Tag Archives: gratitude

Lessons from travel

“Piano, piano,” our tour guide Giacomo advised our group of ten as we navigated the cobblestone streets of medieval towns in Tuscany and Umbria. “Piano, piano,” he repeated as we climbed stone steps that have been worn down by centuries of use and had no handrails to steady us.

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Piano, piano means slowly, slowly in Italian.

Good advice, I thought. Not just for traversing medieval towns in Italy, but for me, good advice for daily life, because I tend to move too fast, rushing as though I was always running late.

Travel makes me slow down, because I am aware of how dangerous rushing across cobblestones can be.

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Traveling with a group makes me slow down because I sometimes need to wait for those who can’t move as quickly as I do.

It is good for me to slow down, and every time I had to stop and wait for someone to catch up, I felt invited to look up and take in the sights around me (walking on cobblestones requires lots of looking down). Those moments of waiting were invitations to notice what was in front of me, like little carvings in walls or unique shapes of doorknockers.

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Slowly, slowly invites me to appreciate the here and now.

Travel also shakes things up. It is like a snow globe where I am tossed around a bit and when the snow settles, everything looks different. The people, places and food are unfamiliar, and my equilibrium is off. I join Dorothy in saying, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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A man at church recently toured the Holy Land. Before he left, he told me he had been nervous about traveling to such a potentially dangerous place until he learned they were staying in a Westin Hotel and then he thought, “If I didn’t know any different, I could still be at home.”

“Then what is the point of going?” I asked.

When I travel, I want to be shaken up and to experience what is different. I want to know how it is for people who live in that place and to have my assumptions and stereotypes challenged. I want to be changed by my experiences, to learn something about another people and place—and about myself.

One of the features of touring with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) is that we visit people in their homes. On this tour, our group was split up among three homes in Carrera (after a tour of the nearby marble quarry). My small group had lunch with a couple and one of their sons.

Later in the tour, we visited Spello and were entertained by an Umbrian folk music group in the home of one of the musicians.

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Massimo Liberatori & La Società dei Musici

During my two weeks in Italy, slowly, slowly became my go-to gear, and I pledged to myself that when I got home, I would try harder to stay in slow gear, to remind myself every day (and even multiple times a day), piano, piano.

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Our Overseas Adventure Travel Group Tour Leader, Giacomo, aka Captain America

Mother Teresa speaks to me

Mother Teresa has been speaking to me recently. Not directly, of course, but through a daily reflection book I have been reading this year, Do Something Beautiful for God.

Sometimes, they are pithy sayings like the entry for October 19:

Life is an adventure; dare it.

I, too, believe that life is an adventure, and I am doing my best to dare it, by taking risks, traveling, saying yes to opportunities. I am doing things I love and enjoying life. I wonder, though, if that is what Mother Teresa meant. Her life seemed totally devoted to service, so when she says adventure, what does she mean?

Last month, I participated in two opportunities to serve meals at two churches in the city, and I was reminded of the importance of direct contact with people who live closer to the edge than I do. Most of the volunteer work I do now is organizational (boards and committees), so cooking and serving meals felt like an invitation to return to the kind of service I used to do. A different kind of adventure.

Other times, Mother Teresa’s words seem to be inviting me to a movement in prayer. The entry for October 14: Every moment of prayer, especially before our Lord in the tabernacle, is a sure, positive gain. The time we spend each day sitting with God is the most precious part of the whole day.

This one spoke to me on several levels. First, I don’t tend to spend time before our Lord in the tabernacle, perhaps because it was not part of my religious upbringing and because I have to go someplace to find a tabernacle. I pray in the morning at home, but I know that when I have prayed in chapel (on retreat mostly), I have found it peaceful. When I read this reflection, I wondered why I don’t go to chapel more often.

That led me to reflect on my time in prayer every morning and if it is the most precious part of the whole day. I know that when I am on retreat, spending a whole week in silence and focused on God 24/7, my prayer seems to be deeper and more precious.  Perhaps the invitation is to be more attentive to God throughout the day—on retreat or not.

The entry for October 16: If you were to die today, what would others say about you? What was in you that was beautiful, that was Christlike, that helped others to pray better? Face yourself, with Jesus at our side, and do not be satisfied with just any answer. Go deep into the question. Examine your life.

When I left Pennsylvania nine years ago—after having lived there for twenty-eight years—friends had a going-away party for me and one after another, people said all kinds of wonderful things about me. My friend Ted said it was like being at my own wake, and I still smile when I recall that party. One thing that stood out to me was how many people thanked me for doing some small thing that I did not even remember doing—a kind word or some small favor that meant little to me but had a big impact on them.

That reminded me of Mother Teresa’s saying: Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

Discovering my path

Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way. I didn’t know how the “call” happened. I just knew that God had chosen me, and I could see that I was different from my brothers and friends in certain ways—mostly in my desire to spend time in church and to talk to God.

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I felt a closeness to Jesus, and I knew instinctively that he was with me. I thought of him as a brother who “got me,” who related to my vulnerability and my feelings of helplessness.

When he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I heard an echo of my own cry. Like me, Jesus was an innocent victim. And even though I felt chosen by God and closely connected to God, I still went through my life experiences on my own.

Knowing that God was with me was a comfort, but I understood that God was not going to take away the difficulties of my life. God was not going to make my dad stop drinking or make my mom protect me. God was not going to change my “bad-touch” uncle or prevent my being abused.

Yes, God was with me, Jesus was with me, and I was also on my own. It was a mystery.

