Tag Archives: self-awareness

Discovering beauty

A prayer I kept taped to the bathroom mirror for many years read, Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. This prayer was given to me by a friend who was aware of my insecurities and low self-esteem.

When I first read this prayer, I gasped when I reached the word beautiful. “Ugly” was the word I had anticipated. Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how ugly it is. That was the prayer I had been praying for most of my life, to accept my ugliness, my inner darkness, my sinfulness.

This new prayer challenged me to first find my inner beauty and then accept it.

I recently celebrated my 70th birthday, and several friends wrote messages in their cards about the positive impact I have had on so many people.

Praying to see and accept the truth about myself seems to have shifted something inside me, because I smiled as I read each of these messages and thanked God for how I was created and the woman I have grown into.

God-prayer-transformation

What we hear

In the early days of our friendship, Ted asked me to go out for dinner. The conversation went something like this:

“You probably don’t want to…you will probably say ‘no,’ but would you like to go to dinner with me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s ok,” he said. “I didn’t think you would want to.”

“Ted, I said ‘yes,’” I countered, but he could not hear me. He was so certain I would say “no” that he could not hear my “yes.”

Over the next thirty years, Ted and I had many dinners together—always as friends.

He often returned to that initial conversation, saying, “Remember when I asked you out and you said, ‘no’?” I would remind him, “I said ‘yes.’” It became something of a joke among our friends, like a scene in a pantomime, because he loved to retell the story, “I asked Madeline out once and she said ‘no.’” They would say, “She said ‘yes.’”

That memory came back to me the other day when I was thinking about how open I am to hear God. I wonder if I predisposed to hear a message that may not be the message God is sending or if I shut down before something has a chance to take root. I sometimes wonder if I am exasperating God with all the times I say, “yes, but…” in the same way Ted’s retelling of our first-date conversation could exasperate me.

I know I can jump to a conclusion that shuts God out of the process, perhaps because of negative messages I have heard about what I can and cannot do, my low self-esteem, fears, anxieties, past failures, etc.

God asks us to try and try again, even when we don’t succeed at first or second or third. God asks for persistence (like the story of the widow who kept pestering the judge in Luke 18:1-8) and openness (let those who have ears hear, Matthew 11:15) to hear what God is saying.

Often these blockages are blind spots—we don’t even see them. What can help us become aware of our blind spots is to listen to what others might see in us and say about us.

Those conversations can be difficult to have. I remember the first time someone tried to tell me I was smart and capable. I thanked him, but he could tell I did not believe him, so he repeated it. “I heard you,” I said. “No, you didn’t,” he replied, and then he told me again that I was smart and capable. He could see my discomfort, because smart and capable were not words I associated with myself.

That conversation was the beginning of my questioning what I believed about myself and trying to see myself as God sees me.

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I don’t know how Ted and I would have gotten on romantically (mutual friends suggest we would have had a rocky relationship because we were both independent and strong-willed), but we never had the chance to try.

The next chapter

“Don’t buy me any green bananas,” my mother likes to say. We are celebrating her 95th birthday tomorrow, and she jokes that she might not live to see green bananas ripen. On the other hand, she bought a new dishwasher this week.

Her optimism is a constant reminder to me to welcome each day, to embrace what life brings and to look forward to whatever is coming down the road.

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For the most part, my mother does what she wants; she is fiercely independent. When I once called her stubborn, she said, “Don’t call me stubborn. I am not stubborn. I just know what I want.”

And when she knows what she wants, she goes for it with gusto, not caring one whit what others think.

In many ways, I am like my mother (my younger brother likes to point to us and say, tree…apple), but I don’t have her self-assurance in going after what I want; I am easily swayed by the desires and opinions of others.

I am at a crossroads in my life. It is a familiar place because I was basically at the same place a year ago. I made a decision then, announced my decision and then did not follow through because I was dissuaded by what someone else wanted. Ugh.

Again this year, I have come to the same decision about my future, and when I told a friend, she said, “You already made that decision,” sounding like she was speaking to a fickle child. Yes, I make and remake the same decisions. I move toward a new direction and then step back; it is tedious.

