Tag Archives: healing

Standing in my beliefs

“I guess I didn’t go there enough,” a friend said after her favorite restaurant closed. She wasn’t being arrogant, as if she alone could have saved the restaurant; she was talking about the choices she had made and the consequences of those choices.

My friend’s comment got me thinking about the choices I make and if my choices give witness to what I say is important to me.

I began to pay more attention to where I spend my time and money, and I came to see that where I go—the places where I literally put my body—gives witness to what I value and believe.

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Matthew 25:31-46 shaped my early relationship with Jesus. This scripture passage instructed me to put my body at the service at the most vulnerable people in my community, and I took seriously the call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit those in prison. I wanted to live this scripture faithfully, and after college I explored different options.

On my first visit to l’Arche, while praying in the chapel, I asked God for a sign if I was meant to live in this community. Two community members entered the chapel and sat on either side of me. They closed their eyes and bowed their heads in silent prayer.

It felt like a sign.

At the time, I thought that my deep desire to live the mandate of Matthew 25:31-46, along with past training and work experience, made me an ideal candidate to live in l’Arche. I saw myself as some sort of bearer of the Good News, bringing all my knowledge of what people with disabilities needed to make their lives more meaningful.

It didn’t take long after moving to l’Arche, though, to realize that what I thought of as my gifts were really stumbling blocks.

I had some dark days in l’Arche, when I felt completely powerless and near despair, and I cried out to God, “I didn’t have to move here; I could have learned this from a book.”

But the truth was that I needed to be in that place, stripped of my professional reputation and public persona, so that I could see that I, too, am one of the “least” that Matthew was talking about—that I, too, needed to be fed and clothed and cared for.

One particularly dark day I told my spiritual director that I felt like I was falling apart. 

“No,” she said. “I think you are falling together.”

“Let go,” God seemed to be saying to me—of my need to be in control, to be right, to know better.

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Once I accepted myself as powerless, God could work with me.

l’Arche taught me that Matthew 25:31-46 invites me to do more than stand beside vulnerable people; it invites me to see myself as one of the “least,” because standing is my vulnerability allows God to love and heal me.

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Being present to the past

A recent magazine article evoked memories of something that happened thirty years ago, a short chapter in my life I had not thought about in all these years.

As I allowed the scene to play out in my mind, certain details of the people involved came into sharp focus. I remember the names and faces of people who were part of my life for only a few months.

Two men came into my life because one of the men was dying and needed a place to go for the final weeks of his life. I was living in a guest house and was happy to welcome them during this difficult time.

Once this memory resurfaced, I let it play out, allowing the scenes of everyday life with these two men to present themselves. I recalled the people who came to visit them, and I remembered one visitor in particular whose fidelity I greatly admired.

And then I asked God what invitation this memory is offering me. Why now? Why these people and their situation? Why such sharp details?

St. Paul encourages us to forget the past and move on to the future (Philippians 3:13), and I get that. But sometimes the past can hold an invitation or a gift that is helpful to the present.

I have chapters in my past that I would rather not revisit—dark times when I behaved badly and did hurtful things. But just because I try to ignore them does not mean they go away. And sometimes revisiting them can offer a clue to some healing that I need now.

Evelyn Underhill prayed, O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where I hide memories and tendencies on which I do not care to look, but which I will not disinter and yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them.

I have been praying this prayer for the past six months or so, and maybe God is answering with memories like this one from thirty years ago. Maybe it is revealing a tendency on which I do not care to look but which needs to not only be looked at but offered to God for healing.

Underhill ends her prayer, Lord, I bring all these to you, and I review them in your steadfast light.

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For me, the goal and the gift of the spiritual life is freedom—the freedom to live with open hands, accepting whatever comes to me. To do that, I need God’s light to shine a spotlight on those places where I am unfree—my comfort zone.

God invites me to move beyond my comfort zone and to face what limits my freedom.

Unfortunately, a large portion of my comfort zone is filled with negativity and insecurity, and I struggle to see my own goodness.

God invites me to replace negative self-talk with affirmations.

Maybe this memory came back to me to remind me of my generosity in giving this man a place to live his final days.

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Misplaced loyalty

When we were in our mid-thirties, my cousin wrote me and asked if we could get together for dinner the next time I came home for a visit.

We grew up more like sisters than cousins, and as children, she knew me better than anyone else.

Her request to meet seemed a bit odd, though, because we had drifted apart after high school.

Now she was in therapy and had some questions for me. Her childhood memories were fuzzy and had some blank spaces; she hoped I would be able to bring clarity to her murkiness and fill in some of the blanks.

At dinner, she asked about one of our uncles. I shuddered.

“If we had known of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch,’” she said, “he would have been a bad-touch uncle.” I agreed.

As far back as I could remember, I had tried to avoid this uncle, who liked to bounce me on his lap and “tickle” my still-undeveloped breasts. She confided that she, too, had learned to give him a wide berth.

Even at a young age we both knew that other adults saw anything wrong in what he did to us, and no one would stop him.

