Tag Archives: love

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Living the questions

As I lay on the massage table, allowing someone to tend to me, to help me release the stress I carry in my body, I started to relax.

And then these questions popped into my mind: What would it look like if I really loved myself? If I was truly compassionate toward myself?

What would it look like if I was able to let go of the expectations I place on myself, if I was able to let go of fear? What would it look like if I could see myself as God sees me and love myself as God loves me?

What would be different?

I imagine there would be inner and outer changes. My teeth would unclench and my stomach would unknot, although neither of those would be observable.trust-compassion-GodOutwardly, my shoulders would relax. My massage therapist in Pennsylvania used to suggest I place bricks on my shoulders in an effort to keep them from hunching up around my ears. (I imagine that when I am a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, I will be one of those dancers the judges repeatedly tell to, “Relax your shoulders.” Yes, I have a rich interior life—please allow me my fantasy).

At the end of this session, the Reiki Master said she got a vibe that I feel a need to get my house in order—figuratively or literally, she could not tell.

Definitely literally I told her as I thought of all the unfinished projects in my house.

Although I have been here for four years, three rooms still have no curtains. Hanging curtains used to be the first thing I did in a new place. It made me feel settled and at home. So, why no curtains? I have the fabric to make them and the rods to hang them, but….trust-compassion-GodWould self-compassion enable me to settle into my home? Or would it at least allow me to let go of my feelings of guilt for not having curtains?

My house has an enclosed porch overlooking the back yard. I created two new flower beds last summer that are blooming beautifully this year. Lavender and Echinacea fill the air with sweet scents, and black-eyed Susan, hydrangea and a butterfly bush add depth to the color palate. I feel at home on the porch and in the garden.

Perhaps I will reach the day when I feel that at home inside my house. Perhaps I will reach the day when I am that comfortable in my own skin.

Every time I get a taste of letting go and leaning into God, letting gravity pull me into a relaxed state, I know that is where I want to live. It is a place of mutuality, where God and I share a deep secret—that God has always loved me just as I am and that I can let go of my expectations that I be anyone else or do anything else. I can just let go and be loved.trust-compassion-God

 

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Growing in love

Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31

Whenever I encountered this Scripture passage, I used to think, “Poor neighbors,” what a low bar. Shouldn’t I love my neighbors at least a bit more than I love myself?

I didn’t love myself very much in my young life. I saw myself as lacking in most every way, never quite measuring up, more often messing up.

I might have re-written the passage to read, Love your neighbors as you want to be loved—or possibly Love yourself as you love your neighbors, because I can be much more accepting, compassionate and forgiving of others.

My capacity for self-love was definitely deficient.

Growing up, I knew that God loved me, and it was always a mystery why or how God could love someone I saw as so broken. It was probably my biggest Yes, but, as in “I know God loves me, but…” followed by my litany of deficiencies—all the reasons God must be wrong to love me.

Recently, one of my neighbors ripped out his front lawn. I don’t know why he did it—maybe it was dying or too weedy; maybe he just got tired of it or just did not like it and wanted something new and different.

I walked past his grassless front yard for a few weeks and then one day there was a beautiful new lawn—lush, green and weed-free. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if I could rip out what is undesirable in me and instantaneously replace it with something new and beautiful, completely erase whatever was old, worn or ugly?compassion-God-loveBut that is not how it has worked in my life. Years of therapy helped me to redefine myself more realistically. Years of prayer helped me to begin to see myself as God sees me.

I had to learn to set good boundaries and practice owning what is mine, figuring out what I believe and reinforcing that—and letting go of negative views. I wrote affirmations on little pieces of paper and taped them to my bathroom mirror, stuck them to my refrigerator with magnets and placed them in small picture frames. Reading these affirmations every day eventually began to push aside negative messages and replace them with God messages.compassion-God-loveI was restructuring the landscape of my inner self, but it was not as instantaneous as laying sod.

When I was in therapy in my thirties, I used to practice my boundary-setting out loud. When I recognized that I was regurgitating someone else’s negative belief (about myself or anything else), I would identify it. “So and so needs to say…” and then I would say, “But I want to say…” about whatever it was what I believed, or what belief I was growing into.compassion-God-loveGrowing in self-compassion has strengthened my boundaries and improved my self-esteem. To love myself as God loves me is my desire. Only then am I able to truly love others as I love myself—and as God loves them.compassion-God-love

 

Spiritual practices

My heart was a theme during my retreat last month. I sometimes worry that my heart has become too guarded or even closed.

The last seven years have been a time of great loss for me, so I understand my inclination to protect my heart from being broken again. I also know that a broken heart can be the most loving heart if I allow the fissures to heal rather than become deep crevices, if I allow the breaks to be entrances rather than chasms that are impossible to cross.

At the end of the movie Frozen, Elsa declares, “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.”

I cried as I watched this children’s movie—and not just a few tears trickling from my eyes, but wrenching sobs escaping from my heart. Did Elsa’s insight touch me because my heart is frozen? And what act of true love could thaw my frozen heart?spiritual-practices-love-prayer

Many people have touched my heart with friendship and great acts of generosity and kindness throughout my life. I have been abundantly blessed.

