Tag Archives: healing

trust-compassion-God

Living the questions

As I lay on the massage table, allowing someone to tend to me, to help me release the stress I carry in my body, I started to relax.

And then these questions popped into my mind: What would it look like if I really loved myself? If I was truly compassionate toward myself?

What would it look like if I was able to let go of the expectations I place on myself, if I was able to let go of fear? What would it look like if I could see myself as God sees me and love myself as God loves me?

What would be different?

I imagine there would be inner and outer changes. My teeth would unclench and my stomach would unknot, although neither of those would be observable.trust-compassion-GodOutwardly, my shoulders would relax. My massage therapist in Pennsylvania used to suggest I place bricks on my shoulders in an effort to keep them from hunching up around my ears. (I imagine that when I am a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, I will be one of those dancers the judges repeatedly tell to, “Relax your shoulders.” Yes, I have a rich interior life—please allow me my fantasy).

At the end of this session, the Reiki Master said she got a vibe that I feel a need to get my house in order—figuratively or literally, she could not tell.

Definitely literally I told her as I thought of all the unfinished projects in my house.

Although I have been here for four years, three rooms still have no curtains. Hanging curtains used to be the first thing I did in a new place. It made me feel settled and at home. So, why no curtains? I have the fabric to make them and the rods to hang them, but….trust-compassion-GodWould self-compassion enable me to settle into my home? Or would it at least allow me to let go of my feelings of guilt for not having curtains?

My house has an enclosed porch overlooking the back yard. I created two new flower beds last summer that are blooming beautifully this year. Lavender and Echinacea fill the air with sweet scents, and black-eyed Susan, hydrangea and a butterfly bush add depth to the color palate. I feel at home on the porch and in the garden.

Perhaps I will reach the day when I feel that at home inside my house. Perhaps I will reach the day when I am that comfortable in my own skin.

Every time I get a taste of letting go and leaning into God, letting gravity pull me into a relaxed state, I know that is where I want to live. It is a place of mutuality, where God and I share a deep secret—that God has always loved me just as I am and that I can let go of my expectations that I be anyone else or do anything else. I can just let go and be loved.trust-compassion-God

 

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healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

Leaving my comfort zone

One moment of clarity during my recent retreat involved Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the sheep and the goats.

For the better part of one year, (many years ago) I prayed almost exclusively with this passage of scripture. I would try to move on, but God kept calling me back. “I guess I am a slow learner,” I would joke with God when I could not seem to move onto other scriptures. I knew I was missing something but could not figure out what it was.

I did continue to have aha moments as the year passed, gaining deeper insight into the message as the words permeated my being.

Thirty years later, this passage still draws me and connects me with my basic call from God:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

These works of mercy became the standard against which I measured myself. When was the last time I fed someone who was hungry or gave drink to someone who was thirsty? When did I welcome a stranger or care for someone who was sick or visit someone in prison?

I took the commands literally. I believed Matthew outlined these works clearly so that there could be doubt about what I was to do. And I believed that Jesus was calling me to engage in each and every activity.healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

The passage goes on to say, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me.

That is the part that took me a while to grasp—to see that whatever good work I did, I did for Jesus, that the person on the receiving end was Jesus. Here was the mystery.

I had done good works before 1986, but I had somehow missed this piece of the equation, the part where I was actually doing it to or for Jesus. I thought I was just helping another person, but to realize that I was helping Jesus cast my efforts in a different light, because by doing these good works I was actually putting myself in a position to interact directly with Jesus. And in doing for Jesus, I was setting myself up to receive something in return—healing.

God was inviting me to get in touch with my own hunger, thirst, nakedness, alienation and imprisonment—and to let His love in through my acts of service for others. By offering mercy, I was receiving mercy.

Every act of kindness I did softened my heart and made me more compassionate. Every good deed opened the door for Jesus to shift my vision so I could see the world as Jesus sees it.

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Some of these commands can demand I move far outside my comfort zone; and I have come to believe that that is exactly where Jesus is waiting for me.healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

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To see as God sees

Retreats are wonderful opportunities for serendipitous moments of insight. Stepping away from daily living creates a space to be more open and aware, and to get a different perspective on what is right in front of me.retreat-meditation-God

The second morning of my recent retreat, I opened my prayer book and found a note a friend had sent a few years ago. I did not remember putting it there, but there it was.

