the smallest denomination I had. My interior conversation went something like this, “Ugh, I forgot to get change. Well, that’s on me; this will be an early Christmas gift for the driver,” and I decided to give him the $10 bill.
Just then, the man across from me said to his companion, “A $5 bill is the smallest thing I have for a tip.” His companion reached into her wallet and pulled out two singles.
“Don’t be cheap,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.
I know there are times when I can be cheap, when I act out of a sense of scarcity instead of abundance. I often catch myself after, but by then it is too late.
I shared this lesson with my spiritual director, and she suggested I expand my understanding of the admonition “don’t be cheap” to all the talents and gifts God has given to me freely and abundantly.
I am deeply grateful for all the many good things in my life; my life is rich beyond anything I could ever have asked or imagined.
The admonition “don’t be cheap” will hopefully be a reminder to catch myself when I am tempted toward living out of scarcity and fear—financial or otherwise—so that I can instead live out of abundance and generosity.
Twenty years ago, I was the director of a lay mission program, and I had gone to New York City on September 10 for dinner with two missioners who were heading to Swaziland.
The afternoon of the 10th, they had gone to our mission in Chinatown and climbed to the rooftop to take pictures—with the World Trade Center in the background.
Their families had come in from out of state, and after dinner, we had all gone to JFK to see them off.
I stayed in New York overnight, and the next morning, September 11, I was going to walk from Gramercy Park to Chinatown. I remember leaving the building that morning and looking up at the sky—it was clear blue, a perfect day for a walk.
And then the first plane hit, and then the second plane, and then there was chaos. Sirens blared and police cars and ambulances headed south—while cars, buses and pedestrians, covered in white dust, headed north.
I joined co-workers watching television coverage. One woman paced. Another prepared food. We all deal with shock in our own ways.
I remember taking a walk in the afternoon and seeing a line of people waiting to use a pay phone (cell phones were not working). “I’m okay,” each person said into the phone and then quickly hung up so the next person could make a call.
I remember thinking that we were not okay. All around us, people were dazed, crying. We were frightened and wondered if there would be another attack.
Nothing made sense.
By evening, the streets were deserted. No taxis, cars or buses. Very few pedestrians. Just a very large security presence on every corner.
All trains had been halted, so I had no way of getting back to Philadelphia that night. Instead, I watched the burning rubble of the Twin Towers from my bedroom window—and called Amtrak every hour to see when trains would run again. I just wanted to get home.
I left for Penn Station around 4:00 a.m., walked up 19th Street to Broadway and turned right. As far as I could see, Broadway was deserted—no people, cars, buses—just total emptiness. The terrorists had succeeded in terrifying us.
Penn Station was filling up by the time I arrived, but it was unlike the Penn Station I had known just two days earlier. We had all experienced something unimaginable, and that experience created a bond stronger than any differences we may have had on September 10. Courtesy, kindness and sympathy shaped our interactions. Tears flowed freely. We were grieving.
I remember standing in line at a bakery in Penn Station the morning of September 12, exhausted and somewhat anxious about getting on a train. I ordered a bagel and coffee, and the man in front of me said, “Let me get that for you.”
I cried at his kindness.
It saddens me to see how divided our country has become over the past twenty years.
These words jumped off the page of my daily Scripture reading and prompted the question, what is troubling my heart?
Top of the list is my mother, who is ninety-five and on hospice. She has a variety of health issues, and yet she continues to live as though there is nothing wrong with her—she still cooks, cleans and does her laundry. She both inspires me (by her determination and perseverance) and worries me (because I know that any day something could happen—a fall, her heart could fail, etc.).
If you have ever kept vigil for someone who is nearing death, you will perhaps understand the stress of watching and waiting.
I remind myself that my mother is in God’s hands, and I believe that. Yet I know I am still holding onto something, as evidenced by the stress I feel.
The next line in John’s Gospel is Trust in God; trust also in me.
I pray to be able to let go and trust that God has my mother—and remember that God has me, too. Trust is the key, and when I am worrying, I am not trusting.
Worry is another word for fear, and Luke 8:50 reminds me that fear is useless; what is needed is trust. Another invitation to trust!