So in an attempt to unthaw my heart and as an act of love, I decided to write a letter every day during February and connect with people who have been loving toward me. Twenty-eight days of love—that is how I have been thinking of February.spiritual-practices-love-prayer

Every morning in prayer, I pay attention to who comes to mind, whose name is planted on my heart that day, and then I write a note.

Two things I learned from this practice:

The first is that praying about the people I love sparks memories and gratitude. Images float into my consciousness, recollections of friends rush in and warm my heart. I am reminded of how blessed I am to be so loved.

The second is a reminder of the benefits of discipline.

Discipline disposes us toward whatever we are practicing. Prayer, meditation, acts of kindness, service, etc., dispose us toward positivity. Starting my day with thoughts of love predisposes me to look for love during the day—and helps me to more quickly identify words and acts that are not loving. Awareness helps me make better choices throughout the day.

Facebook reminded me this week that I started this blog four years ago. Writing daily and posting weekly has been a good discipline for me.

Discerning what to share in my blog helps me see more clearly where God is calling me to grow, especially when I write about a frustration or some old hurt and its residual anger. The discipline of writing also helps me to be more aware of everyday blessings and the many, ordinary ways God touches my life.

What we focus on becomes a bigger part of us.

I want to focus on trust instead of fear and on love instead of hate. I want my words and actions to remind me daily that Jesus’ heart is all love and that I am invited to live that love.spiritual-practices-love-prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fortunate

You shall bear no hatred for your brother or sister in your heart….Take no revenge and cherish no grudge…                                                                                                                               ~Leviticus 19:17-18

On my first trip to Swaziland, Southern Africa, I met a girl named Fortunate. She was twelve years old and I couldn’t decide if her name was apt or not.

She had grown up in a homestead in rural Swaziland with no running water or electricity. She, her parents and her five siblings had lived in a one-room hut until both of her parents died from AIDS.blessing-forgiveness-love

After that, she and her siblings moved to St. Philips’ Mission where she lived in a large dormitory with fifty-some other girls.

The Mission provided food, clothing and education. There was electricity, running water and flush toilets. All good things. But losing her parents and leaving her homestead must have been incredibly difficult.

Fortunate was curious and bold enough to ask questions. She had a trusting nature and a beautiful smile; she stole my heart.blessing-forgiveness-love

I wonder what happened to her since I last saw her in 2005.

Fortunate came to mind on the feast of St. Josephine Bakihta last week.

Josephine Bakihta grew up in Sudan and was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakihta, which means Fortunate.

After being sold and traded a number of times, Bakihta eventually ended up in Italy. Her owners once left her temporarily with the Canossian Sisters, and while with the Sisters, Bakihta had a religious conversion and decided to stay there. Italian law allowed her to secure her freedom, which she did. She converted to Catholicism, took the name Josephine and eventually became a Sister.

Was she fortunate? She had been taken from her homeland and endured years of abuse and mistreatment as a slave. But, in the end, she overcame these tragedies and, by all accounts, had a blessed life.

In her own words: If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today… The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone… we must be compassionate!blessing-forgiveness-love

Despite her horrible history, Josephine Bakhita became a loving, forgiving person.

She inspires me. Here was a woman who had every reason to be bitter and vengeful. She had lost so much and endured terrible suffering. Yet she chose to overcome her history. She chose to love, forgive and look for the blessing.
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I wonder if my Swaziland Fortunate was able to face her history and rise above it. Was she able to find blessings in the hand she had been dealt?

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Not everyone has such dramatic histories to overcome, but I believe most of us have something in our past that we need to overcome, some person we need to forgive or some event we are invited to rise above. Only then will we be at peace.

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Leaving my comfort zone

One moment of clarity during my recent retreat involved Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the sheep and the goats.

For the better part of one year, (many years ago) I prayed almost exclusively with this passage of scripture. I would try to move on, but God kept calling me back. “I guess I am a slow learner,” I would joke with God when I could not seem to move onto other scriptures. I knew I was missing something but could not figure out what it was.

I did continue to have aha moments as the year passed, gaining deeper insight into the message as the words permeated my being.

Thirty years later, this passage still draws me and connects me with my basic call from God:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

These works of mercy became the standard against which I measured myself. When was the last time I fed someone who was hungry or gave drink to someone who was thirsty? When did I welcome a stranger or care for someone who was sick or visit someone in prison?

I took the commands literally. I believed Matthew outlined these works clearly so that there could be doubt about what I was to do. And I believed that Jesus was calling me to engage in each and every activity.healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

The passage goes on to say, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me.

That is the part that took me a while to grasp—to see that whatever good work I did, I did for Jesus, that the person on the receiving end was Jesus. Here was the mystery.

I had done good works before 1986, but I had somehow missed this piece of the equation, the part where I was actually doing it to or for Jesus. I thought I was just helping another person, but to realize that I was helping Jesus cast my efforts in a different light, because by doing these good works I was actually putting myself in a position to interact directly with Jesus. And in doing for Jesus, I was setting myself up to receive something in return—healing.

