Tag Archives: Joy

patience-faith-god

Patience and faith

The forsythia in my back yard had very few flowers the past three springs. I pruned it every spring since I moved here, hoping it would produce abundant blooms. A friend who knows about such things told me there are some varieties that flower less and suggested I consider getting a different variety. I was about to give up on my forsythia, and then it bloomed.faith-patience-GodBe patient, Madeline, I heard God saying.

A few weeks later, I was at a retreat center that has a labyrinth. During a workshop break, I visited the labyrinth and started to walk meditatively along the outer circle. At the first turn in the path, I stopped and looked at the stone in the middle. The brochure had said it was a symbol of Jacob meeting God. I pondered that for a bit and then I had an impulse to just walk to the middle, to skip the layers of circles and jump to the center.faith-patience-godThe words of Teilhard de Chardin came to me.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

 And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

 Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

 Be patient, God again said to me.

Patience is a virtue that I can work on, and it seems God is inviting me to develop this virtue.patience-faith-godFaith, on the other hand, is a gift that is about desire and openness.

Taken together, patience and faith invite me to let go of my expectations and my rush-to-the-end attitude. They invite me to accept what is just the way it is, and to move against my tendency to want things to be other than they are.

Patience and faith invite me to lean into God and let God lead me, to accept what is with gratitude and even joy. Opening my hands to receive what God offers, waiting for the gift and holding it loosely enough that I don’t crush it—that is the stance of patience and faith.

Like the forsythia in my yard, I want to surprise the people who have tended to me by trusting God’s grace and becoming the person God intended.
faith-patience-God

self-care

Better self-care

My Polish classes started a few weeks ago—five adults gathering every Tuesday evening at a Catholic church, each with our own reason for wanting to learn this difficult language. My classmates are all new to Polish, but I have been studying it off and on since 2009, including Rosetta Stone at home and a two-week immersion course in Krakow in 2010.

adult-educationI had wanted to enroll in this class last winter, but my work schedule got in the way. This fall, though, I am committed to attending Polish classes.

As I left the building at the end of the first class and walked across the parking lot to my car, I felt a deep sense of joy, and that feeling has accompanied me to each succeeding class. I love this class. It makes me happy.

It is not that joy is foreign to me. I have known many joyful times in my life. But the past ten years seem to have had more hardship than happiness and I think I had grown accustomed to the sadness.

More joy is what I want and what I believe God wants for me. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” Jesus says. (John 15:11)

Complete joy.

Talking with my spiritual director about the joy of my Polish class, she suggested that perhaps I have been overly-focused on the needs of others for the past number of years, to the detriment of my own needs. She recommended that I look for more opportunities to do things that are just for me.

Her suggestion reminded me of an incident from a past job. A colleague and I were looking at calendars, trying to figure out when we could schedule a meeting, I noticed her calendar had “TFM” marked each day. Thirty to sixty minutes were blocked out every day with this three-letter notation.

“What is ‘TFM’?” I asked.

“Time for me,” she said.

“Every day, you take time for yourself?” I asked somewhat incredulously.

“Good self-care,” she responded.

Even then, I knew that I was not particularly good at self-care. I promoted it to others—“be gentle with yourself,” I might say or “take care of yourself,” but I am not good at following my own advice.

I take quiet time in the mornings, but once the day starts, I tend to steamroll through, often ignoring the signs of stress or exhaustion.

Perhaps it is time to revisit the concept of “TFM” and plan to do more things that will bring me joy. Perhaps it is time to resurrect that list of things I like to do—sewing, going to plays, hiking, visiting museums, walking through gardens, poking around in little shops—things that make me happy, and schedule them into my calendar.

The thing about self-care is that no one can do it for me; I have to decide and then follow through. Only then will I know more joy.

joy

 

 

 

One particular day

I suppose most people can remember one particular day when something happened that caused a major life change. That day for me was five years ago today—July 8, 2011. My friend Jim had a seizure while sitting at his desk, hit his head when he fell, and was unconscious when found several hours later. A CT scan at the hospital, checking for a concussion, instead found cancer in three lobes of his brain; and not just any cancer, but a very, very aggressive, non-curable cancer. I knew nothing would ever be the same.

Jim had always believed that our life experiences brought lessons—and really difficult experiences brought really important lessons. During his cancer journey, he continually asked God, “What is the invitation in this?” and “What am I meant to learn from this?” His lessons ranged from letting go of important parts of his identify to allowing himself to be physically cared for to deepening his belief that he was in God’s hands. Jim became much more trusting while he was sick (although I think he maintained a certain level of skepticism when it was time for the daily injections I had to give him).