My friend was reflecting on her desire to let go of wanting to be seen by others in some particular good light (good mother, good neighbor, etc.), and just to see herself as God sees her.

Her words touched my own struggle with my desire to be seen—just to be visible—and then also to be seen as good or successful or as possessing some other positive attribute.

My desire for others’ approval can motivate me to accomplish many things; it can also take up an inordinate amount of energy and leave me feeling anxious.

My friend’s note included a Celtic prayer:

“Be the eye of God dwelling within me.

Be the foot of Christ in guidance with me.

Be the shower of the Spirit pouring on me, richly and generously.”

The phrase “eye of God dwelling within me” caught my attention, and I spent some time that day and the next pondering what God’s eye would see through my eyes and also what God’s eye sees when looking at me.

For many years, I would not talk about my faith, believing it would be of little or no interest or particularly helpful or relevant. I believed that each person’s spiritual experience was as personal as mine. Plus, who was I to talk about how God blessed me? It sounded too bold—not humble at all.

My spiritual director gave me this definition of humility: Humility means telling the truth—being neither less than nor greater than I really am.

Her words deepened my pondering on who I am in God’s eyes, how God sees me.

The past seven years have been a time of great loss for me and each loss left me feeling more and more vulnerable. Being vulnerable is very uncomfortable for me, and I instinctively dealt with it by closing in on myself. With each loss, I added another layer to a protective shield around my heart, until my heart had become encased. In the process, I think I forgot who I am and whose I am.

In a dream one night, I had to climb through a barbed wire fence. Upon waking, it occurred to me that barbed wire is a fitting image for the protective shield around my heart—painful for me to climb through to be free or for anyone else to reach in.retreat-meditation-God

I prayed for the grace to dismantle the shield around my heart, to unwrap the layers of barbed wire so that I can see as God sees and be the person God calls me to be.

 

Lost and found

…this son of mine was…lost and has been found. (Luke 15:24)

I once had a job recruiting community members to be volunteer advocates for people who have disabilities. At monthly Board meetings, I would report on the people I had met who needed advocates.

Ellen was thirteen years old when I met her, and she lived in a group home

Her parents lived in the town where I worked, and I called her mother and told her I was going to recruit an advocate for Ellen. The mother told me how Ellen had become severely disabled as a young child; she agreed it would be good for Ellen to have someone in her life.

When Ellen’s name appeared in my monthly report, a board member asked if she was related to a family he knew with the same last name.

“Yes,” I said, “she is their daughter.”

“No,” he replied, and he named Ellen’s parents.

“Yes,” I repeated,” she is their daughter.”

“That’s not possible,” he declared and explained that he and his family knew this family very well. “They have two daughters,” he insisted.

“No,” I said, “they have three daughters.” In that moment, I realized that I had just exposed a family secret.

Ellen’s mother was quite upset with me after that. Prickly was how I described her. “I was just doing my job,” I declared defensively, but my heart broke for her as I imagined how I would feel if someone had inadvertently revealed something I had kept secret.

I started to avoid Ellen’s mother whenever I saw her, crossing the street or ducking into a shop.

A young woman named Geri became Ellen’s advocate and they formed a deep bond.

About ten years after I had left that job, I drove past Ellen’s condo one day and wondered if Geri was still involved.

Just days later, Ellen’s mother attended a fund-raiser for my current work. When I saw her walk in, I hid behind a pillar. What is she doing here? I silently shrieked, a knot forming in my stomach.

Fortunately, the venue and the crowd were large enough that I was able to avoid her.

When it was time for me to speak about my work, and as I was waiting for a final microphone check, the crowd seemed to part and Ellen’s mother walked straight toward me. Oh, God, no, I prayed. Not now. I had no place to hide.

I smiled, said hello and told her how I had recently driven past Ellen’s condo and wondered if Geri was still involved.

“Yes, she is,” Ellen’s mother said. She went on to explain that watching Geri with Ellen and seeing how Geri saw Ellen changed how she saw her daughter. She told me that Geri and Ellen had become an integral part of their family. “You gave me back my daughter,” she said, “and I want to thank you.”

Tears filled my eyes as she hugged me.

***

Have you ever been lost or found?

 

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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Moving beyond trauma

In the mid-1980’s, I participated in a clinical trial conducted by the Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia; the goal was to see if the treatment used with Vietnam Veterans to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would be effective for women who were survivors of sexual assault.

