Tag Archives: memories

fear-trust-faith

Trust

I think that my blog post last week sparked my thinking about the ways fear has impacted my life. Since writing about love lost, I have been flooded with memories of other occasions when I made decisions based on fear rather than trust.

How many times have I lost love because I was too scared? How many missed opportunities for love have there been?

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, I tell myself over and over. But living those words continues to challenge me.fear-trust-faithI recently watched Inside Out, an animated film about the emotions that influence our lives—joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Riley, the girl in the movie, grows up in a loving family; when she is eleven, her father’s work takes the family from Minnesota to California. Everything changes, and she goes from primarily being joyful to being terribly angry. In her anger, she loses trust in her parents and makes decisions that are clearly misguided.fear-trust-faithAs I watched the movie, I wondered about my own decision-making history. I wondered how many times my family and friends have watched me make decisions based on fear or anger—and stood by shaking their heads at my misguided choices.

After I had lived in l’Arche for about six months, I came back to Pennsylvania for a two-week holiday. My friends were shocked at my appearance. In those six months, I had lost twenty pounds or so and apparently looked unhealthy. I knew I was fatigued and generally unhappy, but my friends’ reactions were alarming.

“You can’t go back there,” one friend after another told me.

Not go back? I had to go back. I had made a commitment.

But, like Riley in the movie, I was having a really tough time. Change can be so difficult.

How could I admit—after just six months—that I had made a mistake or that I could not do what I had set out to do? Pride and fear paralyzed me.fear-trust-faithGoing back meant my health would continue to suffer. Moving back after six months felt like a failure. Neither option held much hope for me; either way, I felt like I was a disappointment.

Looking back on that time, I can now see options and possibilities that were not clear to me then.

Back then, fear was motivating my decisions. Fear of failure, fear of looking weak, fear of disappointing. My judgment was clouded.

Inside Out shined a light on how memories stack up to create a preference or inclination. If I have lots of joyful memories, I am more likely to expect joy and to look for it. If my memories are sad, fearful or angry, I am more likely to see through that lens.

Moving from fear to trust is a conscious decision, and I have decided to recall two joyful memories every time sad or angry memories surface. Hopefully this small exercise will help tip the scales away from fear and toward trust.fear-trust-faith

 

Advertisements
love-hope-fear

Love lost

A few weeks ago, the movie Letters to Juliet popped into my mind and I couldn’t seem to let it go. I’d seen it before, but I decided to rent it.

The movie is based on a non-fiction book about notes posted on the wall outside the house of Juliet of Verona and the “secretaries” who respond to the notes. I have never been to Verona, but apparently there really is a house called Casa di Giulietta—Juliet’s House—at Via Cappello, 23, Verona, with a courtyard where people leave letters.love-hope-fearThe movie is about an English woman who abandoned her Italian lover fifty years earlier and returns to search for him.

As I watched this movie the other night, I remembered a man I had met more than thirty years ago.

I had gone with a friend to upstate New York to support her at the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. I was against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, so I resonated with the anti-nuclear message of this group.love-hope-fearBut the encampment challenged me in ways I had not expected, and my discomfort intensified throughout that first day. I was too conventional for this kind of demonstration and found myself thinking of how I could get away.

By the end of that first day, my inner voice was saying, Leave now and don’t come back.

My distress continued into that evening, and I went for a run to regain my equilibrium.

We were staying with my friend’s cousin at his farm. The countryside was beautiful—rolling hills, farmlands and forests. The run was somewhat strenuous, but it felt good to exert myself physically as I grappled with my emotional dilemma.love-hope-fearAnd then on a steep hill, something snapped in my back and pain shot down my leg. I stood on the side of the road, bent over in agony, sobbing—and far from where I was staying. Somehow I managed to hobble home and then crumpled to the living room floor. Someone brought me an icepack and aspirin.

For several hours I just lay there, feeling relief from staying still.

At some point, a man came into the living room and introduced himself as Ross, a friend of the people I was staying with; he lived in their renovated chicken coop.

For the rest of that day, Ross kept me company. He was a landscaper by trade, but a poet by temperament. We talked for most of the night.

The next day, my host took me to a chiropractor; one adjustment eased the pain enough that I was able to sit in a car for the ride home.

Ross wrote beautiful, romantic letters to me and even came to visit. He was smitten; I was scared.love-hope-fearI said the distance between Ithaca and Philadelphia was too great—and our relationship ended before it really got started.

