Tag Archives: letting go

Change is inevitable

A former neighbor came to mind on the second night of my recent retreat.

Most Saturday mornings, Margaret and I would hang our laundry on the lines behind our rowhouses in Eddystone, PA. She lived three doors down from me, which was about forty feet away.

The first to empty a laundry basket would walk over to the other, and we would catch up on the past week.

Margaret lived a Christian life, and she inspired me.

My first Thanksgiving in Eddystone, both she and her husband were out of work, so I offered her the turkey I had gotten from the local grocery store. She thanked me—and then added it to a basket she was preparing for a neighbor. Margaret looked at the world through eyes of gratitude, and she always knew of someone whose needs were greater that her own.

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The memory that came to me, though, was about a pledge we had made one day as we chatted by the clothes lines. We vowed that we would stay in our homes and grow old as neighbors.

At the time, our neighborhood was changing. The last original owner was in her nineties, and although there were still some people who had grown up in Eddystone, more newcomers were moving in every year.

I had been one of those newcomers, so I did not mind others joining me. But for those nostalgic types, “new” usually meant “not like it used to be.”

I had listened to more than one neighbor complain about the new people moving in and “changing” the neighborhood. Pointing out that I was one of those new people did not stop their grumbling.

Margaret was different; she welcomed everyone and never complained about changes.

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I had no plans to move. I loved my house and the town, located near two expressways and only minutes from the airport. We had a grocery store, a couple of restaurants and our own public safety department. Why would I leave?

Then Margaret got pancreatic cancer in October 2010 and died six months later.

Our pledge was broken.

Three months after Margaret died, my friend Jim was diagnosed with a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer. He died nine months later.

My pledge to Margaret and my friendship with Jim were major reasons for my living in Pennsylvania. With both of them gone, I decided to move home to Michigan to be near my family.

I don’t know why the memory of Margaret and our pledge came to me now.

Earlier that day, I had walked along the creek that flows through the retreat center’s grounds. I watched the water tumbling over rocks and around fallen trees. I listened to it gurgle as it rolled over itself—rushing on its way to a destination I could not see.

My life has felt a bit that way in recent years—tumbling and rolling, taking me to new destinations.

Perhaps the memory was meant to remind me of the inevitability of change.

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“…where there is sadness, joy.”

Before my cousin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer ten years ago, I did not think much about cancer. Since her diagnosis, though, I have thought about it a lot. In the five years following her death, five other important people in my life died from cancer. How could I not think about it? Cancer invaded my life.

When my cousin was diagnosed, I wondered what I would do if it was me. Would I react as my cousin had?

After reflecting on that question for a while, I realized I could not possibly know what I would do. There is just no way to predict how one will react to a cancer diagnosis because so many factors come into play at the time of diagnosis.

Having worked at a cancer support center for the past four years, I understand that truth even more deeply.

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While praying this morning for someone who is newly diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer, I realized I no longer think about what I might do if it was me. Instead, I try just to be present, to listen and to accept the decisions the person who has cancer is making.

This particular person was on my mind as I prayed St. Francis’ prayer his morning, and the words that jumped out at me were, “where there is sadness, joy.”

How can I speak joy into the sadness of this person’s life? I hear the anxiety in his wife’s voice and think of the pain he is experiencing; I feel their sadness.

And yet, as I talk with this couple, I notice little sparks of light at the edges of the darkness. A joke about how he is the cook in their relationship so being in the hospital is rescuing them from her cooking. Or how lucky they are to live near a national cancer institute so he can be assured of the most up-to-date treatment. Gratitude and joy creep in, even in the darkest moments

St Ignatius prayed, “Take, Lord, receive, all my liberty…give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”

It is a prayer of surrender, of letting go.

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A cancer diagnosis can be one of those moments in life when leaning into God may be the only thing we can do. Even if we put our bodies at the mercy of medical professionals, our spirits belong to God.

Both St. Francis and St. Ignatius—and others who have come to this place of understanding their complete dependence on God—know that God is truly all we need. Letting go of our desire for control and our illusions that we actually have control is the path to peace.

Cancer comes out of the blue. It can be life-changing and even life-destroying. Like all challenges in life, though, it can be the gift that leads us to true peace, freedom and even joy.

No matter the darkness that might invade my life, I hope I react with trust and hope.

Who is driving?

What more must I do? the rich young man asked Jesus. (Mark 10:17) That question has stayed with me since the beginning of Lent, popping up at random times throughout the day and often while I am praying.