God was inviting me to get in touch with my own hunger, thirst, nakedness, alienation and imprisonment—and to let His love in through my acts of service for others. By offering mercy, I was receiving mercy.

Every act of kindness I did softened my heart and made me more compassionate. Every good deed opened the door for Jesus to shift my vision so I could see the world as Jesus sees it.

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Some of these commands can demand I move far outside my comfort zone; and I have come to believe that that is exactly where Jesus is waiting for me.healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

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Jesus, I give you my heart

We had a visiting priest for Christmas Eve Mass, a charismatic, high-energy young man who was ordained three years ago.

His homily focused on the love of Jesus, and he shared his own story to illustrate the transformative nature of Jesus’ love. He had been raised a Catholic but lost his faith, moved away from the Church, and bought into the cultural promise that things would fulfill him. At some point, he realized that was an empty promise; he was disillusioned. Then he encountered Jesus and everything changed. He came back to the Church and eventually made his way to the seminary…and the rest is history.

He is clearly on fire for Jesus, and it was sweet to see his passion for Jesus. He so wanted to share it with us that he even gave us homework assignments. The first was to give our hearts to Jesus every morning, and he had us repeat after him, “Jesus, I give you my heart.”

As I listened to his homily, I reflected on my own relationship with Jesus. I remember those days of my early passion for Jesus. I remember how Jesus filled me with hope and gratitude, and how loving Jesus made sense to me.

Jesus’ message of forgiveness was exactly what I needed to hear when I was in my twenties and feeling lost. I had felt empty until I met Jesus. Then, like this priest, I could not stop talking about Jesus and how wonderful His love was.Jesus-heart-loveThe next morning, I began my prayer as the priest had suggested. I prayed, Jesus, I give you my heart.

To me, giving my heart to Jesus also means taking on the heart of Jesus, and I really do want my heart to be like the heart of Jesus—loving, accepting, forgiving. My prayer was sincere.

As I contemplated the love of Jesus, I thought of the people of Jesus’ time. I imagine that most people were expecting a Messiah who would free them from their occupiers.

How disappointed they must have been when Jesus told them to turn the other cheek, to actually love their enemies.

Imagine waiting for a Messiah who would give them security and prosperity and hearing Jesus’ message about vulnerability and riches in heaven.

Imagine wanting a Messiah who would make them feel strong and in control and hearing Jesus’ message about being weak and trusting that God was in control.

Where people were concerned with overthrowing their enemies, Jesus was more concerned with building up their spiritual lives, and his plan was based on love, not war.

Two thousand years later, little seems to have changed; many people still clamor for security through aggression.

Giving our hearts to Jesus means we have to let go of the illusion of power and control so that the love of Jesus can lead us to true peace and freedom.

Jesus, I give you my heart, I am praying every morning. Make it more like your heart, I add.Jesus-heart-love

 

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Christmas love

In the days leading up to Christmas, I have been pondering how God infused humanity with divine love.

This infusion of love happened in the most vulnerable of circumstances—an unmarried woman became pregnant, Joseph had the courage to take her as his wife, their arduous trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn and giving birth among the animals. It happened to ordinary people who were living ordinary lives.

The shepherds were the first to hear the news, lowly shepherds. God chose to reveal His greatest glory to working-class people—not royalty or rich people, but poor people, marginalized people, people who smelled like the sheep they lived among.

The fact that God chose these particular people and circumstances makes me think that lowliness and vulnerability are highly esteemed by God. God prefers lowliness.

As I pondered the mystery of God coming to us in these humble surroundings, love took on a different look. That first Christmas turned societal order upside down, placing first those who seemed to be last. That Christmas, the lowliest were the first to receive the message of God’s love breaking into the world.

Christmas love seeks out those who are marginalized and lets them know that they are the most important to God, that God chooses them.

Christmas love honors two things we might find difficult to even look at, let alone esteem—poverty and powerlessness. Who wants to be poor and powerless? Who wants to even think about their brokenness and fragility?

Yet, the message of Christmas seems pretty clear—God chooses those who are lowly; Christmas invites us to consider our own lowliness—our own weakness and insecurity.

This is the gift of Christmas—not expensive presents or lavish parties, but humility and vulnerability; that is where God touches us with divine love. God turns things upside down by blessing those very parts of ourselves we try to hide.

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As I thought about Christmas, the word fear kept coming to me. Fears keep us from accepting those we see as different, because we can fear being judged, being hurt, being taken advantage of or even being seen as different. I wonder if Mary and Joseph were afraid of the shepherds who approached them and their newborn baby—in the way we might be afraid of being approached by someone who had been living outside.

Christmas assures us that God prefers to meet us in our vulnerability, our fears and insecurities, our poverty and pain. There God can infuse us with divine love so that we can be open to pain and suffering—our own and others.Christmas-love-vulnerability

Christmas love is accepting and forgiving. It is abundant, and it offers true freedom and peace when we can let go of our fears and expectations and honestly admit our dependence on God.

To be humble rather than proud; to be weak rather than strong; to love rather than hate; to trust rather than fear; to hope even in dire circumstances—let the Christmas celebration begin.Christmas-love-vulnerability