Every day we laughed and every day we were grateful. Even on bad days, when everything that could go wrong did—like the day Jim needed emergency surgery just three days after being released from the hospital or when he developed a blood clot the day before we were going to the ocean—even on those days, we found humor and gratitude.

In the face of a non-curable, aggressive cancer, it was actually fairly easy for me to admit I had no control. If a neurosurgeon, radiologist and oncologist could not get rid of the brain cancer, what could I do? Instead, I asked God, “What is the invitation in this for me?”

And God responded, “This is what you are to do: you are to love Jim unconditionally, forgive him without limit, and let him go.” They were words from a prayer I had prayed every day for ten years, and God was pointing out to me that this was my chance to practice what I had been praying —every day for almost nine months. I wanted to be more loving and forgiving and less controlling and here was a great opportunity.

While he was sick, we talked about my moving back to Michigan to be near my family, and when my sisters came to visit, he gave me to them. Two days later, he died a very peaceful death, at home with his dog by his side.

On that day of Jim’s diagnosis five years ago, I could not know the difficulties, heartbreak and sorrow that was to come. Nor could I know the gifts, joys and blessings.

When I look back at July 8, 2011, and everything that has happened since, I am both amazed and deeply grateful. Life has changed, and it is good.

 

Set free

unbind-her

“Unbind Her” by Anna Woofenden, 2014

Anna Woofenden’s picture Unbind Her prompted me to ponder the difference between being bound and unbound. Her depiction of breaking free from the bindings and leaping away conjures up images of being free enough to soar into a new direction.

The idea of breaking free and leaping into some unknown future is appealing. But, breaking free can be difficult—just ask anyone who has walked away from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, food, shopping or anything else that had kept them bound. It can be very challenging to walk away from a life lived in bondage, no matter how unsatisfactory or even painful that life might have been.

It is not always easy to walk away from people, situations or self-images that bind us. The old way is familiar, and finding a new way can present lots of challenges. Change often calls for a great deal of determination, discipline and perseverance; it involves saying “no” to what was previously a “yes.”

This Lent, I have been reflecting on times in my life when I turned away from relationships, jobs and behaviors that were holding me back. Sometimes my turning away was short-lived and I quickly returned to that which held me bound—old habits die hard. Other times, though, I have been able to stay strong in my resolve. Mostly, though, I feel I have been slowly chipping away at behaviors and beliefs that needed to be changed, those things that bound me.

Incremental changes over the years have added up and I can see that I am a much different person today than I was forty years ago. The invitation of Woofenden’s picture, though, is to ask if I am free enough to leap.

At the Easter Vigil last night, the priest talked about the leap of faith required of the apostles to believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection and how we need to make that same leap to be followers of Jesus.

As he spoke, I imagined the scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene and the other women had gone to tend to Jesus’ body and found that Jesus was gone. I could see them telling the apostles, and the apostles disbelieving them. I imagined Peter running to see for himself. Their emotions must have been all over the place—sadness at Jesus’ death, confusion that his body was gone and hope that something fantastic was happening.

Even imagining this emotional firestorm gave me pause. Am I free enough to feel strong emotions? Or do I keep my emotions in check? How would it feel, I wondered, if I let myself experience the range of emotions Mary and the others felt that first Easter?

I fear I have been afraid to feel.

My Easter prayer is to be set free so that I may experience deep joy, be open to possibilities, and be courageous enough to respond to God’s invitation to live fully. I want to leap into the future and trust that the best is yet to come.

 

Feeling Fortunate

The light at Danforth Avenue was red as I approached. I had been visiting a friend in Toronto and was on my way back to Michigan. Two cops on motorcycles pulled up in front of me and blocked the street. Other police vehicles entered the intersection, lights flashing. The traffic light turned green and then red again, and I wondered what dignitary might be approaching.

Then a pack of runners entered the intersection. A woman in the middle of the pack was carrying a torch; the Pan Am Games were about to begin. How lucky I am, I thought, to be at that intersection at that moment.

A few weeks ago, our deacon’s sermon was about his ministry in the emergency room and how often he heard “why” questions, people trying to make sense of accidents and illnesses, asking why bad things happen to them.

As I listened to his sermon, I pondered my own “why” questions and realized that I am more apt to ask why good things happen to me—like seeing the torch being carried to the Pam Am Games or any of the many other times I have been touched by good fortune.

Suffering and sorrow are part of life; bad things just happen—a lesson I learned as a child. I have had my share of troubles; but, at those times, instead of “why?” I tend to ask “what?”—as in, “what am I meant to learn from this experience?” Every curse has a blessing; my task is to discover it. Usually it has to do with being more compassionate or letting go of my expectations or thinking of others more than myself or finding some good in the situation and being grateful.