I was recently reminded of this clinical trial when I was cleaning out my file cabinet and found four dog-eared index cards.

Each three-by-five card had a heading, written in someone else’s cursive.

  1. Preparing for a stressor
  2. Confronting and handling a stressor
  3. Coping with feelings of being overwhelmed
  4. Reinforcing self-statements

Beneath each heading, in my own writing, are prompts and personal messages.

I don’t remember much about the program—how many weeks or months it lasted, if sessions were once or twice a week—but I do remember driving to North Philadelphia and meeting one-to-one with a therapist.

Reading these messages that I had written to my younger self, I realized that I have internalized many of the practices I was taught in this program.

The treatment focused on modifying behaviors, and one exercise I have practiced over the years is interrupting negative thoughts. The idea is to notice when my thoughts are spiraling downward and I am starting to feel overwhelmed; then I shout STOP.stop sign

It does not matter if I shout out loud or in just in my mind, the shouting interrupts the negative thought process and gives me a chance to change direction and regain control. For me, this has been an effective thought-changing process that has helped steer me away from negativity.

On the first card, under the heading Preparing for a stressor, I wrote three questions:

  1. What is it I have to do?
  2. What am I afraid of?
  3. What is the likelihood of anything bad happening?

Beneath those questions, I instructed myself to “get beyond my feelings to do the work that has to be done.” And then I affirmed myself: “I’ve made a lot of progress; I’ve come this far; I can keep going.”

Some of the notes to myself on the other cards include:

“Other people can do this; so can I.”

“Focus on plan of action.”

“There are people involved whom I can trust.”

“It will be over soon.”

“The anxiety (fear) will slow me down but I will not be incapacitated by it.”

The fourth card is a list of affirmations, including:

“Nothing succeeds like success.”

“Good job—pat yourself on the back.”

I don’t know the outcome of that clinical trial, but for me, the treatment was helpful, and over the years, I can see how I have built on what I learned. For example, after accomplishing a task that is particularly stressful, I now say, “Bask in the glow of success” which, to me, is a step beyond patting myself on the back.

I know that my faith was primarily what got me through that trauma, and the clinical trial at Women’s Hospital was a gift. I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

Reshaped by God

Now there was a man full of leprosy….and the leprosy left him immediately. (Luke 5:12-13)

The words full of leprosy caught my attention as I read this Scripture passage. I think of leprosy as being an external condition affecting the skin, but the words full of made me think of something deeper, some kind of cavity or open space which had been filled.

As I pondered this man’s healing, I wondered if leprosy had become a part of his identity and self-understanding. Had he become accustomed to being shunned? Did he find solace in his solitude? I wondered what filled the open space where the leprosy had been.

This man, full of leprosy, reminds me of when I was younger and full of shame. I thought of myself that way—full of shame. I blamed myself for the bad things that had happened to me and internalized them into a message that I was bad. Bad things happen to bad people, I told myself.

But, I hoped for something different; I hoped that I could be healed. Just as the leprosy left the man immediately, I hoped my shame would be removed in an instant.

My pastor encouraged me to pray for healing. I started attending daily Mass and praying fervently. Months passed with no apparent change. Then one day, at the end of Mass, the priest said, “Go now, cleansed in mind and body, to love and serve the Lord.”

“Cleansed?” Not me. I was dirty, broken, disgusting—in mind and body. Tears started pouring from my eyes and I crumpled to the kneeler, burying my face in my hands.

I wanted to be cleansed. “Please God,” I pleaded through sobs, “cleanse me.”

As I knelt in that pew, sobbing, I had a vision. I saw myself cleaved in two and all that was ugly and broken and shameful poured out of me. It was a veritable river of disgust spewing out. I watched until there was nothing left, until I was empty.

Was this what it meant to be healed? Had Jesus removed my shame the same way he had removed leprosy? I accepted this vision as a healing and floated out of the church on a spiritual high. God had heard my prayers and cleansed me.

Being healed presented a dilemma, though. The only me I had known was the shameful me. Without my shame, who was I?

St. Paul’s letters became my guide. The man who had persecuted the church became its biggest promoter. I wanted to be able to walk away from my past as St. Paul had, to be so strengthened by the Spirit that I could become a new person in Christ and never look back.

Forty-three years have passed since that day in church and I can look back and see how God has continued to heal me and reshape me. I am grateful.