Tag Archives: relationships


Giving voice to grief

Upon hearing that Saul and Jonathan had died, David lamented:

Alas, the glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon your heights; how can the warriors have fallen! Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished….how can the warriors have fallen…I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother…. (2 Samuel 1:19-27)

Reading David’s words, hearing the grief pouring out of him, reminds me of the importance of giving voice to our sorrows.

But after my friend Jim died, I could hardly put two words together, let alone compose a lament as David had done. Then, one day a few months after Jim’s death, a voice on my car radio sang the words that released the floodgates of my grief:

Oh I swear to you

I’ll be there for you

This is not a drive by

(Train, “Oh I swear to you”)

A drive by—that is what it felt like. Where I had thought Jim would be around forever (or, at least another twenty years), that was not to be. He was gone—no longer there for me—and all the swearing in the world would not change that. It did not matter what either of us might have wanted, I was left to deal with the reality that he was no longer with me.

I pulled over to the side of the road and sobbed.

Those three little lines tapped into my grief and expressed a sense of betrayal I did not even know I was feeling.hope-grief-cancerEvery time I hear this song, I still sing along on the refrain, my voice loud and full of emotion. It still feels like a drive by and this refrain helps me to give voice to my grief.

In 1984, my friend Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia; without a bone marrow transplant, he knew his death was imminent. He chose two songs to be played at his funeral, and although thirty-one years have passed since his death, I still think of him whenever I hear these songs:

 Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.
For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on….

(Bill Withers, “Lean on Me”)


What did you think I would do at this moment
when you’re standing before me with tears in your eyes
I’d fall down on my knees
Kiss the ground that you walk on
If I could just hold you again….

(Billy Vera & The Beaters, “At This Moment”)hope-grief-cancerDavid’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan seems raw and immediate, but perhaps he took some time to process his grief before he wrote.

Giving expression to our sorrows can open us to a different perspective; sadness can sit side-by-side with gratitude and hope.hope-grief-cancer






Fashioned by family

Last weekend, I drove my 91-year old mother to northern Michigan to visit her younger sister. I hadn’t been up north for two years, and my aunt wasn’t doing very well then. Now, though, she is doing remarkably well; it is amazing what a few medication tweaks and some lifestyle changes can do.

They caught up on news of family and friends, and we played cards in the evening. My cousin visited and brought pumpkins from his garden and apples from his tree.

Conversations with my mother and aunt gave me family details. I learned which uncle was my grandmother’s favorite and which uncle was lazy. I learned that my Aunt Betty’s real name was Scholastica and that we were never close to my grandmother’s side of the family, but they did not know why.

My mother and I visited the cemetery after Sunday Mass, but it was drizzling and windy so she stayed in the car while I collected the flower-covered crosses my cousin had put at our relatives’ graves last spring. Most of my relatives are buried there, including my grandparents and my dad. It is the place my mother wants to be buried.

These days went the way so many others have during past visits up north.

While we were there, I kept thinking about how much of our lives are shaped by our families—and where God’s grace enters the picture to enable us to become more than our pasts. Like most women, I have watched myself become my mother and sometimes I rejoice in that, and other times I rebel.

My mother is one of those tenacious, feisty, determined elders. She does her own grocery shopping, tends her garden and cooks; she is strong and fiercely independent (and, yes, she still drives).

She taught me to be resilient and persistent.

A friend in college said to me, “I wish my mother had taught me to be as persistent as your mother taught you,” when I refused to quit looking for something she had lost.

Never give up could be my mother’s motto.resiliency-faith-cancerMy father used to tell us, “If you come home and think I am dead, go out for another hour to make sure.” He never wanted to go to a hospital, and when he had a major stroke, my mother had the inner strength not to call 911. She gave him the kind of death he wanted—at home with family.

My father died ten years before Jim’s death, and I know that her example gave me the strength to give Jim the kind of death he wanted.

For example, when his oncologist insisted Jim be hospitalized for a blood clot, I said “No,” because Jim was done with hospitals by then. I was terrified, and I remember thinking about my mother in that moment and how terrified she must have felt when my dad had that stroke.

I am grateful that I can see the blessings in how my family shaped me.resiliency-faith-cancer



Giving thanks

For seven years, I was the director of an adult literacy program in suburban Philadelphia. Immigrants from many countries filled our English as a Second Language classes, but most of the students in our family literacy program were from South Korea.

As part of this program, we hosted an American Thanksgiving dinner each year. It was a way to introduce immigrants to this cultural holiday and teach them some of our customs, including the foods we traditionally eat on Thanksgiving. Our staff prepared most of the food, but students were given recipes for side dishes and invited to contribute if they wanted.

Invariably, a few of the students would bring dishes from their culture, and we would include the kimchi and rice in our Thanksgiving meal.