And yet, there he was in my memory as I watched a movie about love lost and found.

 

 

 

God-generosity-gratitude

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

 

God-spirituality-vulnerability

Does it bring you joy?

Does it bring you joy? Someone suggested asking this question when paring down my possessions.

After some pondering, I realized that when considering holding onto or getting rid of some possession, I am more apt to ask myself, would letting it go make me feel guilty?

I have been incredibly blessed by generous people throughout my life, and my house has lots of objects I received as gifts. I imagine if I had bought all of those things, it would be easier to let go of them, but so much of what I own has a story and a memory connected to it.

Is it possible to hold onto the memory and the story—and let go of the object?God-spirituality-joyMany years ago, I read a book about holding onto the gifts of retreat.

Retreats can be sacred moments in life, creating space to step out of daily routines, clear my mind of everyday worries, and focus on God and God’s will for me. Retreats offer the opportunity to get some distance and perspective, to look at how I am living and to consider any needed course corrections.

While on retreat, I often talk with God about what in my life needs to go—usually old fears, insecurities, anxieties and hurts.God-spirituality-joyHolding onto those insights from retreat once I am back in my daily routine can be a challenge. Daily prayer helps. Regular meetings with a spiritual director also help. This book suggested asking these questions about everyday situations:

  • Is this what I really want?
  • Will this matter tomorrow? In ten years? At the end of my life?
  • What do I think? feel? need? want?

The second set of questions has been the easiest for me to answer because I can see how insignificant many everyday occurrences really are. These questions have helped me let go of a great deal of hurt and anger. How much energy am I going to give to something that really has very little long-term significance?

The other questions, though, continue to challenge me. Like the question about what brings me joy, asking what I want or need seems somewhat foreign to me. It must be the way I was raised—spend very little time or thought on my own needs; focus more on the needs of others.  This is also the message I take from the Bible.

Of course, I know that I do have wants and needs, and over the course of my life, I have come to see how much healthier I am when I get in touch with them.

So, what is it that brings me joy? The objects in my home? Or the memories attached to them?

It is definitely the memories that remind me how blessed I have been.

Last year, I committed to writing a “love” letter every day in February—a note to someone who had blessed my life and brought me joy. I called it twenty-eight days of love. I thank I will do that again.God-spirituality-joy

 

Read the neon signs

Sitting at a bar with two friends one evening, one shared that he suspected his wife was having an affair. We asked why he thought that. He explained that her job at a bank, a job she had had for many years, was always a 9-5 kind of job, but recently, she had begun to work a lot of late nights and even weekends and some overnights.

“Read the neon signs,” my other friend advised.

neon sign 4

That memory resurfaced while I was walking the dog this morning and begged the question, “What neon signs am I not reading?”

Sometimes ignoring reality is much easier than facing it. Looking back on my life, I can see many times when I refused to read the neon signs. I did not want to face the truth and have to deal with the fallout. I have often taken the attitude that if I ignore something long enough, it will go away, which can work.

But, living that way requires me to ignore my intuition and to suppress my feelings. It takes a lot of energy to deny reality and to pretend that everything is okay when, at some level, I know it is not.

God calls me to pull my head from the sand and face the difficulties I have been trying to avoid, the reality I have been ignoring. God calls me to live in a truth that sets me free.

Sometimes, as in my friend’s situation, the signs are pretty clear. Other times, though, the signs are not as easy to see.

neon sign 1

I must be in one of those cloudy periods now, because I don’t have a clue why this memory came back to me or what new lesson it is inviting me to learn. I can’t see what I can’t see, and I don’t know what I don’t know.

Could the neon signs be related to my relationship with Jesus and how I am feeling disconnected?

n101-0042-jesus-fish-neon-sculpture

Could it have something to do with my desire to move from full-time work to semi-retirement?

neon sign 2

Or does it have something to do with forming new relationships as I settle into life in Michigan?

Or….

I pray that God will open my eyes so I can see what is probably right in front of me—and then give me the courage to act. I want to be free. I want my life to be authentic.

neon sign 6

Tapioca pudding and taking risks

Desserts that have no chocolate rarely appeal to me—why waste the calories?

There are a few exceptions, though, including tapioca.