It might be a family trait. When my cousin was being treated for pancreatic cancer, she shared with me that people in the infusion center often wondered aloud why they had cancer, why had this happened to them? My cousin told me she found their questions curious because she thought, “why not me?” Exactly.

As I watched the torch bearer run past, I thought of what a highlight this must be for her. I hope that she is able to savor the experience and be grateful to have been chosen for this honor.

I also thought of how the Pan Am games will present many opportunities for people to ask “Why me?”—when injury or illness or just having an off day affects their performance, and the results are not what they expected or hoped for. In those moments, when disappointment can be overwhelming, my hope is that they will be able to move past their disappointment and rejoice with the winners. And I hope all the athletes will remember the sacrifices of parents and coaches who helped them develop their talents—and be grateful.

After all, to have reached the Pan Am games, these athletes belong to a rarefied group that most of us can only admire from afar. How fortunate they are.

Living Easter Joy

Sometimes I am in sync with the liturgical seasons; for example, this past Lent. Part of my plan for Lent was to identify and face my fears, and I spent time pondering what keeps me unfree and praying for the grace to let go of fear and grow in trust. It was a good Lenten practice.

But now that we are in the Easter season, I am feeling a bit disconnected.

Our daily readings from the Acts of the Apostles provide the backdrop for this season, capturing the reactions of the early church to the resurrection —stories of jubilation and passion for spreading the Good News. As I read these passages, the joy and passion grab my attention and offer me a standard against which to measure myself. Am I that joyful about the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection? Am I that passionate about spreading the word?

I am not feeling it. Perhaps I have not moved beyond the fears I recently identified. I think I needed an extension on Lent, a few more weeks to come to a deeper resolution.

One way I know that I am living in fear is how I relate to money—or the lack thereof. I don’t usually worry about money or even give it much thought at all. I grew up without money and have never earned a very high salary. I live fairly simply and within my means.

In one job, my board president called me “lilies of the field” because I trusted so completely that there would be enough money to do the work we were doing. At one point during a government budget standoff that upheld contracts, other programs like ours were laying off staff and cutting programs, but we continued on as if we had no money worries. I trusted, and God provided. It is really that simple for me. I have that much trust.

So when I find myself concerned that there might not be enough money, when I start to check my bank account daily or even worse, start thinking about a second job, I know something is off.

When fear infects my life, I know I have moved away from living in gratitude, away from awareness of God’s abundance. Fear is the antithesis of trust, joy and freedom.

Prayer is the antidote to fear. Spending time in prayer is what I need right now. Placing myself in God’s presence and allowing myself to know God’s love for me moves me back to living in gratitude, to remembering God’s abundance. In prayer, I hear God called me His beloved and remind me that I am more important to God than the lilies of the field. God provides.

In this Easter season when we celebrate new life through Jesus’ resurrection, I need to remind myself to stay focused on all the good in my life and to be grateful.

Complete joy

Miriam Webster defines “joy” as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

In John 15:11, Jesus speaks of complete joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Every reading of that line has given me pause. What would it look like to have the joy of Jesus in me and for that joy to be complete?

For much of my life, I did not acknowledge joy. It wasn’t that I did not have success or good fortune—I had both—but I did not trust my success or good fortune enough to claim them and enjoy them. I was convinced that any sense of well-being was fleeting and would be gone before my smile could reach my eyes. I feared looking foolish when I ultimately experienced the disappointment of dashed dreams.

And then, about ten years ago, at a fundraiser for the Cabrini Sisters, I had a glimpse of pure joy. I don’t remember the details; what I do remember is that one of the Sisters was at the podium and something surprising happened. Her reaction was pure joy, the kind of unbridled joy I had only seen in children. She was happy at the good news she had just heard, and her happiness exploded from her. Her voice, her facial expression, her tears—everything about her screamed complete joy. I was happy for her and her good fortune. I was also amazed that she was so free to show her joy. I wondered if I had ever been that happy or that free to express my happiness.

That moment imprinted itself on my mind and heart. I set it as an intention—to seek that kind of joy, to feel joy so deeply that my whole being proclaims it. To be open to complete joy, a joy so overwhelming that I cannot contain it.

In the years since that evening, I have practiced recognizing things that make me happy, and feelings of well-being, and I have come to trust my good fortune more and more.

I find myself voicing what brings me joy, saying it out loud to imprint my joys, in much the same way I have memorized favorite passages of scripture. I want to remember all of my joyous occasions and pile them on top of one another until I have created a huge mountain of joyful memories. Perhaps then, I can scream with delight at my good fortune,