“What about us?” my cousin asked. “Why didn’t anyone protect us? Why were we left to feel shame for something he did?”

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The memory of that dinner with my cousin thirty years ago resurfaced recently.

Lately, I seem to be tuned into the secrets people keep. In novels—where more is left unsaid than shared—and television detective stories—where people withhold facts from the police—what goes unsaid has been catching my attention.

Why the hesitation? The resistance? Why not tell all? 

The answer frequently is the desire to protect someone.

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Perhaps novelists and screenwriters are emphasizing the things people don’t say as a way of pointing out how common the practice is. Perhaps they are using their craft to nudge people into greater honesty because they know how harmful secrets can be, how damaging it is to protect people who are abusing their power.

Maybe I am more aware of the destructiveness of keeping secrets and protecting people because of what is happening in my church. Those in power seem to be willing to do anything to hold onto their power, covering up egregious acts and maintaining a code of silence. Or maybe it is because of politicians and celebrities demanding loyalty or paying hush money to keep their secrets.

Other than that dinner with my cousin, I have not talked about my uncle and the impact his actions had on me.

One thing I can see clearly, though, is how this early lesson helped shape my sense of “loyalty” and my understanding of the need to protect people who have something to lose—be it their reputation, job or family.  

In the end, the truth usually comes out. And it often turns out that people already knew, or at least had an inkling, of the truth.

See my wounds

While praying with the resurrection stories this week—scripture passages I have read dozens of times, heard preached about every year and thought I knew so well—I had an “aha” moment.

The idea that Jesus’ suffering was not in vain, that his death had a redemptive quality is not new.

This year, though, the image of Jesus showing his wounds to the disciples after his resurrection took on a different meaning for me.

Recently, I have been pondering sharing more of my wounds. I have written pieces that expose parts of my story that have been long kept secret. Although I have been through years of therapy to help me get past the shame, I can still be crippled by it. Don’t tell are two words that reverberate in my mind and prevent me from full disclosure.

I admire others who get past shame and tell all and am amazed by those who seem to have escaped shame all together.

But I have not been able to shake off shame. I still cringe whenever I reveal a detail of my past, when I speak of something I have been warned not to tell.

Reading the resurrection stories this year and imagining the scene of Jesus standing with his fearful disciples sparked a new insight.

Jesus got his wounds in a shameful fashion. He was mistreated by his own religious leaders and crucified as a common criminal.

The disciples scattered rather than stand at the foot of the cross and watch the man they respected be humiliated and disgraced. He had been their leader, but now he was broken—not powerful at all, but humbly submitting to ridicule, abuse and death.  

And yet, just days later, there he was, standing in their midst and inviting them to look at his wounds.

For Jesus, they were not marks of shame, but rather signs of victory. He was proud to show the marks of his suffering.

The disciples had been cowering in a locked room when Jesus appeared and invited them to look at his wounds.

What was clearer to me this year is that if Jesus could endure humiliation and overcome shame, so could his disciples. He was inviting them (and me) to shake off shame, to convert what looked like weakness into power, to break free of the bonds that kept them in hiding, behind locked doors.

Jesus broke through their fears and invited them to spread the word that humiliating treatment did not define or limit him, but rather he converted that treatment into true freedom.

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Fear drives people to abuse power and victimize vulnerable people.

By showing his wounds as signs of triumph over the fears of others, Jesus was offering the ultimate freedom. He did not let what had happened to him to limit or define him, and he invites me to do the same.

Showing his wounds was the exclamation point on his message that fear is useless and that trust in God leads to freedom.     

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My prayer

I start my mornings with an hour of quiet time—journaling, reading scripture, praying and writing. My missalette includes a Prayer for each day, written by saints or taken from a variety of Sacramentaries.

The diversity of sources intrigues me, and many are new to me. This month, I have been introduced to the Gelasian Sacramentary and Saint Makarios of Alexandria.

These prayers often spark a prayer of my own.

Recently, I have begun to ponder how I pray and what words I would use if I were writing my prayers down instead of just saying them.

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Knowing I spend time in prayer each day, people often ask me to pray for them and those they love. My friend Ted believed I have hot line to God because the things he asked me to pray for turned out the way he wanted. I was nine for nine when he asked me to pray for his friend Adele.

Instead of getting better, though, as Ted had wanted, Adele died. When Ted called me to tell me Adele had died, he said, “Your prayers didn’t work.”

Ted had never asked me about the specifics of my prayer, so I took this occasion to tell him that I had not prayed for Adele to get better. I had prayed that God give Adele the grace and strength to face her difficulties, that her faith remain strong and that God grant her peace.

“Why didn’t you ask God to cure her?” he wanted to know.

“That is not how my relationship with God works,” I answered.

When my friend Jim got brain cancer, many people prayed that he would be cured, and they were certain God was going to comply with their wishes. It would have been miraculous because there is no known cure for the type of cancer Jim had.

“What will those people do on the day you die?” I asked Jim.

