Tag Archives: insight

Be a Joseph

Our Christmas homily included the advice: Don’t be an innkeeper; be a Joseph.

The innkeeper in the Nativity story, the guy who said there was no room and turned Joseph and Mary out, was probably a realist—all his rooms were filled (Luke 2:7). Granted, he may have been inundated with people seeking shelter because of the census so he had no empty rooms, but the priest wondered if the innkeeper had considered all his options? Had he thought of giving up his bed so that a pregnant woman could rest comfortably?

We don’t know. Maybe another pregnant woman had arrived earlier. Maybe…. Well, we just don’t know. The story handed down to us is not a first-person account, so we can only guess at what really happened that night.

The more important thing to consider, though, are our own actions.

We don’t have to go far to find people in need, people facing difficulties, struggling with illness or life’s challenges.

How are we like the innkeeper, turning people away when we feel we are at our limit and they are asking us to make room for them?   

Do we do things a certain way because we have always done them that way? Are we so focused on one course of action that we cannot see alternatives?

When life seems full, do we shut the door and say enough? Or do we make room for one more?

Compare that to Joseph, who had already made up his mind to divorce Mary, until he had a dream suggesting a different course of action. Then he pivots and does as the angel in the dream instructed (Matthew 1:19-24).

I wondered if the innkeeper might have had a dream that night after turning Joseph and Mary away, a dream when an angel told him to go find Joseph and Mary and offer them his bed. But upon waking from the dream, he only said, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and went about his day as usual. Haven’t most of us done that?

We are all invited to change course from time to time, to reframe a situation, get a different perspective.


Can we be like Joseph and be willing to rethink our decisions, to make new decisions based on new information? Can we be guided by the whispers of the Spirit when we feel a nudge to reach out to someone, to offer assistance or comfort? Can we hear the voice of God in our dreams and gain insight into a new direction for our lives?

As I review my journals from this year and remember different events, I am aware of how often I am like the innkeeper, choosing to be comfortable rather than stretching to meet another’s need.

My friend Steve (who died ten years ago) used to start each year by choosing a word or phrase to guide him through the year, something that the Spirit had whispered to him.

Be a Joseph is my phrase for 2023.

Falling off a ladder

“I don’t know where you came from,” the woman said, with wonder in her voice, as if I were an apparition.

“I was just on my walk,” I explained. I walk by her house most days, although I had never paid particular attention to it. Our neighborhood has a few basic house styles, so none really stands out.

What I noticed that day, though, was a woman in front of the house, falling off a ladder.

I ran to her, and she seemed stunned. “I hit my head on that thing,” she said, pointing to the meter. She had also scratched her face and banged her knee.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I’ll be fine,” but as she tried to stand, we both could see she was not fine.

“Don’t move,” I instructed her, and I got a chair off the porch and then helped her into it.

“I don’t know where you came from,” the woman said again, and I wondered if she had a concussion.

I asked if anyone else was home and then got her daughter to get ice packs.

The woman had been stringing Christmas lights from the eave, and the ladder had sunk into the wet ground and toppled.

She would not agree to medical treatment, although she did call a neighbor who is a medical assistant.

I left her, but her words, “I don’t know where you came from,” have stayed with me. How often does someone show up just when we need help? How often does a stranger just happen to be in the right place at the right time?


Earlier that day in prayer, I had asked how I am to prepare for Christmas.

Advent is a time to stay awake (Matthew 24:42) and be vigilant (Luke 21:36).

The woman falling off the ladder reminded me of the story of the young executive driving his new sports car—perhaps a bit too fast—down a neighborhood street when a brick hits the side of his car. He slams on the brakes, jumps out and starts yelling at the kid who threw the brick. “Why did you do that?” he shouts.

“I am sorry, Mister,” the boy says, “but no one would stop when I was calling for help.”

The boy then points toward some parked cars and explains that his brother had rolled off the curb and fallen out of his wheelchair. “He is too heavy for me to lift.”

The young executive went over to the injured brother, lifted him up and got him resettled in his wheelchair. The boys thanked this stranger for his help and headed toward home.   

