The waves meet the shore
and leave their treasures behind.
Delight in the gifts.
The waves meet the shore
and leave their treasures behind.
Delight in the gifts.
My throat has become blocked,
as if beavers had built a dam and
snagged my words as they tried to
flow up the river,
as if concrete was poured and
has hardened into a barricade.
How can I speak my truth
when the path is impassable?
Do you want to be healed? Jesus asked the man sitting near the pool (John 5:5-15).
Reading that passage, I thought, “What kind of question is that?” Who doesn’t want to be healed?
Can you imagine someone asking you if you want to be healed and you would say, “Hmm, let me think about that.” Rather, I think most of us would answer without hesitation, “Yes, I want to be healed.”
So why does Jesus ask that question?
Perhaps because we may want to be healed in theory, but in reality, we get some benefit from being unhealed. Maybe it is sympathy for our suffering or a familiarity and comfort in our identity as one who suffers. Perhaps it is just that we don’t even know that we are holding onto something that needs healing, let alone how to let go and be healed.
The answer to Jesus’ question might often be a “Yes, but…”
Yes, I want to be healed, but I also want to hold onto some of the identity associated with what ails me, to stick with what feels comfortable.
Yes, I want to be healed, but I do not want let go of all of my anger, resentments and fears.
All kinds of things can cripple us or bind us—old hurts, low self-esteem, insecurity, grief—things we need to work on or through.
That work can be challenging, and the changes might not be evident for a long time. Not every healing happens the immediate way it did with Jesus.
I have wounds that go way back to my childhood—and then additional wounds on top of those. Some are more traumatic than others, and some have been healed just as new hurts occurred. It seems to me that healing is the work of a lifetime.
Jesus desires that we be healed. He showed that many times throughout the Gospels, from healing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-41) to the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Luke 5:17-20) to the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:25-29). He healed people of all ages and from different backgrounds. He brought Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-42) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44) back from the dead.
He wants us to be healed and live full lives. He wants us to leap up like the man healed by Peter in Acts 3 so that we, too, are “jumping and praising God.”
Oh such joy! Who wouldn’t want that?
Maybe Jesus would ask follow-up questions like, What is stopping you from receiving healing love? What is blocking the path to living more joyfully? What is one thing you can let go of that will make you freer to give and receive forgiveness?
I have been thinking a lot lately about seeing people as God sees them, and I believe God sees each of us as our best self, and God’s desire is that we grow into that image, to become the person that God created us to be.
I am enrolled in an Internship Program in Ignatian Spirituality, and during a recent session, the leader affirmed something I had said. I was filled with pride because of his affirmation. Still seeking approval, I acknowledged to myself.
The next morning at prayer, I replayed that moment—the leader’s acknowledgment, my pride, and then my awareness of my neediness. In that moment, I was my nine-year-old self again, except at nine, I would have voiced my pride in a kind of nah, nah, nah, nah, nah way. At least now, I stopped before that step.
The first image that came to me in prayer was a child in school, arm waving high in the air, wanted to be seen and chosen. Pick me, she says.
Of course, when I was nine years old, I would not have had the confidence to raise my hand, even if I did know the correct answer. Even at twenty-nine, I was reluctant to offer an answer. Probably even at forty-nine.
My lack of self-confidence ran deep.
As I sat with the image of the child waving her hand in the air, a second image occurred to me—it was God waving at me, trying to get my attention, wanting me to acknowledge and pick God.
God is trying to snag my attention in every moment—no matter where I am or what I am doing. I only need the desire to see and hear what God is saying, to be open and paying attention. It can happen at any time.
The other day, God snagged my attention when I was reading a novel about Auchwitz, and I had an aha moment that invited me to be more compassionate.
And then I started watching Mad Men, and the deep loneliness of the characters reminded me of the loneliness of so many people today—and I felt invited to reach out.
My cousin shared a video clip of her eight-month-old granddaughter, crawling over an obstacle. After several tries, she managed to roll over to the other side. She is one determined little girl, I commented and then realized God invites me to be that determined.
During the Internship session, someone commented on a something I had said, a throw-away line for me that caught him. Throw-away lines can carry great truth, I said, remembering that when my friend Jim was preparing for death, he recalled many throw-away lines people had said to him that seemed insignificant at the time, but that gave him great consolation at the end of his life.
We can easily miss the messages of God, the invitations to spiritual growth, because we are not paying attention. We can forget that God speaks to us through the mundane as well as the magnificent—even novels, popular culture, the actions of a child, and casual comments.
Ignatian spirituality reminds us that we can find God in all things. Everything holds the potential to reveal God, if we are paying attention and open to see.
Living in the limbo of this day, canceling plans for this month
and the month after that.
What might have been is not to be.
Suspend longing and planning.
Let go of what might have been.
Plan no further than what you will have for lunch
or when you will read or take a walk or a nap.
Whether the sun is shining, or rain is falling,
I am grateful for this day.
