Tag Archives: Jesus

trust-God-vulnerability

Building trust

A recent Sunday sermon was accompanied by a power point presentation, which included this slide:trust-God-vulnerabilityThat’s me! I thought. Building trust is my construction project, and like many construction projects, this one has been going on for a long time.

As I reflected on this metaphor, I realized that I may have omitted an important first step of many construction projects—demolition. Often something needs to be torn down before new construction can begin.

I am one of those people who tends to favor restoration over demolition. I don’t believe that everything new is better than everything old. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer old homes and historic buildings to new construction.

When talk turns to tearing down buildings, I have difficulty imagining the space without what has always been there. Even though a building may be decrepit and no longer serve any purpose, letting go of it can challenge me.

But sometimes, restoration isn’t possible and the only way to make room for something new is to completely remove what had been before.trust-God-vulnerabilityLast year, the nonprofit organization where I work moved into an elementary school building that had been vacant for five years. Seven other nonprofits joined us, converting the building into a nonprofit hub. It is a wonderful repurposing of a building that had outlived its usefulness as a school.

But, there are issues. During the years when the building was closed, minor repair projects went unnoticed, and it seems every week we discover something that needs attention.

My trust-construction project is like that—neglected and ignored areas need attention.

In the same way that I prefer restoration and repurposing to demolishing buildings, I resist the deconstruction that needs to happen in order to make room for my trust-construction project to move ahead. I give energy to the negative thoughts that swirl in my head, allowing them to get in the way of my progress. I return, again and again, to what shattered trust in the first place, not wanting to accept the truth of my history and making excuses for those who betrayed me.trust-God-vulnerability

Every Sunday at Mass, though, I get a reminder of true trust in action. The words of the Eucharistic Prayer remind me that on the very night that Jesus was betrayed, he gave thanks. Jesus’ trust was intact, absolute and unwavering. What a gift! What an invitation!

I have experienced the kind of trust Jesus exemplifies, times when I have been able to forgive in the face of betrayal, when I have been able to let go and to trust again. However, those moments have not usually happened quite so quickly.

God invites me, again and again, to accept my past, to forgive and to move on to the future God envisions for me, a future built on trust.

And every time I am able to follow Jesus’ example of letting go of betrayal and trusting in God’s unconditional love, I move closer to the completion of my trust construction project.

 

 

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vulnerability-God-healing

Turning loss into gain

vulnerability-God-healingMy young life was chaotic, to put it politely. I survived it, though, by creating a shield around myself. I was a living papier-mache project, and each chaotic event added a layer to my armor until my coat was so thick that it was almost impenetrable.

All along, though, God kept trying to break through my protective shield, kept trying to prevent me from walling myself in. But I was resistant. Closing myself in felt safe; opening myself up created anxiety.

During my twenties and early thirties, I came to understand the disconnect between my tough exterior and fragile interior. Good manipulators saw my weakness and took advantage; what felt to me like a true connection and perhaps even love was really exploitation.

My coat of armor was not really protecting me from further harm; it was just keeping out the healing love of God.

Through all those years, though, God did not give up on me.

In my twenties, I kept getting invitations to attend retreats and workshops where I would hear about God’s desire to love and heal me. I collected buttons with slogans like “God doesn’t make mistakes” and “God don’t make junk.”

I memorized Scripture verses that reminded me of Jesus’ desire to love and heal me. I commiserated with St. Paul and the thorn in his side. My past was always with me, a thorn in my side reminding me of my shame.

Mary Magdalene became my soul sister—if Jesus could drive seven demons from her and she could come to know herself as loveable, surely he could do the same for me. I was desperate to escape the self-loathing I felt, that certainty that I was damaged goods and good for nothing.

But after a childhood spent creating a thick protective shell, breaking it down was neither easy nor quick. Messages on buttons could not effectively undo my deeply-held belief that I was broken, unfixable and unlovable.