Why God had chosen me was a mystery, too. Why me? A poor girl from the east side of Detroit who had no special talents or skills.

At one point, I thought I could escape to a convent, but I have a lousy singing voice and I thought being able to sing was a requirement of being a nun. (I did not go to Catholic school, so I had no first-hand experience with nuns.) I was stuck living the life I had, playing the hand I had been dealt.

I envied Jesus because he had a clear sense of his mission, of why God had sent him. Me? I had no sense of my mission.

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Finding the path I was meant to walk has been a life-long quest.

When I read St. Paul’s letters about our different gifts (Romans 12:6) I could hardly relate. What gifts did I have that could help build God’s kingdom? I wasn’t a teacher, a healer, a prophet or a preacher. What was my gift? Another mystery.

Now, here I am at seventy years old, looking back on the path I have walked. Over time, my gifts and talents revealed themselves through the events of everyday life. Over time, I have been able to let go of unrealistic expectations, the “shoulds” and “oughts,” and accepted what is.

I am now comfortable in my own skin and grateful for my life.

I recently completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and hope to help others discern the path God is inviting them to walk, to help identify their gifts and to affirm that God can be found in all things.

Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

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The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

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Wonderful wildlife

At 3:00 p.m. yesterday, with school back in session, the Lake St. Clair Metro Park had few people but lots of wildlife, including these Canada geese, a crane and heron. I always feel fortunate to see a crane or heron, but to see both in one day was a joy.

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Canada geese

Crane at the shore of the lake

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Heron in the canal

Looking back, part 2

This was the second part of the piece that popped up on my laptop; it was one of my earliest blogs and because it, too, relates to Lent, I thought I would repost it:

The other day, someone asked me what I was doing for Lent. I think she expected to hear, “I gave up chocolate.” Instead, I told her I am spending Lent focusing on the lessons I learned during my friend Jim’s illness.

Throughout his illness, the words “fear is useless; what is needed is trust” (Luke 8:50) helped me cope. I said them every day—and most days, many times. This Lent, I am trying to be aware of when I am fearful and to let it go, so I can live in trust and openness to what God is doing.

While Jim was sick, we spent some time at the New Jersey Shore; he loved looking out at the ocean. “Think big thoughts,” he would say as he contemplated the beauty of nature and the abundance of God’s blessings. I am trying to think big thoughts, to appreciate all aspects of my life and to thank God for my many blessings.

One of my favorite moments from the Shore happened one morning as I was walking along the water’s edge. The ocean was absolutely calm, no waves anywhere. As I walked, I noticed the broken shells on the sand, and I knew God was telling me: “This Ocean is a sign of my peace. It is how you are to live—in calm and peace, open, expansive. This is what freedom looks like. At the shoreline, at your edges, leave anything sharp or broken and flow back to the calm openness, the expansiveness.” I am trying to live in the vast freedom God offers me, letting go of anything that gets in the way of being calm and at peace.

This Lent, I am keeping the chocolate—and giving up those things that keep me from trust, gratitude and peace.

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The New Jersey shore

P.S. Nine years later, I did give up chocolate candy for Lent this year (along with other forms of fasting) because I wanted to do some things that felt like sacrifices, and I enjoy chocolate candy every day. I am deeply aware of the people in Ukraine this Lent and fasting reminds me of people who are suffering while I live in abundance. Fasting reminds me of my dependence on God, and with every meal I skip, I offer a prayer for peace in Ukraine and other places in the world where there is no peace.  

Set an intention

Make room for

more light in your life and

more joy in your heart.

Set an intention for

peace and love to flourish

and chaos and fear to diminish.

Let generosity grow and scarcity shrink.

Count how many times a day

you say thank you or

offer a compliment.

Notice the abundance in your life and

act for those who have less.

Pray for those in your family or neighborhood

who face challenges and are struggling, and

those around the world who face tyrants.

Remember those who are grieving.

Reach out to those who are lonely or lost.

Every act of kindness ripples out into the world and

then comes back to us,

bridging the space between us and

reminding us that we are one.

Looking back

In the way of the digital world, this popped up in my computer, seemingly out of nowhere. It may have been the first post on my blog nine years ago! Since this is the weekend before Lent, I thought I would repost it:

Last year on the Sunday before Lent, we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim that God is “doing something new.” Those words caught my attention. God was definitely doing something new in my life at the time.

My best friend Jim was living with me, and he was dying from brain cancer. As he and I looked ahead to Lent, we talked about what new God was doing. We were fairly certain Jim would die before Easter, and he was looking at Lent as his final journey to Jerusalem; he was on his way home to God.

I was walking by Jim’s side, and every day brought something new—new symptoms, new issues and new ways to know my inadequacies. I had no prior medical experience, and nothing in my life to that point prepared me for caring for someone with end-stage brain cancer. Every day I learned something new.

Every day also brought little joys as we learned to let go and trust God. Family and friends helped us in many ways—shopping, cooking, doing laundry and working in the garden to name a few. I had a deep appreciation for people who responded without hesitation to my calls for help and who gave selflessly. Their generosity touched me and affirmed my faith. 

Jim lived until the Tuesday of Holy Week and died at home and at peace. Since Jim’s death, I have continued to be aware that God is doing something new in my life. My old life is gone, and I am creating a new life.

I want to hold onto the lessons I learned during Jim’s illness and let them guide me into the next chapter of my life. I want to be open to whatever new God is doing in my life.