There are other items on the list of things that trouble my heart—my own health, my work, money, etc. Then there are more global issues that also trouble my heart—poverty, injustice and all the negative isms.
I know that trusting God and letting go of my fears is the way to peace in my heart, which seems to be the work of a lifetime.
What helps me to let go of worry is being present to the moment and trying to stay in the present moment. I remind myself that I cannot do anything about what might happen at some future time—and worrying about it won’t change anything.
I try to do the things that help me be present to the moment—creative activities like gardening, baking, knitting, etc.
Over a year ago, I stopped going to church—at first because churches were closed, and when they reopened, I was not comfortable going. I had realized early in the shut-down that those things that are most habitual pose the highest risk of forgetting we are in the midst of a pandemic. Church is a place of ritual and habit.
My church is one of those places where many people hug in greeting one another, and I wanted to avoid having to put my hands up in a “STOP” position. I have missed being hugged, but protecting my health is more important.
Once I received the vaccine, however, I decided to go to Mass.
The seats had been rearranged to ensure social distancing, and I felt very safe. Then came communion, and I happened to see a woman walking back to her seat touching the hands of people she passed—just as she used to do before the pandemic. It was habitual, and people responded as they did pre-pandemic.
I was immediately uncomfortable, and I have not gone back to church since.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when we thought it would only last a short time, I decided that I did not want to watch Mass on a screen. Something felt off about it, as if Mass were a play. I always think of Mass in terms of participation, so not only had I not gone to Mass, but I had also not watched it.
Then, on Easter Sunday, I decided to try watching Mass being livestreamed from my church. It was wonderful to see people again, and I appreciated “being” there.
During this Mass, I began to wonder why I had been so resistant to viewing Mass on a screen.
Resistance is familiar to me, and this incident with the livestream Mass seemed to open the floodgates of my awareness of things I have been resisting during the pandemic.
I think fear of contracting coronavirus has sparked other fears, and the fears have just kept piling up. For example, I have not traveled, and the few times I have eaten in restaurants, I was too anxious to enjoy my meal. Even though I have gotten the vaccine, I am still hesitant to be around more than a few people at a time.
Last week, I was talking with a friend about retirement and said I was afraid I would not have enough money.
“I’ve never heard you talk like that,” she said. She is right; I never feared not having enough money. I live within my means and even though I don’t have a lot of money, I have always managed financially and been content with my financial situation.
I am going on retreat next month, and my spiritual director suggested I try not to anticipate what will happen. I do hope, though, that God will work with me on my fears and resistances. And I am joyfully anticipating going to Mass every day.
Every Monday, I look forward to an email in my inbox from Shola Richards with a message about positivity. Confronting fears was the theme of last Monday’s email, and the message spoke directly to me, especially the opening quote:
“Inside the cave you fear, lies the treasure you seek.”
I have a fear of caves, so the very idea of stepping into the darkness of a cave made me shutter. But the idea that the treasure I seek is hidden within made sense to me.
“The only way past the pain is through the pain,” came to mind as I pondered entering a dark, fearful place like a cave.
What I fear won’t go away on its own; I need to confront it and move through it. I need to step into what seems ominous and threatening. The only way to find the treasure is to enter the cave.
I had an insight into this truth a few weeks ago. I was talking with someone about being a rape survivor, and I said the name of the man who raped me.
Two things happened almost immediately.
The first was that I had not realized that fear had me in its grip, but as soon as I said his name, the fear dissipated and was replaced with a sense of power. Instead of standing outside the cave, fearing the darkness, just saying his name sparked a light.
The second was something from the Harry Potter books. The main adversary in the series is an evil character commonly known as “He who must not be named.” In that instant of speaking the name of the man who raped me, I realized how much power I had been giving him all these years just by protecting his name.
Why had I been protecting him? Why had I not spoken his name? As in the Harry Potter series, once Lord Voldemort is named, his power is diminished. Fear is replaced by freedom.
When I relayed these events to a friend, she quoted scripture, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:38).
Fear can be crippling. It can keep us stuck in darkness, giving up our power and limiting our potential.
Naming our fears can break the spell, and we can reclaim our power and our freedom.
I invite you to step inside the cave and claim your treasure.