Over time, though, Jesus was able to break through my defenses. As a child, I had seen Jesus as another innocent victim. Every Palm Sunday, I cried out with him, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Poor Jesus; poor me.

At some point, though, the connection clicked—Jesus was an innocent victim, and he did understand my brokenness. I realized that what I had told myself was self-protection was really fear—fear of being overwhelmed by sadness or fear that what had happened to me in the past could happen again.

I came to see that unless I peeled off those layers of protective armor and touched my brokenness, I was just setting myself up to be re-victimized. I also saw that what I considered thorns were actually invitations to growth.

St. Teresa of Avila’s Prayer to Redeem Lost Time rings true for me:

While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that you, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain.

With God, nothing is lost; everything is possible.vulnerability-God-healing

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Hunger

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. (John 6:27)

I remember attending Mass at a beautiful old church in North Philadelphia. The church was surrounded by large, brick homes that had once housed the city’s upper middle-classes and now served as a refuge for people who had nowhere else to go. Some were boarding houses, but most had been abandoned.

The church itself was in need of attention. Water marks decorated the walls and broken stained glass windows had been replaced by clear glass, creating interesting contrasts.

This wasn’t one of those inner-city churches that attracted suburbanites to venture into town on Sunday mornings; this was a parish of the neighborhood. Some of the people in the pews wandered in from the street, disheveled and distracted. Most, though, were intentional about coming to church; the men wore suits and the women wore dresses and hats.

Mass was as it is everywhere. The choir was small but their voices filled the church with the sounds of praise.

After Communion, one woman sang a meditation song. I was unfamiliar with the song and I don’t remember the words. What I do remember was the raw emotion with which she called on the name of Jesus; and that emotion still haunts me.

As she sang, it was as though the rest of us disappeared and she was having a private encounter with Jesus, expressing to him her deepest needs, desires and love. She knew Jesus was her only hope, her very survival, and she was not ashamed to admit it.

I was awestruck. When had I felt such a deep hunger for Jesus? His mercy? Had I ever let myself express my dependence on him so publicly?Jesus-faith-vulnerabilityJesus fed 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. And then he told them that he was the true bread; he was the food they needed to consume. At that, many walked away; the message was too challenging.

Pondering John’s gospel took me back to that church in North Philadelphia and to the questions that popped into my mind as I listened to that woman pouring her heart out to Jesus. Her singing was true love and devotion that sprung from her deepest need. She wasn’t singing to please the congregation but to convey to Jesus her deepest hunger.

Knowing Jesus in that way requires that I admit that I am needy, and that I believe that Jesus is the answer to my needs. Like the many who walked away, I can find it challenging to be that vulnerable. I want to believe that I can manage. And mostly I do—until I don’t.

The woman crying out to Jesus in that North Philadelphia church still calls to me, inviting me to stay in touch with my poverty, reminding me that only Jesus is true bread and that I need him to survive.Jesus-faith-vulnerability

 

 

 

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Wonder

“You are a wonder,” Julia Roberts declares to her son in the movie Wonder. I gasped when I heard those words, because those same words were spoken to me just a month earlier.

Part of the group work for the Mind Body Skills sessions at the Cancer Caregivers workshop was a genogram exercise. I shared my family history, including the abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and suicides.resilience-God-ACEs

“How did you survive?” someone asked.

“The grace of God,” I replied.

“You are a wonder,” our group leader declared.

Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way and that God protected me.

Perhaps I was not physically safe, but my person—my essence, my spirit and soul, the parts of me that mattered most—were safe. God snatched me up and held me.

As a child, I felt as if I lived two lives—one inside my body and the other outside of it—and I felt both visible and invisible. I seemed to go unnoticed and my needs unattended to (invisible) but trauma happened to me (visible). I could not solve the mystery of this paradox; my only hope was in God.

I had good reason to trust God, because I knew what God had done for Jesus. I related to Jesus as an innocent victim and rejoiced in God’s intervention.