Our guests at the literacy council Thanksgiving dinners would gingerly try bites of turkey and cranberry sauce, and I loved watching them register the different tastes and textures. Food is an important part of any culture, and this dinner was a wonderful opportunity for people to try something new.

I wished my parents had attended such a class.

Growing up, we never had turkey for Thanksgiving; apparently turkeys were not available in Poland. We had ham or kielbasa or stuffed cabbage and a duck soup that I fear most Americans would not even try. Mashed potatoes were probably the only thing our Thanksgiving dinners had in common with the rest of America.


My mother did not care when I came home from school excited about traditional Thanksgiving dinners; she had never cooked a turkey and did not see the need for it.

Being thankful was what the holiday was about to her, and I could see her point. But I always felt a bit odd when kids talked about turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce—and I had nothing to contribute.

I have since come to understand that while we tend to think of one “traditional” American Thanksgiving dinner, the truth is that people in different regions of the country and from different ethnic backgrounds personalize Thanksgiving dinner. A simple Google search of “turkey stuffing” brings up hundreds of different recipes.

Merging cultures is part of the American tradition, and kimchi would have been as foreign to our Thanksgiving dinners growing up as the creamed onions I once had at a friend’s home in suburban Philadelphia or the Southern cornbread stuffing I was served in Virginia.

Recalling all those dinners this Thanksgiving made me think of the ways Americans can segregate ourselves into groups that reinforce our beliefs and allow us to stay in our comfort zones. We can tell ourselves that the Norman Rockwell portrait of a Thanksgiving dinner is the only true portrait, but that is just not true. Our country is made up of people from many different cultures and the blending of those cultures makes our country unique.

Honoring our heritage is important, but moving beyond our comfort zones makes life more interesting. Maybe it is time to try some kimchi.


A new perspective

“How are the fall colors?” my friend in Virginia asked the other night. She is coming to see me in Michigan in a few weeks and hoping to be in time to see the vibrant colors of our fall.

“We haven’t had a frost yet,” I said. “It is actually quite warm here—it’s in the 70’s.”

She laughed.

“What?” I asked.

“It is in the 70’s here, too,” she said, “and I was going to say how cool it is.”

Perspective. Same temperature but different conclusion.


I think so much of what goes wrong in relationships is because we jump to conclusions without seeking clarification or understanding another’s perspective.

Yesterday, I facilitated a retreat session for a group of local volunteers. My topic was theological reflection, a process that helps look at things from God’s perspective, that invites God into a situation and asks, “How does God invite me to see this person or situation?”

In preparation, I spent some time practicing theological reflection A friend from whom I am feeling disconnected came to mind, so I asked God, “What are you inviting me to learn from this disconnect?”

When I open myself to this conversation with God, I usually hear God ask me to love unconditionally, to forgive without limit and to let go. God invites me to see the person or situation from a stance of compassion and mercy. No matter how hurtful something might have been, when I look at it from God’s perspective, it looks different.

From God’s perspective, the person who hurt me is loved as much as I am. God invites me to see that the hurt was a result of my unrealistic expectations and/or that person’s limitations or brokenness. Theological reflection helps me understand the Biblical injunction to love my enemies and to pray for my persecutors (Matthew 5:44).

During the retreat session yesterday, I asked the volunteers to recall a specific incident which showed that their expectations had not been met, a time when they thought, “I didn’t expect that” or “That is not how I imagined it.” Unmet expectations often lead to disillusionment, and disillusionment can lead to negative feelings and actions.

Once they had an incident in mind, I asked them to invite God into the situation, to describe to God what happened and to sit with God and look at the person or situation through God’s eyes.

Reframing the situation from God’s perspective helps to see a bigger picture. My unmet expectations then become more about me instead of about the people or situation that let me down. Changing my expectations—or at least being more aware of them—can change my perspective and help to me understand people and events in a different way. When I see things from God’s perspective, I can more easily let go of hurt and anger. I can be more open to compassion and mercy, less judgmental and more forgiving. I can move toward freedom.


Overcoming insecurities

“I look at Jesus, and Jesus looks at me,” said the priest about Eucharistic adoration.

When I was young in my adult faith life, I frequently looked to Jesus for guidance and direction. I read about Jesus in the Bible every day and attended weekly Bible study sessions. I wanted to know everything I could about him. My passion was looking at Jesus, knowing Jesus and following Jesus.

road trip

Twenty-five years ago, at the beginning of a cross-country road trip, my friend and I stopped for coffee and donuts. About an hour into the trip, I realized she was still eating her donut, and I commented on the fact that mine was long gone. “We eat our donuts the same way we relate to men,” she said. “You devour yours, and I pick at mine.”

She was right. My insecurities were most evident in new relationships when I was fearful that I was not measuring up and would be abandoned. I tended to cling and needed constant reassurance.  As my trust grew, my insecurities lessened, and I could let go a bit. By then, though, all that usually remained of those relationships were crumbs.