The executive returned to his sports car and saw the big dent from the brick. He decided not to fix it though and left it as a reminder not to move so fast through life that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

Was this woman falling off a ladder my brick?



Keep moving forward, the sage advises,

but what if I missed something as I sped by?

Some bit of wisdom or insight that

blurred at the edges and

seemed inconsequential as

I careened through my days

like a meteor on a collision course,

zigzagging to avoid encounters that could blind or maim.

Slow down,

look up,

pause for a minute,

turn around,

pick up the threads that dangle along the border and

weave them into the tapestry.


I recently did a “the first four words you see will be your words for 2021” game on Facebook. My words were connection, self-care, money and breakthrough. Self-care is the one that resonated most strongly with me, because it is an area that challenges me.


The other three, though, who knows what they might mean?

Then this week in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, I had a breakthrough.

We are doing a mini-course on Jesus and because of the pandemic, the presentations have been videotaped and we are watching them on our own. The first session was an overview of the Bible.

The priest who did the presentation shared that his favorite Bible is the Harper Collins Study Bible, which was a new one to me, and I made a note to check it out. The session ended with a Lectio Divina prayer time using Isaiah 40:1-2: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and…

This reading is very familiar to me, and my mind started filling in the next words. But this was a different translation, one I had never heard before, and after those first few words, I had to stop the video and go back to listen to what was being read, rather than listening to the words in my head. This translation read:

…cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins….

I actually laughed out loud because I almost missed this message by filling in what was familiar.


Plus, these words are similar to what friends have been telling me for years, things like, you have done more than your share and you have atoned.

I stopped the video to spend more time listening to God telling me that I can let go of feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and to thank God for all I have received.

I am a loved sinner, I reminded myself.

Then I personalized the words:

I have served my term. My penalty is paid. I have received double from the Lord’s hands for all my sins.

On Wednesday of this week, I had cataract surgery, and the pre-op nurse and I chatted as she administered a series of eye drops. Her husband is from Italy, which led to us talking about our trips to Italy and my plans to return next year. She asked where I worked and when I said Gilda’s Club, she placed her hand on my hand and said, “Thank you for your work.” I could tell she knew the importance of support on the cancer journey.

I entered the operating room feeling blessed by my life. I have been fortunate to have meaningful work that touches the lives of vulnerable people, to have dear friends who love and support me, and adventures that broaden my life. I have received double and even triple blessings from God.

Now onto connection and money.

The gift of a flu shot

“Relax your shoulders,” the nurse instructed me as she prepared to give me a flu shot. I breathed out and let my shoulders drop. But before she could stick the needle in, my shoulders tensed.

“Relax your shoulders,” she said again. I breathed out and let my shoulders drop, and she stuck me.

“I didn’t even feel it,” I said.

“That’s because your shoulders were relaxed,” she observed.

“Wouldn’t all life be less painful if I kept my shoulders relaxed?” I suggested.

She chuckled and agreed.

All that day, I kept coming back to the nurse’s instruction and my experience of a painless flu shot. I thought of images of the flow of life and meditations inviting me to be the tree or be the river.

How many times a day do I need to relax my shoulders? To let go of my resistance? To lean into the flow of life instead of trying to stand against it?

While reflecting on those three words, relax your shoulders, I recalled a conversation from a few days earlier about “reacting” versus “responding.”  I want to respond to life events, from a place of peace—rather than reacting from fear or resistance. Staying relaxed seems key to responding.

A few hours after I got the flu shot, and after I had spent an hour and a half working on a spreadsheet, my computer crashed. I could feel my shoulders tense up, and then I recalled the nurse’s advice.

I stepped away, breathed out my frustration and let my shoulders drop. Yes, it was a wasted hour and a half, but in the bigger scheme of things, it was only an hour and a half and not worth getting too upset about.

I was grateful for the nurse’s patience with me, that she waited until I was relaxed before she gave me the shot, because her example was a reminder of how every event in daily life can hold a lesson, if I am open to it.

It seems odd that a simple flu shot could produce such a deep reflection, but isn’t that the point of mindfulness—to be present to what is happening right in front of me and to learn from everything, even those things that seem insignificant.