I feel stuck at the crossroads. This is one of those ways I wish I was more like my mother—decide and then do it, others’ opinions be damned.

I recently found a note I had written at the beginning of last year, asking, What do I need to do, believe in or allow for myself? It was probably a message to bolster my decision, and it is still relevant.

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More than enough

During my morning prayer on Christmas day, I asked, what is being birthed in me? Where is God inviting me to grow? In what ways am I being called to live more fully alive?

I went through a list of new projects I am pondering for the future or already working on, of my dreams to visit distant friends and my hopes to travel in Europe for an extended time. I thought about my writing and considered attending a workshop on writing a memoir.

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As I let these ideas play out in my imagination, though, another thought popped into my head: Heal your need to please others.  

What? Is this the secret to my being able to live more fully? To give greater glory to God? Do I need to move past my fear of disappointing people and my need to please in order to give birth to my true calling?

Ugh, I sighed. It is so much easier to work on external projects than to deal with my old nemesis, that voice inside my head that tells me that I am bound to disappoint people, that I am not enough and that whatever I do is not enough.

It is a message I heard from early childhood through my teens, this idea that I am not enough. For many years, I have worked on erasing that message and replacing it with more affirming words, reassuring phrases that shift parenting from my mom to God or to my adult self, changing the messages in my head to ones that remind me that I am not only enough, but that I am more than enough—I am plenty.

But every once in a while, my you-are-not-enough button gets pushed. It happened just before Christmas when two people made demands on me that I could not meet.

Their needs were real, but I was already taxed by other responsibilities and could not do what they asked of me.

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My internal critic spoke up, telling me that I was not enough, because if I were enough, I would be able to do what these people want.

I was in a snit all day and night, feeling guilty and angry. The next day, after talking it out with a friend, I got a different perspective.

That is the thing about those old messages—they are powerful and can take control in a blink of an eye.

Maybe it is time to tape up affirmations around my house and read them multiple times a day to remind myself that I am enough. Things like:

I am good enough.

I am loved.

I respect myself.

I honor my own needs and desires.

And perhaps it is time to return to Scripture passages that affirm that I am precious to God, that remind me that I am wonderfully made (Psalm 139) and a royal diadem (Isaiah 62:3).

Maybe I need to create a screen saver that says, I am an exquisite gem, and God delights in me.

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Coming home

“That sounds like reading tea leaves,” my spiritual director said. We were talking about discernment and how I discerned God’s will for me in major life decisions. I had just told her the process I had used at twenty-five to decide whether to move to Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My decision was made when my car radio play Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John. Not very prayerful, perhaps, but I took it as a sign.

Most of my major life decisions have been made in a similar fashion. When deciding to move to l’Arche, for example, I had wanted to go to l’Arche Toronto, but then a man from Winnipeg randomly appeared and said there was a l’Arche community in Winnipeg. It was a sign.

Or when someone from Midland, Michigan, tracked me down during a time I did not even have a phone and was staying with friends. Their persistence in pursuing me for a job seemed like a sign from God. Off to Midland I went.

When I look back on my life, I look a lot like a leaf blowing in the wind.

But my life also looks like a great adventure that has taken me to places I never would have considered.

Growing up, my future seemed predetermined—after high school, I would work as a secretary for a while, then get married, have babies, be a mom and then a grandmother—all very straight-forward.

But, I stepped off that path early on. I continued working as a secretary at the FBI until I was twenty-seven. Then a new plan formed—I would become an FBI Agent. It made sense; I had worked for the Bureau for eight years and becoming an Agent was a logical move.

Then I was raped, and all plans flew out the window. I spent my thirties bouncing from one job to another and one place to another. Even decisions I made in my forties and fifties were “like reading tea leaves,” once leaving a perfectly good job because of a picture I saw in a newspaper (it was a sign). I can only shake my head!

Now I am learning more about discernment and how to make decisions that are based on what I want and need.

Moving “home” to Michigan seven years ago has felt like I dropped anchor.