One of the adjustments I had to make when I moved to Canada was different packaging for a host of food products, including tapioca. Growing up, we always had tapioca in the red box; I didn’t know it came any other way. In the house where I lived in Winnipeg, I found a bag of tapioca in the pantry and decided to try it. I read the directions on the bag, which were different from what I remembered on the red box, so I ignored them and cooked it the way I remembered it.

I hadn’t realized that tapioca in the red box was “instant” tapioca (even though it is called “minute” tapioca). The tapioca in the bag was “old-fashioned,” which means more than a minute.

Tapioca

Of course, the tapioca did not turn out—it was more like thick paste than tapioca—and I scraped the gooey mess out of the pot and into the trash, pledging that I would follow directions in the future.

The memory of that mistake came back to me the other day. I am not sure what triggered it, but I believe that memories bring a message that is relevant to my life today, and I have been pondering what the message of this memory might be.

Had I not followed directions? Had I rejected guidance or advice? Had I done something rash? Irresponsible? Why had this memory come back to me now? And what was the message?

Shortly before I remembered the tapioca incident, a friend and I had been talking about retirement and what we might do when the time comes. I often find myself daydreaming about retirement, even though it is still some years off.

She said she feels God is calling her to generativity.

“Be generative,” I said, and the phrase stayed with me. In the days following that chat, I repeatedly said to myself, be generative.

But what does generativity look like for me? And is it somehow connected to the memory of the tapioca disaster?

In thinking about it, I realized that I used to be much more impulsive and spontaneous. I thought directions were merely suggestions, and I didn’t necessarily believe they were meant for me. It wasn’t just with tapioca, but with most everything in my life. I was more of a rule-breaker than a rule-follower.

Over the years, though, the pendulum has swung in the other direction and I have become much more of a rule-follower. I tend it play it safe, taking fewer risks and being more aware of how things might look to others. I still have wild impulses, but I rarely act on them.

Perhaps, the pendulum has swung too far, and the key to generativity for me is to take more risks and be more spontaneous. Maybe it is time to step out of my comfort zone and take a chance.

“Today is my birthday”

“Today is my birthday,” I repeated cheerfully. It was like I was six or four rather than sixty-four.

Throughout that day, though, my sixtieth birthday kept coming to mind.

That was the birthday I spent at the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the ocean, waiting for dolphins to swim by and taking stock of my life. I was caring for my friend Jim, who had brain cancer. We had come to the Shore a few days earlier, the day after we learned Jim had a blood clot in his left lung.

This was three months after Jim’s cancer diagnosis. He had already spent six weeks in the hospital—surgery, recovery, rehabilitation, another surgery….When finally released, his mantra was “No more hospitalizations.”

Then one day, he started having trouble breathing. A trip to the ER confirmed a blood clot. Jim refused to be hospitalized, and so a nurse taught me how to give him injections of blood thinners. We had plans to leave for Ocean City the next day and Jim would not change our plans.

His oncologist was adamant that Jim be hospitalized, even warning that Jim would die without hospitalization.  “Then he will die at the Shore,” I said with more bravado than I felt.

Jim had always loved spending time at the Jersey Shore. The peace and quiet suited him. He was okay to die there.

So I called the funeral director and relayed the oncologist’s warning. He gave me his cell number and told me to call if needed.

And off we went.

The drive to the Jersey Shore had always seemed smooth, but Jim’s blood clot revealed every bump in the road, every uneven seam between lanes. His face was set in a grimace the entire hour and twenty minutes; shallow gasps of air accompanied quiet moans. I was terrified that he would not survive the drive.

Things got worse after we arrived. Jim could barely walk and each step up the steep flight of stairs caused excruciating pain. He collapsed when we got inside and hurt too much to move.

But the next morning, Jim got up and dressed without help. He had no pain and was breathing easily. Either the blood thinners were working or it was a miracle.

“Now I know that you will never take me back to the hospital,” he said.

“I won’t,” I assured him.

“Now I can live,” he stated with conviction.

All that day, he observed how the Shore was better than the hospital: “You don’t see the sun rise over the ocean in the hospital….you don’t see dolphins in the hospital…You don’t get wine with dinner in the hospital.”

We stayed at the Shore for several more days, and each day Jim grew stronger.

When the dolphins swam by on my birthday, Jim said, “There are sixty dolphins singing happy birthday to you.” It was so sweet, and now it is a happy memory.

Featured image