Mindfulness, to me, is paying attention to what catches my attention and letting deeper meanings surface. Three little words, relax your shoulders, offered a gift—the reminder that staying relaxed can make painful events less painful.

Who or what is offering you insight and wisdom today?


Looking ahead

We celebrated my mother’s 94th birthday last week. At a niece’s wedding last fall, people kept telling me that my mother is “amazing” and “awesome.” I got tired of hearing it, and I also smiled at the truth of it. My mother is amazing and awesome.


At 94, she still does her own cooking, cleaning and laundry; and she is still trying out new recipes! As my mother has aged, she has, in some ways, become more open to change. Part of that, she would say, is that we, her children, have forced her to accept change because we don’t do things the way she once did them. But, after a little resistance, she goes along.

My grandmother lived 96 years, and most of my mom’s siblings lived well into their 80s. One uncle died just days short of his 98th birthday. We have longevity.

The thing about my mother and her family’s longevity is that it is a constant reminder to live as though I, too, have longevity. It is an invitation to see a vast future waiting for me to explore.

And, because I have had so many friends die young, I also know an early death is possible and that each day is precious.

Balancing those two realities reminds me of a large rock I once saw. One side of the rock had the quote, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” etched into it, and the opposite side had a quote about planning for tomorrow. I was more of a “live for today” kind of person, so I don’t even remember what the other side said!

Having lived longer than a number of my friends (some did not even reach thirty) and considering my mother’s advanced age, I think more about the future now and ponder how I am being invited to live into that future. Intentionality is the word that comes to mind when I think of what is ahead—living intentionally.

For much of my early life, I moved around—a lot. I think in all that moving around, I was trying to run away from my past, searching for something external to bring me peace—only to find that wherever I went, I took my history with me. Eventually, I realized that everything I needed was inside me. I feel settled now and plan to stay put. I am unpacking and looking to a future built upon what I have learned.

Are you more of a “live for today” kind of person? Or are you someone who plans more for the future? Are you able to find a balance between the two?


Chances are

“It grabbed me and would not let me go,” a man said during a radio interview. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but I resonated with the phrase. So often, a word or image grabs me and sticks like glue, whirling around my mind and intruding into my thoughts for days or even weeks.

Recently, the phrase chances are has taken hold of me. First a friend mentioned she was reading a book by that title. Over the next few days, I heard the song by Johnny Mathis—not once but twice—and then those two words were used in a sermon. Chances are.

Being mindful for me means paying attention to this kind of thing. Being mindful means noticing what I notice, and I noticed this phrase. Why? What invitation is it offering to me? What meaning does it hold for me?

Johnny Mathis sang this dreamy love song in the 1950’s, and I only recall the first line.


Google tells me that the phrase means that something is likely to happen but is not certain.

So what is likely to happen in my life? Or is the emphasis more on what is not certain?

At random times, this phrase pops into my mind, unbidden and seemingly unconnected to anything that is happening at that moment. It has grabbed hold of me and won’t let go.

I pray for insight and guidance. I want to be open to what is likely to happen. I want to be receptive.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time of anticipation and watchful waiting. It is the perfect time to ponder the words, phrases and images that catch my attention and stay with me.

Last weekend, I officiated at a wedding, and before the ceremony, the young man who was reading from 1 Corinthians told me he had practiced the reading that morning and one line jumped out at him.


“I kept reading and re-reading that line,” he said, his voice marveling at what almost seemed like magic to him. “I love that line,” he added.

“Perhaps there is an invitation to you in those words,” I suggested.

Chances are this same thing happens to you. What do you make of it when it does? Do you allow the words or images to swirl around you? Do you take time to reflect on what catches your attention?

Like Mary, John the Baptist and the other people in the Advent stories, God reveals something of the divine through our personal life experiences. What grabs us and won’t let go may be part of the process.


Growing in self-awareness

ring the Day of Reflection I recently facilitated, I introduced the volunteers to an adaptation of the Johari Window—four panes of a window designed to increase self-awareness.God-vulnerability-faithI suggested that their year of service is a wonderful opportunity for them to come to deeper self-knowledge because of the spiritual framework of their community and their service to marginalized people—two invitations to touch their own vulnerabilities.