Her comment invited me to look at all of my relationships, including Jesus. Had my early passion toward Jesus, my deep desire to know him intimately, been motivated, at least in part, by my insecurities? Had I clung to Jesus, devoured him, in the same way I did other men?

It was around this same time that I became acquainted with Simon Weil’s writings, and this passage from Waiting for God resonated with me:

“The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.”


Eucharist encompasses looking at and being looked at, as well as consuming and being consumed. This intimacy transforms my fears into trust. I need only to move toward my center. There, I meet God. There, I look at Jesus, and Jesus looks at me.




Becoming my mother

The Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer starts with a line from Psalm 51, “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Every morning that lines prompts me to ask if my words are declaring God’s praise.

It is just one of the me­­asuring sticks I use. Others include Ephesians 4:29-32 (“Never let evil talk pass your lips…”), 1Corinthinians 10:31 (“…do everything for the glory of God”), the Golden Rule and the Rotary Four-Way Test.

Giving glory to God is more difficult for me to evaluate than whether I treated someone well because I am not sure how things look from God’s perspective. But I have to believe that fostering positive thoughts and actions (rather than negativity) is a great way to glorify God.

Recently, I have been thinking about the mother-daughter relationship and how we are influenced by our mothers’ examples. I have been pondering the ways our mother-daughter relationships give glory to God.

So many of my friends fret about their children and worry that they did not do good jobs as mothers. Mom-guilt abounds.

Those same friends have/had mothers and some are still working through issues from those relationships.

Our mothers are easy targets to blame for the problems in our lives. Their flaws and faults are so visible to us. “I’ve become my mother,” is usually sighed in exasperation.

My own mother is a great “doer” and rarely sits still, so it is no mystery to me why I have the work ethic I do and why I have difficulty “being” rather than “doing.” I learned at the feet of a master “doer.” That has made me a good employee because I tend to get a lot accomplished. People who follow me in jobs have commented that they don’t know how I did all I did. “If you knew my mother,” I tell them. If ever I want to slack, I hear my mother’s voice in my head urging me to keep going. It is an ongoing, internal conversation.

I remember when I graduated from college and started working in the nonprofit sector, my mother questioned the wisdom of that decision. Couldn’t I make more money if I went corporate? Wouldn’t that be a better use of my college education? I replied “yes” to the first and “not necessarily” to the second. “I just don’t understand you,” my mother said.

I then explained to her that I learned from watching her take in sick relatives and caring for them, listening to the hardships of women at our kitchen table, and visiting friends and relatives who were ill or lonely. She had unknowingly been preparing me for a nonprofit career of caring about people who were disadvantaged, marginalized and disempowered. It was not the answer she wanted to hear. She had not consciously set out to shape me for a nonprofit career, but that is what she had unwittingly done.

It has been a good career, one that I believe gives glory to God.

Becoming my mother has many positives, but too often, I let the difficult parts of our relationship overshadow the positives. To counter that negativity, I want to focus on the positive character traits my mother instilled in me—resilience, determination, perseverance, compassion and hospitality among them. I want to celebrate all the good things my mother taught me, and I want to use those positive attributes to give glory to God.

Emerging Images

On a recent flight to Philadelphia, I sat next to a woman who was on her way back to Europe after having shown her documentary at a film festival in Ann Arbor. She explained that the idea for this film had been germinating for a long time and she finally decided to make the film—whether anyone ever saw it or not, or whether anyone liked it or not. She needed to make this documentary for herself.

She told me that her film is about the process of developing photos, what we see and how images emerge and change through the chemical development process. One of the images in the film is of her mother’s hands. I asked if her mother had seen the film. Yes, she had, and she liked it. She also told her daughter that she was proud of her.

My writer’s mind immediately went to her mother’s reaction to the film. I wondered if her mother had insights about how she saw her daughter before and after watching the film and if her image of her daughter had changed because of the film. I wondered if the film was a metaphor for her daughter emerging through her work and if the film was a catalyst for her mother to openly express her pride. I wished I could talk with her mother to hear first-hand how the film impacted her.

The mother-daughter relationship can have all kinds of complexities and complications, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to hear a mother’s reflections on her daughter and their relationship. I remember being at an Al-Anon meeting where a women expressed her regret at not standing up for her daughter; she told us, but could not bring herself to tell her daughter. How happy I was to hear this mother’s confession—and how sad to know that her daughter had not heard it.

I wanted to speak with this woman and encourage her to talk to her daughter. I wanted to tell her that her daughter would be grateful to hear her mother’s confession and know her regrets. But, of course, I did not tell her that, because I did not know how her daughter would react. I could only insert myself into her story and envision how I would react. And even that was supposition since she was not my mother and this was not my relationship.

The woman on the plane had won an award for her documentary, and I was happy for her success. I was even happier that her film was an occasion for her mother to tell her that she was proud of her—what a great gift.