It took a lot of time (and some intense therapy) to get over the confusing messages of my childhood. At some point I realized I was always going to be broken and in need of healing; I would always be healing but never healed.

The introduction of a twelve-step program for adult children of alcoholics was a game-changer for me. Here were my people, others who had similar childhoods, who understood the paradoxes, who asked similar questions. We spoke the same language and shared knowing looks. I had come home.

One thing I did not share, though, was my having been called by God when I was eight. Like other paradoxes, this one made no sense. Why would God choose me? I was clearly damaged. I was not going to become a saint—or any kind of holy person. I was always going to be in need of healing, always seeking wholeness.

I recently read The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Toward the end of the book, Dr. Harris concludes that not all people who experienced childhood trauma are suffering. “In some people, adversity can foster perseverance, deepen empathy, strengthen the resolve to protect, and spark mini-superpowers, but in all people, it gets under our skin and into our DNA, and it becomes an important part of who we are.” (Page 218)

I am one of those whose early misfortune was transformed into gift. I can see the blessing in the curse and know that everything is possible with God, even bringing wholeness to a family tree with snapped branches.

It is a wonder.resilience-God-ACEs

 

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The invitation of memories

Every Good Friday, I participate in the Living Stations at my church, an adaption of the Stations of the Cross that incorporates eye-witness accounts from those Jesus met along the way to Calvary.

My role is Pilate’s wife, and I share the story of my dream about Jesus and how Pilate was conflicted about condemning Jesus.

The presentation can be very moving and emotional as different characters talk about their encounters with Jesus.

This year, the words spoken by Simon of Cyrene brought back a memory.

Simon talks of how he thought he had bad luck because he was just minding his own business when a guard pressed him into service. But then Jesus looks at him with gratitude and he realizes it was really a privilege to carry the cross.

I was taken back thirty-four years to the day a woman moved into the guest house where I was the hospitaler. I was opposed to her moving in because she had cerebral palsy and was  difficult to understand and very unsteady.  Truthfully, I was afraid to live in the same house with her.

She did not know I objected to her moving in.

Like Simon, I thought it was my bad luck, but in the end, living with Margie was my good luck. She taught me so much about God and myself and the world. She taught me about fidelity, hope, persistence, expectations and acceptance.God-generosity-gratitudeI believe that when memories resurface, they contain something beyond the original event, some message for today. So, what message was God sending me? What invitation was being extended to me by this memory?

At first glance, many things can seem like bad luck, like I am getting the short end of the stick. But with time and distance, what had once seemed unfortunate turns out to be quite fortunate.

Is God reminding me of that lesson because I have been on the verge of forgetting it? Or am I in the midst of something that I am thinking of as bad luck—and God is reminding me that one day I will look back on this as a time of good luck?

Back to the memory of Margie moving in with me. That first evening, she typed a one-page thank-you letter and slipped it under my bedroom door. Her note expressed her gratitude for my generosity. If only she knew!

As I read her words, I was filled with humiliation at my lack of generosity. I had aggressively and vocally opposed her moving in, and was quite angry that my wishes had not been respected.

But in that moment when I felt such humiliation, I was also given the gift of humility.

God showed me that my resistance was just a symptom of my fears and that my fears were unfounded.

Like Simon of Cyrene, I felt “pressed into service,” and it was a moment, an event, that changed my life direction and moved me one step closer to letting go and trusting God.

God-generosity-gratitude

 

Where there is injury, pardon

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My pastor gave me a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis when I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent, and I have been praying it every day since. The words that jump out at me almost every day are: Where there is injury, pardon.

Why those words? I ask God, and what does injury mean?

I usually think of injuries as resulting from accidents—wounds that need stitches, casts or surgeries. But what kind of injuries need pardon? In St. Francis’ day the word probably had a different connotation.