The answer for the young man was to sell everything he had and give his money to the poor.

It seems that his possessions were a burden or a barrier which prevented him from being spiritually free. I am not rich, so I have been considering what other burdens or barriers prevent me from being spiritually free.

As I have been pondering the question these past few weeks, I have had greater clarity around the fact that I tend to focus on the doing part of the question. Do more, my inner critic prompts me. But God has often invited me to focus on being rather than doing, so maybe God is asking me to do less instead of doing more.

Perhaps I am being asked to silence my inner critic and step away from my need to achieve.

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Then I started reading Luke 11:14-23, Jesus was driving…. I did not get any further into the reading because an image of Jesus driving a car came to me. Funny—and not how I usually imagine Jesus. But, I let the picture emerge.

Jesus driving; I am a passenger.

What kind of passenger would I be? Would I be giving Jesus directions? Suggesting alternative routes? Knowing a faster way?

Could I trust Jesus to drive? Let him choose the route and the destination? Could I just enjoy the ride?

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A few days ago, something prompted the memory of my decision to move to l’Arche. When I made the decision, I didn’t think of l’Arche as a one-year volunteer stint, but as a way of life. It was the radical commitment I was seeking, the community I could see myself in forever. I had incredible clarity about being called to live in l’Arche for the rest of my life.

But that was not what happened. l’Arche turned out not to be the perfect fit for me—or me for l’Arche. My need to be in control and to be doing made me ill-suited.

It turned out that working in non-profit organizations was a better fit for my personality, giving me the kind of time and space I needed to grow in self-awareness. In the nonprofit world, being a doer is highly valued. Plus, my need to control and deep-seated stubbornness pushed me to accomplish things people said could not be done.

People praised me for what I achieve, and I loved hearing their praise.

A radio commercial for a local spa asks what would change if I really took care of myself (by spending an indulgent day there.)

I wonder what would change if I let Jesus drive the car, if I silenced my inner critic and focused more on being than doing. Perhaps I would be able to relax and enjoy the ride.

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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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Lessons in letting go

“By the time your thirty, you’re going to have arthritis in your knees,” my dad used to tell me when I went out in winter wearing what he considered to be a too-short skirt. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” would be my response. I wore short skirts because they were in style, and thirty seemed so far away.

“Too cool to be cold,” was how I came to think of teenagers when I lived in Winnipeg and saw teens standing at the bus stop in winter with unzipped jackets, no scarves, hats or gloves. By then, I was in my thirties, and I wore a parka, hat, mittens and leg warmers. Then my dad said I looked like Nanuk of the North.

But I had moved beyond caring about style and cared more about warmth.

I was reminded of that shift in my thinking when I took my ninety-two-year-old mother to church last week. It was twenty degrees outside, and she wore a lightweight jacket. “You need a winter coat,” I said. “This is a winter coat,” she countered. “It has a flannel lining,” she said through chattering teeth.

At church, I pointed out the way people around us were dressed—most of them wearing down-filled parkas. She harrumphed.

When I picked my mother up on Thanksgiving, I got her winter coat out of the closet and helped her into it. No discussion.

I have come to realize my mother’s body thermostat is wonky, and maybe this is something that is true for young people and old people. In the summer, my mother sits in stifling heat and does not seem to notice. “I understand why people die from heat stroke,” I said to her one summer day when her house felt suffocating to me. She was not bothered in the least.caregiving-vulnerability-forgivenessWhen I was taking care of my friend Jim when he had brain cancer, I learned a lot about letting go. It seemed that every day, I was faced with some situation that reminded me that I had no control and needed to let go of my expectations or agenda.

In the midst of caregiving, when I was exhausted, letting go seemed easier. I did not have the energy to fight, so I gave in. “God has him,” I would remind myself when he did reckless things like come downstairs while I was out or try to walk without aid of his walker.

“God has her,” I now say about my mother when she goes to the basement or second floor of her house for no good reason. My mother is very unsteady on her feet but still drives (“I don’t fall when I am sitting down,” she explains). She is incorrigible.

Picking your battles, I think parents call it when trying to teach their children things that are in their children’s best interest.

Short skirts or winter coats—I have a much better understanding of my dad’s concern; I would like to apologize for being so headstrong.caregiving-vulnerability-forgiveness

 

 

 

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Walking with Jesus

I once asked a friend how often she thought about God. The question came out of my admiration of her—she seemed so peaceful and holy, and I figured it must be some kind of God thing.