I wanted to come home; I needed to come home. Since moving here, I have had offers to move to other places (often to go back to Philadelphia) and I say “no” with confidence. Even if I heard Elton John singing Philadelphia Freedom or the twenty-first century version of that song, I don’t think I would be swayed.

Now the roads I want to travel all start and end here. I can visit other places, and I look forward to the time after the pandemic when that is possible to travel safely, but this is home. This is where I have decided to be.

Developing new habits

“Stop apologizing,” a friend said to me.

“It is a bad habit,” I replied.

She is reading a book about over-apologizing and trying to change her own habit; I am caught in her new-found awareness.

I am grateful for her insight, though, because it is helping to develop my own awareness. When I am with her now, I swallow every “I’m sorry” that attempts to escape my lips.

But, why do I apologize for things over which I have no control?

Bad weather? I’m sorry.

Bad hair day? I’m sorry.

You didn’t see my text? I’m sorry.       

Trouble with your car? I’m sorry.

The store was out of your favorite whatever? I’m sorry.

On and on it goes. At first, I had thought to count the number of times I apologize in a day, but it quickly became apparent that the number was just too many.

So why do I apologize?

I don’t really feel responsible for the weather or car trouble or most of the other inconveniences of life. I know I am not that powerful that I can control any of it.

In the bigger scheme of habits, this one may seem inconsequential, but I am beginning to see how my over-apologizing is connected to my self-image.

I grew up feeling invisible and believing that being invisible was the best I could be. If someone saw me—if I became visible—that was a bad thing, as if I was the inconvenience and I needed to apologize for being a bother. It was as if my very presence was the problem.

Therapy helped me understand the flaws in this belief system. But changing the habits I developed during those early years has taken a lifetime, and obviously, I still have a way to go.

What I need is another way to express my concern that something bad has happened or that someone has been troubled in some way—without taking responsibility for what has happened. I need to develop a new habit that expresses empathy or sympathy.

I hadn’t anticipated this as a New Year’s resolution, but it is the gift that has come to me, and I will try to honor it.

What habits are you trying to change?

Overcoming fear

God-fear-trust

Recognizing my fears and moving beyond them has been a big part of my spiritual journey.

Too often, I speak or act out of fear, then feel an interior uneasiness and later wonder what is hiding beneath the fear. What brokenness is waiting to be healed? What understanding needs to be awakened?

I have come to believe that fear is a shackle, and that only trust leads to freedom. My desire is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide—to live transparently.

During a recent day-long workshop on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I thought of times I have felt excluded and was afraid to call attention to my situation. I also thought of times when I was with people who were different from me and was irrationally afraid.

One of the panels that day consisted of four white men—talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. Bad optics, I thought. And as I watched these men, I could almost see their fists clenched as they grasped tightly to their control. I wondered what needs to be healed or awakened in them that would enable them to share the stage with someone who does not look like them.

And then I wondered where in my life I am unwilling to share the stage with someone who does not look like me.

Another workshop session was about being an ally. One of the panelists shared a story of being singled out in a grocery story because her head scarf identified her as a Muslim. A man walked right up to her and called her a terrorist. I was shocked that someone would do that, but apparently it is not that uncommon.

The panelist said that as hurtful as it was for this man to accuse her of being a terrorist, what was even more hurtful was that no one came to her aid—neither to challenge the man nor to offer her support. No one asked if she was ok after the man had walked away. No one was an ally to her in her time of need.

Her story prompted me to consider if I would be willing to stand up to someone who is being confrontational or to stand beside someone who is being confronted—if I could be an ally to someone who is different from me.

Last week, our local newspaper ran a piece about a man wanting to make our county a more welcoming place for people in the LGBTQ community. He is organizing a Pride event. I was both happy that he is doing this and afraid for him. I don’t think of our community as being particularly welcoming toward any minority group, and I imagined his announcement produced some push-back from fearful people.

This week, I happened to meet that man, and I shared my reaction to the newspaper piece. I applauded his courage and offered my support because I, too, want our community to be less fearful and more inclusive.