As I pray these words every day, I ponder injuries. I tried replacing the word injury with other words to see if it makes more sense to me—sin, hurt, harm, betrayal, etc.—what would warrant pardon?

And is pardon synonymous with forgiveness?

Perhaps it was this prayer that predisposed me to ponder forgiveness this Lent.

I struggle with forgiveness for several reasons, and perhaps the biggest is my fear of looking foolish. I can hear my father’s voice in my head discouraging me from being taken advantage of and encouraging me to stand my ground. It was important to him not to look weak and he was slow to forgive those who had crossed him. To him, forgiving equaled vulnerability and weakness.

Vulnerability was not something he valued.

It took me a long time—and a fair amount of prodding by God—to consider vulnerability as something valuable, something desirable.

I once befriended a women who had committed a horrific crime. She was vilified and hated in our community. The newspapers and television media portrayed her as a monster.

But God placed her on my heart, and I could not stop thinking about her—and feeling compassion for her. It was as if God was showing me how God saw her—not the monster she was portrayed in the news, but as a person who, no matter what she had done, was still a child of God.

Not many people knew about my visits to her in prison or of our friendship. Sometimes, the things God asks of me seem outrageous even to me.

This particular friendship has been resurfacing this Lent. She was a woman who needed pardon, forgiveness and acceptance.

Perhaps she has been coming to mind because of all the mass shootings in our country. My friend had a history of mental illness and a record of multiple hospitalizations related to her mental illness. Yet she was able to walk into a store and buy a gun. No questions asked. No thought to why she wanted a gun or what she might do with it. No concerns that she would walk into the mall and open fire.

Or perhaps she has been coming to mind because she taught me so much about vulnerability and forgiveness.

I suppose God has been nudging me toward acknowledging my vulnerability for a long time, teaching me that embracing my own vulnerability puts me on the path to pardon.

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Return to God

Return to me with your whole heart—Joel 2:12

One theme that emerged during my recent retreat was home, as in coming home or being at home.

I had brought last year’s journals with me, and one entry reflected a conversation with a friend who had been going through a rough time but was starting to feel like himself again. He said he had started to feel like he was inhabiting his body again and that he was looking out through his own eyes.

It was as if he was coming home to himself.

I resonated.

For so long, I have felt out of sorts. Great loss and grief can do that. So the idea of coming home to myself is appealing. I want to live in my body and to look at the world through my own eyes.

Another coming home is the actual coming home to the place where I was born and grew up, which is what I did five years ago. Living near my family is a blessing for which I thank God every day.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityA third coming home is returning to God, and in the midst of Lent, I find myself thinking of what it means to come home to God.

Lent invites me to turn away from what separates me from God and turn toward God.

Recently, several people have come to me with questions about prayer or about nonprofit management. After each of these conversations, I am left with a clearer understanding that (1) I have a depth of experience in these two areas, and (2) my experience can be helpful to others.

Sometimes, though, my experience leads me to insights that might be uncomfortable or challenging to those asking for my help.

A young woman came to talk with me about the anger she carries toward the man who raped her. “How can you suggest I forgive him?” she asked with an edge to her voice.

“Your anger does not affect him; it affects you,” I offered. “He doesn’t even know that you are angry; he has moved on.” Not forgiving him does not hurt him in the least; but holding onto her anger keeps her in bondage.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityI think she both wanted to hear that message and did not want to hear it. Forgiveness can be so difficult, and radical forgiveness—forgiveness for some horrible act—can seem impossible.

I know because I, too, hold onto some anger for past hurts. I want to forgive, even the people who hurt me the worst, who left the deepest scars; it is difficult. I pray for the grace to let go, and I look to Jesus’ example for inspiration. At the moment of his death, he forgave those who put him to death.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityComing home to God, for me, means being true to my history and experiences. It means speaking of radical forgiveness and believing in it.

I want to return to God with my whole heart—and with my heart made whole.