My late-blooming Black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia), which grow along my front porch, have bloomed. I will be dividing these next spring as they need more room to grow.
Be seen and not heard.
Make yourself small.
Cower in the corner.
Keep the little girl inside you little.
This is my beloved Son; listen to him, God said of Jesus.
Did God say of me, This is my beloved daughter; listen to her?
But who can hear me when I am being quiet?
How can you listen to me when I am not speaking?
If I remain tucked in the corner, trying to be invisible,
how can I spread God’s message of love and forgiveness?
God whispers to me.
Think big thoughts.
Make yourself seen and heard.
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.
Give us joy to balance our affliction, for the years when we knew misfortune. Psalm 90:15
A few months ago, I was talking with a man who had lived a charmed life. He had grown up in a loving home with parents who cared deeply for him and desired the best for him. He had a wonderful education and excelled in his career. He had good friends, got married, had children, travelled and basically did all the things he wanted to do. Everything was going so well—until he was diagnosed with an illness that ended his career and eventually his marriage. As the disease progressed, he became more physically incapacitated and had to hire aides to help him at home.
He told me about one of his aides, a woman whose life had the opposite trajectory from his. Her early life was full of affliction and misfortune. She had grown up in a home without love where she was abused in every way imaginable. She lacked education and family support. Eventually, she ended up in prison. After leaving prison, she entered a treatment program that enabled her to turn her life around and move in a different direction. Now she supports herself by taking care of vulnerable people. She has found love and is engaged to be married.
This man, with his Job-like challenges, has a wonderful attitude and outlook on life. When his career ended, he went back to school so he could begin a second career, one that was not dependent on his physical abilities. His body is failing, but his mind is still thriving.
As he and I talked, I thought about how some of us know affliction and misfortune early in life, while others face them later.
This man told me he and his aide talk about how their lives have intersected because of his illness, how they would never have gotten to know one another in the way they do if he had not become sick. He believes that her story is the more amazing because she has overcome so much; he is in awe of her.
I stand in awe of both of them. He, for his positive attitude in the face of a debilitating disease; she, for her determination to overcome her past and create a new life for herself.
Not anywhere as extreme as his aide’s, but my early life was marked by chaos and trauma. I was a shy child and very anxious. School was a nightmare to me socially, although I loved learning, and being in school felt safe. My unresolved childhood trauma made me vulnerable to abuse as a young adult.
Like his aide, I finally feel I have come into my own. I am confident in what I learned from my career, pursuing things that interest me, comfortable in my own skin and living in joy.
How about you? Did you know misfortune early in life or later? Do you know joy now which balances out past afflictions?
Just days before my mother died last year, she revealed a secret to me, a secret she had kept for almost fifty years, a secret that flipped a light switch in my brain. Suddenly, I could look at events from fifty years ago and see them in a different light.
The clarity was almost blinding, and I wanted to explore the implications of what I had learned, but my mother was dying, and I needed to pay attention to what was happening right in front of me instead of examining events from the past. So, I tucked her secret away.
And then one day last fall, her secret came rushing back to me like a tidal wave.
I was overwhelmed with a truth I had never even considered, a truth that explained my father’s attitude toward me after I got divorced. I realized that my life could have gone in an entirely different direction had I known then what my mother had revealed before her death.
I was hurt and angry.
Moreover, my mother’s secret dislodged a secret that I had been keeping for more than fifty years, a secret I was not consciously aware I was keeping.
Suddenly, disparate pieces of my early twenties fell into place like cogs on a gear. I had great clarity about my early life and things that had happened to me that had shaped the rest of my life.
At family gatherings, my younger brother liked to point to my mother and then to me and say, “Tree, apple.”
My mother was great at denial and at keeping secrets. She denied anything bad that happened to her and would not risk disclosing an unattractive (or downright ugly) truth about someone, in case it might be embarrassing (or possibly illegal). She protected people who were not worthy of protection, and she taught me to do the same.
Like my mother, I am a great secret keeper, a steel trap for people’s confidences, and I have held sacred the secrets people have shared with me over the years.
What I know about secrets, though, is that the shame attached to them can turn something innocent into something sinister, and I know how shame can paralyze.
A few years ago, when I finally said the name of the man who raped me, I realized I had been protecting him by not saying his name; I was keeping it secret.
Saying his name—revealing the secret—broke the power of shame over me.
Back to the tree…apple scenario.
I have spent my adult life trying to unlearn my mother’s lessons, trying to be more honest and forthcoming. I have gone to ACOA meetings and worked the steps. I know that we are only as sick as our secrets, and I have tried to live transparently, without secrets.
And yet now I am faced with two new secrets from my past.
But those events are no longer buried, and I have begun talking about what happened to me.
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia) were a friend’s favorite and I imagine he would love this early-blooming variety.
My enclosed sunporch had to come down, which required moving one of my perenniel beds. The daisies got spread out along a side fence and seem quite content.
The purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) that got moved are late in blooming, but this one took up residence among the black-eyed Susans a few years ago (and I forgot to move it–next year).
This phlox had been dwarfed by the daisies when it was next to the sunporch. I hope it will thrive in this new spot with room to grow.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) is one of the butterfly attractors in my yard.
Who asks you to look
inside and see what stirs your
heart to act in love.
I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.
For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.
Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.
Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).
I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.
By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.
But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.
Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”
Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:
Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and
Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….
Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?
Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?
Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?
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
Happy you came to
Visit me and brought a bit
Of your energy.