My prayer for Jim was that he get right with God, that he have the strength to face what was happening to him and that he be at peace. It was my prayer for him whether he was to live or die.

I share Ted’s confidence that I have God’s ear, but my concern is more focused on acceptance.

If I were to write a prayer, it would go something like this:

God, give me the strength to endure whatever hardship comes my way with grace and peace. Help me to let go of my own expectations and accept the truth of what is. Give me the wisdom to remember that my vision is limited; help me to trust that you see the big picture. Help me to be grateful for all that has been and to say “yes” to what is yet to be.

This is my prayer for myself and also how I pray for those on my Prayer List. Not miraculous cures—although I thank God when they happen—but hope for wisdom, courage, strength and peace.

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Shaking off shame

Last year, I connected with Jake Owensby’s blog, Looking for God in Messy Places. My own sense of where I find God resonates with his writing, and now I am reading his book, A Resurrection Shaped Life. In both his blog and his book, Jake writes about traumatic events from his childhood, and I am amazed at his openness.

In a memoir I recently read, the author declares that she wishes she could write openly about the trauma of her childhood, but she is not there. Me neither.

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I want to be there—that place where I can speak openly and honestly about traumatic things that happened to me, where I have moved past shame—but I am not.

Thirty years ago, I read John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You, hoping it would lead me beyond shame. It gave me insight and understanding, but I was still bound by shame.

Then there was therapy for few years and a series of other therapeutic programs (retreats, family programs, al-anon, etc.). Each moved the needle a bit, but my shame is deep seated.

Shame is the yardstick by which I measure my freedom, because shame truly does keep me bound and unfree.

Looking back, though, I can see the distance I have come. There was a time when I did not even know what had happened to me. Like many children who experience trauma, I buried it deep inside and denied anything had happened.

All I knew for certain was that when I was eight years old, God saved me, that God had somehow picked me up and held me close. I had no understanding of the circumstances from which God was saving me. But I knew this one truth: God saved me.

In my twenties I realized that there was an impact from the damage that had been done to me as a child, because I could see how it was affecting the way I was living as an adult. Bad choices only begins to describe my twenties.

Chapter One in A Resurrection Shaped Life is called “Growing Beyond Our Past.”  Jake Owensby writes, “Actually, the past doesn’t just follow us around. It’s a crucial part of our identity” (Page 4). He notes, “We omit the messy parts of our lives” when building a resume, but that we have to “come to terms” with our past as part of a Christian spiritual practice.

I know my past helped me be more compassionate toward people who are vulnerable, especially children and people who have developmental disabilities. It also helped me know how blessed I am to have survived childhood trauma relatively intact.

Therapy, retreats, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, daily prayer and self-help books all helped me get to a place where I could make better choices and live with greater integrity.

I am still working with God in the messy places of my life, those places where I still hold onto shame—and trusting that God is continually healing me.

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Atonement

I am not particularly political, but my car radio lured me into listening to parts of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings.

I heard Kavanaugh boast about coaching his daughters’ basketball teams and his Jesuit education. Ward Cleaver came to mind as I listened to his self-portrayal. Perhaps I even rolled my eyes once or twice. I understand presenting oneself in the best possible light, but no one is that good, I thought.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityOne day, I heard that the girls’ basketball team he coaches came to the hearings—in their Catholic school uniforms. Really? What is he trying to prove? I wondered.

And then came the allegation about a sexual assault incident from his high school days.

And I began to wonder if he had overplayed his hand. Was that perfect father portrayal really just a charm offensive?God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityLast year’s disclosures by women who had been sexually assaulted made me think of the men who had not yet been named, those men who knew their histories and were now squirming as they waited for the shoe to drop.

I have to admit that I took a great deal of delight in knowing that those men who once dominated were now vulnerable, having no idea if or when a voice from their troubled past would intrude into their idyllic present.

Is Brett Kavanaugh one of those men? Was all that blarney about being so good just a smoke screen in anticipation of someone stepping forward to reveal his past?

And here is where I run into a dilemma. I am not the same person I was when I was seventeen or even twenty-seven. I made mistakes, and I own that. I sought help to deal with the issues that plagued my young life and have learned from my mistakes. I have atoned for the sins of my youth through prayer and service, and I don’t want to be judged by mistakes I made out of my brokenness and ignorance.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityI wonder if Judge Kavanaugh has taken responsibility for the mistakes of his youth.

And I wonder what he would do if one of the girls on the team he coaches or if one of his daughters was sexually assaulted.

Would Judge Kavanaugh take the view that “boys will be boys” and minimize the damage done to the girl?  Would he counsel the girl to shake it off, as if it were a basketball foul?

Would he advise the boy to deny all accusations? Or would he counsel the boy to take responsibility for his actions, knowing that dark deeds that are locked away can be uncovered at any time, and that a life built on secrets can easily implode.

The man who assaulted me apologized a few weeks later. Two little words—I’m sorry—and he walked away free and clear. I was left with damage that took years to heal, and only now can I see that for all the harm he caused me, at least he owned it.God-forgiveness-vulnerability