“Throughout the day,” she said, and then she told me about her practice of intentionally bringing God into situations in her everyday life.

“How often do you think about God,” she then asked me. “Not that often,” was my reply.

I wanted to be more aware of God throughout my day and decided to adopt her practice of intentionality. I quickly realized that I needed to adapt the practice a bit. I am a very visual person, so it was easier for me to imagine Jesus walking beside me throughout the day.

Petition and praise became the two categories into which I slotted events as each day unfolded.

A cashier at the grocery store who seemed to be having a difficult day would elicit a prayer of petition. Or a mother struggling with a tired child or my own impatience. I would turn to Jesus and ask him to help.

Someone holding the door for me, children playing happily or a kind word would bring forth a prayer of praise and gratitude.

Each person and every event took on a different hue when I turned to Jesus standing beside me and tried to look at each person or event through Jesus’ eyes and with his compassion.

Where I might have negatively judged someone who was being rude, Jesus invited me to imagine that person’s back story and consider what awful thing might have happened to make that person that way. I started to pity people who were angry or mean, reminding myself that I would not want their lives.

Judgment faded; compassion increased.God-kindness-loveWhen I went to work for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I learned of Mother Cabrini’s practice of living from the heart of Jesus. She had exchanged her heart for the heart of Jesus and saw the world through the eyes of Jesus’ heart. Even more intimate that visualizing Jesus standing beside me was visualizing my heart swapped out for Jesus’s heart.

As the days, weeks, months and years passed, the practice became more a part of life, and I found myself more aware of God.

When my mother was hospitalized last month, one of my first thoughts was, God has her. The medical people could do what they could and I can do what I can, but ultimately, I know that God is holding my mother, and that awareness brought relief and peace.

Reflecting back, I realize how much the years of practicing bringing Jesus into everyday circumstances has become a part of my life and how much more quickly I can let go of worry because I know I am not alone in any burdensome situation. Just as God has my mother, God has me and that is the safest place I can be.God-kindness-love

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Is the parade passing by?

A friend recently invited me to her community theater’s production of Hello Dolly.

I tend to avoid musicals—too unrealistic for me. All that singing and dancing in the midst of poverty and despair is not how I remember the poor people in the neighborhood where I grew up or in neighborhoods where I have lived since.

When I saw Les Miserables, I remember thinking that most of the people in the theater would probably be afraid to walk through my neighborhood, yet they seemed to enjoy watching this upbeat depiction of oppression and wretchedness.

I worry that portraying poverty and human misery so light-heartedly can assuage the guilt of those who have the power to make societal changes. (Look how happy those poor people are; singing and dancing their way through despair—why change anything?)

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But, to support my friend, I decided to move against my resistance and go see Hello Dolly.

This particular community theater is no-cut, so the cast was large and included people of all ages.

I quickly got caught up in the music, costumes and pageantry of the play. It was all quite cheerful, and I found myself smiling as I searched the faces of the cast for my friend.

At some point, though, I realized the story was about Dolly’s desire to move past grieving her husband’s death.

In one scene, Dolly says to her deceased husband, Let me go. It’s been long enough.

I, too, have sometimes felt chained to my past and have pleaded to be let go. I want to be set free and move ahead, but sometimes the link to the past is so strong that it seems inescapable.

And, it isn’t always a relationship that holds me back. Sometimes (and perhaps more often) it is an unhealthy or unrealistic belief about myself—my own lack of confidence—that can keep me trapped.God-vulnerability-faith

When Dolly sang, I’ve decided to join the human race again before the parade passes by, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes.

Then Dolly admitted that no one else’s life is mixed up with mine, and I felt found out and exposed.

Through this upbeat, light-hearted musical, this play was speaking deep truths to my soul and inviting me to examine the current state of my life and just how free I am.

Am I open to mixing up my life with others? Or am I keeping to myself?

Am I participating in the human race? Or am I sitting on the sidelines?

Is the parade passing me by?

Grief can take on a life of its own, and great loss can make it difficult to re-enter life fully. But, I know it is possible, and Hello Dolly invited me to let go and live more fully.

Perhaps Les Miserables and other musicals portraying oppression and poverty work the same way on those who have the capacity to effect social change, exposing vulnerabilities and offering insight for transformation. Maybe I judged too harshly.