Last week, I dog-sat for a sweet Brittany Spaniel named Dolly who lives at the lake. Two of my favorites–a dog and water.
At 3:00 p.m. yesterday, with school back in session, the Lake St. Clair Metro Park had few people but lots of wildlife, including these Canada geese, a crane and heron. I always feel fortunate to see a crane or heron, but to see both in one day was a joy.
I had another dog-sitting gig this week, with a sweet Brittany Spaniel pup who happens to live on a lake, so it was like being on vacation. Just before coming to the lake, my sister brought me a box of chocolates from Paris, and so I enjoyed them while watching the dog play by the water. Life is good.
All week, I felt incredibly blessed. It seemed that one good thing after another kept coming my way. I finished my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, a two-year program with quite rigorous requirements; got invited to speak at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit; was asked to consult on a project; the last of my home-improvements projects was completed; and I got to share the lake view with several friends who came to visit. A very good week.
At the same time, a cough has settled in my chest, and I can’t seem to shake it. It worries me because I am someone who rarely gets sick—and when I do, I usually respond to medicine. Not this time, though.
I am doing what I can about the cough, following doctor’s orders (getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, taking my medicine) and, at the same time, trying to focus more on the good things happening in my life.
Balancing life’s challenges with life’s blessings is a work we are all called to.
Being grateful for the good in my life and putting more energy into the positives helps tip the scales toward the blessings. I can’t ignore the challenges, but I can keep them in perspective.
And I can remember that most growth comes from challenges. I am where I am because of the struggles I have gone through.
After a particularly difficult time in my life, I came to believe that God holds all the cards, and my job is to play the hand I am dealt. Sometimes that hand is a winner, and other times I just want to throw in the cards and ask for a re-deal.
God invites me to stick with it, even when my cards are lousy, to keep looking for glimmers of hope and to remember that God is with me through it all.
This past weekend, my sisters and I went “up north” (as we say in Michigan, although there seems to be some debate as to where “north” begins). A friend generously let us use her cottage on a small lake in northwestern Michigan.
Michigan is said to have 11,000 inland lakes, in addition to the the Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) that outline the state (Lake Ontario is east of Michigan).
The inland lakes vary in size from Houghton Lake, which covers more than 20,000 acres to small lakes like the one we visited (which I once kayaked around in 45 minutes).
The weekend was very peaceful and relaxing, and I am grateful for my friend’s generosity and my sisters company.
One of the requirements of the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality is a silent retreat (at least five days). I have gone on silent retreats for more than thirty years, but several of the people in the program had not. Last year, one of them, Amy, happened to sign up for retreat the same time as I was going to be there, so I offered to meet her before we entered the silence and give her an orientation to the retreat house, the grounds and the neighborhood (for walks). Amy returned to Manresa Retreat House for retreat this year and sent me this poem she composed while on retreat, which she dedicated to me. I am so touched and honored.
Summer Solstice Psalm
For Madeline who introduced me to Quarton Lake
All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing.
(William Henry Draper with inspiration from St Francis)
May you open your self to the light like the lily that blooms in muddy water.
(a gem from my yogi friend, Sharon)
Wood ducks lift
with wide wings
oh so low.
Cottonwood fibers sail past on the breeze.
Metallic blue fireflies mate in midair.
A painted turtle soaks up the sun.
Walkers chat on a gravel path and side step the geese.
In the surrounding neighborhood,
and earth movers dig.
Huge houses emerge.
Down at the water’s edge, a pilgrim rests.
She spies a tiny black insect on a white petal.
Consider this lily
that bobs on the water
with the deep joy
that nudges our hips to sway
when we hum spirituals.
Amy Fryar Kennedy
June 21, 2022
Getting away to the lake,
watching the sun rise and set
over calm water,
walking along the shore,
Three ducklings entertain us as they stray and
then return at their mother’s call.
Dark clouds gather along the horizon and
the winds pick up.
We watch as the rain approaches.
There is nothing to be done but watch and
wait for the sun to return.
It is good to be here, resting.
“I’m glad you’re willing to try new things,” a friend said as we kayaked across the lake at her cottage.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“So many people our age won’t try new things,” she said.
It was my first visit to her cottage and just before we got into the kayaks, I had learned to paddle board.
I think I come by it naturally. My mother, at ninety years old, is still trying new things. She tries new recipes, new card games, new stores, and she wants to get a rain barrel. I love that she continues to be open. Trying new things—like learning to kayak and paddle board in my sixties—does not seem so unusual to me.
Being open to new things is also part of my spiritual life. “I am doing something new,” God promises in Isaiah 43:19, and Jesus invites us to change direction time and again. Think of the apostles who were living their lives and then changed course or of St. Paul and other holy people throughout the ages. The openness to hear God’s voice and move in a new direction is one of the hallmarks of the spiritual journey.
My life has undergone so many changes in the past five years, and I can’t say it has always been easy to embrace the new. But God keeps inviting me to be open, to let go of the past and move into a new future. Trusting that God is with me through it all makes accepting and adapting a bit easier. Letting go of expectations of how things “should be” also helps.
Still, it can be scary to step into the unknown and to feel vulnerable and uncertain. I think my paddle board lesson offers a good model, though, for moving into the future.
I started in shallow water with someone holding the board. First, I knelt on the board and paddled around a bit to get a feel for it. Then I stood and found my balance. I paddled in the shallow water first and then venture further out.
Starting out small and building confidence makes the change easier.
Of course, not all change is voluntary. Aging brings about physical changes that can be difficult to accept—failing eyesight, less stamina and the effects of gravity, to name a few. Disease or disability can also cause changes and present challenges. Not all of “the new” is positive; God does not say it will be.
I think that practicing a willingness to try new things sets up an openness to change that can help when the involuntary changes happen. When brain cancer limited my friend Jim’s use of his right hand, he said, “I guess I’ll become a lefty.”
Being unwilling even to try anything new results in missed opportunities. I am not advocating recklessness (like sky diving or extreme sports), but rather an openness to experience whatever new God is presenting.
Once I get the hang of it, I just may try paddle board yoga.