Preparing for this day, I remembered a break-through in my own self-awareness journey. It happened a few years after college, when I was the caretaker for my university’s guest house.

Fr. Shawn Tracy was the director of Campus Ministry, and he was also a leader in the Handicapped Encounter Christ (HEC) retreat movement.

HEC is a weekend retreat where people who have physical disabilities come together with able-bodied people to pray, ponder and celebrate their lives. HEC creates a prayerful atmosphere for people to reflect on their lives, to learn from one another and to support one another in a lively celebration of community.

The planning meetings were held at the guest house where I lived, and I got to know those involved with HEC—and they got to know me.

By the time I went on my first HEC retreat, the planning team knew me quite well, and Fr. Shawn asked me if I would give one of the weekend’s talks. I agreed.

I don’t remember the topic of my talk or even what I said; what I do remember was Fr. Shawn’s introduction of me to the group.

It was a fall day and dark clouds skidded across the sky. Occasionally, the sun would break though, filling the meeting room with bright light. God-vulnerability-faithIn his introduction of me, Fr. Shawn compared me to the sky that day. He talked about how I could be like the dark clouds gathering and casting a gray pall over everything, and then, suddenly, like the sun, break out in brightness. He talked about the mystery of me, the complexity of me and my passion for life.

Hearing myself described in those terms was like a thunder bolt. How could he see all that in me when I saw none of it?

Was I really that tumultuous? Was I a complicated mystery, a passionate person?

Rather than give my talk, I wanted to go outside, stand under that tempestuous sky and contemplate the words and images he used to describe me.

I knew that I could be moody, and I knew I kept secrets—two things I saw as negative. But Fr. Shawn made them sound appealing. It was as though my moodiness and secretiveness invited him want to get to know me and understand me.  I remember thinking, “He cares.”

After that introduction, I had a difficult time pulling myself together and giving my talk. As soon as I was finished, I went outside and stood under that dark sky and anticipated the breaks of sunlight. This is me, I thought, mysterious, complex and passionate.






Formed by God

This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house…I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do to you…as this potter has done?…Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand…” Jeremiah 18:1-6

I love pottery and started buying it when I was twenty. My collection grew quite large until a friend who was helping me pack for one of my many moves said, “New rule: no more pottery.”God-vulnerability-prayerThe uniqueness of each piece of hand-thrown pottery fascinates me.

It is understandable then that the image of the potter at his wheel in Jeremiah has always caught my attention. How I would love for God to tell me to go to a potter’s house!

I can easily imagine a lump of clay being shaped and reshaped. I imagine that some of the form comes from the potter and some of the form from the clay. It is a partnership—the potter’s concept and the clay’s malleability.

That, perhaps, is where using the potter and clay to analogize my relationship with God hits a snag. Am I as pliable as clay? Am I completely open to being shaped and reshaped? Unfortunately, I think not.

As I read these words of Scripture the other day, I tried to imagine how God would reshape me at this point in my life. What would I look like if I dropped all of my defenses and allowed myself to fall into a vulnerable heap? How would God remake me?

I have some sense of that level of vulnerability and defenselessness from times in my life when my hopes and expectations were not met (crushed, really), and I had to accept that I was not in charge. Those times of raising my arms in surrender, of giving myself completely to God, were freeing and also terrifying. Accepting my vulnerability and admitting I have no control is so very difficult for me.God-vulnerability-prayerAnd yet, I do know that God holds all the cards.

As I read these words from Jeremiah, I remembered my spiritual director’s suggestion that I start with a clean sheet and imagine my life. I actually did the exercise, which in itself is a sign of how God has reshaped me—all of my past spiritual directors can attest to my resistance to these types of suggestions. And, like other times when I have moved against my resistance, this exercise was very insightful.

Perhaps I need to start each day visualizing myself as an unshapen lump of clay, and ask God to shape me into a vessel that will be most useful to carry out God’s will on this day and.in this place.God-vulnerability-prayer