It is my only one.
Transform in me,
judgmentalism into compassion,
insecurity into confidence,
fear into trust and
anger into acceptance.
Then I will be free to
forgive without limit and
let go of all that holds me back.
Or is it that if I love unconditionally,
forgive without limit and
let go of all that holds me back,
judgmentalism will be transformed into compassion,
insecurity into confidence,
fear into trust and
anger into acceptance?
“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?
“That must be so difficult,” people often say when they learn I work at a cancer support center.
“It can be,” I reply.
Every day, people tell us of their fears and anxieties, stories of their financial troubles because of the cost of medical care and the difficult decisions they face regarding treatment options.
Where can they get money to relieve their financial troubles? Should they continue with treatment knowing it is only prolonging life for a short time? Should they try an experimental treatment when traditional options have failed?
Dealing with vulnerability can be very challenging and even difficult.
But my work can also be very gratifying.
I get to see fears and anxieties melt away when people feel heard and their concerns validated. I am privileged to watch people support one another and see them move from fear to trust, from despair to hope. Every day, I see transformation.
During the nine months my friend Jim had brain cancer, I had a few “melt-downs,” moments when my patience ran out or my fears overwhelmed me. Sometimes I yelled. Other times, I collapsed in a heap and sobbed. Afterward, I felt guilty. Here was Jim, facing his death—and there I was, wallowing in self-pity. Remorse and shame engulfed me.
Then one day at the grocery store, I met my neighbor’s daughter who was caring for both her ill husband and aged mother. It must have been just after a melt-down, because I confessed my bad behavior. Delores waved me off. “It happens,” she said.
She went on to tell me how she, too, gets tired and frustrated, and how she, too, has been known to yell or cry.
“It’s normal,” She said. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Before that encounter, I had felt like a terrible person, the only person in the world who would yell at a man dying from brain cancer. Talking with Delores, though, gave me a different perspective and helped me let go of the high expectations I had for myself.
I walked away from that encounter telling myself, “You are not Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” and then realizing that even Mother Teresa probably had melt-downs. We are all human.
The value of sharing our human fears and weaknesses is not restricted to cancer care.
I have also seen it when adults walked into the literacy center where I worked in Pennsylvania, feeling inadequate and shameful because of their lack of literacy skills—and then meeting other adults are in the same boat.
I experienced it the first time I attended a gathering of adult children of alcoholics and realized I was not alone, that others understood my experience because they had gone through something similar.
Once that understanding of a shared experience happens—whatever the experience—healing can begin.
Admitting my fear, confessing my shame or giving voice to my secret can be cathartic and can lead to greater compassion—for myself and for others.
When has that been true for you?
My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:
Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.
~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.
~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…
~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…
As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:
~I am the failed shepherd.
~I am the older son, resentful and angry.
~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.
It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.Preparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.
Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.
God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?
And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?Abide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.
When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.
My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.Lent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.
In my twenties, I used to tell friends, “When I am old and can’t remember things, don’t say it is because I am old—I can’t remember things now.”
My memory has never been good. While friends could recall what they ate or wore at a particular occasion, I had nothing. Names and faces would only stick if I had spent an extended period of one-to-one time with someone. Otherwise, I would not remember them.It could be embarrassing. Once, I approached a speaker at a conference and thanked her for her comments. I approached her as a stranger, but she knew my name. My confusion must have been evident because she added, “I met you at dinner, last night…with Sandra?” She was trying to jog my memory, but I had no recollection, probably because we were in a large group and I did not speak with her one-to-one. But still, I did not recall her from the previous evening—I cringed.
This may not be scientific, but I believe that memory is a muscle and if it is not exercised, it loses its potency. I think of memory the same way I think of biceps; if exercised they stay strong; if unused they sag and are useless.
My memory did not get exercised as a child. Too many things happened that were better forgotten; my mantra became don’t remember. What was the point of remembering things that were too painful or that others would claim did not happen? I learned to let go.
But, I have paid the price, and now that I am old, I worry about what I can’t remember.Sometimes it is place names. For example, on my recent visit to Phoenix, I visited Old Town Scottsdale, but later, I could not pull the word Scottsdale from my memory. I could describe the art galleries I visited but not the name of the city.
Usually, though, it is people I can’t recall. I don’t seem able to imprint names and faces in my memory, and that can be embarrassing and worrisome. What if this inability to remember is a symptom of something worse than a sagging memory muscle?
In my defense, since moving to Michigan four years ago, I have met many people—and almost everyone in my life here is new in the past four years. I meet new people every day at work, and that adds up to quite a few new people each week. It can be too much.The funny thing is that my memory seems to have tons of data stored in it, and I can sometimes access things I did not even know I had retained. That makes me a good team mate for games that require minutiae (think Trivial Pursuit). My brain is also good at puzzles and figuring out mysteries; I can remember and recall clues and make connections others can miss.
I have many skills, gifts and talents, but a good memory is not one of them.